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).

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Irish sessions, an island trip, and a few midterms...


Happy Spring! Istanbul in the Spring is much nicer than Istanbul in the winter, as expected. It's a rainy Saturday morning here, and as per my usual routine in the US, I am at a coffee shop. Easter egg dyeing and candy-eating was a success (I will put up pictures of our masterpiece eggs on Facebook soon!). On Easter evening, I went back to the Irish pub session with a friend, and brought my recorder this time. I only knew one or two songs, and played pretty terribly, but I still had a lot of fun and ended up staying for three hours. I went back again last week and played a little bit more, and I'm planning on making a habit of it. Sessions are awesome! Unfortunately, it seems the girls in the apartment next to mine aren't so happy with me practicing recorder, though… makes me miss the music facilities at school back home.

 Last week I met up with my dad one last time, for a nice lunch (my last expensive meal for a while), and meeting some of his friends. We also stopped by the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market to buy orchid root powder--the main ingredient in what has become one of my favorite winter drinks here. It's called sahlep, and sweet and creamy and a perfect treat from a street-vendor on a chilly day. Now that it's warm I'm not drinking much sahlep, but now I can make it for myself next winter in the US :). I don't remember much else of what I did last week; all of a sudden schoolwork has started to keep me a bit busy!

On Friday, my roommates and I went back to Ortaköy--one of my favorite spots in Istanbul. We strolled around, did a little shopping, and had our requisite kumpir (stuffed baked potatoes) and tavla (backgammon).

 Sunday was a wonderful day—my program organized a trip to Büyükada, one of the "Prince's Islands" that is about an hour and a half away from my area of Istanbul by ferry. The Islands reminded me a bit of Martha's Vineyard or the cape, with lots of cute little shops, restaurants, and summer homes. Apparently Trotsky spent some time there, too… We rented bikes and rode up to the top of the Island, where we visited a monastery and had a nice lunch outside. It was a wonderful break from city life—especially since the only vehicles on the island are bikes and (semi-vicious) horse-drawn carriages. After a nice big cone of ice cream, we headed home on the ferry, and I went back to the Irish pub for some more jamming.

This week has been spent mostly on working on my independent project and studying for the two midterms I had yesterday—Turkish and Politics of Nationalism. Turkish was mostly reading comprehension, so it was pretty difficult, but not too bad (and I'm taking that class pass/fail…). I studied a lot for Politics of Nationalism, so that wasn't bad either--plus, I have the advantage of being a native English speaker, unlike the rest of the class… I'm so amazed that all the Turkish students manage to do their university studies in English!

 Yesterday afternoon I lazed around, and have similar plans for today, unless the rains let up. I've been dreaming of going on a picnic…. :)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

High tea, bureaucracy, and a 4.5-hour dinner

Merhaba all!

It is a beautiful Easter Sunday here in Istanbul, and I'm wearing a flowery dress in accordance with the holiday, despite it not really being a thing here. But my wonderful mother brought me easter candy and an egg-dyeing kit, so there will be some celebrating going on at my apartment this afternoon :).

For now, I'm back in a café trying to do some homework. One of the most important lessons I've learned here in Turkey is my addiction to coffee shops. No, seriously... they're like a drug: I can't get any work done unless I'm sitting in a coffee shop with (usually) a latte. Not very Turkish of me, I know, and kind of an expensive habit.... heh. I'm looking forward to getting back to some of my favorite coffee shops near college in the US, but for now I'll enjoying scoping some out here in Istanbul.

Well, last Thursday was a very exciting day. Woke up around 5 in the morning without meaning to, but had to get up at 6:15 anyway for my residence permit appointment! Thrilling! Foreigners living in Turkey need residence permits, so we all got to experience the wonderful thing that is Turkish bureaucracy. A group of students from my program shipped off to a police-station-type place and waited around for hours, then handed in our papers and paid a large amount of money, then left. I was the first one out, around 2.5 hours after we arrived...

Friday and Saturday were pretty boring days; I had a research paper due on Saturday, so I spent most of my time reading and writing about the Fourth Crusade (if you don't know anything about it, just know that it's kind of hilarious and sheds light on the stupidity of humanity). I was free by dinner time on Saturday, and my parents took me and my roommates (one of whom had a birthday that day!) out to a nice dinner. We had lots of mezze--Turkish appetizers, kebabs, and a bit of birthday cake and Turkish coffee.

