Rhetoric and photo essays

As much as I travel and as much as I would love to say that I know a lot about photography, I really don’t. I know some basics, a few tricks, and how to turn the camera on, but photography is not one of my best skills. That being said, I love it and I love how people use it to tell stories. What can I say? I’m an English teacher, so of course how the story is told is one of my favorite parts.

In my AP class, we’re learning about rhetoric and how it applies to more than just the AP exam or essays we write in class. I usually try not to give homework over a holiday, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for them to use rhetoric in a way that was outside of writing or reading a story or an essay. So we learned about visual rhetoric and I made them do photo essays over their Christmas break. I put together a website for them to compile their essays; the essays are due this week, so we should be updating the pages soon. The kids can see how many people look at the site; I wanted them to be able to take ownership of what they’ve done. Anyway, there is a more solid explanation of how we set it up if you go to the site, but please check it out. Like I said, I’m not a photographer, let alone a photagraphy teacher, but I like when stories can be told in different ways. Plus, I like to see my kids have fun and be creative. 🙂

Here’s the link to the class website.


Trips before Barcelona

I’m typing this one-handed, and while I’ll proofread it, I ask that you please excuse any typos.

One of the largest difficulties in moving to Turkey has been the language barrier. This is something I’ve blogged about quite often and while I’ve graduated from “I don’t speak Turkish,” to “I speak a little Turkish,” there are some things that still require a translator–namely the doctor’s office. Talking about your body in a foreign language often requires more than “this doesn’t work” or “this is very difficult,”which brings me to today’s story.

The last month has been quite stressful, so when my friend asked if I wanted to go to Barcelona for Christmas, it was an obvious choice. It’s been a motivator at work and something I’ve been looking forward to for weeks now. So of course, while walking from the bakery to school today, I slipped on a patch of ice and landed quite ungracefully onto my left hand and tailbone. Sitting on the cold ground, confused and short-winded, I looked up to see people looking at me, but not moving to help at all. I tied to push myself up, but my left wrist didn’t want to support my weight. A sharp pain shooting through my wrist and hand brought tears to my eyes and made me sit down again. Still, no one budged to help. “Stupid Turkey,” I murmured to myself as I slowly gathered my things and leaned onto my right hand. I walked to school, cradling my left wrist in my right hand, head down and near tears in pain. I could move my fingers, but moving my wrist was a no-go. After throwing my bag onto my desk, next to my uneaten muffin from the bakery, I went off in search of ice, which is not necessarily an easy thing to find in Europe.

At this point, I was mad at Turkey and Turkish people on the sidewalk and the irony of trying to find ice for my injury and the stupid timing of my injury (I leave for Spain in two days), when I ran into my friend Julide. She could tell I was in pain and immediately took over. She searched the school for ice and walked me to the nurses office. Later, another Turkish coworker volunteered to take me to the hospital to translate for me and even kept me from slipping on another patch of ice on the way there. The wonderful women in HR made sure the hospital knew I was coming ands arranged a taxi for me, even though I didn’t have any cash. Other teachers at school volunteered to take my classes so I could go to the first hospital near school for the x-ray and then later when I decided to go to the American hospital for a second opinion. My Turkish/Canadian friend who is going to Spain withe me also joined me at th American hospital and has been taking great care of me since.

And after the doctor diagnosed my sprain, gave me a brace, a sling, and some pain meds, at least five other people have called to check on me. And the good news is it isn’t broken. So I guess, in all, things aren’t so stupid after all. In fact, they are çok gĂĽzel.  Look out Barcelona!

Out of my comfort zone

Well, it’s my second year here in Turkey now. I’ve moved closer to the city, to the hutsle and bustle, and got my own apartment. Of course there is still an adjustment period. After coming back from a month in the States, I started work quickly (the day after I got back). There was nothing in my apartment–and when I saw nothing, I don’t mean just furniture. No, there was no oven or stove, no drapes or blinds, not even a light bulb anywhere. My school helped me set up my utilities (which is a longer and more stressful story for another day) and my friends helped me find deals to set up my apartment. Two months later, I have a cozy little place in a great location and am really enjoying my last year here.

