Wednesday, August 22, 2012

As Cool as Berlin

One final post, and then my wanderings abroad stop for a while--but my adventures never really stop!

I'm on a plane again, this time flying across the States for my final year at college. I'm really looking forward to getting back into the routine of my studies; in some ways I feel like I have been on vacation for the past 9 months, and it'll be great (and most likely a bit trying) to clear the cobwebs from my brain and get back into my wonderfully hectic college schedule.

Now if I can clear the recent cobwebs from my brain and remember my last few weeks in Berlin....

One of the highlights was seeing some friends of mine in a circus show in a theater in central Berlin. The show was creative, funny, and of course full of talent, and it was a wonderful evening. I invited a few friends from my program, who after the initial confusion of "Wait--you were in the circus?!" had a great time as well. 

I also continued with my research, of course. I really like that it helped me get to know the city—I visited a human rights library that was right near Checkpoint Charlie, and I felt that I got to know Kreuzberg pretty well from wandering around and visiting various organizations. 

I also had some fun field trips with my class. We visited the Islamic Art museum, held in the Pergamon Museum (classics) on Museum Island in central Berlin. I love Islamic art, and much of it reminded me of Turkey, so that was a nice visit. Afterwards a friend and I stopped for some rostbratwurst at what seemed to be a street performing festival at Alexanderplatz--there is always so much going on in Berlin!

My class also had a great visit to a mosque. There are around 80 mosques in Berlin, but only a couple built in traditional Ottoman style--i.e. with a beautiful dome and minarets. It was an afternoon of culture shock--I felt like I was back in Turkey! The mosque was beautiful, and we learned a bit more about the Turkish Muslim population in Berlin. Later that evening we visited a Turkish students' association that hosts classes and tutoring. It was great to see my classwork and research project coincide!

On Friday we had our final farewell ceremony at the university. My 5 weeks in Berlin passed in a flash, but I did learn a lot. By the end of eight months abroad, though, I was ready to head home. By a stroke of luck (and my fantastic mother) I flew home Iberia business class, with a smorgasbord of food, really comfortable seats, and stops in the business class lounges in Berlin and Madrid. What luxury :)

I've been home for about 10 days now, and have had a few moments of reverse culture shock. Of course, it's somewhat strange to hear English all around me, and I'm still getting used to the American outward friendliness (i.e. in restaurants and shops). There are some things here that I missed while abroad (not living out of a suitcase, for example), and some things that I now miss about Europe and Turkey (I can't stand American salad dressing). Overall, though, I'm glad to be home and to get back to school. 

I hope you've enjoyed reading about my adventures! I've enjoyed keeping this blog as a diary of my travels. Looking forward to many adventures to come :)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Berlin in the Summer

Guten tag! Hello from Berlin, where I have spent a nice couple of weeks.

I spent my first week here staying in Kreuzberg, an area of the city with a high Turkish population. I wandered around Kreuzberg and Neukölln, the neighborhood next to it, and worked on gathering information and making contacts for my research project. It was an interesting experience, because in some cases, I felt myself going back into "Turkish mode." There is a lot of great Turkish food around, which I of course took advantage of, and enjoyed speaking a bit of Turkish (often mixed with a bit of German). Sprechen Sie Turkdeutsch? 

I worked on visiting German-Turkish organizations to hopefully make contacts for my project, but unfortunately many are in "Urlaub Zeit" (vacation time) now. One day I rented a bike, which I discovered to be a wonderful way to get around the city, and a joy to ride—many streets in Berlin have well-marked bike lanes, and they are well utilized. 

After a week in Kreuzberg, I moved way out to my dorm at the edge of Berlin. I'm living in a single in a dormitory at a "student village," with German students and international students on my program. After dropping my stuff off, I headed back to the center of Berlin for lunch with a friend who just spent the year here--it was great to catch up! Then back to the dorm for unpacking and, in my case, working on getting over a cold.

