A Georgian Christmas

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We had a few days off for Christmas this year and decided to spend them in Georgia, a tiny country neighboring Turkey to the Northeast.  We had been meaning to visit for the longest time and Christmas seemed like the perfect opportunity.

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One interesting thing about Georgia is that they celebrate Christmas on January 7th rather than December 25th since the majority of the population is Orthodox Christian.  It kind of made it the perfect destination since the city was filled with the anticipation of Christmas, but everything was still open since it wasn’t officially the holiday yet for them.

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We knew we’d made the right choice as soon as we marched up to Passport Control AND WERE EACH HANDED FREE BOTTLES OF WINE.  No, I am not kidding.  What a welcome.  We were also struck by all of the beautiful Christmas lights throughout the city.

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Tbilisi is a remarkably eclectic city that is constantly juxtaposing the old with the new. Modernity effortlessly mingles with ancient traditions, something that can’t be said for many places.  There is an air of seediness as the streets are filled with beggars, casinos, and strip clubs, but there is also an air of welcome and safety.  The people are very friendly and happy to help strangers.  People look out for each other.

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I was totally charmed by this mysterious city and determined to learn more.  I signed up for the Free Walking Tour and it did not disappoint!  Nothing beats walking around the city for a few hours with a local, learning about history, culture, and all the best places to eat.  It is a must for anyone visiting the city.

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One of the most interesting parts of the tour for me was going inside an Orthodox church.  Instead of the rows of seats and stained glass windows, there is almost no lighting and absolutely no seating.  The walls are painted with religious scenes and dimly lit by candlelight.

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The country is one of the most religious in the world, with over 90% of the population identifying as believers according to our guide.  It’s an interesting statistic when you consider that the country was once part of the Soviet Union, which banned religion entirely.  Tbilisi was very fortunate, however, that when the Soviets took power, none of their churches were destroyed, which was not always the case.  Instead, they were preserved and put to use as storage buildings until the USSR collapsed in 1991.

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I was also stunned by our next stop, the beautiful Peace Bridge, which represents the peaceful connection between the past and the future.  It serves a symbol of hope for people that have endured a lot of war.

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Once across the bridge, you can take the cable car up to Narikala Fortress, which offers stunning views of the old part of the city.

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At the top of the fortress stands Kartlis Deda, The Mother of Georgia, watching over the city.  In one hand she holds a glass of wine; in the other, she holds a sword.  This is meant as both an invitation to strangers who come in peace and a warning for their enemies.
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Fun fact:  there are absolutely no guards or safety regulations at the fortress, so you can climb all the way up to the top at your own peril!

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The bent Georgian cross, representing Saint Nino

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One of our final stops on the tour took us back down and through the historic district to a hidden waterfall, which is often frozen in winter!

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In addition to a fascinating history and culture, Georgia is also home to some spectacular food and wine.  After trying it, I really don’t know why it isn’t a bigger speck on the foodie radar.  Everything I ate there was delicious, from spicy herbed potatoes to a variety of savory breads and pastries.  My personal favorite was a dish called khinkali, which consisted of big, delicious dumplings with various soupy fillings.  They were seriously incredible.  I need the recipe ASAP.

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Now about the wine.  I don’t even know if I can properly describe it.  Georgia has a vibrant wine culture that has been around for centuries, as the region is abundant with grapes. Interestingly, the Georgians have their own method for making wine, which is quite different than that of the Europeans.  The grapes are put in a giant clay pot, buried underground, and then fermented and filtered.

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It’s sweet, smooth, cheap, delicious, and EVERYWHERE.  Nearly every Georgian has their own family wine recipe and makes it themselves.  Needless to say, we got to sample several varieties and tried to take advantage of the good prices and generous baggage allowance we had (thanks, Turkish Airlines!).

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Even Wendy’s sells wine in Georgia.  Also, Bailey’s Frosties.

Even as I’m sitting back home writing this, I can’t fully wrap my head around Georgia.  It’s so curious, confusing, and alluring all at the same time.  As is often the case when I’m traveling these days, I feel the need to go back to get a better feel for the place.  I would love to see more of the Caucasus Mountains and the Georgian countryside.  Perhaps in warmer weather.