However, it is now the time of year that I love most in the States. The tall buildings and polluted air don’t really allow for that crisp feeling of fall. And while I can get a hot chocolate at Starbucks, it just isn’t the same. And finding an actual pumpkin somewhere? Perhaps if I were Nancy Drew. That means no pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin patches, or pumpkin carving. They do have, strangely enough, pumpkin seeds available as snacks year round, but that just doesn’t cut it. There’s also a lone, beautful tree, outside my window and it’s starting to change colors and drop it’s leaves. But the street cleaners sweep up any leaves before I can get a pile big enough to jump in.

What can I do to fill this void? Well one of the things I love about fall is the food.  So I started baking. While I love cooking and am actually quite good at it (thank you chicken noodle soup on a cold day), I have about three recipes that I can fall back on when it comes to baking. All the measuring and accuracy is too much. I’ve never been able to get comfortable with baking. In the States, I had boxes for cakes and brownies and tubs for frosting. But the cakes here don’t taste the same and that’s assuming that I can even read and comprehend the instructions on the box to make anything. But it’s fall and I want my house filled with some kind of pleasant aroma, so I’ll just have to suck it up and literally start from scratch. Here are some pictures of my vanilla cupcakes and chocolate cake (complete with homemade icing).

IMG_0033 IMG_0036

(Find the recipe I used, here for the cake here, and the frosting here)

IMG_0016(Find the recipe I used for the cupcakes here)

Now I need to look up how to take better pictures of food…

Look out HGTV: My own experience with International House Hunters

Once I made the decision to stay in Istanbul another year, I had to dive into immediate changes: adjusting the dates of my ticket home, readjusting my budget, stop buying so many souveniers, and most of all, finding a new apartment. My current roommate and I have now lived together for two years–one in the States and one here. We’ve had some great times together and I will miss our late night chats and shopping outings, but I figured it was time to venture out on my own. So the hunt began.

In Turkey there are two options (at least that I now of) for renting an apartment: you can either rent directly from an owner, or rent from an emlak (a realtor). I was warned against renting from an owner as they did not always hold themselves to the same standards as an emlak did, but I’d also heard stories about horrible emlaks, so I just kept both options open. My friend showed me a site to look up what was available and even went with me to a couple emlaks to translate for me. When walking around one day, we found a lovely little street (lots of colored buildings and greenery, quiet, really, just adorable)which happened to have a “for rent” sign hanging on the windows of a basement apartment. We called the owner and he said the rent was 750TL and to come down to his store by the water so he could talk to us about it. After looking at other places in my price range (I was looking to spend no more than 1000TL a month), I was super excited by the possiblity of such a place.

We went to his store where he took down a bunch of my information and tole me more about the apartment: it was a basement with a bache (yard), an American-style kitchen (one that is open and has a lot of counter space), and a 2+1 (two bedroom, 1 family room). He even said he could furnish it for me for a bit more. And the best part was that the building was only 4 years old. Most buildings in the area are much older and so a basement apartment in an older building is not always the best deal. I showed him my work permit, but he said he wanted a copy of my contract from the shocol, showing how much I made. He told my friend that he would call us on Friday to set up a time to come see the apartment and that I could bring a copy of my contract at that time. This seemed to be much easier than I’d thought.

Except he didn’t call. My friend texted him that night, but he didn’t respond. We went in on Saturday with a copy of my contract, but he told us he didn’t want to see us.

“I didn’t call you,” he informed us.

“Yes, I know,” my friend responded, frustrated. “I texted you. Why didn’t you call?”

“There is no why. I get 100 calls a day. I don’t need a why.”