I forgot to mention—during the whole paper-writing process, my computer battery died (perfect timing, of course), which resulted in a quiet Monday (or was it Sunday?) in my parents' hotel room, transferring my computer data to my mom's computer, which I'll be using for the rest of the semester. Parents to the rescue! After the boring computer stuff my parents and I headed out for a nice farewell tea at the Pera Palace—a beautiful old hotel that was the final destination for many rich passengers on the Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul. We dressed up and ate finger sandwiches and cute little pastries with our tea. I then proceeded to pull out my laptop in the lobby to do online roomdraw for next year at school (we have specific times to choose, and I didn't want to miss mine); I'm sure I was the classiest room-picker ever.

Wednesday I had a midterm exam which went ok, but I'm not going to lie—it's a lot harder to study here in Istanbul than in the states. There aren't many nice study spaces on campus, and my room is hopelessly non-conducive to studying... hence all the Starbucks dates.

Thursday was again very exciting--I went to pick up my residence permit! Only about an hour of waiting this time, and I ran into a fellow Mac student at the permit office! She's studying at a different university in Istanbul. Small world. Anyway, now I have a little mini-passport-thingy to prove that I'm living here, and now I'm allowed to leave the country! Woo!

Yesterday my roommates and I went to our local Saturday morning market for some produce and dried fruit and nuts, then spent the rest of the day being lazy inside. At night we went to dinner with my Hungarian friend (from my Turkish class) and a bunch of his Turkish friends. Some Turkish was spoken, with a bit more English, and much rakı was drunk (I'm not sure if I'll ever like it, though...). It was a very Turkish experience—we started dinner around 8:30 and finished just around 1 AM! Our main courses (for which we weren't very hungry, since we had eaten so many mezze) came around 11:30. We three Americans had a good laugh over it, as we fought our culturally-ingrained "eat-and-run" instincts. It was good fun though, with live music and even a belly dancer (brings back memories of the belly-dance class I took in Portugal, though last night's was of a significantly different character!).

Time to head home and start boiling some eggs. Happy Easter to all!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Adventures: terrible cocktails, a failed quest, and a dip in the Mediterranean


I've had some fun times the past two weeks. Things are definitely picking up here—I've spent this morning (in a Starbucks, shame on me!) working on a research paper due at the end of the week, and I've been struggling along with my independent research project.

Two weeks ago, on Friday, my roommates and I had some adventurous times. First, we discovered that the president of Ecuador was speaking at our university, so we tried to squeeze into the auditorium, but it was too packed. We gave up on our other idea for the aftenroon (seeing the whirling dervishes--one of our friends who had planned to come was sick), and walked 20 minutes to Ortaköy. It's becoming one of my favorite places in Istanbul—reminds me somewhat of Cascais, in Lisbon. We wandered around, window shopping and admiring a lot of the jewelry sold there, then decided to go for cocktails at a bar called "Tipsy." That, and the offer of almost half-off cocktails should have tipped us off that it would turn into an adventure.... My friends both ordered Long Island Ice Teas, and I got a caipirinha, to see how Turks made the traditional Brazilian drink. It turns out that all of our drinks were pretty terrible, and also contained what felt like 4 shots each. So by the time we left and headed to a cafe for dinner, Ortaköy was spinning a little bit...

We stopped at a place our roomate had taken us a few weeks before, and ordered kumpir—essentially baked potatoes with any and all toppings you desire. Again, we honed our backgammon skills (I love that little cultural quirk!), and then hopped on a bus back home, stopping for a giant box of cookies on the way. We ate cookies and played pre-teen sleepover games, then went to bed before midnight. All in all, a sort of strange, but adventurous evening.

On Saint Patrick's day we decided to celebrate by going to an Irish pub—along with everyone else. As expected, the pub was packed, so we wandered around a bit more and found another bar, but my friend decided that ice cream and heading home early was a better idea. The next day, though, a friend and I returned to the pub and sat in on a "mega" trad Irish music session--it was amazing! We were there for ~3 hours, enjoying listening to the multiple fiddles, guitar, recorder, pipes, and even a hammer dulcimer. There's a session every Sunday, so I'm planning on going back, and maybe brining my own recorder. I treated myself to a 18TL/10$ cider, though hopefully that won't be a regular occurrence...

My dad arrived in Istanbul on Monday, and it was great to see him! He's the best tour guide and translator one could ask for. He accompanied me on some more adventurous times on Tuesday...
I've been looking around for cultural organizations for my project, and found one not too far from a metro stop, so I decided to take the metro and then walk, using a hand-drawn map I had made. Long story short, I spent a good chunk of time getting lost in what was essentially a jungle of highways, then lost my student ID and bus pass on the way. I didn't make it to the organization the first time, but my dad returned with me to retrace my steps (no ID found), and we ended up taking a taxi there (and asking for directions three times--it's in the middle of nowhere). We reached the place, but no one was there except for the wife of the director, who ended up giving us a ride back out of the middle of nowhere. Overall, a failure of a day... but at least I got a lot of exercise, heh.

