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.

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Paper resumes just don’t sell like they used to

As my year in Turkey is coming to  a close, I find myself, yet again, on the hunt for a new job. It’s harder to stay away from the South than I thought it would be and I’ll probably end up back in North Carolina by August. But hopefully that doesn’t mean that I will move (again) without a job. While that did work out when I moved to Colorado, it can lead to a stressful month or so until you can get settled. So I am doing as much as I can in advance: I’ve applied to 30 jobs, signed up with the Southern Teachers Agency, and officially made my very first video resume.

That’s right, folks. Since I’m so far away, the agency recommended that I make a video resume to make my application more personal. I looked into it and apparently, this is quite the thing to do now, whether you’re abroad or not. It took a few days of researching, writing, filming, and editing, but I don’t think the final result wasn’t too bad (other than being a bit choppy).

In the meantime, if you’re interested in making a video resume of your own, here are some of the resources I used to help me:

http://www.southernteachers.com/Internal/CmsViewer.aspx?CmsPageListingId=34

http://mashable.com/2011/01/17/tips-video-resumes/

http://jobsearch.about.com/od/videoresumes/a/videoresume.htm

http://blog.mailvu.com/blog/sample-video-resume-script/

9 Books that defined my childhood

Today in class I caught one of my students reading a book under the table. I had to ask him twice to put the book away since we were learning about say versus tell (obviously way more interesting than a book about the history of guillotines). I hated having to tell him to put the book away, because it is, after all, educational and we were just studying for things that will be on a test (and I hate testing). Not to mention that I was once that kid and I hated having my books confiscated, but I could never put the books away when the teachers asked me to. The student today wasn’t the first I’ve had to do that with. He’s the third this year and to be honest, I alm   ost wished it happened more often. What a wonderful world we’d live in where my main problem as a teacher would be asking my students to put away their library books. If only.

It made me think back to the days I’d hide my books under the desk or cleverly (I thought) behind another book. This happened often, because as I said, I was one of those kids and I read a lot. But of all the books I read, a few stand out as important to my childhood. So I decided to compile a list of these books. There are many others I also enjoyed reading as a child, but these hold special meaning for one reason or another. I have read all of these books at least twice.

1. Purple, Green, and Yellow by Robert Munsch purple-green-yellow My mom got me this book when I was in elementary school. It’s by the same author who wrote Love You Forever, which she used to read to me when I was very little. The book tells a story of a girl who wants the newest and coolest markers. The markers that are bright and vibrant, the markers that smell, the markers that never wash off. Each time her mother agrees to buy them as long as the girl colors on paper. Well we all know how tempting that deal is, and the girl eventually gets bored with the paper and turns body into a personal canvass. Problem is that she ends up coloring herself invisible. I think my mom may have been trying to teach me a lesson.

2. Thief of Always  by Clive Barker

The first sentence reads: “The great grey beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive.” What more do you need? This books is one of few, if not the only, children’s book by Clive Barker, who is more commonly known for his adult horror fiction. A boy who is bored with life runs away to a magical, perfect land that turns out not to be so perfect after all. I read this book in 5th grade and it’s a bit dark for a 5th grader, but the story stuck with me for many years, despite the fact that I could not remember the title. And when I tried to tell this story to other people, they had no idea what I was talking about. Then one day in college, ten years later, I was telling my friend the story before class and he stated quite simply, “Oh, that’s Clive Barker’s Thief of Always. I love that book.” I immediately went home and ordered it and reread it again. It was just as good ten years later. movie_5620_poster 3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

I didn’t want to read this book at all, but my mom had read an article about it and wanted me to try it, so she used the 15 rule of our house. “You have to read 15 pages of a book you don’t want to read before you can say you won’t read it.” So I read 15 pages and by the next day I’d finished the second book and by graduate school I’d decided to base my thesis on the series. So obviously, it had an impact.