My program started out with an orientation at the Freie Universitat—where I'm studying—during which we received free tote bags and were briefed on the program and our classes. On Monday we started school, which was great. So far, my class is very interesting, and it's great to be back in an academic environment—even though I only have class Mondays and Thursdays. My class is called "Islam and the West," and so far we have discussed a lot of theoretical issues with those concepts--including identity and the creation of a "self" and "other." Brings me back to my anthropological theory class!

On my off days I've continued working on my research project—meeting with people from organizations and trying to set up interviews. I've also had some time to just hang out and relax and enjoy the city. I visited the Duckstein festival, a fun event with crafts, food, and entertainment, held at a beautiful palace. We also took part in a karaoke night at the dormitory bar (yes, there's a bar at my dorm), singing a rousing rendition of "Summer Nights" (I was John Travolta) and enjoying 3-euro cider.

On Saturday we visited a pretty cool flea market, then decided to take the night by storm at the Berlin Summer Rave--a giant dance party held at the historic Tempelhof airport. We raved and danced until around 4 AM, then headed home on the public transport system, arriving around 5:30, when the sky was already quite light. 

This week has been similar to last week—class, working on my research project, chilling at the dorms, and some exploring. I rented a bike, which has been a great investment; I can bike to school, and take it into the city. I biked around Schlachtensee, a lake near the dorms, and had a nice moment of relaxation and enjoying nature. Today I accidentally stumbled upon Checkpoint Charlie, and remembered that there's so much more to explore in this city! I'll keep you posted :)

Monday, July 9, 2012



I am now in Berlin! I arrived yesterday and look forward to telling you about this cool city ("I wanna be as cool as Berlin…."). But for now, let me tell you about Bretagne, a pretty awesome region of France.

I spent a bit of time in Rennes, just enough to stay the night at the hostel and walk around the cute old city center. Unfortunately, no luggage room in the train station meant that my suitcase came with me, so I didn't want to wander much. 

My next stop was Quimper, a cute city known for its strong Breton culture. On my first night there I had a crepe for dinner, with a bolée of cider (looks like a big tea cup, that's just what one drinks cider in in Bretagne, okay?), then went to a pub for a live session! I think I'm on a quest to see live sessions all around the world. It was great--the pub was very atmospheric, with cider on tap, and even a free one for me because "we don't get folks from Boston around here much." The session featured at least 5 Irish flutes, plus a guitar, a few fiddles, a bodhran, and some pipes. I recognized a few of the tunes, but not enough to pull out my recorder. Unfortunately, my timing and accommodation possibilities didn't work out to hear a session anywhere else in Bretagne, so I'm banking on Berlin having some good ones.

I spent a couple nice days wandering around cute old Quimper and enjoying as many crepes as possible, then took a train down to the Quiberon peninsula. I got in before the hostel reception opened, so naturally my suitcase and I took a nap on the beach. It was so beautiful and very calming after being in Paris and Istanbul. I did get a little sunburnt, but with me that's pretty unavoidable. 

Unfortunately the next few days were rainy, so I spent a drizzly day in Quiberon (the town at the end of the peninsula), and another drizzly day at Carnac. I was sharing a room at my hostel with a really nice Canadian girl, so we explored cloudy Carnac together. It was a lot of fun--rows and rows of megaliths and standing stones! I love old stones, and had a lot of flashbacks to my visits to stone circles and neolithic tombs in Ireland and Wales :). 

My final stop in Bretagne was the port-side town of Saint-Malo, which was beautiful, if rainy as well. The walled city is very quaint and, to my happy surprise, has a lot of Québecois flags flying! Saint-Malo is proud to be the place where Jacques Cartier sailed from to "discover" Québec. I enjoyed many more good crepes, and cider, and walking around. I also happened to catch the "tall ships races," where dozens of old-fashioned giant sailing ships travel from Lisbon to Ireland, stopping at various places on the way and letting people visit. I hopped onto a Portuguese ship for a while and got to speak a little portuguese, which was great fun. There was also a "folklores of the world" festival with music and dance from around the world, but unfortunately I didn't get to see much of it. The hostel I was staying at was hosting some of the performing groups, though, so I witnessed a couple of their rehearsals.