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If nothing else, I hope I can give a voice to this overlooked little country.  It’s affordable, beautiful, interesting, and there’s plenty of wine to go around.  It’s perfect for those who want something a little off the beaten path.

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Nothing in the world can replace Christmas at home with family, but when that’s thousands of miles away, Georgia is a pretty good alternative.

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Day 1: Edinburgh

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We landed in Edinburgh very late Saturday night, ready to begin our epic road trip.  We got totally lost on the way to our apartment and our gracious friend (who volunteered to drive the whole trip because the rest of us are wimps!) had a bit of a learning curve trying to drive on the opposite side of the road.  We finally made it around midnight and proceeded to collapse in our beds immediately.  It’s not a real road trip if you don’t get lost at least once, right?

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We woke up to the most epic sunrise!!  I can’t remember the last time I actually saw a sunrise before this.  I am very much not a morning person and avoid any reason to be up while it’s still dark, but in the colder months, there are very few hours of daylight in Scotland.  The whole time we were there, the sun rose at about 8:00 and had set by 4:30.

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We walked to the city center and found a cute little breakfast cafe, where my husband was brave enough to try a haggis breakfast roll.  I opted for some sausage and a huge cup of coffee instead.

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After stuffing our faces, we walked over to Edinburgh Castle and made it just in time to see the changing of the guards.  There was plaid everywhere and I loved it!  I was also struck by  how green everything was, despite the cold.

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The castle proved to be quite interesting, especially in the scope of information and activities offered.  I scoffed at the high admission price in the beginning, but really enjoyed myself once I got in there.  Scotland has a fascinating history and culture that seems to be too often overlooked.  For me, the highlight of the visit was the medieval music lecture by Mr. Tribble.  It was a very unique perspective of Scottish history and I really enjoyed seeing and listening to all of the different instruments.

DSC_0032.JPG In addition to the music lecture and the usual tour, the castle also had several cafes full of delicious food,  whiskey tasting, and interesting shops.  It’s not cheap to get in, but it’s definitely worth seeing if you’re in Edinburgh.

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On the way out of the castle, I stumbled upon what is now one of the new highlights of my life.  There was a small owlery that was letting people hold and pet the owls for a small price.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, and so I could not pass this up, even though it was pouring down rain.  This little guy’s name is Ragnar.  For a brief moment in time, I felt like a real witch.

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The last item on our agenda was to hike Arthur’s Seat, but due to the very unfortunate weather, we pretty much just walked up to it and turned back to civilization because it was dark, freezing, and wet.  We had to settle for a night at the pub.

DSC_0006.JPG  All the same, we fell in love with this magical medieval city and would not hesitate to go back.  It was very charming and full of cozy and friendly vibes…and it was only the beginning!

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Autumn in Oslo

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My soul has finally been fed with the kind of fall beauty I’ve been missing.  I knew I wanted to take at least one trip into Europe for some lovely fall foliage this year, so we consulted Skyscanner to see what we could find and scored some cheap to tickets to Oslo for a weekend.  What a beautiful city!

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We couldn’t have picked a better time or place for colorful leaves.  Oslo is absolutely bursting with trees!  Everywhere!  I loved being in a city that was so intertwined with nature and managed to feel both full of life and cozy at the same time.

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We knew we would only be there for a short time, so rather than try to plan a packed itinerary, we decided to wing it and simply get a taste for the city.  This was honestly the way to go because Oslo can be hella expensive!

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I was so grateful for all of the big, beautiful parks they had everywhere!  We walked around playing in the leaves like kids for hours and it was wonderful!  The colors, the smell, the crunch under our feet…it was all so perfect.

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I got a kick out of this nose-less FDR.  Also, we witnessed that couple behind him get engaged a few minutes after this photo was taken!  It made me feel all warm and fuzzy remembering the day my husband proposed (feels like a lifetime ago already!).  Also, what a place for a proposal!

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Pretty much every nook and cranny of the city was gorgeous.

