Saturday, December 13, 2008

Turkey Part 2

Merhaba all!

So... I'm back home after my 2.5 months of nomadic vagabonding... and I miss it. For some reason, I almost felt like crying all the way home from the airport in Boston. Now that I'm bakc I'm happy to be in America, but I certainly miss Europe (and the bit of Asia I saw in Turkey).

Not much more to tell about the rest of my time in Turkey. We took a plane to Istanbul, then stayed in the Yunus Emre hotel, owned by friends of my dad. They have an adorable daughter named Yasmine who I had the pleasure of meeting. The first day I ended up taking a six hour nap, then going out to dinner with a British friend of my dad's who now lives in Turkey.

The next day we went to the mosaic museum--quite cool! Mosaics from the byzantine times with roman influence. Then wandered around looking for Christmas presents. The bazaars were closed because of byram (spelling?), a religious holiday of sacrifice. A lot of sheep were slaughtered the morning we arrived in Istanbul, and the meat given to the poor (I think). Then everyone didn't have work or school and said "iyi byramlar" (happy Byram). I guess it's kind of like christmas? Except about a week long.

Flew back to the states on Wednesday, stopping for about an hour at CDG, which I am quite familiar with by now. Since then I've gotten in the habit of going to sleep around 7 or 8 because of jetlag, haha. Still haven't unpacked.

Here are some statistics:

Countries visited:

Airplanes taken:

Time away:
September 24-December 10, about 2.5 months

Languages spoken:

That's about it!
Now it's time to get ready for Christmas and New Year's. After that, who knows! Once I start doing more exciting things I'll take up updating this blog again.

Tchau for now!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Turkey Part 1

Merhaba from Konya!

My dad and I spent 3 great days in Istanbul, having two enormous, long Turkish dinners: the first with my dad's Turkish friend Suha and two Italian friends of Suha's. The next night we ate with the owner of the amazing hotel we were staying at, along with the costumer relations manager.

We strolled around Istanbul, looking in the Grand Bazaar, as well as other bazaars, went to the archeological museum and the train museum, took the trams, met another one of my dad's former students (Suha is a former student). It was fun!

On Thursday we flew to Asia! to Nevsehir, in Cappadocia. We drove to Ürgüp where we stayed in a cave hotel, which is awesome. Met the one person on our tour (from New York), and had a great day of touring around. I climbed around a lot of old cave houses--thousands of years old. Unfortunately, many are unsafe because the rock wears down and is prone to collapse.
We also went to a café owned by a friend of my dad's and walked around Ürgüp.

Saturday we got up early to drive to Konya, stopping along the way at some really cool caravansarays--structures built on the sides of the roads for caravans to use to rest. Some are falling down, though the ones we visited had been restored.

Now we're in Konya, along with 2 more Americans and 3 Iranians who joined our tour. Yesterday and today were busy-- we went to see mosques, museums (archeological--woo!) and old theological schools--some really beautiful buildings with some great tile work. We saw Mevlana's tomb, which I had seen when I was here 9 years ago, and vaguely remembered.

Last night we went to see the whirling dervishes. The performance was held in a beautiful new cultural center. It started out with a concert of traditional turkish music, and then the ceremony began. There were 28 dervishes, some little kids. They whirled 3 times, with breaks in between. It was really interesting!

Now I'm back in the hotel--hotel Rumi, of course--taking a break. Tonight we don't have much planned, and then tomorrow we'll fly back to Istanbul for two days! Then on the 10th, I'll fly home. wowee.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Norway and Belgium!

First of all, I just thought I'd mention that I'm safely in Istanbul, listening to the evening call to prayer from the Blue Mosque (and various other mosques)-- it's 4:50, aka sundown, aka time to pray again!

