I Will Miss You

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As of today, I have approximately 55 days left in Turkey.  Holy crap.

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The countdown is starting to feel real.  Like, really real.  As excited as I am to start a new life in China, leaving Turkey is going to leave a bit of a simit-shaped hole in my heart.  I have made so many wonderful friends here who have really become like my family and have been by my side through everything from economic crisis and culture shock to Turkish miracles and breathtaking travel moments.  Saying goodbye won’t be easy.

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I have been a bit of a hermit this year.  Our trips have been a little lackluster compared to previous years and more than that, I think we have just gotten a little tired.  Living on a little rock by the sea in the middle of nowhere can make you feel a little burnt out and lethargic after four years, I suppose.  I’ve been venturing into Istanbul less and less, but one of my dearest friends managed to pull me out of my cave this weekend.

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I couldn’t restrain myself from taking a bite before taking a picture.

First up was a delicious Mexican dinner, which is a big deal in Turkey because it is hard to find Mexican food here – especially good Mexican food.  These enchiladas were the real deal.

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This was her first time trying margaritas.  She approved.

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The next day, we ventured all the way out to Beykoz to go to a super hipster BYOB old shoe factory-turned-movie-theatre that plays cool old films and cult classics.  To get there, you have to take a special golf cart with security because the road is lined with active movie sets for Turkish series and films.

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Here is the oh-so-comfy movie theatre.  Not pictured: mulled wine in a coffee cup.  We watched Tokyo Godfathers, which was amazing.

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After our movie and some lunch, we headed over to Beşiktaş to see Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon exhibit, as well as a few other pieces at the Ferriye museum.

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I really liked this CGI interpretation of the Last Supper

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The sunset over Ortaköy was otherworldly.

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The next morning, after brunch, my friend convinced me that it would be awesome if we both got our ears pierced on a whim.  So that happened.

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As I hopped on the bus to head back to my rock by the sea, the thought that kept running through my head was I’ll miss you.  Istanbul, my friends, the seaside, my village home, all of it.

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Istanbul Tulip Festival

IMG_3465.jpgSpring has arrived.

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Every year in April,  colorful displays of tulips can be found all over the city of Istanbul.  More than a hundred varieties of tulips can be seen in almost any of the public parks.  After three years, we finally decided to see what all the fuss was about and we weren’t disappointed.  It made for a perfect afternoon and we couldn’t have asked for better weather.

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This is just further proof that spring is Turkey’s most beautiful season.

Fener-Balat

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Tucked away in the Golden Horn of Istanbul is an often-overlooked piece of history, just far enough away from the main attractions of Sultanahmet to go unnoticed.  The old districts of Fener and Balat – the old Greek and Jewish quarters respectively – have somehow managed to preserve their minority histories throughout many tumultuous centuries.

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As you walk along the coast from Eminönü, past the fishermen and heavy traffic, a different sort of skyline will come into view.  Along the sea, the imposing figure of St. Stephens, a newly renovated Bulgarian church made almost entirely of iron, shimmers in the sunlight.

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Across the bustling streets, Rum Lisesi – a Greek Orthodox church-turned-school overlooks the tangled network of alleys.  The old bohemian streets beckon you in a little farther with their numerous charming cafes and quirky shops.  Before you know it, you are standing above it all, glancing down at rows of colorful houses, dotted with clotheslines.

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It is a version of Istanbul unlike any I had ever seen before.  I don’t know why it took me so long to see it, but I know that I must go back.

A Weekend Long Overdue

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Fresh juice all day, every day.

Wow, I have really neglected this space lately…not to mention myself.  My life has mainly revolved around work for the last month and a half, which has not been the most exciting.  My husband and I finally mustered up the time and energy to journey over to Istanbul for the weekend for some much-needed interaction with civilization. IMG_1599.JPG We didn’t want to make any specific plans, so we just went with the flow the whole weekend long.  After hitting up one of our favorite cafes, we found ourselves wandering over to the iskele to take the ferry over to the European side of the city.  After all this time, crossing the Bosphorus still feels like such a magical experience each time.