I spent a lot of time inside, trying to avoid the rain, and some time outside, being unable to avoid the rain. I took a boat across the river to Dinard, a town that historically hosted a lot of rich Brits, and still feels like it does (they have a yacht club…). Right when I arrived it started pouring, so took refuge in a building that housed a sailing school, I think. Merci, nice sailors! 

I headed out of Saint-Malo on an afternoon TGV to Paris, and arrived in the evening. It's crazy to keep popping in and out of Paris… what a cool city. I wandered around a bit for some dinner and to try to figure out my transportation for the morning (RER to the airport at 6:30 AM!), and stopped by Shakespeare and Co. I thought I had been there before, but I don't think I have because I was sort of flabbergasted. The AMBIANCE. Despite being filled with tourists… I was just so happy to be there. Old books and old wood and creaky floors and people writing things and plucking at a guitar and funny signs… if I ever decide to open up my dream coffee shop, it'll look like Shakespeare and Co., but with coffee in addition to books. Anyway… I had a farewell crepe for dinner (not at all as good as the ones in Bretagne) in the Latin Quarter and had an early night.

After an uneventful flight and a slightly eventful time trying to navigate my way around Berlin with both a broken suitcase and a broken backpack (oops…) and a broken metro system, here I am! First impressions: there are kebab shops everywhere in Kreuzberg (yum), and oh man, I hate not being able to understand the language. I had gotten used to being comfortable in French (yay!), and despite my one-semester accelerated intro German course from freshman year of college, I feel totally lost here. Eek. Since I'm in a Turkish-ish neighborhood I suppose I could try my Turkish, but it's pretty weak too. Sprechen Sie Englisch? 

Stay tuned for more Berlin adventures!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

La belle, belle France

Bonjour tout le monde!

Greetings from France! I'm currently sitting in a bus station in Paris, getting ready for a 7 hour bus ride to Rennes, in Bretagne (west of Paris). I've had a wonderful time in France so far. 

My parents and I stayed for a week in a rented apartment in Paris, a 2-minute walk from the Seine and 5-minutes from Notre Dame… the location was wonderful. The apartment was nice as well, after having spent 5 months in Istanbul with a view of a fire escape. 

During my time in Paris I did some wandering, saw some markets, and visited some of my favorite old haunts--including the part of the Marais where my parents and I spent a month 3.5 years ago. It was fun to see what I could remember from previous visits. I also didn't do that many touristy things (a few exceptions below….) because I've seen most of the top sites before. So, what to do?

On Sunday my mom and I went to the Gregorian mass at Notre Dame. The cathedral was full of tourists, of course, but it was cool to visit for the service, and the singing was wonderful. I tried to sing along to the Gregorian music, but only caught on to a bit. I didn't follow much of the service, but I probably wouldn't have done to well if it was in English either…

A friend of mine from college was living with a host family in a little town outside Paris, so we had the chance to meet up! It was great fun to see her again (after having hung out for a few days in Istanbul!). We met up in Dreux, a smallish town outside Paris with a nice church, bell-tower, and a chapel housing the tombs of many famous royals (can't think of anyone off the top of my head…). The chapel was beautiful, and it was nice to be in a smaller town after the bustle of Istanbul and Paris. 

The next day, we got together again for the Fête de la Musique in Paris. On the summer solstice, there are concerts everywhere around the city! We heard a very cool concert by an Indian artist in the Saint Eustache church, then heard some traditional Paris accordion and singing, and finally visited the Irish cultural center to hear some traditional Irish music. We had dinner near the Sorbonne and walked home around 10 or 11 at night. It was still light out, and the streets were full of music--it seemed there was a band on every corner. So cool!

I spent all day Friday writing a paper… fun! Now I'm officially done with my schoolwork for Istanbul, heh. Almost time to start summer school in Berlin! I just can't seem to get enough of school.