On Thursday my mom arrived, and I had a wonderful dinner in my parents' hotel restaurant (one of the many perks of having my parents here—not just eating PB&J or omelets all the time!). On Friday I had my full day of class, then returned for the traditional Turkish music group at 7. We sang some songs (well, I tried), and I practiced some of my Turkish with the Turkish students. I was so glad for that, since it has been really hard to meet Turks here. The practice involved a long impromptu Turkish history lecture (that I couldn't understand anything of), and a lot of bursting into song (I tried to hum along...)

The next day my parents and I took a wonderful cruise on the Bosphorus—sunnier than last time!—and finished it off with a visit to an awesome castle along the shores of the Bosphorus--from 1452, when Mehmet the Conqueror was getting ready to take over Constantinople. After a quick break, I headed back to the old town to have dinner with my parents, 4 Norwegians, and an American professor from my University and his wife. It was a mixed crew, but lots of fun—it was great to see the Norwegian friends (I met them in Norway two summers ago), but I found my Norwegian to be really rusty—Turkish kept coming out! The dinner was superb, and I headed home full and sleepy, only to wake up after three hours of sleep to head to the airport and hop on a plane to Turkey's southern Mediterranean coast.

My program set up a group trip to Antalya, a beautiful beach town. We stayed at a five-star resort around 45 minutes away, and took advantage of their amazing buffet meals. We visited a ruined Necropolis, the Church of Saint Nicholas (yep, where St. Nick was buried), and took a beautiful boat cruise. On Monday we headed down the road to a canyon and an awesome high ropes course—of course I never wanted to leave. We finished off the trip by exploring the city of Antalya, where I happened to meet up again with my parents, who are spending the week there. All in all, a wonderful trip—it was so nice to get out of the city and take some relaxing time.

Now, another busy week of school, hence my extended stay here in Starbucks and anticipated coffee-shop hopping on the schedule for today. I'll just leave off by saying that I am LOVING being in Istanbul. Since I last wrote, the weather has turned nice, and I love wandering around this city; there's so much to discover and experience here. Stay tuned for more adventures :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sometimes I Crave Turkish Delight


I realize it has been two weeks since I last posted, but when I'm not traveling around all the time there are fewer interesting things to write about. Still, I've had some fun times in the past two weeks...

Last Friday one of my roommates had a friend visiting (a friend who coincidentally had dated someone I went to high school with--small world!) so we went to the Çiçek Pasajı ("Flower Passage") for some drinks. It's a beautiful old space where flowers used to be sold—now it's mostly bars and restaurants, and somewhat touristy. Still a good time. The rest of the weekend was pretty boring, but last week I started getting into the swing of classes, finally! I'm taking a class on audio recording and editing (it's random, but really fun!), my "core" course on contemporary Turkish history and politics, Turkish language, Politics of Nationalism, and my independent project. I've decided to study Germans and German Turks (either return migrants or second generation) in Turkey to see the "other side" of the interesting Turkish-German situation in Germany. Hopefully this summer I will be able to continue my research in Berlin (depends on if I am awarded a grant or not).

On Tuesday I had a very special visit from some friends from college back in the States! They were on a study visit with their study abroad program in Denmark. We visited the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar and had Turkish coffee and baklava, then went back to Çiçek Pasajı that evening. It was great fun to catch up and hear about their adventures in Denmark.

On Wednesday my roommates and I visited Dolmabahçe Palace—a big, beautiful, "European-style" palace right next to our university, on the banks of the Bosphorus. The palace and the grounds were gorgeous, as expected; I loved the giant chandeliers. We also caught a chill inside the giant palace, so we spent the rest of the afternoon in the heated university library, trying to get some work done.

Last Friday I took the first step in my independent research project and visited the Goethe Institute here in Istanbul. They offer German classes and have a German-Turkish library, so I talked to the head librarian and learned some helpful things about German-Turkish culture in Istanbul. I'll continue working and hopefully set up some interviews soon.

I also went to an interesting event on Friday: my Turkish professor had told me he was playing a concert of traditional Turkish music—it turns out it was actually sort of a choir rehearsal! So I sat with 20 or so students and tried my best to sing along while my professor and some students played some traditional instruments. At one point my prof singled me out (in Turkish) and had me sing by myself! I turned beet red, but I had figured out the tune, so it was fun.

