We are moving…

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Photo from Wikimedia

…to Chongqing, China!

After a few months of intense job hunting, we found a school that seems like a great fit for us for next year and were offered the jobs a few days before Christmas.  It still feels pretty surreal.

I am already daydreaming about misty green mountains, spicy hot pot, breathtaking temples, and cuddly pandas.

We are super excited to explore Asia, take another step in our careers, and immerse ourselves in a brand new culture.  We are also soaking up our last six months here in Turkey before taking off on this next crazy adventure.

Bring it on, 2019!

A Magical Christmas in Mardin – the edge of Mesopotamia

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At the edge of Southeastern Turkey lies an oasis of diversity and culture, smack-dab in the middle of where many of the oldest cities and civilizations first began.  Hardly anyone outside of Turkey seems to know that this gem even exists – and even those who do are wary of visiting because it is only about 20 miles from the Syrian border.  Let me assure you – Mardin is perfectly safe, full of some of the kindest people I have ever encountered, and stunningly beautiful.

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The architecture of Mardin is very unique.  There is a mix of several Middle Eastern influences as well as a local flair for building everything out of sandstone, which is abundant in the area.  The yellowish-brown structures look all the more stunning contrasted against the bright blue skies.

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Every part of the city offers a different perspective of its own beauty, like a strange sort of kaleidoscope.  The locals know how to take advantage of this with its many rooftop cafes and restaurants and shops in the old tunnels below.

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On the subject of food and coffee, Mardin has both in spades.  Mardin is a true melting pot for all kinds of cultures and ethnic groups, with particularly large groups of Kurdish and Assyrian people.  The people of Mardin are truly proud of their diversity and love to share their local specialties that have been preserved over thousands of years.  There are several Assyrian restaurants which serve delicious mezzes and wine (some of the finest I have ever tasted in Turkey), cafes serving Arabic-style mırra coffee, and all kinds of regional dishes that have developed through the cultural exchange that has taken place in Mardin over the centuries.

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Mardin proper has much to offer any traveler, but there are also many fascinating smaller towns and villages nearby worth a day trip.  Because Mardin is a little off the beaten path, it can be difficult to find an organized tour.  Since I am able to speak Turkish fairly well these days, I managed to negotiate a private tour with a cab driver for a good price.  He took us to Midyat and Hasankeyf, both well worth the visit.

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Hasankeyf, right on the banks of the Tigris River, is considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world; it is over 10,000 years old.  Due to its vulnerable position near many borders and along the Silk Road, Hasankeyf has changed hands among many different civilizations throughout history.  Sadly, due to the development of a hydroelectric dam, it may not be around much longer.

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Historically, the area of Hasankeyf has been valued for its caves, where people have been living for several millennia.  People still live in the caves of Hasankeyf today, with a few modern amenities (note the windows and the power lines).

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Efforts to remove some of the historic architecture to preserve it are under way.

Midyat looks much like Mardin, but with one key difference: the population is mostly Christian rather than Muslim (unusual for Turkey) and is home to many ancient and beautiful monasteries that are still active today.

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I was truly blown away by Mardin.  I have no idea how it took me four years to get there.  Very few tourists from outside of Turkey even know about it – but they should!  The architecture is stunning and one-of-a-kind, the people are some of the friendliest I have ever encountered, the food and wine are amazing, and there is just so much history and culture here to discover.  I hope to see more people adding Mardin (and Turkey!) to their bucket lists in 2019.

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Ankara’da

20181103_134559.jpgI am long overdue for an update, I know.

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I will spare you the boring details and get straight to the good stuff.

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After nearly four years of living in Turkey, I FINALLY made it to the capital city of Ankara.  A good friend of mine invited me to spend the weekend with her there (it’s her hometown) and show me around.  I didn’t have too many expectations, but what I found was a charming city with an abundance of good restaurants (I’m looking at you, Quick China!), cafes, shops, and TREES!

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I started off my trip by stuffing my face with the best Asian cuisine I have ever managed to find in Turkey and tucking in for some much-needed sleep.  I am still dreaming about the körili ramen.

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We started off the morning by heading to Atakule, which is a mall/giant tower from which you can get a pretty nice view of the city.  The orange and yellow leaves were a welcome sight.  We don’t get to see many green spaces in Istanbul, so we often feel homesick for that fall aesthetic.

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We stopped for a quick coffee picnic on a hill overlooking Seğmenler Park, which was gorgeous and peaceful and reminded me of my college days (picnics = cheap food and entertainment).

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My favorite part of the trip was wandering through the alleys in Ulus.  The traditional Anatolian architecture blended with cool vintage vibes and we happily spent a few hours strolling through artisan shops and taking frequent coffee breaks.