After I finished my paper, I met up with another friend, who had been on my program in Istanbul. We spent a fun time wandering around Paris—we had lunch in the Tuilerie gardens, and visited the Eiffel Tower both during the day and at night. I have way too many photos of that structure now… It was wonderful watching the tower sparkle at night… we sat on the grass with a bottle of wine and my ukulele, among hundreds of other groups of people doing very similarly, and watched the beautiful tower. I thought I could get tired of it, but I couldn't keep my eyes off it. 

In addition, one of my favorite parts of Paris was some wonderful meals. I love french food, and having parents who will take me out to wine and dine at nice places :).

After Paris my parents and I took a train to Reims, one of the towns in the region of Champagne. It was a dreary day when we got there, but we went out for a wonderful dinner and, when it cleared up at night, saw the cathedral of Reims. I found it to be one of my favorite cathedrals, made even more amazing by the sound and light show projected onto the cathedral at night. It's a program organized by the town government, where lights are shined onto the façade… I'm not sure how to describe it, but it's super awesome! 

We also visited Epernay, another Champagne town with many champagne caves (i.e. houses where champagne is made)—incuding Moët et Chandon and many others that my mom recognized. I figure I have yet to gain enough champagne experience—but I'm only 22. We took a guided tour of the caves at the Mercier champagne company, which was quite interesting, and then had a champagne tasting (delicious!). My lunch was a "Salade Perigourdine" with chicken gizzards, duck, bacon, and foie gras. Enough weird meats in there?

We spent a bit more time in Reims visiting the cathedral, a roman arch, and a few more champagne houses. Then on Tuesday we headed back to Paris where my parents went on their way to the airport and back to the States. I hopped on another train to Chartres and continued my adventures on my own. 

Chartres is beautiful. It's known for its beautiful cathedral, but the town is adorable as well. There are a few small canals lined with half-timbered medieval houses, which I saw on a self-guided walking tour of the old town. I spent a chunk of time admiring the stained glass in the cathedral, and took a tour of the crypts (there have probably been religious sites at Chartres since before Christianity!) and climbed 300 steps up to the North tower. 

At night I returned to the old town for Chartres en Lumières—like the light show on the cathedral at Reims, but this time all around town. There are small blue lights in the sidewalk that guide you to around 30 buildings and structures that are illuminated with very cool lights. I started at the cathedral and followed the lights for a while, then once I got to the lower town (and had been wandering for 1.5 hours), decided to head back to my hostel.

Today is a day in transit. I took the train back from Chartres to Paris, then the metro, and will soon board a bus to Rennes. (Ps. Did you know you can take a bus from Paris to Casablanca? I'm just discovering the vastness of the bus lines around Europe—was very tempted to take the 15€ bus to London… alas, I already reserved my Rennes hostel). 

Up soon… Bretagne/Brittany adventures!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Görüşürüz Istanbul

Well, my semester in Istanbul has come to an end (and I'm now in beautiful Paris, though that's a topic for the next blog post!). I had a wonderful time, and I will miss that great city immensely. Görüşürüz means "see you later," which I am planning to do! I know I'll be returning to Istanbul in the future.

I tried to take advantage of my last few days by doing some more wandering—around Cihangir, one of my favorite neighborhoods—and to Bebek, a neighborhood along the Bosphorus with a nice sea-side promenade. I also spent a lot of time around Istiklal Caddesi, as usual.

From Saturday until Tuesday, two great friends from college came to visit me! It was so great to see them, and we had a lot of fun. On the first night I took them out for a bit of hazelnut vodka and then a few games of backgammon—one of my new favorite pastimes. We spent a day on the Asian side with our Turkish friend from school, who treated us to an amazing brunch and a nice tea with a beautiful view of the sea of Marmara. That night I took my friends to the Irish pub for the last live session. I've learned some new songs this semester and gained some more confidence in playing, so it has been a lot of fun—though of course there are still thousands of more songs to learn. I'm hoping to continue playing in sessions in other parts of the world.