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Even though it didn’t feel like it at all due to the heat, the city was showing a few signs of fall.  After eating and wandering the streets, we ended up in Sultanahmet and decided to check out some of the museums we hadn’t yet seen.

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We stumbled into the Mosaic Museum, and for such a small museum, it was really impressive.  Even though the mosaics were from the Byzantine period, you could really see the fusion of east and west that has always been at the heart of Istanbul reflected in the imagery.  I can’t believe we’d never stopped there before…well worth the visit!!

We tried to visit the carpet museum as well, but we didn’t make it in time, so I guess that’s another plan for another day.

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Pancake breakfast!!

I’m hoping this is the start of a few more adventures and a little less self-neglect.

B(eating) Burnout

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What a long, strange term it has been.  My life has pretty much revolved around nothing but work for the past two months and I can really feel it.  Now that we are reaching the end-of-term chaos, I am more exhausted than ever.  No amount of sleep or coffee seems to wake me up anymore and I find myself daydreaming about spring break at least twice an hour.

For the most part, we have stayed on campus this term, mainly because of work obligations.  After FIVE consecutive weeks of nothing but this tiny microcosm, I had to get out before I lost my mind, so we FINALLY went to Istanbul for the weekend for no other reason than to get the hell off campus.

Can you tell I’m a little burnt out?

Luckily, I dealt with it in the healthiest way I know how:  retail therapy and binge eating!  It was super effective.

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We started off with  breakfast at a new, hipster cereal restaurant in Moda called Crazy Flakes and it didn’t disappoint.  They sell cereal brands from all over the world, including my beloved Peanut Butter Crunch!  You can mix cereals with a variety of toppings, but I opted for a plain bowl with some sliced bananas on top.  SO good!  My husband went straight for the Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

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Afterward, we hopped on the ferry over to Galata, where we planned to spend the night.  We walked and shopped around Istiklal before taking a little detour to Cezayir Sokağı, known informally as “The French Street” for its pastel pink facades and floral decor.  It’s a fun-looking street, but there isn’t much that’s French about it.  After about five minutes of being harassed by waiters to come sit down, we headed back to Istiklal.

Turning back to Galata, we went to one of our favorite restaurants in all of Istanbul, Picante, for some delicious Mexican food and real margaritas.  After dinner, we were pretty much out for the count, so we called it a night and watched YouTube videos until we succumbed to our food comas.

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The next morning, we walked down to our favorite breakfast joint, Arada Cafe.  They serve a delightful mix of both Turkish and Lebanese foods and all of it is homemade and delicious.  We got the Turkish/Lebanese breakfast platter, which was basically an epic feast with all of the classic Turkish breakfast staples, as well as hummus, tahini, falafel, zahter, and all kinds of other delicious things I didn’t even know the name of.  Needless to say, I didn’t need lunch or dinner later that evening.

We tried our best to walk off the food babies while doing a little last minute shopping for SPAIN next week!  The end of the term is nigh and I am so ready!

Any teachers out there:  How do you deal with burnout?  I find it especially hard as an expat in a very small, sheltered community.

 

Offbeat Ottoman Charm: Beylerbeyi and Kuzguncuk

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We just finished our THIRD weekend in a row of having to be on campus to work and holy crap am I burnt out.  Every now and then, I don’t mind the excuse to catch up on some housework and play video games, but I definitely didn’t move halfway across the world to play video games in my lojman.  While we were a little tired after our duty session at the Open House day, we decided to push through the fatigue and make the trek out to Istanbul for a little contact with civilization.  It took a taxi, two metros, a bus, and a good deal of walking to get there, but we managed to make it before dark and it was well worth the trip. When we go to Istanbul, we tend to spend most of our time in Kadıköy out of convenience, but we were craving a change of scenery.  We decided to check out some of the highlights in the neighboring district of Üsküdar.