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Oh, and I definitely wasn’t kidding about everything being expensive.  On top of that, we had a really hard time finding a place to exchange our cash and got down to the last bit of our NOK after paying for our hotel.  We had to do a college throwback and scrape together our last few coins to see how we could get the most bang for our buck for our last meal there.

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Besides the little cash mishap, Oslo restored me in the best way possible.  It was such a friendly and relaxing place.  I’d love to return to Norway, although next time, I’ve got my eyes on exploring the fjords!

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An Evening in Milano

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After a lovely few days in Cinque Terre, we spent one day in Milan before catching our flight back to Turkey.  The visit was quite short, so we didn’t do too much, but we had a great time walking around the main squares and getting our last few bites of Italian food.

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The architecture in Milan is stunning and it’s crowning jewel is the Duomo Cathedral.  It was enormous and beautiful, as was the whole of Piazza Duomo!

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I absolutely loved listening to this man play music on the bottles!  He was brilliant!

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We were both starving after the long stint on the train, but we were having trouble finding something that wasn’t ridiculously overpriced in the main square.  We stumbled upon a little cart selling gelato popsicles and the rest is history.  This almond was superb.

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Our “Last Supper” involved two very large and very delicious pizzas.  Speaking of which…

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…we missed out on seeing the original Last Supper, which is housed in Milan.  It was a bummer because I find Leonardo da Vinci very fascinating and would have loved to see some of his work while we were there.  We did, however, manage to see this statue of him.  I guess that just  means we’ll have to go back to Milan to do it properly…

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We loved you, Italy!  Italy is one of those places I know in my heart that I’ll see again.  I went into it with a mix of expectations based on differing opinions and was pleasantly surprised by how laid back, relaxing, and beautiful it was.  Until next time!

Le Cinque Terre

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**WARNING**  This post  may contain picture overload.

My husband and I just returned from spending a few days in the beautiful, colorful string of villages on the Italian Riviera known as Cinque Terre.  We decided we wanted to do something relaxing before school started and this place fit the bill:  beautiful geography, lovely architecture, fantastic food, hiking, beaches, and great wine.  My dad visited Cinque Terre a few years back and still talks about it, so we had to see what it was all about.

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We based ourselves out of the southernmost village of the five, Riomaggiore.  When we stepped off the train from Milan, we were instantly greeted with the stacks of colorful houses, blue water, boats, and the prettiest sunset.  I knew then we were in for a treat.

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The first order of business was to get our  hands on some FOOD!  I tried out this Riomaggiore pizza with shrimp, artichokes, spicy oil, and basil.  My husband ordered gnocchi Bolognese.

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Italian food is FLAWLESS.  I mean it.  I have never been somewhere that has so consistently exceeded my foodie expectations.  EVERYTHING I ate there was good.  Every.  Single.  Thing.  Also, it was surprisingly affordable.  5 Euro pizzas and pastas were abundant and no less delicious than any of the more expensive meals.

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After stuffing ourselves beyond capacity, we settled in for a good night’s rest before a long day of hiking the five villages.

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We decided to hike from North to South since the trails from Riomaggiore to Corniglia are currently closed.  We purchased all day hike and train passes for 16 Euro each and took the train up to Monterosso al Mare, about a 15 minute ride.

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Since you can’t start a hike without a good breakfast, we stopped for espresso and bruschetta after a walk on the beach.  Who says you can’t have anchovies and pesto for breakfast?

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The weather could not have been more perfect, albeit a little hot, and the views along the trail were stunning.  It was reminiscent of our hike on the Fira Trail, but more lush and colorful (and way more uphill!)

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How awesome is this?  This guy set up a little lemon/orange juice stand right on the trail between Monterosso and Vernazza.  Yes, please!

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The second village, Vernazza, ultimately ended up being my favorite!  It was so charming and colorful and the food there was fabulous, especially the gelato!  We were hot and sweaty after hiking for two hours (again, mostly uphill), so we were thrilled to see the little beach down below!

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Some food and a dip in the water was exactly what we needed before our next leg of the journey!

