It is Kim's Birthday this weekend and I have been reminiscing the fabulous Turkish road trip that we took last year for her Birthday. We brought our favorite four legged creature and set off to the Black Sea region of Turkey. Our first rest stop was at the beautiful Sapanca Lake, so serene and peaceful.
Kim loves driving and I love playing navigator in the passenger seat. The roads were long and speckled with beautiful sights like these.
We spent our first evening in the stunning UNESCO town of Safranbolu. Honestly, I just picked this town because it seemed the right distance away from Istanbul but it turned out to be a total treat! It was the cutest little place that seriously looked like it is where they shot Beauty and the Beast. I couldn't get over how adorable this place was! We stayed in a hotel that was a renovated house from the 1800's that still had a lot of it's similar qualities. I definitely want to return.
When we set out the next day we were driving through a little town and all of a sudden there was a huge castle on a hill right in front of us. We were able to drive up an explore it on foot. It turns out it was the Kastamonu Castle, parts of it dating back to the Byzantine era.
Perhaps my favorite scenery of the weekend was the mountain passes we traveled on our way to the coast. We stopped and sampled honey from street-side bee keepers and sipped tea on picnic tables surrounded by white peaked mountains.
Most of our day we spent winding the twisting coast of the Black Sea. I had read that this route was as amazing as the coasts of California and it was quite spectacular . . . for the first few hours. By afternoon we were both ready to get off of the curving paths but alas, the only way out was through, so we continued to twist and turn with these views by our side.
We ended the weekend in Agva, where we stayed at a funky place that gave us our own cottage with a working fire place that we had to take a boat to cross a little river in order to get to. They also had the most amazing homemade jam with the Turkish breakfast we had in the morning.
It was such a fun road trip over all and Ms. Penny did amazingly, quickly warming up to this new way of travel. Just writing about this makes me want to do it all over again. Happy Birthday my love, cheers to another fantastic year of adventuring.
Before we get into the 17 Unforgettable Times of 2017 I want to take a pause and acknowledge the unexpected passing of Robin Ellicott, Kim’s mother. I don’t think I can say it better now, a year later, than I did when she first left us:
“Robin was a soul made of laughter, honesty, and pride. She loved her family, both blood and chosen, with a fierce passion. Always generous, she enjoyed giving to others just to see them joyful. Humor came to her as often as breathing always bringing everyone around her to laughter as well. She welcomed anyone and everyone into her home like family, without judgement or question, including myself. All of my heart and thoughts are with Kimberly, Stan, and the rest of the family today. May you rest in peace dear.”
Words have left me as I try to explain the impact that this loss has had on Kim and the entire family so instead I will share a few photos of this beautiful soul.
We are so lucky that Robin and Sonny were always in support of our crazy travels so here go, trying to live our best lives with them in mind.
17. Sister Trip in Thailand
Not only am I lucky to be living the life I love of travel and art, but I also was able to travel with TWO of my siblings this year! The first of which involved my little sister Sam who took a gap year to do a bit of traveling. April vacation in SouthEast Asia always aligns with the new year, Thingyan in Burmese or Songkran in Thailand, which means massive city wide water fights. I am not a fan of water and wanted to make sure I was far away from this. Kim however wanted to be sure to experience Thingyan in its full capacity. So for April break Kim stayed in Myanmar and partied the week away getting drenched and splashing water. Meanwhile I met up with Sam in Chiang Mai, Thailand where we explored and then escaped even further to the mountain town of Pai. We spent the days lounging and avoiding the water fights and the evenings eating Pad Thai and drinking mojitos. It was the best.
16. A Day With the Elephants
While Sam and I were in Thailand we took a day to visit an Elephant rescue sanctuary. We spent the day learning how to take care of these massive creatures. There was even a one year old “baby” named Dumbo! We fed them, walked in the woods with them, and took them to the river to bathe them. This was certainly one of my favorite experiences!