I didn't go out at night last weekend (was pretty tired), but I had a great time on Saturday with some friends—we went to Şişhane, where we strolled down a street full of music shops, passed by the Galata Tower (decided against going up since the line was long!), and crossed the restaurant-studded Galata Bridge. We ended up heading back to the Spice Market, where we took advantage of free samples of Turkish delight... a bit too much Turkish delight...
We finished off the evening with fish sandwiches on the Galata Bridge, and a trip back home by way of the second-oldest underground transportation system in the world--Istanbul's Tünel (the first is the London metro, I believe).

Since then I haven't done much. The weather has been pretty terrible, so I've done a lot of sitting inside and procrastinating on my reading, heh. Will be heading to my audio class this evening, so I'm looking forward to that! See you in a week or so :)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Life and Times at a Turkish University

Hello all!

I'm sitting in the library here at my University, just starting on the incoming flow of readings and homework I'm expecting to hit. School is finally starting! I'm still figuring out my class schedule a bit, but I've mostly chosen my courses, and getting into the swing of things. I spent last week trying out classes, often ending up quite frustrated. Two of the classes I tried are going to be taught only in Turkish, one didn't happen (the professor didn't show up)... finally on Friday I managed to attend two classes that I think I'll stick with: Turkish, and Politics of Nationalism. I tested into upper intermediate Turkish, so I tried out that class on Friday and although there was only one other student there, it was very difficult—I could hardly understand anything the professor was saying. I studied Turkish on my own, so naturally my speaking and understanding are worse than my writing and grammar. I'll keep up with it... I also wish I had more people with whom to practice my Turkish—I haven't met many Turkish students yet, so hopefully I will once I get into the swing of classes.
On Saturday I went out with my two American roommates, my Turkish flatmate, and her Turkish boyfriend. We drove to Ortaköy, a really nice neighborhood along the banks of the Bosphorus and wandered around, checking out a market and eating Turkish ravioli (mantı) with yogurt and garlic sauce. (They eat yogurt with everything here!). Afterwards we stopped at a café for some coffee and backgammon. Many turkish cafes have nargile (hookah) and board games—it's a fun environment. My roommates and I managed to win a bunch, as well!
After that, the night wasn't over. We headed to Galata to a wine bar, where we enjoyed some red wine and cheese and live music. Our flatmate and her boyfriend spoke Turkish with each other and English with us (though I tried out a bit of my Turkish on them...). They headed home after the bar, though my roommates and I went on to Taksim, one of the hubs for nightlife here. We ended up going to an erasmus (study abroad student) party at a club and dancing the night away (well, until around 2 AM...)
Sunday and Monday were days for relaxing. The weather hasn't been great here, so I've spent a lot of time inside, and managed to find a nice coffee shop near my dorm to get some actual work done (working in my room doesn't do it for me). Yesterday I tried out another Turkish course, though this one was even harder than the one on Friday—I'm surprised I tested into it, because I obviously do not know enough Turkish to read poetry. Inşallah ("God willing"; hopefully) I'll pick some up.
Today is an exciting day because it's February 29! Wooo! Otherwise, nothing much exciting going on. Went to another class this morning and discovered it to be all in Turkish, so I'm hoping to get into an English-speaking section of it. Tomorrow I have a meeting with a sociology professor to work figuring out my independent project, so hopefully I'll see where to go with it from there. I'm sorry this update hasn't been very interesting; I'll try to have some more blog-worthy adventures soon!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A scavenger hunt, a sheep sacrifice, and back to school

Hello everyone! Greetings from my yurt!
Yurt means dormitory in Turkish (though it also means yurt...). I am all moved in, and enjoying getting to know my neighborhood. I went to my first class today, so things are picking up at university as well.

We continued our seminar last week with a visit to the Tuesday market in Kadiköy, on the Asian side of Istanbul. We had a scavenger hunt in the market, where we were given a list of things in Turkish to buy, and were encouraged to practice bargaining. In the end, we came home with quince (one of my favorite fruits!), some interesting spices, condensed pomegranate juice, and many other interesting finds. We had lunch at a nice place in Kadiköy, and enjoyed wandering around in Asia before hopping continents again.

On Wednesday we took a "religious minorities walking tour" around Istanbul, where we visited a Catholic church, a former Jewish temple, and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchy (the Patriarch is still in Istanbul, not in Greece). Although religious minorities are not prevalent here (Turkey is 96% Muslim), there used to be more, and it was interesting to learn about the history.

After that we finally were able to go see our university! Although there are around 12,000 undergraduate students here, there are only two academic building complexes. The campus is right next to the Bosphorus, though, and the views are beautiful! We had a lecture on religion and philosophy that afternoon, then found our way back to the dorms with public transportation.