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The walk to Corniglia was much easier than the walk to Vernazza had been.  It was also a bit shorter.  We were surprised to see quite a few cars in this village as many of the villages have strict restrictions on vehicles.  We stopped for a fantastic dinner of grilled focacia sandwiches (prosciutto and pesto!) and I indulged in a glass of prosecco.  Seriously, why is Italy so delicious?

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Since the walking routes were closed, we took the train over to Manarola, where a whole bunch of kids were celebrating a birthday on the marina and playing soccer.  What a birthday party!

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I discovered this lovely thing called a marocchino and my life will never be the same.  Espresso and chocolate are a match made in heaven.  One place even added nutella!

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Also, panna cotta and strawberries.

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Exhausted, full, and sunburnt, we made it back to Riomaggiore in time for another spectacular sunset!

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We went back to Monterosso for a relaxing beach day the next morning.  The water was perfect!

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After swimming and lunch, we wandered the the village and picked up a few souvenirs to take back with us, mostly food-related!  Also, because my husband loves the song Postcards from Italy by Beirut, he bought a post card from every village!

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We also stopped on a different beach for a little bit of reading in the sunshine!

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It was so hard to leave!  As the sun was going down, we rode back to Riomaggiore, stopped for some take away pasta (think Chipotle, except with pasta!), a last glass of wine, and then turned in to pack our things for our early train ride out.

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It was a lovely, lovely, lovely way to kick off our travels for this year!  Bring it on, 2016-17!

Bosnia and Herzegovina: A War-Torn Paradise

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Before heading back to America for the summer, we knew we needed a few days to ourselves to go somewhere and process the long, crazy year we had just finished.  We had a really hard time deciding where to go; we didn’t really know what type of vacation would be what we needed.  We definitely weren’t in the mood for city hopping, but we weren’t so sure about the beach either.  We wanted to go somewhere beautiful and relaxing, but we didn’t want anything too boring.  We ended up settling on Bosnia and Herzegovina because we were both curious about its history, which somehow, sadly, seems to have been erased by people outside of the region.

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We spent one very brief night in Sarajevo, where we walked around the old town, Baščaršija.  I could immediately see the traces of Ottoman influence as the familiar sight of cezves and nazar met my eyes.  The most interesting thing for me in Sarajevo was visiting the Latin Bridge -where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated -and realizing the World War I started exactly 1oo years before the day my husband and I got married.

DSC_0059 The next morning, we took a bus to the beautiful little city of Mostar, famous for its unique bridge that, before being destroyed by Croats in 1993, had been a symbol of the city for over 500 years.  The bridge was rebuilt in 2004.  It’s a lot bigger than it looks and so slippery!  The view from both above and below is incredible.

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After walking around the city a bit, we checked into our hostel, Hostel Miran, which was by far the best thing about our trip to Mostar.  The staff and owners were all so friendly and interesting and the spirit of the place was very communal.   It was so much fun to listen to stories from people all over the world, have a few drinks, and watch some football in the garden at night (by which I mean soccer for American readers).  If you are thinking about going to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mostar is a must, and if you are thinking of going to Mostar, this is absolutely 100% where you should stay.  It is wonderful!

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Even the tiny bridges seem giant.

We went out for dinner a bit later, which, unbeknownst to us, would be the worst decision of the trip.  We had signed up to go on Miran’s tour through Herzegovina, which included eight hours of touring all the main attractions of the Herzegovina region with Miran as our guide, who knows the whole place like the back of his hand.  Unfortunately, my husband was not feeling so hot the morning of, but decided to go anyway, despite my efforts to convince him to wait another day.

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Off we went, but it wasn’t too long into the trip that my husband realized that he had been foiled by some bad soup from the night before.  I was simultaneously feeling sorry for him and feeling glad that I hadn’t been hungry and had only ordered a glass of wine at that place (dinner of champions).  We had just reached the beautiful stream at Blagaj when my husband started vomiting ferociously into a tree.  After talking to a few of our group members, it turned out that two others in our tour group had also experienced food poisoning throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina on their trip, so it’s worth mentioning to be cautious about what you order!!  After that first night, I pretty much stuck to buying snacks at the grocery store and an occasional ice cream cone.  As much as I enjoyed our trip, I wouldn’t exactly call Bosnia and Herzegovina a foodie heaven, so there’s no need to feel bad for playing it safe!

