Ankara’da

20181103_134559.jpgI am long overdue for an update, I know.

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I will spare you the boring details and get straight to the good stuff.

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After nearly four years of living in Turkey, I FINALLY made it to the capital city of Ankara.  A good friend of mine invited me to spend the weekend with her there (it’s her hometown) and show me around.  I didn’t have too many expectations, but what I found was a charming city with an abundance of good restaurants (I’m looking at you, Quick China!), cafes, shops, and TREES!

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I started off my trip by stuffing my face with the best Asian cuisine I have ever managed to find in Turkey and tucking in for some much-needed sleep.  I am still dreaming about the körili ramen.

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We started off the morning by heading to Atakule, which is a mall/giant tower from which you can get a pretty nice view of the city.  The orange and yellow leaves were a welcome sight.  We don’t get to see many green spaces in Istanbul, so we often feel homesick for that fall aesthetic.

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We stopped for a quick coffee picnic on a hill overlooking Seğmenler Park, which was gorgeous and peaceful and reminded me of my college days (picnics = cheap food and entertainment).

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My favorite part of the trip was wandering through the alleys in Ulus.  The traditional Anatolian architecture blended with cool vintage vibes and we happily spent a few hours strolling through artisan shops and taking frequent coffee breaks.

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On Sunday, before catching our train back to Istanbul, we stopped for a long, leisurely breakfast where I had a delicious cinnamon roll with cream cheese icing (again – not common in Turkey, which made it extra special).

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Ankara, you were a delight.

 

A Lovely Week in Sicily

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I just returned from a fabulous week in Sicily with some dear friends of ours and their adorable little girl.  I am officially on summer break and I couldn’t think of a better way to kick it off than a week of sunshine, beaches, Mediterranean villages, great food, wine, and good friends.

For such a little island, Sicily has a LOT to offer – easily two weeks’ worth of sightseeing.  We didn’t get to see everything, but we saw a lot of great highlights.

Taormina and La Riviera dei Ciclopi

Our first stop was  the little beach town of Taormina.  Though it is very crowded and full of tourists, it’s not hard to understand way.  Idyllic cliffs dotted with colorful Mediterranean houses tower over turquoise water.  We browsed the cute boutiques, had an incredibly picturesque picnic, and indulged in some delicious canoli.20180616_161640.jpg

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From Taormina, we moved on to La Riviera dei Ciclopi (The Riviera of the Cyclopes) where we enjoyed the views of the strange rock formations, enjoyed some cheap beers on the marina, and listened to a local band festival.

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Mount Etna

On our second day, we decided to head up to hike Mount Etna, an active volcano.  It was a little rainy, but stunning nonetheless; however, we had not expected it to be so cold. We all showed up in our shorts and t-shirts only to be met with wintry temperatures.  Still, the views were spectacular.  It reminded me a lot of our honeymoon in Iceland!

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Siricusa

Siracusa (Syracuse) is a lovely coastal town surrounded by ridiculously blue water, white marble architecture, and loads of sunshine.

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I pretty much went from freezing to sunburnt in the matter of a day!

Cefalu

Cefalu was a lot like Siricusa, but with more laid back beach vibes.  There was a ton of public beach space and the view from the sea was magnificent surrounded by cute houses and big, green mountains.  Drinking cheap summer shandy while floating in the water didn’t hurt either.

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This past school year was incredibly rough.  I’m so grateful to have spent such a wonderful time with my husband and good friends and to have started summer on a much more positive note.  Italy is ridiculously good.

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Cappadocia Part 2: Underground Cities and Breathtaking Monasteries

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After a good night’s rest, we were ready for another day of touring – this time, a little farther away from our home base. Our first stop was the famous underground city of Derinkuyu.

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Derinkuyu is an incredible man-made marvel 65 meters underground. This ancient and mysterious city is thousands of years old and was most likely built as a shelter to protect citizens from invasion. It has been estimated that up to 30,000 people could have lived in Derinkuyu, which had tunnels connecting to other underground cities in the area. Such a unique and fascinating place! Be warned, however, that it is not for the faint at heart; the tunnels are narrow, dark, and often crowded. If you are claustrophobic, it might be best to admire it from afar.

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After crawling around in a dark cave city, the fresh air and green trees of Ilhara Valley were a welcome sight. We took a leisurely hike along the trail, admiring a few of the churches along the canyon walls before stopping for lunch in a riverside bungalow.

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Our driver met us at the end of the valley to take us to our last stop: Selime Monastery…and holy crap! What an amazing place! I was immediately shocked that I had never heard of it before. This beautiful monastery carved into a giant fairy chimney overlooking a valley full of more fairy chimneys looks like something out of a fantasy novel!

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I was totally blown away by Selime. Petra fans, this should be your next stop.

20180513_150805.jpgAfter a couple hours of exploring, we reluctantly climbed back down to the cab to get ready to catch our flight back to reality. Since we got back a little early, we had some time to take in the views at our hotel with one last bottle of Turasan wine.

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I am so grateful to have spent such a wonderful weekend with such a wonderful friend! Happy Birthday to me! Here’s to another year of adventure.

NYC!

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New York City was a place I had always built up in my mind.  It was the backdrop to nearly all the sitcoms of my childhood, the land of Broadway, and a foodie paradise; I knew I had to make it there eventually.