On Monday my friends and I had a great visit to Sultanahmet—the old part of town. We visited all of the top sights (except Hagia Sofia--closed on Mondays!) and I had fun trying to be a sort of tour guide. We saw three beautiful mosques, the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar, and the eery Yerebatan Cistern. We missed out on the Archaeology Museum (also closed on Mondays!) but had a nice nap outside the walls of Topkapı Palace. In the evening we headed to Ortaköy, another one of my favorite neighborhoods, for baked potatoes and more backgammon.

My last week was a blur of goodbyes and trying to finish end-of-semester stuff. Believe it or not, I still have a research paper to finish up! On Friday most of my group left, so my ukulele and I spent the day visiting Ihlamur Kasrı, a cute little palace with nice gardens. In the evening I was lucky enough to have dinner with my friend who works on a cruise ship, who had stopped by Istanbul for the night again. It was a nice way to end my semester in Istanbul before a boring night of packing up my room.

On Saturday I walked down to Taksim (with my luggage!) and took a bus to the airport, then Istanbul-->Zurich-->Paris, where I was reunited with my parents. We've rented an apartment about 5 minutes from Notre Dame, and it's wonderful. I was in Paris three years ago, but I think I hadn't realized how different Paris and Istanbul are. It's wonderful to understand the language spoken around me (though I keep accidentally speaking Turkish!) and to experience French culture, but there's still a bit of culture shock. I was amazed by how empty the sidewalks are—besides all the tourists!—and how safe I feel crossing the street. I'll write about my Paris adventures in my next blog post. À bientôt!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

It's beginning to feel like summer in Istanbul...


10 more days in Istanbul… I can't believe it. I don't think I'm ready to leave; there is so much more in this city to be explored! I am now in the home stretch with school—took a final exam on Monday, turned in my 30-page research paper yesterday, and now I have one more project and paper.

Before we got to crunch time, I had some adventures. I made a quick trip to the American Hospital, because I'm dedicated to exploring gastroenterology departments around the world. Ok, kidding. I had a check up on my intestines and tried to communicate with the nurses in limited English/Turkish. So that was, in some ways, an adventure.

I went to another guitar jam session/Erasmus dinner, which was great fun. We two Americans were outnumbered, so it was nice to meet students from other countries. 

My group also took a wonderful trip to the Black Sea region--towns called Bolu and Safronbolu (famous for it's saffron!). It was so great to get out of the city—we had a relaxed picnic by a lake in Bolu, went to the hamam, took an early morning hike, and then explored the UNESCO world heritage town of Safronbolu. It was a totally different world from Istanbul, and a relaxing weekend. 

I also spent a lot of time filming little video clips around Istanbul for my final project for my sound design class (I'll be uploading it soon!). My roommates and I went to the old part of town and did a lot of wandering in the Grand Bazaar. I think I have finally gotten over my fear of bargaining! Got some presents for friends, a scarf, and some sunglasses which I managed to bargain down from 25 TL to 10 TL. 

I had also had another great adventure with a friend from home, who performs on a cruise ship and happened to stop in Istanbul for a night! We wandered around the old town (got a bit lost…), had overpriced ice cream on Istiklal, and played a lot of backgammon. I also tried nargile (hookah) for the first time, and was overall underwhelmed, but I figure that's ok. 

Since the semester is coming to an end, some of my friends have already left to get back to jobs and internships. We had some nice farewell dinners (though of course the 'farewell' part wasn't nice)—one of which was an elaborate hot pot dinner including quail eggs and chicken liver! Plus other delicious things, home cooked by another friend of ours. Yum! Some friends and I also went out for a big Turkish breakfast at 3 PM with our Turkish roommate (don't worry, breakfast at 3 PM is totally normal). 

In the process of trying to find places in which to do schoolwork, I've spent some time wandering around Cihangir—a cool, trendy neighborhood with lots of antique shops and a cafe that I have fallen in love with. I got a little inspiration to do work, but still, doing school in Istanbul is a struggle.

