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!

Wedding Weekend Indulgence

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One of our friends and colleagues got married last Sunday and we were super excited to attend our first Turkish wedding!  We made a whole weekend of it and made the trek into Istanbul via minibus on Saturday morning.  I’m ready for the school shuttle service to start up again!

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Luckily it wasn’t too crowded

We chose to stay in our favorite neighborhood:  Moda.  Seriously…the Asian side of Istanbul is so underrated.  I find it to have much more of a local city feel than the tourist traps of Sultanahmet and the food is spectacular.

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Epic vegan plate!

We stopped for lunch at one of our favorites, Tahin.  They have a whole page on their menu dedicated to different kinds of hummus (the olive one is the best!) and everything they serve is fresh and fabulous.

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Nane limonata!

After stuffing our faces, we did a little good old fashioned wandering.  Moda is a bit of a- for lack of a better term- hipster haven.  There are a ton of unique and amazing shops, restaurants, and cafes that you simply wouldn’t find anywhere else in Istanbul.  We did a good bit of shopping, which I regretted the next day when I had to walk with it all in heels.

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We scored a really nice hotel on the water and got upgraded to a suite, where we had easy access to a roof terrace and sea view.  Also, I wanted to take the bed home with me.

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I loved this skylight!

It was the perfect spot to sip on wine under the stars.  So relaxing!

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The next morning, we discovered our new favorite breakfast joint, Böcek, and feasted like crazy.  Dakota went for the English breakfast, which included REAL bacon and sausage and I went for the classic kahvalti plate.  I had no idea what we were in for.  The plates were HUGE, but so, so good.

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See that jar to the right?  Yeah, that’s peanut butter.

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All the fruit!

After breakfast (more like brunch), it was time to get into wedding mode!!  We went through lots of metro stops (in heels…with luggage…), but we finally made it to Boğaziçi University, where they were having the celebration.  I wish I’d taken more photos of the campus because it was so beautiful, but we were running late and our hands were full, so we’ll have to visit again!

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The weather was absolutely perfect, as was the setting.  It was a very elegant ceremony and I was surprised at how similar it was to an American wedding!

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The happy couple! (my phone didn’t take the best photos)

It was a great night full of fun, friends, dancing, laughing, and a little too much wine.

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How is Turkey so beautiful?

Our brunch meeting for work the next day came a little too soon, but it was totally worth it because you can’t beat free food by the sea…especially breakfast food.  It was a crazy, busy, and awesome weekend.  I’m soaking it up before school starts and the real work begins!

 

Back in the ‘bul

DSC_0166Let me just start this post by saying I sooooooo missed Istanbul.  As much as I love the sleepy comforts of Kansas and Alabama, as well as my peaceful lojman at work, I was desperately needing a dose of hustle and bustle in my life.  It was so comforting to hear the buzz of traffic and see the familiar skyline full of minarets and seagulls.

DSC_0161I will be honest:  I was a little nervous.  With everything that’s been going on in Turkey (and especially with all of the crazy press this summer), I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  I was definitely concerned about the possibility of anti-American or even plain old anti-foreign sentiment.  I am so pleased to say that it has been nothing but a warm welcome back!  All of our favorite locals were happy to see us and even in Istanbul, nobody thought twice about having American visitors.  It just goes to show that you have to take the media with a few grains of salt sometimes.

DSC_0109I’m a little ashamed to say that for as many times as we’ve been in Istanbul, there’s a whole lot we still haven’t seen.  In fact, prior to this weekend, we had only ever visited Sultanahmet once, which is literally insane.  I just love the Asian side so much and end up spending most of my time there because it’s less touristy and has great restaurants (it’s all about the food, right?).

DSC_0115Our very first weekend here, we made a beeline for Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque because that’s really all we knew about when we first came.  This year, we want to make it a point to see a lot more of what this fabulous city has to offer…because seriously, a year?  We’ve been here a year!

DSC_0125Fun fact:  if you are a legal resident of Turkey, you can get a museum card that gets you into pretty much every major museum and attraction in Turkey for free for only 50 lira (which is less than $20)!  It costs that much just to see Hagia Sophia alone!  Totally worth it!  It also comes with a list of every place you can visit, so we’re determined to check off as many things on that list as we possibly can.

DSC_0126After brunch with friends on Saturday morning (yay menemen!), we decided to kick things off with a visit to Topkapı Palace, a massive and beautiful example of Ottoman style and architecture.  We had heard our students and co-workers rave about it forever, so it was long overdue.  Also, it was an absolutely gorgeous day, which was perfect for slowly wandering through all the courtyards.   I loved all of the colorful tiles and touches of gold on everything.  My personal favorite was the armory, although we weren’t allowed to take pictures in there.

DSC_0131Trying to see everything was a bit ambitious   The treasure section was closed for renovation and we weren’t able to make it to the harem (because I guess it requires a separate ticket), so we already have plans to go back to see the things we missed on this trip.

DSC_0139After spending the night in Fatih, we got up the next morning to see another one of Istanbul’s treasures:  Basilica Cistern.  For me, this was the highlight of the weekend.  I don’t know how one place could manage to be so cool, creepy, magical, and romantic all at once, but it was.  The dimmed lighting, big fish swimming, and narrow walkways gave it an odd sort of charm that’s difficult to explain.  There was even a wishing pond!  I just happened to have a genuine American wishing penny in my purse left over from summer, so I happily tossed it in.