Thursday was so interesting—we first met with an Imam at a mosque in a non-touristy area. The imam (Muslim religious leader) had prepared a wonderful mid-morning snack for us in a building next to the mosque—so although it wasn't a mosque space, women and men still sat on opposite sides of the room, and we wore headscarves. For a few hours, the imam answered our questions about Islam (our guide translated from Turkish), and I was glad to learn a bit about this religion that I don't know very well.

That afternoon, we sat in on a Shi'a Alevi ceremony, an experience like no other. We started out by stumbling upon a sheep sacrifice, then ate some sacrificed sheep meat (I think) at a communal lunch where I attempted to hold a conversation in a mixture of Turkish and German with some of the Turks at our table. Afterwards, we went to the religious service room, where we took off our shoes and put on headscarves. Women and men sat on opposite sides of the room, and most of us were sitting on the floor. The Alevi tradition is different from other forms of Shi'a Islam, and very different from Sunni Islam (that of the imam whom we had met). There were paintings around the room of Ali, whom Shi'ites consider the rightful successor to Mohammed (I'm hoping I'm getting this history right!); images are forbidden in Sunni Islam. The service was led by a man who spoke (in Turkish, not Arabic) at the front of the room, and various people with ribbons around their waists participated by dancing or moving around the room. At some points, the leader picked up a saz and sang, strumming until the energy in the room built up; at one point, one of the worshippers went into a trance and started shouting and jumping on his knees. The service was two and a half hours long, so I spent a lot of time shifting around, trying to keep my limbs from falling asleep. Often I closed my eyes and let my brain wander, listening to the music and reflecting on such a new experience. At the end of two hours, the other women there were curious to know why we were there, so I sputtered out a few words of Turkish ("we're American, we don't speak Turkish"), and then we all headed back to the dorms, feeling reflective.

On Friday we had our orientation for international students—there are many students here on erasmus, and a few others from American universities—including a cocktail party and a party at a club in Taksim (one of the nightlife hotspots here). It was fun to meet a few other foreign students, though I was quite tired, so we left before midnight.

Saturday and Sunday were days to relax and get ready for the first week of classes. Bahçeşehir University holds most classes once a week for three hours, so my schedule will be pretty unusual, I think. I'm still trying out classes this week, and will register for them by next week. I'm hoping to take something in the sociology department, plus my program's required "Contemporary Turkish Politics" course. Yesterday I took a Turkish placement exam (hoping to place into an intermediate level), and today I sat in on a class that I probably won't end up registering for. I will keep you updated about school next week!

Monday, February 13, 2012

From Troy to Gallipoli (and many other adventures!)

Wow, where to begin with this week! Everything has been sort of a whirlwind since my program started on Thursday.

Here are the basics: I'm with a group of 21 students, about half of whom attend Syracuse. We started off the program with a week-long stay in old Istanbul (the Sultanahmet area). Our hotel was a short walk from the hippodrome, the Blue Mosque, and Hagia Sophia (which are basically next to each other). We started each day with a 2-hour lecture on Turkish history (starting around Roman times), then headed out to explore the sites. Naturally, we visited Hagia Sophia on the second day—as breathtaking as expected. We also saw the archeological museum, and a very cool underground cistern, all of which I had seen on earlier trips, but it was great to see everything again. Many of our visits were in the snow/freezing rain and I still don't have a winter coat, but there was plenty of tea to warm us up, and I discovered a new favorite drink—salep. It's made out of orchid root, milk, honey, and spices, and vendors sell it from ornate jugs on the street.
We've hit a lot of Istanbul in a short time—we visited the old walls (and climbed on top, being careful to not fall off!) and the ancient imperial palace, as well as Istanbul's largest pigeon market (which happens to be next to the old Byzantine imperial palace). Apparently, collecting and training pigeons is a favored activity here.
On Sunday we had the day off, so besides going out for some lunch (we've been discovering all the nice little kebab and pide—Turkish pizza—restaurants around our hotel) I took the day off. The other students take "Survival Turkish" classes each day, but since I studied some back at school in the states, I've had some extra free time.
Monday was dedicated entirely to Topkapı palace, one of the most beautiful gems of Istanbul. It's a huge palace complex which had many parts added over the years. We got a detailed tour of the harem, which was beautiful, but essentially an ornate prison for the sultan's concubines—they were often taken from Christian territories and enslaved in the harem for their entire lives. We also had a 4-course meal in a restaurant at Topkapı, and left feeling a little luxurious.
Naturally, we visited the beautiful blue mosque as well, and the Islamic arts museum, and took a boat tour on the Bosphorus. Istanbul is huge (15 million people, have I mentioned?), and it was great to see some of the other neighborhoods, and the beautiful palaces and mansions on both the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus.
Currently, I am on a ferry somewhere between Europe and Asia, traveling across the Dardanelles/Hellespont. How cool is that? We headed out on a mini-excursion on Wednesday, starting in Bursa the ancient capital of the Ottoman Empire.
Ok, now I'm not on a boat. I will tell you where I am later. But first... our trip. We took a ferry across to the Asian side of Istanbul, then drove to Bursa, a city of around 3 million people. We saw an Ottoman mosque, a silk market (a beautiful courtyard-like area selling some wonderful scarves!) and an impressive tomb, though I spent most of the visit freezing. After a stop for warm salep, we moved into our hotel and tried out the Turkish bath there. It was amazing—basically a giant hot tub which turned me into a puddle of relaxed goo. Afterwards, a nice dinner, and then we were on our way to Troy the next morning.
I was so excited to see Troy, and it turned out to be a very cool site. There are bits and pieces of Troy 1-9 that have been excavated, so we got to see many parts of the walls and listened to a few verses of the Iliad in a small ancient theater. There was a model trojan horse there, which we all climbed in and imagined riding into Troy as a "gift."
We moved on to Çannakale, a nice town on the Dardanelles—the straight separating the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean. Çanakkale is home to the model trojan horse used in the film Troy (which we had watched on the bus ride), though our main visit there was to Gallipoli, site of a famous World War I battle. We saw the beach where the ANZACS (Australian and New Zealand soldiers) landed (and died, in many cases), as well as many memorials, and even had a chance to wander around the snow-filled trenches. My boots still have WWI trench-mud on them. It was a pretty cool and moving day.
We spent another 6 hours on the bus (this time on the European side of the Sea of Marmara) and headed back to Istanbul, where we moved into our dorms. The female dorm (no boys allowed! these rules will take some time to get used to) is quite nice—I'm in an apartment with 4 others girls from my program, and a Turkish girl. We have a small kitchen and cooked dinner last night for the first time in a long time, so that was nice. Today was a day off, so I did some exploring, and navigated the public transport system a bit. Our orientation seminar continues this week, and classes start on Monday! I'm so happy to have stopped living out of a suitcase, and I'm excited to see what Turkish University classes are like. Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The City of Constantine