I also spent a great afternoon on the Asian side with two friends from college—one who is on my program, and one who is from Istanbul. We even stopped at Caribou Coffee, and I may have gotten a bit of reverse culture shock. Heh!

Now that I have finished my research paper, life feels a lot lighter. Time for some more exploring!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Up all night, Lebanon, jamming, boza... and many more adventures

Hello all!

Gosh, it has been a while. I've done a lot of exciting things in the past few weeks (and plenty of boring things too, don't worry).

Where to start? Exciting things I have done:

My roommates and I went into the old part of the city to see the whirling dervishes. It was a very touristic show, but still very interesting. The dervishes are a religious order that have had some tough times in Turkey (i.e. being outlawed). It is a sort of "dance" to traditional music, which involves a lot of whirling, and more whirling. Three or four rounds of whirling was enough for me, I think. 

On Saturday and Sunday, my roommates and I decided to go out all night. Because we're in Istanbul, and why not? We started out at Istanbul 360, a very expensive club with pretty terrible drinks, but a nice view over the city. We then moved on to another bar, with better drinks and no view, and then a club where we danced until around 4 AM. When we left the club, we had a few hours to kill before things started opening up again, so we wandered around Istiklal Caddesi (where there were still people, even at that time), and then walked down to our school in Beşiktaş. Our university is open 24 hours, so we wandered in around 6 AM to use the bathroom, making the security guards somewhat confused. We sat by the Bosphorus and tried to watch the sunrise (couldn't quite find the sun, though we watched the sky getting lighter), and then boarded a ferry at 6:30 to the Asian side. We had reservations at a breakfast restaurant that a friend had recommended, and in our sleep-deprived states, we somehow managed to make it there (along the Bosphorus, up through a park, etc…). The buffet-style Turkish breakfast was excellent, and we ate in a haze. Then it was back down the hill, onto the ferry (with many people who looked much more awake then us), onto a bus, and back home for a day of sleeping. 

The next very exciting thing was a trip to Lebanon! Two of my roommates and I flew to Beirut from Saturday until Tuesday, and had a great time. Beirut is much smaller than Istanbul, which was a nice break. We took a very informative (3.5 hour) walking tour of the city, which taught us about Lebanon's mixed Lebanese-Ottoman-French history and its civil war. Also, did you know that there are 10 million Lebanese in Brazil? (There are only 4 million in Lebanon). We took some wonderful walks along the seaside, visited the center of town with its cute shops and French-style buildings, and visited Pigeon Rock--a beautiful geological formation in the sea next to the coast. We also got to see the rocks and a few of the caves nearby from a little rickety motorboat.
In addition, we visited the beautiful American University of Beirut and I went shopping for the first time since I've been across the ocean, I believe (crazy!). We also ate a lot of wonderful Lebanese food--lots of hummus, of course. It was a great break from life in Istanbul, but it was also good to get home and catch up on things. I had three interviews for my research project in one day last week! 

On Friday I had another adventure--a friend and I went to a jam session hosted by her friend in a studio in istanbul. There were two guitarists, a keyboard player, and a singer, and I brought my ukulele. They put up a mic for my ukulele and I jammed along, but you couldn't hear me over the electric guitars. Still, it was a lot of fun, and just a great experience all around. Also, apparently the group using the studio before us included Turkey's Eurovision 2012 contestant! Cool!
Afterwards we hung out for a while in a park with a nice view over Istanbul, and I played a little bit more ukulele. 

Yesterday my group took a walking tour of Istanbul based on the work of architect Sinan--a very famous Turkish architect from the 1500s. We saw some beautiful mosques, ate grilled fish sandwiches by the Bosphorus, and at the end tried boza, a delicious fermented grain drink. Today we continued some of our culinary exploration at a street food festival in a park near our dorm.

This week I'll (hopefully!) be working on some more stuff for school, since the semester is winding down. I only have a month left here! I'll certainly miss Istanbul when it comes time for me to say "hoşça kalın" (goodbye).