Norway and Belgium were so much fun! After I left Portugal I stayed in Paris for two days (in a youth hostel), then flew to Oslo and took a train to Brumunddal, where my friend Anne-Lise lives. In the week I was there I (in no particular order):

-Took walks on ice and snow and slipped various times (never fell, pretty proud of myself for that!). I love snow! It snowed!
-Saw a huge ski jump
-Went to Oslo and:
--saw a norwegian tv station headquarter place
--saw an old fortress
--bought a hat with earflaps (yes, I'm still really excited about that)
-Went to a Norwegian high school in Hamar
-Went to a Norwegian folk high school in Lillehammer (look them up, they're cool!)
-Saw "The Polar Express," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Stardust," "Love Actually," and various friends episodes. It gets dark early, so we watched a lot of movies.
-Saw a ruined dome church in Hamar
-Baked pancakes, french toast, and gingerbread (peperkake!!!!!!!) and ate a lot of gingerbread dough. yum.
-Ate moose and reindeer and lots of brown cheese (it's good, look it up). Then made a moose meat fajita the next night for dinner.
-Watched as it got light at 8 in the morning and dark at 3... beautiful sunsets, though!
-Had fun trying to figure out Norwegian kroner (approx 9.2 kroner=1 euro, or something like that!).
-Ate lots of yummy norwegian chocolate
-Learned some Norwegian, which is a fantastic language! Really beautiful.

So, summed up, Norway was awesome! Sorry if you don't like reading about my adventure in bullet form, I'm too lazy to write paragraphs right now.

Next stop: transit. Train from Brumunddal to Oslo, plane to Amsterdam, change planes, fly to Paris, sleep a night at a friend's apartment then take a train from Paris to Brussels. four countries in two days! woo! I accidentally bought a first class ticket on the train, so I got food and free wifi! pretty nice, but on the way back I made sure to get a second class ticket for half the price.

In Belgium, I:
-Went out with my friend Vreni (whom I was visiting and hadn't seen for a year and a half!) and her friends from a club she's in to go bowling. Failed miserably, but I've always known I'm horrible at bowling. Vreni won! woo!
-Went to Leuven, Belgium's student city, with the coolest town hall I've ever seen. soo cool! Lots of bikes. Ate lunch at a pasta place with Vreni and a friend of hers who had been on exchange in the US. Tried to order in flemish and failed. haha. Explored shopping streets, woo!
-Went by myself to Brugges because Vreni had classes. Brugges is absolutely beautiful! I have fallen in love with Belgian architecture.... all the houses lined up together with their step-like rooves and bricks and designs... very cool. I went to a museum there and saw some tapestries and lace... Brugges is famous for lace. Quite cool. Cold, actually, though not as cold as Norway. No snow in Belgium, but some rain! Had glühwein (hot wine), which they sell in cute little cabin things on the streets.
-Got to know the fantastic Belgian train system very well.
-Went out to eat in a steak-and-french-fries restaurant where they were serving wine from my friend's host mother's vineyard in Portugal. coincidence!!! It was funny.
-Went into Brussels where I saw Vreni's school (very green--they painted everything green...) and a christmas market! It was awesome: lots of little cabins selling clothes, hats, candles, more gluhwein and hot chocolate, etc. Plus a skating rink, ferris wheel (with a VIP cabin for 75€ that comes with a bottle of champagne... thought that was funny), ice sculptures, and decorated trees. It was quite cool and made me wish we had chirstmas markets in america... not just walmart.
Except at one point they decided to "make" snow by spraying out suds into the air. Looked like snow, but then we were all covered in suds. haha.
Then we went to the Grand Place, which was beautifully decorated with a lot of lights and a big christmas tree, plus a nativity scene! absolutely beautiful :-D.
-Ate way too many waffles. yum!

Yesterday I hung out with Vreni in the morning, then took the train back to Paris (I guess I just need to stop by there every couple weeks? haha) where I stayed the night in a hotel near the airport, then flew here, to Istanbul, where it's quite warm and very unlike Norway and Belgium! Met my dad and the airport, then got to this hotel, where instead of chocolates on the pillows I got a pretty little container of turkish delight (if you don't know what it is, look it up. it's good).