So I am in Istanbul! And is blocked, so I'll be sending my blog entries to my mom to post here. It's inconvenient, but I'll still be blogging!

My last few days in Nice were fun. I had tea with three classmates at a friend's apartment on Thursday, which was great fun; we represented Spain, Italy, Australia, and the US, but the common language was French (with a bit of Italian, Spanish and English thrown in!). I love polyglot situations like that.

On Saturday I went to Italy. I had been meaning to go, and finally just hopped on a train (~40 minutes) to Ventimiglia, right across the border. There wasn't much to see there, so I hopped on a bus to San Remo, which had a cute old town just begging to be explored. It was so much fun just being in Italy; I love border crossings in general, but it was also great to just note the little differences between the two sides of the border. Linguistically, I was confused—I can understand a bit of Italian, but can't speak any at all, so I made do with French, English, and some "grazie."

I enjoyed wandering around the narrow, windy streets, taking in views of the ocean, and drinking wonderfully rich Italian hot chocolate (another difference across borders!). It was raining the whole time I was there, so by the end of the day I was pretty soaked. But I'm strange, and I don't mind being rained on. I just bought a cannoli, boarded the bus and the train, and admired the scenery on the way back to Nice.

Sunday morning started at 4:30 AM—I was at the airport a little after 5, for my flight at 7. I flew over the alps to Zurich, and then to Istanbul, and went to a wonderful hotel, where I stayed for the next five days. Strangely, Istanbul was channeling Minnesota, and it snowed heavily for most of my stay. I spent a lot of time relaxing at the hotel, drinking apple tea and mentally preparing myself for the semester ahead. I also visited a few of my dad's friends, who are all wonderfully hospitable and kind. I did some wandering around old Istanbul, which often culminated in getting lost.

Istanbul has certainly presented its share of culture shocks: one of the biggest so far is the fact that around 85% of people on the streets are men. I went into a shopping mall the other day to look for a coat, and found that all of the stores catered to men (not sure if that's a usual occurrence, but it certainly seemed very different from the US!). It is strange, but doesn't feel threatening. Nevertheless, I've gotten good at ignoring shopkeepers calling after me to try to get me to come inside and buy their products.

I also tried my hand and shopping and bargaining, because I was in desperate need of waterproof shoes and a coat. I managed to do some successful shopping (with a bit of bargaining—I'll work on it!) all in Turkish! I'm really excited to get to practice this crazy language.