At that point my friend proceeded to tell him how rude he was and we left in a huff. He didn’t seem to care, though, as he told us to have a nice day. (Of course most of this was translated to me after we left the store, although I knew things weren’t going well.) This obviously did not leave a great taste in my mouth about renting from owners and after buying some ice cream to cool our tempers, we ran into an emlak that my friend knew. He agreed to show me some apartments (he spoke English with a Turkish-Australian accent) and was very nice an patient with me. Thought he did show me a couple nice apartments, I was a huge fan of the areas they were in. And he wasn’t sure if the owner of one apartment (with a wonderful terrace) would rent to a foreigner. He said this apologetically and I smiled because I knew that this was just the case sometimes.

My friend and I also went to look at one more apartment through an emlak that was listed online. It was in a great area, a large space and nice kitchen, but 200TL over my budget. He was also very nice, though his English was about as good as my Turkish. But after a day with the crazy man, it was refreshing to have two pleasant experiences.

I decided to take the apartment that was slightly above my budget and went in to pay the deposit and sign the contract. (In Turkey, you also have to pay a fee to the emlak for finding the place. It’s usually about 10% of the yearly rent total. Mine was 1500TL.) No one was able to come with me to translate, but I figured I’d make it work somehow. I was told that the owner wanted to meet me and I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t end up horribly, putting me back at the starting line. She and her granddaughter came in and thank heavens, they were both lovely. The granddaughter, who is in the sixth grade, translated the whole thing for us and they gave me receipts for everything. The owner even invited me to lunch with her. I took a raincheck, but told her that the offer was much appreciated.

The apartment is officially available the 5th of August, but I am glad to have everything in order now. Though I had a lot of help in the process, something for which I can’t be too grateful, it’s nice to feel like I now have done something kind of on my own. I have a good feeling about this apartment (the owner told me it was “lucky,” whatever that means) and I’m hoping that I can keep just keep it up.

Four things Turkey has taught me about myself

In the fall I applied for graduate school programs, but did not get in. In January, I told my current job that I wouldn’t be returning next year. In the spring, I began to apply for jobs back in the States—39 in all, but I did not get an offer. In fact, some schools did not even send an acknowledgment that they had received my application at all. I signed up with a teaching agency; they are incredibly helpful, but told me that prime hiring time had passed. Although, they did help me figure out how to make a video resume.

Then, just a couple weeks after school ended, my boss called and offered me a position with the high school. Another teacher had decided not to stay and they wanted me back and were willing to negotiate with me. After talking with my family and the agency, I have decided to stay. I like Turkey, but was ready to go home and still do miss the States in a lot of ways and I plan to return after this next school year (with more experience, skills, and money). I have a new apartment, I’ll take Turkish lessons, and I’ll get to travel a bit more. This decision was not easy, however, and made me really reflect on the past year. So here are some of the things Turkey has made me realize:

  1. Somehow I’ve done something right in the friend department. I’ve had so many friends take the time to Skype, put together care packages, send post cards or letters, or even fly thousands of miles to visit. When you’re that far from home, something as simple as a letter or a few minutes on Skype, or even an email, is incredibly rewarding.
  2. Believe it or not, I’m fairly good at getting context clues and reading certain situations. I have managed to learn a bit of basic Turkish, but there are still instances almost every day where I have no idea what people are saying to me. And telling them that I only speak a little bit of Turkish either makes them try their limited English or just speak more Turkish, but also use more hand gestures. When the latter occurs, all I can do is guess. And it turns out that my guesses are right 90% of the time. And 80% of the time my broken Turkish responses seem to be enough of a response. I thought this has to be something that everyone can do, but then I started dating my boyfriend and let’s just say that he’s much better at memorizing the vocabulary than I am. I keep him around for reading things, but he lets me do the talking.
  3. I take a lot of things for granted. Here are just a few: shower stalls, trees and scenery, internet freedoms, ranch dressing (and a variety of other foods), being able to express myself to anyone (ie doctors, parents of students, hairdressers, the clerk at the clothing store), having a car and the freedoms that come with it, being able to find books in English, all the difficulties foreigners have to deal with in the States.
  4. I can be more diligent that I have been. I’m working on it, but I’ve been getting a lot better about writing more regularly, taking initiative to continue learning, reading more, etc. Of course I’m not where I’d like to be, but being in Turkey has forced me to think about what I want and not waste my time. I watched two episodes of The Office before writing this blog post, though, so I’m still working on it.