From one incomprehensible language to another... haha.

Thanks to those who have been reading!


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Portugal week two

Hi all!

This week has been a bit more relaxed after the "grand tour" last week. On Monday my parents and I went to see the ruins of the Mosteiro do Carmo, a beautiful old monastery (yes, I love monasteries!) that was ruined in the 1755 earthquake that struck Lisbon. There is also a small archeology museum there, which I love. We had lunch in the cute square outside the ruins, which was really nice.

That afternoon my mom and I went to the expo, the sleek new part of Lisbon made for the 1998 World Exposition. There we saw the Oceanário, the biggest aquarium in Europe. It was quite cool, and of course had many fish, sharks, birds, penguins, and even two adorable otters... I want an otter now!

Tuesday morning I had breakfast with my parents in their hotel, then we took a stroll and headed to the airport. After they left I went to get my hair cut (not too much!) then went to my belly dance class that evening. I had missed my dance class--I went back on Thursday too. It was so nice to see my teacher and my classmates and to get to dance again.

Wednesday I walked to Restelo (about 45 minutes... I've gotten in the habit of walking everywhere) to have lunch with my host grandfather. I stayed there for about 2.5 hours, talking to him about various things--he seemed very keen on telling me about himself and his family history. I think he appreciated me being there; I think he must get lonely sometimes.

That night I went to the mall with my friend Catarina. There we had dinner, then went to see Mamma Mia, which I really enjoyed. I've been singing ABBA songs all week. :-D

Thursday I had lunch with my friend Marisa, again in the same shopping mall. It was so nice to see her again! We had typical Alentejano food (from the region of Portugal south of Lisbon) then walked around the mall. That afternoon I made the 30 minute walk home again... partly because I like walking and partly because if I walk I don't have to pay for bus tickets!

Yesterday I went back to the Escola Secundária do Restelo, aka my portuguese high school. My friends Mariana and Inês have the same history professor as when I was there, so I went to a history class. It was fun to see my teacher again; she made a point of introducing me to the whole class....

That afternoon Inês, Mariana and I had lunch at Mariana's house, then went to yet another shopping mall where we walked around smelling perfumes and looking at notebooks. We went to the Gulbenkian museum to hang out a bit in the gardens there, then parted ways and went home.

Last night I went to go see the Cruz Quebrada band that I played with when I was here. there were happy to see me, and I sat in the clarinet section for a bit listening to them play. It made me miss my clarinet, which is sitting back home feeling lonely without me!

Today Miguel, Miguelinho and I went to Careca, the best pastry shop ever, to have croissants for breakfast like I did on my birthday. sooooooo good. Then a quick lunch at home and a rest this afternoon. I'm thinking of going to Cascais.... we'll see!

Tchau a todos! Next time I write I won't be in Portugal anymore. Either France or Norway, depending on where I get internet :-D

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Portuguese times

hi all!

This past week was really great. My parents and I started out our "grand tour" in Óbidos, a really cute medieval walled town.

Next we went to see two monasteries, Alcobaça and Batalha, which I have named as my two favorite monasteries in the world. They are absolutely beautiful and not swarmed with tourists like in Paris. It was wonderful. We stayed the night in Alcobaça (with a view of the monastery out of our hotel window) then continued to Coimbra, Portugal's university city.
Before arriving in Coimbra we stopped at Conímbriga, an ancient Roman city. Yes, there are Roman ruins in Portugal, and they're pretty awesome! Conímbriga had a lot of really wonderful mosaics.

The University of Coimbra was founded in the 1200s, so it's kinda old. The third oldest in Europe, actually. We took a tour of the university, seeing the ornate rooms they still sometimes use for ceremonies and things, and also seeing some of the first years dressed in traditional robes, which is something one never sees in the US.