15. Saying Goodbye to Myanmar
After three years in Myanmar it was time for Kim and me to move on. Both sad and excited we were ready for the next chapter of our lives. After April break ended it became real; Sam returned from Thailand with me and spent a month in Myanmar. It was great playing tourist again as we visited all the same locations that looked so foreign to me not so long ago. I checked off the list of last things to do like visit a palm reader, get more dresses made from Lady Phoo, one last night on 19th street, and so many massages. We also took a weekend to visit Bagan because there’s no way Sam could come all the way and not see this Myanmar gem. As always, it was the people that were the hardest to say goodbye to, but luckily I am certain I will see most of them again someday. To process this time I challenged myself to spend time every day for the last 30 days I was there journalling or drawing or otherwise creating. This is one of my favorite consistent journaling times to look back on now as it strongly reflects this time in my life. The very last weekend in Myanmar was rough and I was grateful when I finally sat down on the plane to have my very last look at the country that was my first home away from home.
14. A Breath in New York
Flying into New York I was so relieved and grateful to be back with my wife and in a country that I understood. We decided to take a few days to explore and root down before heading back to Maine. The first stop was obviously a bagel shop and I nearly cried when the lady behind the counter asked if there was anything else she could help me with *sigh* how I missed US customer service. We visited Central Park and Times Square, ate a hot dog from a street cart (Kim of course, who was majorly disappointed), and drove way too far to find a chocolate covered key lime pie on a stick (so NOT disappointing!!!). We were also able to meet up with some of my favorite Canadians who were also on their way back from Myanmar and stopping to see the big apple too (see, I told you it wouldn’t be long!).
13. Friends Week in Atlanta
After only a beat in Maine we jumped on a plane to Atlanta where our Myanmar tribe was getting together. Shelly, Sharon, Steven, and the kids were our family while in Myanmar and all of them left after the two years while Kim and I stayed for a third. We were also joined briefly by our dear friends Daniel and Tati, who are still living and working in Myanmar. It was a week of catching up, saying all the little things that seem too insignificant to write in an email and getting to the heart of the big things that often can’t be written down at all. Plus lots of laughter, fun, and love. You know those people who just get you? Who always make you a better person while appreciating who you are at the same time? These ladies are those people for me and a week with them was far from enough time. Until next summer, xoxo
12. Straddling the Equator
Our next big adventure came before we even set our bags down in Maine, my little brother Drew, Kim and I were off to South America to spend a month backpacking Ecuador. Drew has been itching to travel for ages and finally we managed to plan this trip. When Kim and I were looking for a new place to move to this year we set our sights on Eastern Europe or South America and since we happily landed in Eastern Europe that left South America to explore. We choose Ecuador the same way we choose a lot of our travel locations: it was the cheapest flight. Plus our friends Steven and Sharon had just spent a year living there and we wanted to see what all the fuss was about. So we got out our travel bags, Phoebe and Roxanne, a trusty guidebook and set off. The first epic place we landed was Quito, the capital city that is smack in the middle of the Equator.
11. Ziplining in Banos
After some exploring of the capital and a cute mountain town called Otavalo (known for its huge market) we went searching for some thrills in Banos - we were not disappointed! Banos has everything to offer adrenalin seekers and I was quick to sign us up for a ziplining, cable bridge crossing, and rock climbing excursion (a few mojitos might have helped with the courage). It was terrifying but a blast! We also went to the top of the mountains and had fun at the Swing at the End of the World, as well as another even bigger and crazier swing that we got strapped into. One day Drew and I went on a bike ride down Ruta de la Cascadas, the Road of the Waterfalls. It was gorgeous and we saw so many waterfalls along the way. We also stopped and ziplined across the canyon because it was $10 (#nobrainer). Banos was exhilarating!
10. Hiking Through the Amazon Rainforest
Our next stop took us into the Amazon Rainforest. We hiked to a secluded waterfall, swung on a rope off a cliff (well drew did, I definitely did not), visited a local tribe, took a ride down the river in a carved out canoe (which ended up being more like white water rafting), and made some friends with some local birds. I wish we could have explored deeper but am so glad we got to experience some of this spectacular environment.
09. Parasailing Off the Beach & Galapagos
After shopping for hats in Cuenca it was time to head to the beach. The little town of Montanita is usually a huge beach attraction but was a little quieter in the off season. We still had heaps of fun lounging about, drinking coconuts, and trying parasailing for the first time - one of the best $10 that I almost didn’t spend! We chose this location in particular to be sure that we got a chance to experience the Galapagos. This chain of islands are known to have species that can’t be found anywhere else on earth, it is where Darwin developed his theory of evolution. Unfortunately a trip to the islands costs several thousand dollars, so we took the alternative trip to Isla de la Plata, known as the “poor man’s Galapagos.” We spent the day waddling around with the Blue Footed Boobies, snorkeling with giant turtles, and watching whales leaping out of the water on our boat ride back to shore.