Of course this isn’t everything, but it’s just a few of the things that come to mind when I think of this previous year.

If only my smart phone made me smarter

When I travel somewhere for just a short time, I often don’t take out my camera when I should because I’m too busy looking at cool new things or I’m too afraid of looking like a tourist. But now that I’m living somewhere, I often don’t take my camera places because I’m too busy going to work or I’m too afraid of looking like a tourist. Thank God for smart phones. Though the camera on my Nokia is a bit iffy. Perhaps I should just get over the tourist thing. Despite everyone telling me I look like a Turk, I’m pretty sure they know I’m a fake as soon as I try to talk to them.

In the meantime, here are some smart phone pics.

Street cats around here like to hang out in the shops.

Street cats around here like to hang out in the shops.

Some of the local art in Kadikoy.

Some of the local art in Kadikoy.

Some more of the local art.

Some more of the local art.

Taking the ferry home.

Taking the ferry home.

Sunset on the Bosphorus.

Sunset on the Bosphorus.

The Big Turkish Balloon at the Kadkikoy Iskele (ferry station)

The Big Turkish Balloon at the Kadkikoy Iskele (ferry station)

More of the Kadikoy Iskele

More of the Kadikoy Iskele

Oof Ya

I apologize (yet again) for my lack of recent posting. There has certainly been enough to talk about. Perhaps that was the problem–too many distractions. Well I would like to update you on the past couple of months and I suppose the best place to start would be March. I apologize in advance if my next few posts seem rushed as I’m trying to catch up.

Ok, March. the biggest adventure of March was Passover. My goodness, what an ordeal.

When I first moved to Turkey, I was unsure of the level of anti-Semitism, so I was careful with what I said or did. But as I became more comfortable and opened up to people, I received nothing but acceptance and support. So far I haven’t experienced any more problems than I did living in the South. A friend of a coworker even lended me a menorah for Channukah and there are plenty of other teachers who take off for holidays, which leads me to Passover. I decided that this would be my first venture into a foreign synagogue. I looked up temples online and found a couple on the Asian side, but when I called to find out service times, my limited Turkish was about as helpful as the other person’s limited English. After finding someone to help me translate (I was at least able to provide the Turkish word for Passover; apparently they also just say Pesach), I was told that I needed to fax all my information to the high rabbi of Istanbul.

Apparently there were bombings at a couple temples years back, so they are very serious about the security. That made me feel both safer and more nervous at the same time, but I went ahead anyway. I sent in a copy of my passport, address, phone number, and which temple I wanted to go to. Then the one lady in all of the Istanbul temple workers  who could speak English called me back to let me know I’d been approved. I talked to the same woman who lent me the menorah and asked her how conservatively I should dress. She told me that what I was wearing at the time (a short-sleeved dress and boots) would be fine. So I asked off work, washed that exact outfit, made sure to write down the address of the temple, and had my roommate order a taxi for the morning.

I woke up very nervous and excited (perhaps anxious would be a better word?). I dressed in my dress, boots, and a cardigan and made sure to grab a scarf in case I’d need to cover my head. I then met the cab driver outside the apartment and I was on my way. The cab driver was chatty (they’re usually very chatty or very impatient) and I spoke what I could with him, but was trying to pay attention to where we were going. I was only vaguley familiar with the area. He turned off the main road and we started to pass a lot of apartment buildings. I looked at the address again–this was the street where the synagogue was, so I started matching the numbers. Finally, he pulled up across from number 3, which was the correct address, but it was an apartment building. I looked desperately at the sheet again and back at him. He pointed to the sheet and explained that this was number three. This was  where I’d asked to go. I wanted to tell him, “well, yes, I can see that, but this isn’t where I want to go.” Instead, I just said thank you, paid him, and stepped out of the car. We were close to an intersection, so I walked to the corner and checked the street signs. Again, this was where I was supposed to be. Service started in 20 minutes and I had no idea where the temple was. I walked back to number three, but it was still just an apartment building. I was Harry looking for 9 3/4.