DSC_0083 (2) Luckily, he felt a little better after that and Miran and the others in our group were super kind and helpful.  We got him a spot in the shade, a coke, and some cold, fresh, delicious water from the spring.  Not even food poisoning could take away from the stunning beauty of this place.  The contrast of the old Dervish temple and the emerald-blue stream was spectacular.

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View from the top

Our second stop was a brief hike up to an old fortress at Počitelj, a former Ottoman village.  Upon arrival, they fed us fresh apricots and figs – both of which were delicious!- before heading up to check out the views of the city from below.  My husband napped in the van while the rest of us trudged up the steep, narrow stairs to the top of the tower.  It made me wonder what it was like to actually live in such a place and have to climb those stairs every day!  At least the views were amazing.

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The next stop on our tour was undoubtedly my favorite:  Kravice Falls!!  I felt like I’d stepped through a portal right into a fantasy novel.  It was a super hot day, so it felt fantastic to jump into the icy water and enjoy the views from the water.  Miran led us around the falls and showed us how to safely navigate around the streams of water.  We also got to do some cliff jumping, which was super fun!

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Being at the falls really made me wonder how such an ugly war could have happened in such a beautiful, beautiful place.

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Our final stop on the tour was the most revealing for me, when our host stopped us at a  monument of a large cross overlooking the city.  This is where things got very real.  The cross, it turns out, was built to honor the Croats who died during the war – a very controversial move, as it was the Croats and Serbs who were responsible for the deaths of thousands of Bosnians during the war.  Our tour guide took this time to tell us about his experiences during the war, when he was a teenager.  The Croatian and Serbian armies took over most of the city of Mostar.  In the beginning, most of the Bosnians were either killed or tried to escape.  Those who remained had to go to the East side of the city, the only part of the city still controlled by Bosnians.  Nobody in Europe or North America wanted much to do with the war.  Thousands of people were being slaughtered, wounded, starved and raped in the heart of Europe and nobody came to help.  He told us how the bombs and the shootings eventually took the lives of almost all of his family members.  He told us about how he and his friends would sneak out at night to forage for food; teenage boys who didn’t even weigh 100 pounds because they had nothing to eat.  All of this in 1993.

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He showed us all of the places on the hill where snipers had made their camps.  There are still bullets, land mines, and pieces of shrapnel littering the landscape.  The Americans and Europeans did eventually get involved in the war, but not really to help; merely to serve their own interests.  Many of the Westerns who did come to “help” only took advantage of the already oppressed victims, often raping them, threatening them, or convincing them to give sexual favors in exchange for minor amounts of food.  There is a very sober feeling in the air in Bosnia and Herzegovina once you look beyond the tourist curtain.  Most of the people don’t trust anyone, and I don’t blame them.  They know all too well how a government doesn’t usually represent its people.  We came back in from the tour, not only exhausted physically, but emotionally.

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The evidence of what happened between 1993 and 1995 is still standing all over the city.  The people don’t want anyone to forget what happened.  They are still scared…after all, it was not all that long ago.  Despite the fact that it is now a peaceful place and tourism is on the rise, the people are still suffering.  Evidence of the trauma is everywhere.  There is still a 47% unemployment rate, one of the highest in the world.  It seems so ironic that such a beautiful country with such kind and welcoming people could experience so much pain, especially so recently.

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It is so important to shed light on modern genocide.  So often, it goes unnoticed.  People tend to view it as a historical problem that died with the end of WWII when it happens every single day, even still.

DSC_0179 I will never forget Bosnia and Herzegovina, certainly because it was such a beautiful place where I now have a lot of beautiful memories.  I won’t forget Bosnia and Herzegovina because it was the first time one of us experienced food poisoning while traveling.  But most of all, I won’t forget Bosnia and Herzegovina because they need us to remember what happened there.  They need the world to be reminded of the atrocities that occurred such a short while ago so that they will hopefully never happen there again.  Don’t forget.

