A New Year in Bologna

IMG_2073.JPGFor the first time since we’ve moved abroad, we were both off on New Year’s and the weekend before, so we decided to get off campus and celebrate properly somewhere; the question was where.

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As usual, we let Skyscanner decide and the cheapest flights outside of Turkey were to Bologna.  The times were perfect and the price was right, but we wondered if perhaps we shouldn’t look elsewhere because we had already been to Italy twice before and there are so many places nearby we haven’t seen yet.

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But c’mon.  It’s Italy.

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The more we talked about it, the more I loved the idea of wandering through narrow streets, eating amazing food, and drinking good wine.  After all, since we had already done the whole tourist thing a couple of times, we figured there would be no pressure to check off a list of sights to see and places to go; we could simply sit back and enjoy la bella vita.

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So. Freaking. Good.

We rented an adorable apartment from Airbnb (If you haven’t tried it yet, you should!  You can get $23 off your first stay here.) and hung out like the locals for a few days.  Of course, we did some sightseeing, but we also balanced that with trips to the local cafes for cappuccino or aperitivo (wine and appetizers) or strolling through the streets and window shopping.  We even went to a local grocery store one night and bought all kinds of tasty ingredients to see if we could make our own delicious Italian dinner since our apartment had a kitchen – it was one of the highlights of the trip for me!

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Once New Year’s Eve rolled around, we were ready to go out and see the annual fire in Piazza Maggiore.  Yes, fire.  They spend the days leading up to New Year’s building a paper sculpture in the middle of the square, and at exactly midnight on New Year’s Eve, they light it on fire and everyone watches it burn.  It was incredibly strange and incredibly awesome all at the same time.

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11:59

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12:00

Moral of the story:  Italy is always a good idea.

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The aftermath of a great party

Ghent: Day to Night

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After leaving Bruges, I wasn’t sure if any other destination in Belgium could compare, but I was totally wrong.  Ghent turned out to be just as charming, if not more so in the sense that it was not nearly as touristy as Bruges.

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Ghent is a seriously overlooked city, full of life and personality.  Our adventure begin when we checked in to a cool little Airbnb in the red light district (yes, the red light district), smack dab in the middle of all the action.

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Ghent is by no means a bustling metropolis, but it had an energy to it that Bruges did not.  In fact, Ghent reminded me a lot of Moda, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Istanbul.  Every twist down an alley revealed a slew of delightfully hipster shops, quirky cafes, and plenty of pubs.

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My Thanksgiving dinner

IMG_1863.JPGGhent is also the self-proclaimed vegetarian capital of the world (again…self-proclaimed), so it was nice to have some tasty and healthy options around.  One cafe in particular – BARISTA- has forever captured my heart with it’s unbelievable homemade soups and awesome orange chai lattes.  It also didn’t hurt that they offered me a free sandwich one evening right before closing that turned out to be one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten.

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We decided to focus on city walks during our time there since I was too sick and exhausted to manage much of anything else.  The coolest walk by far was the Illuminated Walk, suggested by the Ghent tourism board.  This walk is meant to be done at night and to showcase Ghent’s unique cityscape all lit up.

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Ghent was such a stunning place, both by day and night.  If you find yourself passing through Belgium, don’t miss out!

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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.

 

Expat Whispers

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I sure do miss those college days sometimes

I got my first taste of expat whispers when I started working for the international student office at my university.  That job launched me into a whole new world, one that I desperately craved as someone who wanted so badly to see the world outside of small town Kansas.  I wasn’t exactly in the position to do so at the time, so I was incredibly  fortunate to meet many wonderful people who were able to bring a little taste of the world to me.

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American style pancakes at KEV, with butter and maple syrup

Having never experienced anything outside of American life (save for a short trip to France and Spain with my high school), I really didn’t understand what it was like to be so far removed from one’s own culture.  It really started to dawn on me how brave all of these people were to leave everything they’d ever known and spend four years in a totally different world.

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At a Mexican restaurant in Istanbul

I distinctly remember sitting at my desk when one of my friends from Japan exclaimed that they’d received a care package full of their favorite snacks.  She had paid a pretty hefty price for the shipping, but assured me that the taste of home was totally worth it.  Another friend invited me to come along with her to an authentic Indian restaurant she had discovered about an hour outside of our town.  She had a brace on her wrist from an injury, but she still removed it for the  meal, not about to let it prevent her from eating with her hands, as is the custom in a lot of South Asian countries.  I could sense the power in these small comforts, though I couldn’t fully understand them until I, too, became an expat.

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Our very first care package!

I had no idea what to expect my first year here, and as such, was completely unprepared.  One minute, I felt the need to try to hoard anything that reminded me of home and hold onto it for dear life (FYI…trying to make a bag of Reese’s last for a year in a freezer is a terrible idea…they taste like crap) and the next minute, I would feel like it was impossible and pointless and resigned myself to thinking I would have to change every aspect of my life.  The truth, of course, lies somewhere between the extremes.