So I called my roommate. She tried to help, but the address she looked up was the same I had and she needed to go to work. So I decided to use my Turkish to try to ask for directions. I probably asked about five people. They each seemed to know what I was talking about and all pointed me back in the direction from which I’d come. It was frustrating not being able to tell them that I’d already been there and there was, in fact, no synagogue. They could obviously see the confusion on my face and always started talking more and faster, which was no help at all. So I just (again) thanked them and walked away. Finally I called my friend from work. I explained the situation and she said to go into the apartments. After the bombings, a lot of synagogues made it harder for people to find them, so it was quite possible that I was actually in the right place. So I went inside with her still on the phone. A guard came up to greet me and I understood “Kim,” which means who. So I thought he was asking who I was. I showed him my passport (as I was told I would have to do) and he took me to an elevator and up to an apartment room. The whole time I’m on the phone, narrating, and inwardly wondering how small this synagogue must be. The guard knocked a few times and said something to me. I nodded. A woman answered the door in her robe and I knew that we’d had a miscommunication. I handed him the phone, resigned that I was failing at communicating.

It turns out that he thought I was looking for the other foreigner in the building. My friend explained the situation to him and he also tried to tell me where it was, but even my friend didn’t understand. She called the synagogue and called me back. Apparently, thank you Google, the online adress was wrong. I was off by about 30 and needed to walk further down the road. She said that the guard at the synagogue was now expecting me and would be outside the security box waiting for me. I thanked the guard at the apartment building and again walked down the street. I saw the white security box and nervously went up to the man standing next to it.





Thank God. I handed him my passport and he smiled. He spoke into a little microphone and another guard came out to escort me. At this point I still did not see a synagogue. And at this point, service has already started. The new guard led me past an apartment building and through a locked fence. He opened another locked door and I went into a hallway. (Mind you, I still have no idea what the outside of this place looks like. It was behind buildings and shrubbery.) I then had to go through a metal detector before we were buzzed through another door at the end of the hallway. Once through the door, it beautiful. Huge, marble, bright, colorful, and full of singing. I followed the guard, but wasn’t really paying attention to him. I was taking in my surroundings, happy that I’d finally made it. We walked toward the back of the building where he talked to an older man and pointed to me. The man then led me to a staircase, which brought me back to reality. This could not possibly be a staircase to…

A women’s section.

When I reached the top of the stairs, there was only one other woman–an elderly lady. She was sitting right in front of what appeared to be a balcony looking down on all the men. I was suddenly much more conscious of my skirt with no leggings or hose. I buttoned my dress up all the way, took my scarf off my neck, loosely wrapped it around my head, and sat down next to the woman. She smiled at me and wished my happy Passover. I smiled back and wished her the same. I managed to find a prayer-book, but had no idea what page we were on. My Hebrew is about as good as my Turkish and while I can recognize and recite prayers when I hear them, I certainly can’t read them or the Turkish transliterations. I looked down into what I like to call the “man pit” and watched as the men moved freely, greeting each other, kissing both cheeks, adjusting their shawls. A few more women trickled in over the next few hours and we just watched as the men sang, stood, sat, kissed the Torah. All things I was used to doing, not viewing.