DSC_0172My favorite part of the cistern was definitely the Medusa columns.  Apparently, they were excavated from another site and just added into the cistern when it was built.  There are rumors that the two heads were placed at different angles to avoid the Gorgon’s gaze, but it seems more likely that it was just easier to make the columns even with that positioning.  Still, it’s fun to speculate.  I was a huge Greek mythology nerd when I was younger, so I couldn’t help but be excited while we were there.

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DSC_0176Last but not least, we finished off our weekend with a little necessary shopping and some good food.  Even though we just got back from the States, I can’t go to Akasya and not get Shake Shack, so American food it was.  I mean, you can get (beef) bacon and root beer floats.  I’m also pretty stoked that Macro Center seems to be getting more of a selection in their stores.  I found Hershey’s cocoa powder, sweet potatoes, blueberries, refried beans, and even a small selection of pork products!  All things I couldn’t ever find last year.

DSC_0177  Turkey is feeling more like home than ever!  I’m so glad to be back.

The Little Apple

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We’re currently in Manhattan, KS (a.k.a. The Little Apple) spending some time with my mom, stepdad, brother, and sister.  There have been a few hikes through the Flint Hills, LOTS of coffee shop stops, good food, and soaking in the views of my mom’s new house at Tuttle Creek.  We even saw a mountain lion!

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LAVENDER LATTES. Life-changing stuff.

When did my summer start going by so fast?

There’s No Food Like Grandma Food

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My husband, sister, and I just spent a fantastic few days with my grandparents, where we were spoiled with lots and lots of delicious food.  Homemade chicken nuggets and gravy, fruits and veggies straight from the garden, you name it.  Oh, and bacon and waffles and maple syrup…all stuff I’ve really missed this last year.

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I could’ve eaten ten pounds of those potatoes…

The best part?  Her famous pie with the best homemade crust, which she taught my sister and I how to make this weekend.  We requested peanut butter pie, which is our favorite.

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It tasted like heaven with a cup of coffee:

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I felt so at home.  We had a wonderful time chatting, catching up, and playing lots of games of Scrabble.  I can’t wait until our next visit…and to try my hand at making her pie recipe!

 

 

Goodbyes in the Big Easy

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After a fun-filled week of beaches, good food, canoeing, painting, escaping from rooms, and tons and tons of laughs, we headed to New Orleans for the last couple of days with my dad and stepmom.  New Orleans is truly a one-of-a-kind city and it surprises me every time I visit.  I’m a sucker for all the jazz, bright colors, voodoo, and nightlife.  Oh, and the food.

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We stayed by the French Quarter so that we could walk everywhere we wanted to go, which was a huge bonus because I AM ADDICTED TO POKEMON GO NOW.  I caught some pretty good stuff.  I’m going to be so depressed if Turkey does not have Pokemon Go by the time we get back.  After walking by all the horse-drawn carriages and street artists, we decided to stop for some good Cajun food, which ranks only slightly below Mexican food in my book.  I am a sucker for anything spicy and I love me some good seafood.

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It was sooooooooo good…especially the grilled shrimp and crawfish.  We also couldn’t skip out on dessert.  We were already stuffed, but we still managed to shovel in some praline bread pudding.

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I’ve never seen such happiness on his face.

We walked  crawled over to the French Market with full stomachs to browse the little shopping stands.  It seemed so orderly compared to all the crazy bazaars I’ve gotten used to.  We ended up grabbing a couple of eclectic voodoo doll prints and some sunglasses (since the whole world has basically become a giant grave for all of our broken/lost sunglasses).  I would’ve loved to buy more stuff, but you know…suitcase space. It’s precious.

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After a little shopping, we wandered over to Bourbon Street to admire all of the beautiful houses and cool off with some cold ones.

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The combination of French charm and Southern flair was on point.

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Of course, no trip to New Orleans would be complete without a stop at Cafe du Monde for beignets and chicory coffee.

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Someone pulled the sugar lid prank at our table.

We ended our night by catching some Pokemon along the water and heading back to the hotel for unlimited free wine for their social mixer hours.  It was pretty hard to leave after so much fun with everyone!!  This will definitely not  be our last visit to this fun and funky city.

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Peachy Keen at Peach Park

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Me and my MIL at the giant peach

After a rather rough first week back in the States, it was nice to spend a weekend out and about to distract us from all of the recent chaos.  We made a trip out to Clanton, AL, which is famous for its peaches.  I mean, you can’t really say you’ve been to the South if you haven’t stuffed your face with peaches, pecans, and fried everything.

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This right here was the highlight.  Peach cobbler and homemade peach cheesecake ice cream.  Fresh. Refreshing. Decadent.  Perfection.  It was hard to keep it down to one scoop!

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There isn’t much that beats the smell of fresh peaches in the sunshine.

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Of course, we couldn’t walk away without buying some delicious things in jars.  We got peach butter, peach hot sauce, peach jam, homemade pickles, and peach salsa.  I can’t wait to devour it all!

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Last, but not least, we were fascinated by this creepy trash can.  Is it a bear?  A pig?  A mix of both?  Either way, it was delightfully terrifying.

If you’re in the area, keep in mind that you don’t have to go all the way to Georgia to get good peaches!

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!