After Coimbra we drove up to a hotel on the beach near Aveiro, a town on the coast of Portugal, famous for the cute little fishing boats all around. We took walks on the beach and watched people looking for clams. Our hotel was quite nice, though instead of finding it empty, like we expected, we discovered that there was a Red Bull convention going on, and there were therefore 8 red bull cars in the parking lot (they had huge cans of red bull on them). Quite funny.

The next day with walked around Aveiro for a bit--it's a really cute town with canals and salt marshes--then drove a couple hours town to the Alentejo in the south of Portugal. There we went to Évora, one of my favorite Portuguese cities. We stayed in an old convent right next to the ruins of a Roman temple... it was awesome! Évora has some cool Roman ruins as well as a chapel decorated all with bones.... creepy.

Friday night we came back to Lisbon, and yesterday we celebrated my birthday! 19 years, I can't believe it.
I started out the day by going to my favorite pastry shop in Lisbon (Careca--it means bald) for some wonderful croissants and other portuguese pastries. My parents and I then wandered around Belém where we climbed around the Tower of Belém, a really cool 500 year old tower that protected the Tagus river and was "the first and last thing the Portuguese explorers saw when the went on their voyages around the world." We also saw the monument to the discoveries, which is right on the river edge as well.

Around lunch time I left my parents and went to meet my friends Inês, Inês and Mariana. We had lunch in Pão Pão Queijo Queijo, my favorite falafel & sandwich shop (it means bread bread cheese cheese) then went into central Lisbon to walk around a bit. In the main square of central Lisbon we came across a huge demonstration by public school teachers from all over Portugal. About 800 bus loads of teachers! It was crazy... certainly an experience. I think they were protesting some change in the law, but I'm not sure.

Later we went back to my host family's house for my birthday dinner--a bunch of the relatives came (and by a bunch I mean a lot--my host family is huge!) and al in all it was really nice. The food was wonderful (Graça is an amazing cook!) and it was really nice to see a lot of my host relatives again. Knowing I have a sweet tooth, we had merangues, palmiers, cake, a different kind of cake, apple pie and chocolate mousse for dessert. It was ridiculous! (but so good!)

Today we continued our touring around Lisbon--went to see the Castelo São Jorge (Saint George Castle) and then strolled around Lisbon a bit. Now we're back in my parents hotel, taking a break before going out to a Fado restaurant (fado is traditional portuguese music) for dinner.

Speaking of food, the food this week was amazing! and for the most part, insanely cheap. I love portuguese food :-D.

Many beijinhos!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Olá de Portugal!

Olá a todos! (hi all...)

So I'm back in portugal. wow.

last week was pretty uneventful, but nice. My mom's friend Stéphanie came, and we visited some more of Paris with her. My new medicine is working great, so I only had to go to the hospital for a check up, and was able to do more. But I'm having trouble remembering what we did. hahaha
The most exciting thing was our trip to the Opéra Garnier to see a ballet adaptation of Les Enfants du Paradis, a famous story that was first made into a film during WWII, then adapted to become a theatrical show. It was quite well done and I really liked the dancing.
We also went to the Petit Palais for lunch, and then looked around at the interesting artwork they had there: it was cool because they had art from all different styles and times, like ancient greek pots mixed with modern photography.

On our last day in Paris maggie, her sister and her mom came over, so it was nice to see them again. I went to visit a hostel where I'll be staying when I come back in a couple weeks.

Then on friday we flew from Paris to Lisbon! When I arrived in Lisbon I got a wonderful surprise: two of my best portuguese friends were there to meet me at the airport! it was so good to see them, but really hard to speak portuguese because i'm out of practice.
My host sister Joana took us home--I'm staying with my host family, and my parents are staying in a hotel nearby. After having spoken some more portuguese it has started feeling better--I still trip on my words sometimes, but I've surprised myself with how much I remember.

Friday night I wanted to stay home and relax (I am a certainly a homebody!) but my host mom had other plans and "sent" me out with my host sister Catarina. I got to see some of her friends who i had met before, and though we didn't do much, it was good to be with people my age after so much time with just my parents and their friends. Everyone wanted to know about the elections and approved when I said I had voted for obama.