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After I survived the worst of the culture shock, I realized there was already a huge, vibrant expat community right at my fingertips, ready to share any exciting discoveries through the grapevine.  This grapevine, this network of whispers, has totally revolutionized my life here in Turkey and made me feel like I’m not so out of my element after all.

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Aeropostale jeans…my fave

I always laugh to myself now when I gasp with excitement when a friend tells me about a new sushi place they discovered, or a store that sells blueberries and sweet potatoes.  I laugh because I totally get where my college friends were coming from.  I also feel a responsibility to do for others what they did for me by sharing a little bit of my world with my Turkish students and friends, to widen their windows.  They don’t quite yet understand the value of a package from home with a fresh jar of Jiff, but they can sense that it has value.

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I am now halfway through  my second school year here and it’s amazing how much my perspective has changed.  Though at first this constant grasping and digging for the slightest taste of home felt frustrating and futile, I now feel so lucky to be part of such a special community.  Yes, it is difficult sometimes, but it is also rewarding.  There’s a certain thrill in the chase.

Who knows where the whispers will carry me next.

‘Tis the Season

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We’ve been fighting colds around here.  The students are sick, the teachers are sick.  It’s a bit of a mess.  I mentioned last year that Turks have a preference for natural remedies over the Big Pharma treatments, and as such, I’ve been exposed to a lot more ways to deal with cold and flu season.

Before coming here, I’d usually just guzzle down some Therma-Flu or Nyquil and call it good, but those things are not readily available here, so I often have to improvise.  We also live in a remote area, which makes it a pain to go to a doctor or pharmacy unless it’s an actual emergency.  Many of my Turkish friends swear by the power of tea and have different ones for different ailments.  More and more often, I find myself turning to an herbal tea with lemon, ginger, and honey for a sore throat or a mint tea for an upset stomach.  There’s something very comforting about using these natural ingredients.

This week, we decided to try out a recipe I had had archived since my early college days, back when I was obsessed with Modcloth and followed their blog regularly.  I would constantly go back and look at it every time I didn’t feel well, but never mustered up the motivation to get the ingredients.  This week just happened to be one of the weeks where we were running low on groceries, but didn’t feel like going out or going to the cafeteria.  Luckily, we almost always have carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes on hand here in Turkey (for mercimek corbasi and Japanese curry!), and I remembered this recipe and decided to give it a shot.

We added some white beans and omitted the celery because we didn’t have any, and I probably tripled the garlic (it’s good for immunity, right?), but anyway, this was a great way to make a comforting dinner with very few ingredients.  I will keep it in my pocket for the next time one of us falls under the weather again!

What are your go-to natural remedies for cold and flu season?  I’ll try just about anything once!

Savoring a Souvenir: Scotland Edition

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We finally broke down and had to eat this chocolate we picked up in Scotland and it was pretty much perfect.  I’m a sucker for lavender (as evidenced here and here) and this chocolate had just the right amount.  One of these days I’ll have to return to Scotland in the warmer months to see all of that lavender in action…and to get more of this chocolate.

Belgrad Forest (Belgrad Ormanı)

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After two weeks of being stuck on campus for various work obligations, I was desperate to get out for the weekend!  We decided to venture out to Belgrad Forest with our friend for a last dose of autumn before winter rolls around and to get some fresh air.

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It’s strange that such a sprawling city has this amazing slice of nature right beside it.  I absolutely love the city, but having been raised in a small town in the country, it was so refreshing to escape the crowds and to take in the smell of damp leaves as opposed to the usual combination of smoke and garbage.  We were also blessed with a beautiful day on this outing – no rain and just the slightest cool breeze.

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When we first walked in, we felt a little out of place (it seemed that this was a place mostly reserved for couples to make out or to take pictures together); however, once we got past the entrance and off onto some of the smaller trails, we were able to explore without accidentally elbowing any young lovers.

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We were very excited to find some pretty red oak trees that had been imported from the States.  Look at those leaves!  Also, my friend and I accidentally color coordinated with said leaves.

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I love him.

Besides frolicking through the forest, our main weekend activity was to eat like kings!  I had a third trimester food baby by the end.  We had Chicago style hot dogs at Shake Shack and a massive Lebanese brunch at Tahin.  We thought we were doing pretty good on Sunday when we opted for a vegan lunch, but we pretty much ended up pigging out there as well.  It was all just so good!

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The highlight of the weekend gluttony was a FABULOUS little Italian joint on the Asian side called Semolina’s.  They had delicious bruschetta and all kinds of fettuccine, all of which tasted like the real deal.  I got the fettuccine puttanesca, which was amazing and also reminded me of The Bad Beginning, which in turn reminded me of the Netflix series that is coming out soon!  Ahhh!

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I’ll have to make up for a lot of slacking this week, but I think it was worth it.  In just one more week, we’ll have finished up our first term of the year, which seems insane.  Bring on the Fall Break!

Chasing Fall

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I may or may not have had two pumpkin spice lattes

Sweaters, boots, bright colored leaves, cold air, Halloween, the promise of a new school year, and pumpkin everything.  I love it all.  Fall has always been my favorite season, for so many reasons.  Unfortunately, few places seem to be able to match the cheery vibrancy that an American fall captures so well.