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One of my best friends since middle school recently moved to a suburb near the city and invited me to visit, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity – it had been two years since we’d seen each other (which was FAR too long!) and we knew we’d have a blast exploring the city together.

 

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After a night of catching up and relaxing after my flight (which had spent 3 hours on the runway), we were up bright and early and ready to explore.  It was a little surreal to walk out of the bus station and right into The New York Times!

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We started out by walking around Times Square and I could not have chosen better weather.  It was cool and overcast, but not rainy or humid at all – a far cry from the smoldering Kansas heat I had left behind.

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We stopped for lunch in Koreatown and I will probably be dreaming of all the wonderful Korean barbecue for the next year now.

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Next up was Central Park, where we spent several hours enjoying the beautiful weather.  I couldn’t believe how HUGE the park was!  I was also surprised at how many newly married couples were walking around nonchalantly getting their pictures taken.  The park is pretty enough in summer, but I imagine it’s stunning in the fall.

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Our last stop for the day was the 9/11 memorial and Tower One, which was sad and beautiful all at once.

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One of the things I was most hoping to do while I was in New York was to see a Broadway show, so I was pretty stoked when we scored some decently priced last-minute tickets to The Book of Mormon.  The humor was not for the faint of heart, but it definitely kept me laughing and the venue, set, and costumes were spectacular.

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After the show, we decided to try to catch happy hour at a nearby rooftop bar, which offered fabulous views of the skyline.  Sipping on watermelon coolers to beat the afternoon heat was just the icing on the cake.

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On Day 3, we did a little double decker cruising (touristy, but fun) and went to see the Statue of Liberty.

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All too soon it was time to disembark and get ready to pack for my early flight back to Kansas.  I could easily have stayed for another week, but I was grateful for the time I had. It’s hard to be so far away from family and friends, and unfortunately, friends can often get pushed aside for the sake of family.  I’m so glad I made time for this adventure and hope to make a return trip next summer!

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Görüşürüz

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It’s official…my second school year in Turkey has ended and summer is here! This time around, it’s bittersweet. We have quite a few friends leaving us, so we all decided to stick around for one last weekend together.

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We drove to a nearby sahil (seaside area) for an all-day picnic. The weather was gorgeous and because it was the last day of Ramadan, we pretty much had the place to ourselves all afternoon. We had an epic picnic, which was basically a smorgasbord of Turkish, American, and Mexican food, complete with a dessert table.

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We discovered this gem while grabbing provisions…

The whole day was spent chatting, stuffing our faces, playing frisbee, and climbing playground equipment like children. When we had finally had our fill of the great outdoors, we headed back to the incredibly empty campus for a rooftop terrace party, which included mojitos and obnoxiously loud music. It was the perfect way to end our last night at the school…and probably our last night together for a long time.

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It’s never easy to say goodbye, but at least we made it an epic goodbye. Now to enjoy some well-deserved summertime freedom!

Serenity in Altınoluk

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Sometimes, amidst all of the chaos of work, crowds, wild traffic, and bureaucracy, I forget how peaceful Turkey can be.  Our Swedish friend, who we met in Stockholm last year, has a summer house in Altınoluk and kindly invited us out for the weekend, which we gladly accepted.

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Altınoluk is a lovely village on the Aegean coast, near Edremit.  We spent most of our time enjoying the wonderful weather and taking long walks throughout the village and olive groves.

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We happened to run into some of her relatives (her husband was Turkish) on our daily walk, who invited us in for coffee.  One of the things I so greatly admire about Turkish culture is the hospitality and sense of community.

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After a nice chat, we went down to the local fishery for lunch, where we indulged in some freshly caught sardines.  They were delicious.

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Much to my delight, we followed up our lunch with a visit to the local pazar.  I bought some delicious olives to snack on, as well as a couple of pretty summer dresses.

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Without a doubt, the best part of the weekend was sitting out on the patio drinking coffee and exchanging stories.  I learned so much about what Turkey was like in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s (which was fascinating) and about traveling through Europe in general. When the sun started to set, we exchanged the cups of coffee for glasses of wine and talked late into the night.    I felt refreshed in a way I haven’t felt in quite a long time and realized I haven’t been taking enough time for myself lately.  Some good company, village charm, and fresh air were exactly what I needed.

Day 3: Loch Ness

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After a good night’s sleep at Inverness, we hit the road to see if we could catch Nessie before the sun set!  The drive was absolutely beautiful, featuring tunnels of trees decked out in fall colors and plenty of sunshine.

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We also saw a ridiculous number of rainbows throughout our journey.

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On our way through Loch Ness, we visited Urquhart Castle, which had a fascinating, albeit depressing history.  We got the grand tour and the weather was honestly pretty great considering the season.  Our tour guide was hilarious.

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On the way out, we spotted a highland cow!  I love how furry they are.

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Our next stop was the adorable town of Fort Augustus, which was greener than green and full of rustic charm.  I fell in love with this Nessie sculpture!

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Oh, look.  Another rainbow.

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The views of the Loch were picture perfect.  Fun fact:  loch is just the Gaelic word for lake.

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Pretty fall colors and fabulous friends.

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After a hearty dinner (and a little Scotch whiskey!) at a local pub, we took off for our final destination for the night: the Isle of Skye.  We checked in to our cozy Airbnb, which reminded me of Clue for some reason.  I absolutely loved the plaid carpet!  It was the perfect place to pass the night chatting, snacking, and playing board games.