Yesterday my parents, Xuxu (host mom) and I went to the Palácio da Pena in Sintra, a town near lisbon. I had already been to the palace, but it was fun to go again and show my parents. Xuxu drove all around, giving them a tour of what was in store.
After Sintra we went to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of the European continent---coooool. I had already been there too, but why not go again?

Last night I went out again to the birthday dinner of my friend Inês. We ate in a restaurant and then stood outside saying "ok let's go do something" and not doing anything. typical portuguese, haha. I got to see three of my closest portuguese friends (Inês, Inês, and Mariana) and some other kids I had known through school, so it was nice. My portuguese was good until I started getting sleepy and couldn't think anymore :-D.

Today Xuxu took us first to try Pastéis de Belém, really famous portuguese pastries (and really good, too!) and then to the Palácio de Queluz, a very nice palace near Lisbon (I had been there, too). For lunch we went to Ericeira, a cute fishing village where my host family has two summer houses. We ate prawns, mussels, octopus, and barnacles (which looked really desgusting--like toenails--but actually didn't taste that bad) and of course fish. The portuguese eat A LOT of sea food, and it's not for the squeamish.

Tomorrow my parents and I will head out on our "grand tour of Portugal" in our rental car: We're planning to visit some of my favorite places in Portugal. We'll be back in lisbon next weekend!

It's good and a little strange to be back in Portugal after spending 10 months here a year and a half ago. I'm glad my portuguese hasn't suffered too much!

Many beijinhos (kisses) to all!


Thursday, October 23, 2008

New Experiences

So.... hi all!

This week has been very low key. I went to see Nicolas Flamel's house, which was pretty cool (sorry if i repeat things I've already said...). It's now a restaurant, but it has carvings on it (made after his death) and it was built in 1407, which makes it pretty darn OLD.

Samantha came again on the weekend, which was a lot of fun. We went out for Moroccan food, yum, then went to the Palais de Chaillot (right near the eiffel tower) to watch the tower sparkle. It sparkles for about 4 minutes, every hour, on the hour. It was beautiful! At night it is lit up to look kind of gold-ish, then strobes turn on and it sparkles. Other nights it has been lit up blue for the european union (there are gold stars in a circle on it, like the EU flag).

The next day we went to meet Maggie and get falafel for lunch. We strolled around a bit, went into a couple stores, and rested. That night my family and Maggie's went out for Turkish food. It was a very ethnic foody weekend.!

Recently I've been having a flare of Crohn's Colitis (meaning my large intestine doesn't like me), so I spent the last two days getting to know the American Hospital in Paris. Despite its name, most of the doctors are french, and I heard mostly french spoken. It was a good hospital though. Tuesday I had blood tests and a CT-scan, and yesterday I had a colonoscopy. Woo! I have been prescribed new medicine, so hopefully everything should be under control in the next couple days. Unfortunately, this means I haven't been able to do much! (or, I have an excuse to lay around in bed all day, my guilty pleasure).

I've been hearing about snow in some parts of northern New England. Here it ahs been in the 60s, quite beautiful. Now it's sunny, with a clear blue sky. Very nice.

Sorry there's not much to talk about! I have one more week here, then I'll be going to Portugal for two weeks.

Chau and bisous!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Spiron and the Eiffel Tower


In the past two weeks (tomorrow makes two weeks that I will have been in Paris) I have visited (not in that order):

The Eiffel Tower
Sacre Coeur de Montmartre
Notre Dame (many times, but never inside)
The Cluny Museum
The Grand Palais where I saw a Picasso exhibit--very interesting
The grande arche de la défense
the Arc de Triomphe
The Pantheon
many cafés, restaurants, etc.