The Most Breathtaking Moments from My First Year of Traveling

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Now that I’ve nearly survived all of my responsibilities at the school this first year, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting.  In the moment, so much of it seemed like a blur, but now I find myself trying to look back on (and over-analyze) everything that has happened since I moved to Turkey.  There were some moments that felt so difficult and so dark that I didn’t think it would ever get any easier, but now that I’ve gotten through the biggest waves of culture shock, I can appreciate how amazing this opportunity really is and all of the incredible things I’ve been able to do that before seemed like a distant dream.  When I think back through this year, there are a few moments that really stand out.

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Crossing the Bosphorus for the first time

This is something that takes my breath away again and again and again.  I’ll never forget how blue the water looked or how magical the 360 view of seagulls swirling around the sea of minarets was the first time I took a ferry to Eminonu.  It has to be one of the most incredible experiences one can have in the world for under a dollar.  Even after almost a year, I still have a “holy crap, I can’t believe I actually live here” moment every single time I cross over to Europe.

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Hitchhiking from Perge in Antalya

I still can’t believe this happened only two weeks into our expat experience, but that’s also why I think it’s so memorable.  In that moment when we were deciding what to do, I remember a tiny voice reminding me that my mom would have a heart attack if she knew I was doing this, but I also had a voice telling me that it was cold and raining and the guy offering us a ride definitely didn’t look like a serial killer.  He ended up being an incredibly nice and genuine person and that experience really taught me the importance of trusting humanity when it comes to traveling.  Most people really are good.

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Experiencing a true White Christmas in Eskişehir

I had my worst bout of culture shock in the fall and I was so overwhelmed and unhappy that I really don’t remember much of that time period.  The weekend we spent in Eskişehir is kind of where my memory starts to kick back in because it was a spot of pure bliss.  It was obviously very difficult to spend Christmas away from home for the first time, but when I saw the first snow of the whole year happening on Christmas day?  I knew everything was going to be okay.

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Getting snowed in on New Year’s Eve

I saw my work/home in a whole new light when it was buried under a foot of snow.  This place is gorgeous in the spring and summer, but I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful it is in the dead of winter.  I’ll never forget how happy I was when I read the email that lessons were cancelled and all of the students and teachers who couldn’t beat the weather out gathered together for a giant snowball fight.  Definitely one of the best New Year’s Eves I’ve ever had.

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Sipping hot wine at Buda Castle in Budapest

Wine is not a drink I ever imagined would be good warm, but it certainly is.  They were selling this stuff all over Budapest and I finally caved and had to try it when we were up at Buda Castle and it was FREEZING.  They add some fruit and spices that make it taste more like a warm sangria and it was the perfect way to warm up and relax while enjoying the incredible view of the Chain Bridge to Pest.

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Walking from Hungary to Slovakia on the Maria Valeria Bridge

Another fabulous moment in Hungary was the time we spent in Esztergom, a little town that is only a short walk away from Sturovo in Slovakia.  At first, we thought we might regret stopping in such a small place without much going on, but it ended up being one of the highlights of our winter break.  There was something that felt so cool about being able to walk from one country to another in a town that’s barely changed since the Middle Ages.

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Standing before the Library of Celsus at Ephesus

Our trip to Ephesus was our first taste of warm weather after a winter that felt like it lasted a billion years.  When I first laid eyes on the Library of Celsus, I couldn’t believe how intact it was after over 1,000 years.  The way the yellowing stone contrasts with the bright blue sky is truly mind-blowing.  It is an absolute must-see in Turkey.  I even want to go back, which is not usually the case when it comes to things like ruins and monuments.

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Hiking the Fira Trail in Santorini

The hike from Fira to Oia in Santorini is an unforgettable journey.  10 kilometers of the most beautiful white-washed buildings you’ll ever see and blue Aegean water that stretches out into forever makes you feel like you’ve tripped and fallen into a dream.  I’ll especially never forget the delicious Greek picnic my husband and I had on the side of a volcanic cliff.  It felt like we had the whole world to ourselves.