It’s hard to describe the feeling I had during this experience. It was nice to hear familiar prayers and songs (even if the melodies weren’t the same). It was nice to be with other Jewish people, excuse me, women, even if we couldn’t really speak to each other. And it was nice to be in a place of worship on a holiday. But I was removed and upset and fighting these feelings the whole time. I was not really allowed to participate and I resented it. I didn’t feel free or comfortable. I felt frustrated that I couldn’t celebrate the way I wanted to and as much as I shouldn’t have, I felt sorry for the other women there. They were all modern looking women. Some didn’t even cover their heads while they were there. But I would hate to teach my daughters that they need to be seperated from what’s going on and I fully disagreed, but I knew it wasn’t my place to do so.  After all the work I put in to get there, I was too distracted and distraught to enjoy it. I made it three hours before I left.

I don’t think I will do it again, but I can say that I appreciate the experience. I was hoping for something familiar, but I have never been so out of my element.

Bratislava has the best food (Vienna trip, part II)

After a wonderful day on Wednesday of markets and historical buildings, we decided to also make a full day of Friday. We got up early, actually took the metro and tried to find Brunnenmarkt. However, after such a successful day with the Naschmarkt the day before, the second market was a bit of a letdown. Though it was early Friday afternoon by the time we got there, many of the stalls were closed and many others seemed to actually be Turkish or Turkish related. Considering we can get plenty of kebab spices in Istanbul, we made our way quickly through the second market and decided to walk a bit farther to check out a Brauhaus that was supposed to be nearby. We did find out that the brewery, Ottakringer, was there, but the security guard informed us that there was no Brauhaus. So we wandered a bit more to find a metro station and made our way back to the Naschmarkt area, where we found a quick Chinese/Thai restaurant to eat at (after finding that the Thai restaurant for which we’d rave reviews was not open for lunch). We then made our way back to the Museum Quarter where we thought we could check out the last art museum from our combo pack. We left disappointed after just 15 minutes and ventured toward what we thought could be a better museum. Across from where we were stood the Natural History Museum and the Art History Museum. They were identical, elegant buildings which faced each other with a courtyard in between.  I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both building had once been a palace.

Friday so far hadn’t lived up to the adventures of Thursday, so we didn’t hold high hopes for the Natural History Museum, but once we entered the foyer, we knew we’d made a good decision. Even the entryway was grand and inviting. It said, “I’m elegant, yet educated and I want to share my knowledge with those willing to learn and discover,” which, coincidently, we were. The first five rooms or so of the first floor were set up with cases and cases and cases of ROCKS. Rocks in all shapes, colors, sizes, and from all over the world. The detail was incredible. Apparently it used to be a private collection, but was opened to the public by the late owner’s wife a long time ago.  We moved from rooms of rocks to rooms of asteroids, meteors, and moon rocks to fossils, dinosaurs, skulls, Neanderthals, early weavings, ceramics and weaponry. On the second floor we found stuffed animals, reptiles and fish.  And lining the ceilings of each room were corresponding paintings, painted in a Romantic fashion: the rock rooms had pictures of deserts and mountains; the rooms with fossils had pictures of whimsical, tropical lands; the rooms with fish had boats and ships sailing on stormy waters. You get my point. It was awesome. It took us at least 20 minutes to get through one room; we ran out of time and the museum closed before we got to see the whole thing.

The next morning we got up early and took the bus out to Bratislava. It only took an hour and the tickets were 13 Euro, roundtrip. Finding our way around Bratislava didn’t take too long, because it’s not too large, but it’s well worth it. We stayed at the Hostel Blues, which while not providing cheap breakfast buffets, did have a very helpful staff and much more character than the Wombats Hostels. We walked around for a bit and tried to find some of the recommended spots we’d looked up. The one thing we were really excited about and ended up visiting everyday was the Slovak Pub.  The best part about Slovakia was the food and Slovak Pub had excellent food. The traditional Slovak dishes such as potato dumpling, garlic soup in a bread bowl, and the best potato pancakes I’d ever had, were incredibly delicious and hardy—the perfect meal for a windy, cold Slovakian day. And cheap, too! We got four entrees, two beers, one soday,two shots of spirits, and a dessert for about 25 Euro. Not to mention that the atmosphere was incredibly relaxing and all the staff was very friendly and helpful.