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We got up early Sunday morning for some good spinach and potato börek  before heading to  Beylerbeyi Palace, used by sultans as a summer home during the Ottoman era.  It was an unbelievably gorgeous day – sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and warm enough to get by with just a light jacket.  We wandered through the gardens and stopped for a coffee in the cafe while waiting for the English tour to start.  Once it did, we were two of only four people on the tour!  We more or less had the place to ourselves.

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Unfortunately, since photos aren’t allowed (and the tour guide was watching us like a hawk the whole time), I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the interior…but it is beautiful in a very eclectic way.  Much like Hagia Sophia, it is representative of Turkey’s confusing cultural identity: vibrant colors mix with Rococo architecture, Arabic script contrasts with French floral  vases, and ornately carved wooden panels lay behind fairly derivative Euro-style paintings.  It was hodgepodge in the best way.

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After finishing our tour, we walked along the water to Kuzguncuk, a beautiful, peaceful little neighborhood that was once home to many Greeks, Armenians, and Jews in Istanbul. The houses there are unlike most that I’ve seen in Istanbul, with their brightly painted exteriors and Ottoman designs.  We had fun just wandering through the streets admiring the architecture.  Kuzguncuk is also known for its great selection of cafes and restaurants – especially breakfast joints.  Since we had already eaten breakfast, we opted for a light lunch at a vegetarian restaurant and it did not disappoint.

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Since it was such an incredibly beautiful day, many artisans were out in the streets selling their wares.  I picked up this little beauty, made of fake leather and quite unique compared to most of the street jewelry I’ve seen.  The center features an image of the Maiden’s Tower.

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I wish we could have stayed longer, but honestly, I’m just glad we got out!  It’s amazing how much there is to see in Istanbul…we could probably live there a lifetime and not see it all.  I love living near such a beautiful, sprawling city.

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The Best Coffee in Moda

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The European side of Istanbul is what draws many people  to Turkey, but it’s the Asian side that has my heart.  It’s quiet, it’s charming, and it’s the place to be if you want to feel like a local.  What it lacks in tourist attractions in more than makes up for in character…especially in Moda.

Moda is the hipster oasis of Istanbul, where one goes to find foreign food, quirky goodness, and a decent cup of coffee.  It’s also only about 45 minutes away from our campus on a good traffic day, so we have spent many a weekend there when we need to escape the microcosm.  We are always on the hunt for a new restaurant, good cafe, or fun shop.  After many months of trial and error, we’ve started to settle into our favorite spots in the area.

Our first priority when we step off of the service bus?  COFFEE.  We have tried countless coffee shops in the area, but now that we have been here for over a year, we’ve narrowed it down to a few favorites.

Walter’s Coffee

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This was our first big discovery in the area and still one of our regular hangouts.  I love the Breaking Bad theme (because who doesn’t love Breaking Bad?) and the coffee is amazing too.  This is one of the few places I have been able to order coffee with almond milk, which is usually my milk of choice.

Coffee Manifesto

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Conveniently located by all of the bars, they offer a delicious variety of coffee beans, mostly of Latin American origin.  I love stopping by in the morning for a strong cup of filtered coffee (sade) or for a cortado as an afternoon treat.  They also have pretty good cupcakes.

Cherrybean Coffees

This place opened up recently and has taken off better than most new things do in the area.  I love that they serve their filtered coffee in a good, old-fashioned mug.  Everything about it reminds me of home.  The coffee selection isn’t enormous, but they offer great atmosphere, with comfy chairs and plenty of art on the walls.

Food Project

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This is where coffee lovers can take their friends who don’t like coffee (but seriously…how do such people exist?)  In addition to a cozy atmosphere and good coffee, Food project has an EPIC hot chocolate menu, including flavors like pumpkin spice and lavender (my fave!). They also have a killer breakfast buffet on Saturdays.

If you ask me, no trip to Istanbul is complete without a visit to the Asian side, even if it’s only for a few hours…and while you’re at it, go get some great coffee (especially if you aren’t a fan of Turkish coffee).