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Indulging in local hospitality in Naxos

I have never received a warmer welcome than the one I got at Hotel Kymata in Naxos.  It turns out the whole island is unbelievably friendly and hospitable.  Although a part of it is definitely due to a decline in tourism following the economic troubles in Greece, I still believe that hospitality is a central tenant of Greek culture.  Much of the hospitality came in the form of free food, which is my fave.

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Nerding out in a Sci-Fi bookstore in Stockholm

Stockholm was such a whirlwind trip that much of it seems very fuzzy, but I remember almost every detail of the incredible book store we found near the main palace.  I am a gigantic nerd and this place was designed for people just like me.  They had a very unique collection of anime, comics, sci-fi titles (mostly in ENGLISH!), board games, and all kinds of nerdy collectibles.  If I ever win the lottery, I’m probably going to buy one of everything in that store.

Watching my students blow their end-of-the-year performance out of the water

Being a teacher is exhausting and time-consuming, but somehow, the students make every ounce of the blood, sweat, and tears worth it – at least most of the time.  After a hectic first year, it was so satisfying to work on a big performance with all of my first students and watch them do such a great job.  It definitely ended my year on a high note.

I am so thankful for everything I’ve been able to experience this year.  It was a lot of hard work, but it’s only proven to me how much hard work can pay off.  I’m already looking forward to the long list of adventures that are sure to come next year!

A City Break in Stockholm

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After making the mistake of trying to work myself to death the first semester I was here, I have been a lot more diligent about seeking out travel opportunities as often as possible.  At first, I thought trying to go outside the country for just a weekend would be too overwhelming, but after a few successful weekend trips in Turkey, I thought it was time to give it a try somewhere.  I decided to let Skyscanner make the decision for me and, lo and behold, round trip tickets to Stockholm were less than $100 each.  It was time to make some plans.

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If I had to summarize Stockholm in a few words, I would describe it as lively, happy, and…expensive (which is why a weekend was the perfect amount of time to be there).  But still…there was something about that city that just could not get me down.  It didn’t matter that we had had the worst flight ever (screaming/kicking/hair-pulling toddler on a red-eye flight that was delayed two hours), or that the weather was crazy unpredictable (sun, rain, snow, and wind all on the same day) –everything about the city was just so charming and vibrant and everyone we met was super friendly.  There was even an enormous rainbow over the city for half the day.  I’m just sayin’.

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We didn’t make any specific plans-partly due to the fact that we had read that the weather was supposed to be awful while we were there-but we were pleasantly surprised when we woke up to a sunny day that wasn’t too terribly cold.  We started off by having breakfast at a nearby cafe.  I didn’t realize how much I had missed cafes.  They have them in Turkey, but they don’t have the same vibe as my idea of a cafe.  After breakfast, we wandered through the streets of the old part of the city, taking in the beautiful architecture and views of the water.

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MY DREAM HOUSE.

One of the highlights of the day for me was running into a Sci-Fi bookstore.  This place was nerd paradise.  They had every Sci-Fi title one could possibly dream of; tons of manga, comics, and anime; video games; obscure nerdy board games…basically all of the things on my ultimate Christmas wishlist.  I’ve been a little out of touch with  my inner nerd lately since I’ve been either working or traveling for most of the year, but it got me excited for summer when I may actually be able to invest some time into such things.

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Another highlight was the food and coffee scene.  Anymore, we’re pretty much excited to run into anything that isn’t Turkish food…not that I don’t love Turkish food, but it’s hard to find anything that isn’t Turkish food in Turkey and it gets a little old after awhile.  We stopped by lots of little candy and pastry shops to sample little goodies here and there.  We also went to Drop Coffee, one of the few things we had actually planned prior to the trip and it did not disappoint.  It was a tiny shop, but they were very dedicated to the quality of the coffee they made and it was incredible.  We decided on Kenya and El Salvador roasts.

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Our last agenda item of the day was catching a concert, something we both love to do, but haven’t done since we left the States.  We watched Sunset Sons, an indie band from the UK/Australia.  It was a ton of fun and the perfect way to end our day!  When we were walking back to our boatel (yes, we stayed on a boat again...), there was a thin layer of snow on the ground.  Talk about crazy weather.