Our second day in Bratislava we took a walking tour around the city. If you’ve never done a walking tour and you’re on a budget, I highly recommend it. Pretty much every big city has one and they’re usually quite informative—and free! Well, they work on tips, but it’s still cheaper than a paid tour. Most hostels have information on a local walking tour. Anyway, the tour was super informative and we learned a lot about Bratislava’s history, back from when it was still a part of the Hungarian Empire, to when it was Czechoslovakia, to the first time it was independent, then Czechoslovakia again, and then once again, an independent Slovakia. (They also aren’t huge fans of Prague.) As we were walking around, it was obvious that the country had once been communist. You would get to sections of towns were all the buildings shared an industrial feel. Yet there were other parts of town that were magical. Apparently there were much more magical parts before the communist government tore down a bunch of old buildings in the 1970s. After the tour was over, my fingers were almost numb inside my gloves, so we went to a nearby pizzeria. And even the pizza was good! A brewery later that night, and then Slovak Pub again (in addition to a few other local pubs).

We caught the bus back to Vienna the next morning (after one last stop at the Slovak Pub). Overall, we were satisfied with Bratislava and wouldn’t mind visiting it again, but not in the winter. But we were ready to be back in Vienna. Aftergathering and repacking all our belongings and readying for the flight the next morning, we decided to have one last night of wandering the city. We saw St. Stephen’s Cathedral at night and it was simply breathtaking. We walked down by the water, got some ice cream, and a bratwurst. We found Kleines Cafe, which provided a cozy atmostphere for our last tea in the city.

The following morning we caught the metro back to the airport and were back in Istanbul before we knew it. Of course we’re already planning our next trip.

My trip to Vienna

It’s easy to forget how big the States are (is?) until you either travel through them or leave them altogether. I’ve lived in and been to more of the US than most people I know, and still there is so much I haven’t seen and, depending on time and circumstances, may never see. But it has always been my rule to see and do as much as possible and that has obviously not changed since coming to Istanbul.

So as my winter break comes to an end (school starts back up on Monday), I thought this would be a good time to update on my recent trip. Since I would have some time and a little bit of money, my boyfriend and I decided to travel to Vienna, Austria. It was a good compromise since I wanted to go to Odessa, Ukraine, and he wanted to go somewhere warmer. We both speak German (though we are both quite rusty), and neither of us had ever been. And since we were in Vienna for a week, we thought we should also take a couple of days to go across the border to Bratislava, Slovakia.

We flew into Vienna on Tuesday and stayed at the Wombats Lounge Hostel on Mariahilferstrasse next to West Banhof metro station. Though the hostel wasn’t centrally located, we were able to easily walk or take the metro anywhere we needed. We got there late and didn’t venture out too much until the next day when we decided to take in a few museums. Before we left, we decided to eat breakfast at the hostel. They provided an all you can eat buffet breakfast for about four Euros. After eating a large breakfast and taking some fruit for the road, we usually didn’t eat much again until dinner. Wednesday morning, we headed to the Museum Quarter and bought a combination package which got us into the MUMOK (the modern art museum), the Leopold (a contemporary art museum), and another art museum (which I can’t remember the name of because it was really quite awful, but it was right next to the MUMOK) for about 21 Euro per person. That day we made it through the MUMOK, the main exhibit which was Dan Flavin, and the Leopold, which had three main exhibits: Egon Schiele and Klimt, Naked Men, and Japanese Art. The Leopold was by far my favorite of the day. When I was in grad school, I had a poster of Klimt’s “The Kiss” above my dresser. So to see some of his work and much of Schiele’s, who was inspired and mentored by Klimt, was really amazing. The Japanese Art was also quite breathtaking. They had an array of mediums and styles, but my favorite of the Japanese art was being able to see Hokusai’s “The Great Wave.” The Nude Men exhibit was interesting, but not something I need to see again. That night we did a bit of shopping. There are many things you can get in Turkey, but some things, like corn chips, are hard to find or expensive to get. But after a bit of shopping, we had dinner at a local brewery, 7 Stern Brau. It was a little pricey, but had good food, good beer, and a good atmosphere.