Today (well, Thursday, when I wrote this) was the official start of my study abroad program. I've gotten to know the other students a little bit; we had lunch, then an orientation session (involving a detailed powerpoint presentation on what to do in the case of an earthquake), and a short walk around Istanbul. After a nice Turkish dinner, I'm back in the hotel room with my two roommates, who are also on the program. Tomorrow is our first lecture on Istanbul's history, followed by a visit to some pretty amazing historical sites! I'll keep you updated :)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Riviera paradise

I'm going to be sad when I leave Nice on Sunday. I wasn't sure what to expect, coming here--staying in Nice was my way of avoiding buying another round trip ticket to and from the US and spending three weeks in the cold. But I love this city, and this region, and now I understand why so many people vacation in the French Riviera.

Last Tuesday was an interesting evening. Two friends my from class and I decided to check out a French-English language exchange at a pub by the port, which ended up being fun. The pub staff set it up so that ~3 francophones and 3 anglophones would be sitting together, so we would switch off languages every ten minutes or so, and then switch groups every 20 minutes. It was good practice, and nice to meet some actual French people! Afterwards, we went out to another bar in Old Nice that looked like a cross between a bomb shelter and a ship's mess, but was actually quite fun. Needless to say, I was a bit tired in class the next day.

On Saturday I took a day trip to the next town over, called Villefranche. Like most of the towns here, it has a cute old part, a nice port, and then modern apartments spreading up the mountains. I strolled around the steep old streets for a while, admired the harbour, and then (and this is very logical), since I didn't feel like walking back to the bus stop, walked all the way back to Nice. It was about 4 miles/6.7 kilometers, and so beautiful. The path wound around the point separating Nice and Villefranche, then led up the hill and back down to the port in Nice. I took a good nap after my walk, then went out to a bar with an Australian friend from my class that evening.

On Sunday, since I didn't have anything planned, I set out in the afternoon and just wandered for around 2.5 hours, eventually ending up at the Promenade des Anglais and eating a sandwich on the beach. A very peaceful afternoon.

Today was by far the most exciting day of my week–-I headed over to Monaco (~40 minute bus ride) to see the Festival International de Cirque de Monte Carlo! I had heard about it, and it was pretty cool to see. I got there a little past 2, managed to buy the cheapest ticket available (the very last row in the chapiteau!) and got in just as the show was starting at 2:30. It was a fun show, though it went for almost 3.5 hours, much of which was scene changing--taking the lions' cage out and setting up the flying trapeze rig. My favorite act was a handbalancer who had won a "Clown d'Or" at this year's festival.

The city of Nice is getting ready for a big festival too--Carnaval! According to my host mom, Nice's Carnaval is the largest in Europe. They've been setting up guard rails and bleachers for the past week or so, but sadly I'll be leaving before the celebrations start in February.

Dinner time! Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Is it really winter here?

Winter in the Riviera isn't really winter. The flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, and I was out in just a long-sleeved t-shirt today. I keep thinking back to last January, when I was in Québec freezing (but having a good time!) and understanding why so many rich people choose the French Riviera as their winter escape.

I've had a good first week of french classes. Usually, my day goes somewhat like this: I have breakfast at 8 with my host mom, and head to class at 9 (a five-minute walk away from the apartment I'm living in). Class goes until 11:30 or 12, so then I head out and get some lunch. Later in the afternoon, I usually take a walk along the Promenade des Anglais (I'm in love with that walk), then head home when it gets dark around 5:30 and try to convince myself to do homework (a difficult task). I've done a bit of exploring in Nice—I've seen the shopping mall right near me, and have walked around a bunch—but otherwise I'm not planning on doing much more touristy things, like museums. Dinner is at French time—around 8—with my host mom, and sometimes with the other girl who is staying here, a Korean student at the University of Nice.

This weekend I took an excursion with two classmates to Eze, a medieval town a short bus ride down the coast. We hiked up a hill with spectacular views, and then explored the tiny windy streets of the town on top of the hill. It was a wonderful hike (steep!), a beautiful day, and a very cute old town.

Saturday evening I had dinner with the owners of the apartment that my parents and I rented, and a couple of their friends. All in all we were 6 anglophones, and had a wonderful home-cooked dinner. It was better than any restaurant—we had multiple courses, including stuffed dates and souffle and lots of wonderful wine—and a fun time all around. Sunday was therefore a lazy day, though I took my daily walk on the Promenade with an Australian classmate.

I don't have many plans for this week other than the usual class time and wander time. I'm taking this is a sort of structured vacation—my brain isn't quite ready to switch out of relaxation mode. Of all the places to take a vacation like this, I think Nice is the best.

'Til next time :)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Nice (part 1)

Ok, there are so many terrible Nice jokes. Even just writing that title felt like I was making a joke. Well, Nice is nice. Nice is great. And I'll try not to make any more Nice jokes in this post.

