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!

The Ice Cream Files: Stikki Nikki

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So, it’s been almost a year since I’ve done one of these posts.  I’m pretty ashamed of that fact.  Don’t worry, though; it’s not because I haven’t been eating ice cream all year.  On the contrary, I’ve eaten quite a bit of ice cream this year…it’s just that I haven’t stumbled upon many ice cream shops that were truly special enough to be worth writing about.  There  isn’t much of a craft ice cream culture in Turkey, which was not what I had expected before moving here.  The ice cream is all good (I mean, how could it be bad?  I’ts ice cream…), but pretty much every ice cream shop is exactly the same and has exactly the same flavors and same textures (at least from what I’ve seen so far), so my ice cream blogging has been on quite a long hiatus.

And then came Stockholm.  On our way to Drop Coffee, we found this little gem of a shop that was boasting all organic homemade ice cream, so there was no way I was just going to walk by without getting some.  It turned out to be some of the best ice cream I’ve had in a long time!  Here’s the breakdown of my experience:

Taste/Quality:  5/5

You can tell that this ice cream is made with a lot of love.  The organic flavors really, really came through.  It was so fresh and so perfect.  I’m still dreaming about the Lemon Basil…

Variety:  4/5

I’m really hesitant to rate this one because I was only there for one day and I’m pretty sure they rotate flavors.  There weren’t a ton of choices compared to other ice cream shops, but I am generally in favor of quality over quantity, which was definitely the case here.  They only had a few flavors available, but they were all interesting (like Lemon Basil and Coffee Cardamom) and delicious and they always seem to include vegan options, which is a huge plus.

Atmosphere: 3/5

It was a cute shop, but it was really tiny and much more of a to-go place than a sit-down area.

Price: 5/5

5 Euros for 2 enormous scoops of delicious ice cream?  Yes, please!

Wow Factor: 5/5

The vegan Peanut Butter and Lemon Basil ice cream blew my mind!  I never imagined that lemon and basil could go together well as an ice cream flavor, but I thought it was pretty incredible.

Overall Score:  4.4

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Look how happy I am!

Make sure to stop by if you ever visit Stockholm!  And definitely don’t skip the coffee afterward either…I’m pretty sure ice cream and coffee are my favorite combo ever.

A City Break in Stockholm

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After making the mistake of trying to work myself to death the first semester I was here, I have been a lot more diligent about seeking out travel opportunities as often as possible.  At first, I thought trying to go outside the country for just a weekend would be too overwhelming, but after a few successful weekend trips in Turkey, I thought it was time to give it a try somewhere.  I decided to let Skyscanner make the decision for me and, lo and behold, round trip tickets to Stockholm were less than $100 each.  It was time to make some plans.

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If I had to summarize Stockholm in a few words, I would describe it as lively, happy, and…expensive (which is why a weekend was the perfect amount of time to be there).  But still…there was something about that city that just could not get me down.  It didn’t matter that we had had the worst flight ever (screaming/kicking/hair-pulling toddler on a red-eye flight that was delayed two hours), or that the weather was crazy unpredictable (sun, rain, snow, and wind all on the same day) –everything about the city was just so charming and vibrant and everyone we met was super friendly.  There was even an enormous rainbow over the city for half the day.  I’m just sayin’.

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We didn’t make any specific plans-partly due to the fact that we had read that the weather was supposed to be awful while we were there-but we were pleasantly surprised when we woke up to a sunny day that wasn’t too terribly cold.  We started off by having breakfast at a nearby cafe.  I didn’t realize how much I had missed cafes.  They have them in Turkey, but they don’t have the same vibe as my idea of a cafe.  After breakfast, we wandered through the streets of the old part of the city, taking in the beautiful architecture and views of the water.

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MY DREAM HOUSE.

One of the highlights of the day for me was running into a Sci-Fi bookstore.  This place was nerd paradise.  They had every Sci-Fi title one could possibly dream of; tons of manga, comics, and anime; video games; obscure nerdy board games…basically all of the things on my ultimate Christmas wishlist.  I’ve been a little out of touch with  my inner nerd lately since I’ve been either working or traveling for most of the year, but it got me excited for summer when I may actually be able to invest some time into such things.

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Another highlight was the food and coffee scene.  Anymore, we’re pretty much excited to run into anything that isn’t Turkish food…not that I don’t love Turkish food, but it’s hard to find anything that isn’t Turkish food in Turkey and it gets a little old after awhile.  We stopped by lots of little candy and pastry shops to sample little goodies here and there.  We also went to Drop Coffee, one of the few things we had actually planned prior to the trip and it did not disappoint.  It was a tiny shop, but they were very dedicated to the quality of the coffee they made and it was incredible.  We decided on Kenya and El Salvador roasts.

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Our last agenda item of the day was catching a concert, something we both love to do, but haven’t done since we left the States.  We watched Sunset Sons, an indie band from the UK/Australia.  It was a ton of fun and the perfect way to end our day!  When we were walking back to our boatel (yes, we stayed on a boat again...), there was a thin layer of snow on the ground.  Talk about crazy weather.

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We got up Sunday morning ready to head back to the airport.  It was a very short visit, but it was a good one and walked away feeling refreshed and ready for another crazy work week.  Even the plane ride home was pleasant.  We met a woman from Stockholm who happened to have a house in Turkey and was flying in to do some work on it.  We exchanged emails and will hopefully connect in either Sweden or Turkey again someday! Making friends on the road is the best.

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I’m thinking these whirlwind weekends are going to have to happen a little more often. Also, this is definitely not the last of Sweden for me – it’s such a beautiful, friendly place with such a thriving art and music scene! I can’t wait to explore it again sometime.