4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Like any normal child, I read this book thinking it was the first in the Narnia series and later went back to read The Magician’s Nephew and others in the series, but wasn’t as impressed. The Lionthe Witch, and the Wardrobe was one of those books that made me want to believe in magic. It made me want to believe that whenever I opened my closet, I could go on an adventure. What kid doesn’t want that? Which brings me to my next book.

5. Matilda by Raold Dahl

Matilda appealed to me because I felt I could, or at least wanted to, relate to her. I wasn’t neglected like she was; I had a great childhood. But I was quiet and introverted and read a lot and I wanted to be able to control things with my mind because I was so smart. Turns out that I only thought I was smart, but a small hope always remains within me that one day I’ll be able to have powers like Matilda, because obviously that’s more realistic that Harry Potter (although I’d be ok with a letter from Hogwarts as well).

6. East of the Sun & West of the Moon by Mercer Mayer

Apparently this story was adapted from a Norwegian folktale of the same name, but I am only really familiar with the Mercer Mayer book. My aunt, who is an art professor, bought this book for me when I was about 10. And yes the story was interesting, but not really anything spectacular or original. Was really captivated me with this book was the illustrations. I would spend hours and hours quickly reading the text and then devouring the drawings.  I don’t know why the images were so appealing, but I still remember them 15 years later.

04_mayer_eastofthesun_notkeepyourpromise

7. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Where to even begin. It’s an absolute classic. It made me realize that poetry could be cool and fun and that everything Shel Silverstein did was genius. I would gladly reread it again today. In fact, it’s sitting in my bookcase at home.

8. James and the Giant Peach by Raold Dahl When I was nine, my neighbor came to stay with us for a couple weeks because his mom was visiting family in Korea and his dad was stationed abroad somewhere. A few days after he came to stay with us, Hurricane Fran hit. That night, my neighbor, my little sister, and I were wrapped up in blankets on the floor of my parents bedroom and waiting for the storm to hit. We were incredibly scared and so my mom decided to read to us. She picked James and the Giant Peach up of the my bookshelf and just started reading. It was a welcome distraction because we needed something else to concentrate on and I was fully willing to concentrate on Jame’s problems rather than my own. Fran hit hard that night and we were without power for a while. But my mom continue to read the book to us and the story stuck.

9. Oh, Say Can You Say? by Dr. Seuss  

When I would go stay with my dad, he would often read me a story before bed, as dads tend to do. But I constantly requested this book. It was a book of ridiculous tongue twisters and I would make my dad read it again and again as fast as he could, because it was hilarious. Then he would make me read it and after a while, I just had them memorized. Now I use this book in my ESL classes because my students feel less intimidated to try something that’s meant to be nonsense, but it’s great for fluency practice. Not to mention that it’s still fun to read really fast.

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.

“Synagogue?”

“Amerika?”

“Evet.”

“Pasaport?”

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 café 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.

2012 Review

Last year I decided that instead of making resolutions that would never come to fruition, I was going to try to make attainable goals, while still trying to challenge myself. I realized that I needed to find a happy medium between striving to be better and being realistic. The result was a lengthy blog post and a few goals for the new year. A year later, it’s time to reevaluate these goals, determine how realistic I really was, and decide new goals for 2013.

2012 Goals

Read at least 30 books

I’ve been keeping track of all the books I read this year and I am disappointed to say that I did not reach 30. However, I did reach 17 and I guess that’s not too bad. It was fun always keeping this goal in mind; though I enjoy reading and usually read more than many (I think), I think that having this goal in the back of my mind pushed me to read a little more than I normally would.

Write at least 10 short stories

…I may have fallen way short on this one. I wrote one short story this whole year. As they say in Turkey, “oof ya.” (That’s a phonetic interpretation, of course.) I need to work on this

Submit at least 3 things for publishing

I submitted one thing for publishing. While it’s not three, it’s more than zero. I definitely need to work on this for next year.

Move to Istanbul

Check. Done and done. I accomplished one of the biggest goals I set for myself. Not too shabby.