When I first moved here last year, I kept waiting for the leaves to change and the fall spirit to soar.  It didn’t.  What I found instead were grey skies, lots of rain, and a lot of mopey people.  No Halloween, no pumpkin patches, no cider mills.  It’s really just not the same.  Honestly, this is the time of year that homesickness hits me the hardest.  Oh, what I wouldn’t give for my long break to be in October and November instead of July and August.

I don’t want to fall into a rut the way I did last fall.  This year, I’m determined to get into the spirit, even if the weather doesn’t exactly match.

Here are a few things I’d love to do to make this season a little more snazzy:

Make some home-y fall recipes.  I’m thinking pumpkin pie and lots of chili.

Decorate.  My husband and I plan to get crafty this weekend and make some Halloween decorations and watch scary movies.  I can’t wait!

Play with yarn.  Nothing says fall like cozying up with my crochet needle and making some cool scarves.

Find some foliage.  I need colorful trees in my life!  Turkey is mostly pine, but we’re thinking of heading to the Belgrad Forest once it cools down a bit more around here.  Also, I’m strongly considering a weekend trip out of the country before the season is over…I’d love to go to England or Scotland!

Make a playlist.  My music taste definitely changes with the seasons.

Any other American expats out there who miss this time of year?  I feel like it just isn’t the same anywhere else.

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Apple picking, back in the college days

 

Istanbul Coffee Festival

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Anyone who knows me well knows of my love for coffee…especially good coffee.  My husband and I were just casually looking around for things to do over the weekend and when the Istanbul Coffee Festival came under our radar, it was a no-brainer.

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The Istanbul Coffee Festival, otherwise known as paradise, is an annual event that brings together all things coffee.  There were TONS of local coffee shop owners, as well as several international coffee brands.  There were also many workshops, snack vendors, and fun activities at the event.  Obviously, the best part was the coffee.  I did my best to visit every stand to taste what they had to offer, determined to find a few favorites to take home with me.

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It can be hard to escape the usual Turkish coffee in Turkey, but Istanbul has a fairly vibrant coffee culture if you’re willing to seek it out.  There were several great vendors who were offering fabulous filtered coffee, from pour-over to drip to cold brew.  You name it, they had it!

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After four hours of non-stop complimentary coffee samples, I don’t even want to talk about how caffeinated I was.  If not for the lingering cold, I doubt I even would have slept. It was totally worth it though, because not only did we get to drink amazing coffee all day, but we also discovered plenty of new coffee hangouts in Istanbul for future weekends.

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We left with some pretty good loot.  We got some delicious new coffee beans, some tasty granola, and a new coffee grinder (so we don’t have to rely on our food processor all the time.)  We also got some cool t-shirts and a tote bag.

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Pretty much all of the coffee we had was good, but my personal favorite was Deal.  Their Burundi beans were fabulous and you can order them online, so if you’re looking for some great filtered coffee in Turkey, check it out!

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I’m feeling much more prepared for the colder days ahead.  I will definitely be back at the festival next year!

A Village Stroll

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Both my husband and I are on duty this weekend, which means it will be a relatively quiet one full of cleaning, laundry, junk food, binge-watching, and…work.  Honestly, I don’t even mind because we’ve been on the go quite a bit recently.

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The place where we live and work is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, which can be both good and bad.  I love the peace and quiet because it allows me to concentrate on my work during the week and you can’t beat a sea view (Seriously.  I can see the sea from my bedroom.  It’s unreal).  On the other hand, since we don’t have a car here, I find myself missing the convenience of walking down to the grocery store or hopping in the car to go to a drive-thru like we did back in Kansas.  It’s not a big deal, since we can call a cab and get to the nearest mall (where we do our grocery shopping) in about 15 minutes, but it can definitely be a bit of a hassle after a long day at work, which usually means eating canned tuna for the third day in a row.

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I love, love, love long walks, especially in beautiful weather…and we are lucky enough to only have half days on Friday, so I was pretty eager to get outside after school.  We weren’t really up for the whole Istanbul thing since we both had duties, but we didn’t particularly feel like staying on campus either.  Also, it was a liver for lunch kind of day, which is definitely not my thing, so I was starving.  We were tired of the mall, having just gone a couple of days before, so we decided to hit up the sprawling village of Muallimköy, a ten minute walk from the campus.  The word in the office was that they’d opened a new Çiğ Köfteci over the summer, so it was a date.

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The whole chilly weather/new school year vibe had me feeling nostalgic for my student days.  Everything just feels so new and exciting and full of potential.  I’m still waiting for some pretty red leaves, although they don’t seem to get as vibrant here in autumn as they do back in the States.  Still, the weather was seriously awesome.

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Sooooooo good!

Çiğ Köfte is seriously the best…and now only ten minutes away!  I’m so stoked.  I will definitely be a regular customer.  Afterward, we stopped by the bakkal for some Magnum ice cream bars for dessert and then stocked up on some snacks for our subsequent binge of Orange is the New Black.  A perfect Friday afternoon if you ask me.

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