08. Quitola Loop
To wrap up our time in Ecuador we took another day trip to the Quitola Loop, a volcano that erupted some 600 years ago, leaving a pristine turquoise lake in the center. Many visitors choose to hike around the crest of the crater but with our visit we choose to walk down into the center. The lake was stunning and we were sure to take full advantage of it by enjoying a kayak trip on it’s calm surface. The hike back up to the edge however, was one of the hardest things I have ever physically done in my life. We (stupidly) denied taking a horse ride back up and slowly ascended on foot - a decision I regretted every step of the way due to the 12,700 ft altitude. But we conquered it with a stunning view along the way!
07. Summer in Maine
There is nothing as good as coming home again. Having a place to drop your bags and familiar faces all around. Maine is such a gorgeous state and I spent a good chunk of summer soaking it up. Between swinging in my Ecuadorian rainbow hammock strung between two pine trees in the front lawn, to family cookouts in the yard surrounding the fire, it was a peaceful, happy time. There are few things sweeter than being with family and my family is the absolute best.
Andrea Simmons Photography
06. Moved to Istanbul
Although every summer I return home it seems to get harder to leave, it was time to head off on the next chapter of our lives - moving to Istanbul, Turkey. When I was in my second interview for the position I ended up taking, the director asked me “Why do you want to come to Istanbul?” Before I could think about the answer the words were spilling out of my mouth, “Because I always knew it would be a part of my story. Istanbul has always been on the back of my tongue waiting for it’s time. I didn’t know when, or how, or how long, or why, but I somehow always knew that Istanbul and I were meant to be.” Fast forward to August and there we were, meeting my principal at the Istanbul airport and getting settled into our new apartment. Starting my new position as the Middle Years Art teacher for an international school involved a lot of orientation, curriculum planning, and meetings but my enthusiasm was high and both my and Kim’s excitement of exploring this new place kept our spirits light. And boy is there lots to explore! Istanbul is the perfect blend of exotic, new, fascinating finds, mixed with modern, western amenities. There is so much to love about this beautiful place I feel like it will take us a while to truly get to know it. Having lived here for six months at the time of writing this we are still just as happy with our decision and are loving this life we are living.
05. Ferry Rides to the Prince Islands
I don’t think there are stairs to heaven, instead I believe there must be a ferry ride to the pearly gates. Ferry rides are the single best way to travel. There is just something about the smooth rocking of the boat, sitting on the balcony watching the European side of Istanbul fade away while the Asian side comes into view, sipping a chia with the wind whipping your hair around, it just fills me with bliss. One weekend we took a longer ferry ride to a small collection of islands not far from Istanbul. Originally, the Prince Islands were a place of exile for the naughty royals but they have evolved to become a popular way to escape the city life. The islands have no motorized vehicles and were a wonderful day out of the city. We took a bumpy horse and cart ride around the small island and enjoyed being back in nature for a bit.
04. Turkey Road Trip
On a four day weekend in November Kim and I took off with our friend Katie to explore a bit of Turkey. We rented a car and drove south with some general destinations in mind. Our first stop was at Pamukkale, a hill layered with white calcite pools filled with volcano water. The name translates to Cotton Castle reflecting on the poofy white snow-looking texture of the terraces. Our next stop was the great ruins of Ephesus, a nearly 3,000 year old city and the most well preserved archaeological site on the Mediterranean. The Library there was definitely my favorite! We made a few other spontaneous road trip stops like Sirince, a little wine village up in the mountains. It was so nice to get out of Istanbul and see some of what Turkey has to offer!
03. Sea and Sun in Dahab, Egypt
For winter break Kim and I headed south to Egypt. My sister, Renee, is a freediver in Dahab and with a quick 3 hour direct flight it was an easy choice to spend a few weeks in the sun with her. We took advantage of the low rates and hung out at an all-inclusive hotel in Sharm el Sheikh for a few days which was just the absolute perfect way to rest from a crazy semester. Then we lounged around in Dahab, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. We took a Discover Scuba course, went on a 4-wheeling tour through the desert, had a bedouin Christmas dinner cooked under the sand, snorkeled at the Blue Hole, and had some family time. What more could we ask for?