Taken a boat cruise on the Seine, which is wonderful! Seeing all the monuments lit up at night is great.
I also got together with Maggie, another american gap yearer who's here until January. it was fun meeting someone else my age, as the next week all my mom's friends arrived (4 of them), so I spent a lot of time exploring Paris with them.

The Cluny was my favorite museum because it's based on the middle ages. I love old things! they also had an exhibit on celts and scandinavians, which I found fascinating.

This past weekend samantha came to visit from versailles, which was lots of fun. We went to see the Arc de Triomphe and witnessed a couple getting engaged! it was sweet.

I've also spent a good amount of time at the bird market, held every sunday on ile de la cité where the flower market is during the week. there are thousands of birds for sale, as well as goldfish, guinea pigs, mice, squirrels, and even chipmunks. it's very cute and I want to buy them all, but clearly I can't.

across the street lives a bird in the window of a restaurant. last night I learned that his name is Spiron. he is a beautiful yellow canary and I say hi to him every morning. I also bought some birdseed and have been busy feeding the pigeons and the little brown birds you find in parks. In some places (mostly touristy), if you have the right type of food they will land on your hand! it's great.

the other day I saw a street juggler, who was quite good. I watched the show, then talked to him a bit about circus. I miss circus here!

The Grande Arche de la Défense is a modern arch from which you can get great views of paris. it's set outside of the center of paris, right down the street from the champs elysées, in skyscraper-ville. I also got a great view from the top of the galerie lafayette, a huge shopping mall with a beautiful dome. The printemps is another domed shopping mall (even prettier than the galerie lafayette) where we had a nice lunch with samantha.

Since I last wrote the weather has gotten a lot better, and it has been quite warm! It's very nice.

ps. sorry about the random formatting of this post :-D.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Grapes and Baguettes

Hello, it appears you have come across my first blog post. Here I hope to write (in some detail) of my adventures during my gap year, starting last week, when I boarded a plane at Logan airport....

I flew AirFrance which was great because foreign airlines always offer better food. Arrived at Charles-de-Gaulle and waited there for about 6 hours until my mom arrived on a different flight, then flew to Bordeaux.
We stayed with a friend of my mom's near Bordeaux (in the country, in WINE country) for a week. It was nice to relax, take walks, go see some little villages and eat a lot of baguettes. We have "tartines" (slices of baguette) every morning for breakfast and they are wonderful!

There are vines all over the place; we only saw red grapes. the grapes are in perfect little bunches, very small and round, with dark skins. We visited a couple wineries and got to taste some wine, including "bourru," which is a 10-day old pressing of the grapes (not exactly wine). The last day we were in the Médoc (that region) the "vendanges" were starting--the grape picking! It was very cool. A bunch of workers were winding through the pebbly soil among the vines, cutting grapes and putting them in big plastic tubs on their backs. There were also some grape-picking machines, used solely for that purpose.

We also visited a beautiful 14th century abby, the Château de Cadillac and a 12th century château-turned-winery that looked exactly like a disney castle. It was great.

Yesterday mom and I took the TGV from Bordeaux to Paris, then took a bus and walked to our little apartment, where we met my dad, who was coming in from Istambul. It's quite nice, and perfect for a family of three. We're in the Marais (means swamp), right in the center of Paris, also known as the gay district and the jewish quarter. Alas, most of the clothing stores around here are for gay men, but there is a good shopping mall down the street.

Today was our first full day in Paris--we saw the Jardin de Luxembourg, which I like because of its role in "Les Misérables," the Panthéon (a beautiful 250-year old building full of famous dead people. seriously. Marie Curie, Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Rousseau, etc...), then some nice churches. We also consumed crêpes, quiche, coffee and chocolat like good french people...

The weather has been unpleasantly cool and slightly rainy, so I'm hoping to buy a hat and gloves sometime soon. Hope it gets warmer! My french is getting better, though I haven't had many chances to speak it yet. Waiters, etc. recognize my accent and speak english (usually with fantastically funny accents themselves).

Until next time,