On Thursday we started off by going to der Naschmarkt, an open-air market near the center of town. Though it wasn’t exactly the Grand Bazaar, it was still quite large with spices, meats, cheeses, clothes, restaurants, wines, beers, jewelry, and trinkets. We got some spices, a few post cards, and a pretzel, but mostly just enjoyed the atmosphere. After walking through the market, we decided to (call us crazy) walk some more. Vienna is so beautiful and even if you don’t manage to make it in any building, it’s almost enough to walk outside and look at the detail and care that goes into each stairway, column, or spire. We walked past St. Charles Church, posed for pictures, then walked and all the way down to the Belvedere Palace. The Belvedere belonged to the Habsburgs who ruled the Austrian-Hungary empire until 1918. We didn’t go in the palace, but instead just walked around the grounds. And though it was winter, the grounds were beautiful. They had mazes of bushes, gorgeous statues of women and mythical creatures, and overall created a regal air that transformed you to an earlier time (when all the money of the country could go to making palaces and beautiful grounds for the monarchy and women waltzed in ballrooms, lightly stepping and standing straight, and men made business deals, smoking pipes on a bench by the fountain out back). I would definitely like to go back during the spring one year to get the full effect.

We then made our way through some of the main walking circle, or Ringstrasse, and let the roads take us where they will. We ended up in a small cafĂ© for a while before stumbling upon my favorite part of the whole trip: The State Hall National Library. What girl who grew up addicted to books and watched Beauty and the Beast could not fall in love with a library like this? The shelves of books reached the ceilings, which you could reach with any of the wooden, rolling ladders (well, if you’d been approved to touch any of them, that is). The second floor opened up into a balcony so everything was visible. The ceiling was a work of art in itself, and in the middle of the library stood a statue of the original owner posing as Hercules. Each book was individually printed and leather-bound, many were hand-printed. They dated back all the way to the 1500’s; some were the size of a pack of matches and others were at least half my height. They had some pages on display for the public to view and it made me realize that no matter how well read you think you are, you could never possibly be well read enough. There are just too many books and too many languages.

After dragging me away from the library, we walked some more, back towards our hostel. Along the way we managed to find the most beautiful Rathaus that ever existed. Its spires and detail reminded me of the dripping, natural feel of the Gaudi Cathedral in Barcelona. It seemed crazy to me that this could be a government building. It was also crazy to me that they were blocking much of the view with a large winter festival in front of it, ice-rink and all. We hung around the Rathaus and checked out the Parliament building before heading back to our hostel. After a long day of walking, we decided to get a late dinner of pizza before going to bed.

This is already a long post, so I think I’ll give you a break and divide the trips into two posts. More to come on our last couple days in Vienna and our couple days in Bratislava.

Snow in Istanbul

The snow started on Monday and they let the kids go early. Tuesday and Wednesday school was canceled. So I’ve now had three snow days in Istanbul. It’s the first time the city, surprisingly, wasn’t been absolutely crazy. There were less people out in the streets and those who were were acting like kids again–snowball fights, snowmen, sliding down hills. True, transportation was more annoying than usual; I was stuck on the European side with a friend of mine and didn’t actually make it back home to the Asian side until last night, only to get up this morning and drive all the way back to the European side. But that’s ok. It was worth it. It was a nice, relaxing start to the new year.

These are my friends socks drying on the heater. We don't have dryers, so in the cold weather, it can take a while for things to hang dry. This speeds up the process.

These are my friends socks drying on the heater. We don’t have dryers, so in the cold weather, it can take a while for things to hang dry. This speeds up the process.

This was the view from my friend's sixth floor apartment on the European side after the snow calmed down a bit.

This was the view from my friend’s sixth floor apartment on the European side after the snow calmed down a bit.