Reach 200 blog posts

The main purpose of this goal was to make sure that I was continuously writing. Last year was the first year in 13 that I was not in school and that I didn’t have someone telling me to write something. I needed to make sure that I could maintain some sort of writing schedule (be it an erratic schedule) on my own and that I wouldn’t get lazy just because the teachers were gone. Final result: 107 posts. No, it’s not 200, but I don’t think it’s a horrible number either. It shows me that I don’t need teachers to make me write and that I am capable of pushing myself. However, I want to push myself even more next year.

Challenge myself more

Check. I have done nothing but challenge myself this past year. I worked at a job where I was solely responsible for the whole department. I traveled on a low-budget, pushed myself to get a teaching license in a new state, moved to a foreign country, started learning a new language, started a new job, and retook the GRE and have been working on PhD applications. Not to mention I lived through an apocalypse. I think that counts.

Take advantage of what’s available to me

I feel that I am still working on this one. While I took advantage of plenty this past year, I don’t think I took advantage of as much as I could. Now that I am in Istanbul, I realize that I missed out on some things in the States. I need to actively work towards going out and experiencing what’s around me.

2013 Goals

So now it’s time to decide what to focus on for 2013. While the below goals may not be everything I want to do for 2013, they are at least some things I can try to hold myself to.

Read at least 25 books

Reading goal, take two. I’m hoping that by dropping it by five, I will be more likely to reach it. I will again keep track of them on my “books read” page, but I won’t hold myself to writing reviews of them.

Submit at least 3 things for publishing

Yes, I’m going to try this again. I’m not going to adjust the number, though, because this is when I have to tell myself that I am completely capable of this, but I must manage my time better and not be so lackadaisical about things I want to achieve.

Write at least 100 blog posts

I have to say that I am impressed with myself and how much I actually posted this past year. Though I didn’t reach my goal, I did make a greater effort to post more regularly and my numbers were much greater than last year. True, the posts are not masterpieces or my best writing in any way, but they keep me writing and researching. So this year only leaves room for more improvement.

Continue to challenge myself more

Since I’m living in a country where I don’t speak the language very well, I don’t think this should be too hard. I just have to make sure that I don’t let my friends help me with things when I can easily do them for myself (such as order my food or ask for change). And I also plan to travel as much as possible this year and continue to go places I have never been before.

Actively continue my learning

This goal is something I do anyway, but I want to hold myself to it. I’m always listening to podcasts, reading the paper or essays, and am currently trying to learn Turkish (though this one is more of a necessity). Perhaps in this new year I can take some additional classes or try to learn some new skill. But as a teacher, I think it’s vital to always continue learning.

Christmas in Istanbul

Well I woke up today, which is good news. I can call my family back home and let them know that we’re seven hours ahead here and the world is still fine. So don’t worry–I will be able to celebrate my Christmas in Istanbul.

I have been told many many times that Turkey is a secular country and I’m starting to believe it. Because even though there are mosques abound and some women choose to cover their heads or wear a burka, I have been surprised by the amount of Christmas spirit I’ve experienced in Istanbul. Little Christmas trees and lights have popped up in stores and in homes all around the city. Even our school placed a large, beautiful tree in the entryway. We’re having a Christmas party at work, secret Santa and all. We even get Christmas Eve and Christmas off. The most interesting part to all of this, though, is that most of our children aren’t even Christian.

Let me back track a minute. Perhaps I should have prefaced this with the fact that I am not Christian either. I am Jewish and even celebrated Hanukkah this year with a borrowed menorah. But I still love and celebrate Christmas (just a more secular version). I love the trees, the lights, the songs, the food, the company, the spirit, the stories and yes, the presents. So maybe some of Turkey feels the same way I do.

And as if determined to prove my point, it snowed yesterday. All day yesterday. The school let us go early and canceled classes for today.  That means that I have a mini-Christmas break. So yes, I woke up today, despite the Mayans predictions and planets colliding or whatever. But what I want to stress is that I woke up to a snowy day in Istanbul on my first day of Christmas break. I think I’ll go out for some tea and do some Christmas shopping at the Grand Bazaar…just because I can.

Happy holidays.