My parents and I spent a wonderful week in Nice. We stayed in a rented apartment, which was homier than a hotel. Each day we'd have fresh baguette or pastries for breakfast, and then go exploring. Since I'm bad at remembering things chronologically, I'll just give little descriptions of some of the trips we did.

The most "exotic" was our visit to Monaco—a whole new country! I just get so excited about crossing borders. Monaco is actually tiny and full of a lot of ugly apartment buildings, but it's also full of rich people and fun stuff. We saw the castle (which is quite disney-esque) and wandered around near the yacht-filled port. Even saw some signs in MonegasqueWe also went to the casino, of course, where I tried my hand at gambling (slot machines and poker machines) for the first time and was actually quite bored. I can't figure out what is so enticing about gambling, and I hope I never will.

My dad and I also took a day trip to Cannes—home of the famous movie festival—and Antibes, another town on the coast. Luckily we found cute old-town parts of both cities, with old stone towers that were much nicer than the modern apartment buildings. Also saw the convention center where the Cannes film festival is held, which was pretty cool. The craziest thing—especially in Antibes—was the amount of yachts. Mon dieu. So many rich people with giant shiny yachts. It was like a forest of masts. Could hardly see the water.

Anyway, we also spent some nice times in Nice. Saw some cool Roman ruins (those Romans went everywhere!), as well as an old fort on a hill near the old town. We did a lot of wandering around old Nice, and had some great meals in restaurants here. One of the awesome things about Nice is that they still use Provençal here! Not sure if I've heard it spoken (I think it sounds like Italian) but many of the street signs are written in both Provençal and French.

I've also fallen in love with the Promenade des Anglais—a sea-side walkway that runs all along the shore. It's always packed with people, walking, running, biking, and roller-blading or just sitting and enjoying the view. The beach is mostly pebbles, but the water is bright bright blue (that's why it's called the Côte d'Azur) and some people are brave enough to swim. I took a six-mile walk there yesterday, and took two more walks there today. :)

When my parents headed back to the states, I headed over to my host mom's house. I'll be staying here for three weeks, taking a 2.5-hour french class every day. My host mom is a ball of energy and very hospitable, and I think I'll really improve my french while I'm here. I had my first class today, which went well. It's only 8 students, and the teacher seems quite good. So for now I'll say à toute à l'heure!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas in the vineyards

Hello! Welcome to my adventures around the world, part 239 or something. I'll be chronicling here my month in France, and my semester in Turkey. And whatever comes next, which I haven't figured out yet. Enjoy!

Hello from drizzly Nice, France! I've been in France for about a week, enjoying good food, wine, and temperatures above freezing.

I started this trip by flying Boston-Dublin-Paris, then waiting for a chilly, hungry, sleepy 4 hours at the CDG train station before boarding a train to Bordeaux, and then another one to Macau, the town near which my mom's friend lives. I finally arrived at our friends' house, which is in the middle of thousands of vineyards. We spent a few cozy days taking walks in the vineyard and celebrating Christmas with my mom's friend and her two daughters. Lots of fires in the fireplace, and good soup, cheese, bread, wine, and sweets! It was a very cozy Christmas.

Our first excursion was a drive along La Route des Chateaux—driving through endless vineyards, passing a chateau (castle-like building hosting a specific type of wine) every 5 minutes or so. We visited a few chateaus, but mostly enjoyed driving by and seeing the beautiful façades and slate towers in the late-afternoon sunlight (the sun goes down early here!).

The next day we explored the city of Bordeaux, which is smaller than Paris but still as beautiful. We got some beautiful pre-sun-set views from the cathedral tower and did some serious exploring of the city.

Our next excursion was to the walled town of Saint Emilion—straight out of the middle ages or so, filled with old stone buildings, and cobbled streets (which are actually not made with cobbles, but paving stones--cobbles are small round stones. fun fact). We had a wonderful lunch at a restaurant near the beautiful old church and cloister, and bought some of Saint Emilion's famous almond macaroons.

Finally, we made another day trip to Arcachon—a cute sea-side town. Though in winter it's pretty empty, it was still nice to explore a bit and see the cute houses and the beach. We took a detour to la dune de pyla—the largest sand dune in Europe. It was quite large, though given that I haven't seen any other sand dunes in Europe, I'm not quite sure what to compare it to.

After an early night on New Year's Eve and a 9-hour train ride from Bordeaux to Nice, we are now ensconced in a cozy apartment here in Nice, ready to explore some of this city's sites and some of the rest of the French Riviera. After today's drizzle the weather is supposed to be nice—and in the 60s every day—so I'm looking forward to it.