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On Sunday, before catching our train back to Istanbul, we stopped for a long, leisurely breakfast where I had a delicious cinnamon roll with cream cheese icing (again – not common in Turkey, which made it extra special).

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Ankara, you were a delight.

 

Metamorphosis

dsc_0051Things are changing.  am changing.  I can feel the beginning of the end of another chapter unfolding.  On one hand, I have become so comfortable here; I have forged a home and a tribe in an unfamiliar place and I am a better person for it.  On the other hand, I realize that I will soon run out of lessons to learn here and I did not come all this way only to become stagnant in a new location.

We have already decided that next year will be our last in Turkey and every time I think about it, I am flooded with a wave of emotion.  It will break my heart when I go.  As much as it has driven me to the brink of insanity at times, this place will always be special to me.  I have watched some friends come and go and others have children.  I have made countless memories.  I have experienced wonders beyond my wildest dreams and accomplished feats that didn’t seem possible.  I have proven myself to myself.

Just a few years ago, I was constantly daydreaming about the future, hoping with all my heart that I could make this big thing happen.  It has been good for me to learn to live in the present.  I guess that has been the first symptom; lately, I’ve been thinking about the future again for the first time in a while.

My soul is ready for its next transformation.

Cappadocia Part 2: Underground Cities and Breathtaking Monasteries

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After a good night’s rest, we were ready for another day of touring – this time, a little farther away from our home base. Our first stop was the famous underground city of Derinkuyu.

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Derinkuyu is an incredible man-made marvel 65 meters underground. This ancient and mysterious city is thousands of years old and was most likely built as a shelter to protect citizens from invasion. It has been estimated that up to 30,000 people could have lived in Derinkuyu, which had tunnels connecting to other underground cities in the area. Such a unique and fascinating place! Be warned, however, that it is not for the faint at heart; the tunnels are narrow, dark, and often crowded. If you are claustrophobic, it might be best to admire it from afar.

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After crawling around in a dark cave city, the fresh air and green trees of Ilhara Valley were a welcome sight. We took a leisurely hike along the trail, admiring a few of the churches along the canyon walls before stopping for lunch in a riverside bungalow.

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Our driver met us at the end of the valley to take us to our last stop: Selime Monastery…and holy crap! What an amazing place! I was immediately shocked that I had never heard of it before. This beautiful monastery carved into a giant fairy chimney overlooking a valley full of more fairy chimneys looks like something out of a fantasy novel!

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I was totally blown away by Selime. Petra fans, this should be your next stop.

20180513_150805.jpgAfter a couple hours of exploring, we reluctantly climbed back down to the cab to get ready to catch our flight back to reality. Since we got back a little early, we had some time to take in the views at our hotel with one last bottle of Turasan wine.

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I am so grateful to have spent such a wonderful weekend with such a wonderful friend! Happy Birthday to me! Here’s to another year of adventure.

The Perfect Birthday Weekend in Cappadocia Part 1: Turuncu Turu

IMG-20180512-WA0019.jpgThanks to one of my dear friends, my 27th year on Earth is off to an incredible start.

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How incredible is the view from our hotel?  Can’t recommend Hezen Cave Hotel enough!

We caught a red-eye flight to Cappadocia on Friday, checked into our hotel, and managed a few hours of sleep before getting up and around for tours.

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We hired a driver and spent our first day touring sites near our hotel in Ortahisar.  Our first stop was to see The Three Beauties (Üç Güzeller), followed by an incredible hike through Devrent Valley.

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Of course, we also had to stop for some wine because nothing says “Happy Birthday” like a little wine tasting before noon!  We picked up a nice bottle of red to enjoy back at our amazing cave hotel later in the evening.

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We got caught in a crazy downpour at the Zelve Open Air Museum, but it didn’t stop us from exploring.  We hopped into the old dwellings carved into the fairy chimneys to take shelter.20180512_132908.jpgAfter stopping to dry off with some coffee and mantı, we headed to the Göreme Open Air Museum, which is famous for its well-preserved frescoes inside of the ruins of orthodox churches.  It was a beautiful place, but a little too crowded for my taste.  I much preferred Zelve.

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Hobbit home goals.

Our next stop was a little ceramics shop, where we watched some demonstrations, learned about traditional pottery in the region, and bought a lovely Turkish coffee set for my husband and I.

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Our last stop before dinner was to Üçhisar Kalesi and the Pigeon Valley.  The views from the top of the castle were stunning and watching the sun set over the fairy chimneys through swarms of pigeons was nothing short of magical.

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We finished our first magical day in Cappadocia with dinner, dessert, and wine.  27 is feeling pretty damn good so far.