Chios, Greece: A Tiny Aegean Paradise

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Çeşme is a fairly frequented tourist haven, which is no surprise because it’s full of beautiful beaches.  What is surprising is that the Greek island of Chios is only 20 minutes away by ferry and it is seldom traveled in comparison…which is a shame because it’s lovely.

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We got an amazing deal on a resort with a private beach and got to wake up to this view every morning!  It was great only being a minute away from a perfect morning swim. Much like Çeşme, Chios is full of beautiful beaches, but because we basically had a beach to ourselves, we didn’t venture off to any of the others.

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After a much-needed day of settling in and hanging out in the water, we were ready to explore more of the island.  One of the main attractions of Chios is the tiny town of Pyrgi, known for its beautiful houses covered in unique grey and white geometric patterns.

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Every building in town was so beautiful and elaborate and I especially loved the color contrast of all of the tomatoes being hung out to dry throughout the neighborhoods. We spent several hours simply wandering through the tiny alleys admiring the patterns.  We also stopped to sip on some mastiha, a liquor made out of mastic, which is one of the island’s specialties.

IMG_0818.JPGAnother highlight of the island is the little pier with historic windmills, not far from the main port.  They are much bigger than they seem and look absolutely stunning next to the turquoise water.  We visited in the afternoon, but I imagine they are breathtaking at sunset.

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We were really surprised by how beautiful and charming Chios was.  We had been to Greece before, so we knew we’d likely be in for a treat, but it was so nice to explore one of the lesser known islands and not build up so many expectations.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned about traveling, it’s not to be afraid to go off the beaten path.  The beaches, lovely architecture, food, and hospitable locals blew us away!

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I look forward to even more Greek islands in my future, but especially those that are so close to Turkey!  The ferry ride was only 25 euros and was a breeze (as long as you show up at least an hour before departure for passport control).  It’s also interesting to see the influence that both Turkey and Greece have had on one another so close to the border.

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Besides, it’s really hard to turn down the opportunity to see two countries in one trip and drink really good wine for 2 euros a glass.

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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!

Nothing

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I moved to the mountain to get away from myself,

from all the voices that told me 

I was nothing.

 

I built a tiny white house on the edge of a cliff,

and in the process, I became

nothing.

 

Nothing to no one; I forgot my own name

But from afar, I could see

everything.

 

Violence, destruction, hatred, and pain

But also

Joy, love, hope, and prosperity

 

I moved to the mountain to get away from myself, but in the process

I found myself; the one who sees, but feels

nothing. 

Doors to Nowhere

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***I’m breaking things up here with a little creative writing piece I wrote on a ferry ride in Greece, inspired by some beautiful doors I’ve seen throughout my travels.  Enjoy!***

She was always finding them.  Or, rather, they were finding her.  Doors that led to absolutely nowhere…or so it appeared.

The first one came to her when she was very young, leaning against a pile of overgrown brush in her family’s garden.  It was old and well-worn and looked as if it might crumble to dust against even the lightest of breezes.  This thought never even crossed her mind.  She was too curious for that.  She pulled on the handle and stepped through.

This, she soon realized, was where the fairies lived, twinkling brightly in their lush green abode.  They fluttered around her, whispering their secrets, made her promise not to tell.  They fed her honeysuckle nectar, adorned her hair with wildflowers, and told her she would always be welcome in their world.

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The next door came sometime later, when her family moved to a new house.  As she was hanging her many sweaters in her brand new closet, she saw it peeking at her, tucked away in the back corner.  Where did it go?  She wondered to herself.  The tiny knob popped open, revealing just enough room for her to crawl through.  A cluttered room buried in dust showed her its face.  It was there that she first met the ghost that lived in her house; the one that had been there for hundreds o years.  She told her her life story, her death story, and told her never to be frightened when she went bump in the night.

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She never really made a point of looking for them.  The doors, they just kept finding her.  Like when she went to her first party and saw door to an old shed swinging in the wind, beckoning her to go through it.  It was there that she first heard the wind speak as plain as day.

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Then there was that time she went backpacking through the mountains.  She stumbled upon it while she was hiking along the trail, carved right into the ragged rock:  an old door, like one might find on a house.  By now, she knew the drill; she couldn’t resist.  She was greeted warmly by a mountain troll, who graciously made her dinner over a campfire and guided her by torch through the mountain – a considerable shortcut to her final destination.  The firelight danced among the many glittering gems that lined the tunnel walls – the troll’s treasure stores.

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When she bought her first place, a tiny cottage in the meadow, she knew it was meant to be when she saw a single door propped up on a stairway, overgrown with daisies.  She put down her moving boxes to climb those stairs, going up and up, until she noticed that she’d already gone through the door and was now climbing right into the sky, as if on solid ground.  She kept climbing until she reached the clouds, where she waited until the sky grew dark and sparkled with starlight.  It was their that she first met her lover, and they met there every night thereafter.

Yes, the doors, they always find her.  Even as we speak, she’s standing before yet another abandoned door.  As other passersby walk on, ignoring the magic that stands before them, she reaches for the handle and wonders what lies in store for her on the other side.

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.

Food, Booze, and Hospitality: The Off-Season in Naxos

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I had a great time in Santorini, but it really took me by surprise when I fell head-over-heels for the lesser-known island of Naxos.  The largest island in the Cyclades, Naxos is best known for its incredible beaches…but there’s a whole lot more to it than that.  From the moment I laid eyes on the iconic view of Portara (all that remains of an ancient temple of Apollo) I had a feeling I was in for a treat.

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I was immediately blown away by the kindness and hospitality of the people in Naxos. Never in my life had I received such a warm welcome as I did at our hotel, Kymata Hotel.  I cannot talk that place up enough.  They offered to pick us up at the port for free, and as soon as we arrived, everyone at the reception got up to greet us and thrust huge, homemade loukoumis (the Greek equivalent of a Turkish Delight) into our hands, along with a shot of Raki!  It was amazing.  I should also mention that it is conveniently located right on St. George Beach and has an incredible breakfast buffet.  If you’re staying in Naxos, this is where you should be!

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The adventure didn’t end there.  We soon learned that in addition to having incredible people and beautiful beaches, Naxos is also home to a fantastic food scene.  All of the best Greek food we ate on our entire trip was in Naxos.

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Dakos:  the most incredible dish of the trip!

 The best part?  Every single restaurant was eager to give us something to try on the house, whether it was a dessert, glass of wine, or an appetizer.

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Incredibly delicious honey-cinnamon Raki

We trudged back to our hotel every night with full stomachs and happy hearts.

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Another highlight for us on this wonderful island was our day trip into the tiny mountain village of Halki.  The bus ride through the mountains was nothing short of extraordinary and the postcard-perfect views of the village were only made more amazing by the tantalizing scent of spring flowers.

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We stopped by the local citron distillery, which has been a specialty of the village for centuries.  The citrus-flavored liquor was delicious and we couldn’t resist buying a bottle to take home with us.

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Before heading back to the main part of the island, we stopped for a nice lunch at a beautiful little cafe.

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One of many Greek salads on the trip

With each moment, I just kept falling more and more in love with the place.  My heart was already heavy on our last night there at the thought of leaving.

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If you are planning a trip to the Greek Islands, especially if you are going to the nearby Santorini, please do yourself a favor and check out Naxos!  It’s a short ferry ride away and was my favorite part of our trip to Greece.  It may not have the poetic views of Santorini, but it is plenty beautiful and has a soulfulness that Santorini simply doesn’t.  I really hope to return someday.