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We got up Sunday morning ready to head back to the airport.  It was a very short visit, but it was a good one and walked away feeling refreshed and ready for another crazy work week.  Even the plane ride home was pleasant.  We met a woman from Stockholm who happened to have a house in Turkey and was flying in to do some work on it.  We exchanged emails and will hopefully connect in either Sweden or Turkey again someday! Making friends on the road is the best.

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I’m thinking these whirlwind weekends are going to have to happen a little more often. Also, this is definitely not the last of Sweden for me – it’s such a beautiful, friendly place with such a thriving art and music scene! I can’t wait to explore it again sometime.

Athens, Abbreviated

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We couldn’t visit Greece without at least spending a little time in Athens, however short.  We spent our first and last night of our trip in Greece at a nice little hotel near the city center so we could walk around and see a few things in our limited time there.

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Unfortunately, the Acropolis was always closed while we were there (seriously…their hours are ridiculous), so we didn’t get to go in and see the Parthenon, but we did manage to see a few of the ruins from a distance.

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The streets leading into the main square are bustling and chaotic (like you’d expect in just about any city), but once you get in by the Acropolis, the city is full of charming little streets, almost all of which are lined with twinkling string lights.  Honestly, my favorite thing about Athens was simply strolling through the seats to see what we would find there.

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In the streets of Athens after some complimentary wine

 We scored some amazing food, wine, and gelato both nights we were there, so we were pretty much on Cloud 9.  Also, maybe it was just my imagination, but I could really feel an ancient sense of wonder as I walked around.  It was interesting to try to picture what Ancient Greek civilization might have been like, especially in Athens.

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There were probably fewer taxis.

We didn’t fully do this city justice, but I’m glad we at least had a taste.  We’ve already both agreed that Athens will have to be a city we go back to and do properly sometime.

Strolling the Naxian Coast

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When we decided we were going to Naxos, one of the things I was most looking forward to was spending some time on the beach!  Having come from landlocked Kansas and after a long, cold, and dreary winter, I was more than ready for some sun and sand.

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Creepy-cool abandoned building on St. George

Naxos is famous for its numerous beautiful beaches, some of which have been ranked as among Europe’s most beautiful.  We were lucky to get to experience lots of sunny, warm weather so that we could fully enjoy laying out in the sand and walking along the coast.  It wasn’t quite warm enough to swim, but just being able to be outside without a jacket was good enough for me!

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After a delicious Greek breakfast at our hotel, we got up and around as early as possible to start our long walk down the coast to see as many different beaches as we could.  The first beach we visited was Saint George Beach because it just so happened to be right in front of our hotel.  It was not the prettiest of the beaches, but it was still pretty darn gorgeous as you can (hopefully) tell from the photo.  The water was crystal clear and the sand formed soft waves underneath it.  It was an incredibly shallow beach.  I could walk out really far and still the water was below my knees.  It was kind of surreal.

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Agios Prokopios

The next beach we came across was Agios Prokopios, which was a slightly more refined beach, with lighter sand and bluer water.  We decided to stop for a bit at this beach when a small dog (who had already been following us for over an hour) randomly latched onto my husbands leg and started eating his shorts.  That thing would not let go for anything.  We finally got tired of it and went into a restaurant hoping it would eventually go away.  It even came inside the restaurant after him several times.  Finally, it latched onto another family who also happened to have a dog so we could enjoy some peace and quiet and relax.

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Agia Anna

After lunch, we stopped at Agia Anna, which was my favorite of the three.  It had several interesting rock formation in addition to the lovely turquoise waters.  We hung out there the longest.

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We had originally planned to move onto Plaka, but we saw the dreaded dog over there waiting at the other end of the beach again, so we decided to save ourselves the headache and just backtrack through the other beaches.  It had been some time since we’d been on any kind of beach vacation, so it was a wonderful and relaxing change of pace.

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We spent the whole day hiking, walking through water, and stopping in between to lay in the sand.  It was just enough to build up a pretty big appetite for some delicious Greek food and exactly what we needed to get through this last term before a long summer break.