02. The Great Pyramids
On the last days of the year we were traipsing around the Great Pyramids of Giza. We obviously couldn’t go to Egypt and not visit the Pyramids! Hearing lots about how crazy Cairo is we planned accordingly and booked a one day private tour of Memphis (the old kingdom) and the Pyramids. It was the ideal way to beat the crowds and get all the information about the area. We climbed inside a pyramid to see the burial chamber, “kissed” the great Sphinx, and danced around like an Egyptian. We also made sure to get in all the recommendations from others like staying in the coolest old style hotel, wandering around the Egyptian Museum, riding a boat down the Nile, and eating pigeon (that one was all Kim!). I love ending the year with adventure!
01. Third Year Married
Three years ago Kim and I started a grand journey, one that has led us to places that have surprised us, frustrated us, and built us up. No, not the time we packed up our things and moved across the world, I’m talking about the day we stood in front of our favorite people and made promises to each other. This year came with sorrow, challenges, and heartache but we stood side by side and continued on and we also able to experienced countless joys, adventures, and so much love. I couldn’t imagine doing what we do without this woman along for the ride.
If you made it all the way to the end of this post you are a trouper! I feel like I created these more for me than any of you, as a sort of scrapbook to look back on and remember our years, but I’m also so so so glad that you are here following with me. I’d love a comment below so I know you were here.
Until the next adventure,
Most of the last two months have been filled with getting my feet under me at school. But one evening last month Kim and I went down to Ortakoy after school. This is the little neighborhood that is about 15 minutes walking from our apartment. We had to rush down because we needed to go to the bank, when we were finished we decided to take a stroll around the area. We wound up sitting near the Bosphorus snacking on some street food and sipping tea. We tried a new to us drink called salep. It is a milk and flour based hot beverage made of wild orchid powder from the roots of mountain orchids. I found this surprising since it tasted like my favorite winter flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg. It was a lovely evening and one of those moments that make me pause to breathe in awe of experiencing this place.
Our Tiny Apartment
I’ve been putting off sharing pictures of our apartment because I wanted to finish decorating it first but I feel like that process will be ongoing so I’ll share with you what we have so far. Ever since I got my first apartment when I was 17 my place has been kind of haphazardly put together. You know, the typical “college apartment” with hand-me-down furniture, pieces picked up from yard sales, posters taped to the wall, mixed-matched everything. Coming to Istanbul Kim and I had hopes of loving this place enough to call it home for longer than the length of my two year contract and I had dreams of a beautiful apartment. I was so very excited to come to Istanbul and have a new place where we could design intentionally. We could purchase furnishings that we absolutely loved, set-up a design that is both beautiful and functional, and have a place that is truly curated. Unfortunately when we arrived I realized that our blank canvas was actually a very small, dingy canvas. I sat on the sofa that first night with teary eyes seeing all my hopes going up in flames convincing myself that there was no way we could make this a place we loved. I was not happy and the apartment still stands as a low point in our move. Slowly, however, we’ve began adjusting and settling into our new place and pace of life. One by one we found furniture pieces and specific items focusing on a clean, open concept in order to keep as much room as possible. Despite my lack of a green thumb, plants bring me a lot of joy so I’ve been collecting many and am loving the way they make the space feel. It may be my new obsession because everytime we walk into the grocery store I can’t help by scope out the plant section which unlike America is composed of all potted plants rather than cut flowers. So I present to you our current work-in-progress abode, Casa Kim & Alisa:
The Prince Islands
Just before school started a few of us new teachers too a trip over to the Prince Islands. It is a small group of Islands just an hour ferry ride away from Istanbul. No cars or other motorized vehicles are allowed on the island so it is traditional to take a horse drawn carriage ride around the island. It was an adorable way to spend a day.
Fall Has Arrived
I hate the cold. You would think living in New England for the first 25 years of my life might have given me some greater adaptability to the cold but I always told people that the cold was the number one reason for me leaving New England. It’s not just the cold, it’s the darkness, and wetness, and not wanting to leave the bed because stepping on the floor feels like stepping on an iceberg. The cold is just miserable to me. When you leave for work at seven in the morning and it is dark out only to return home from work at five in the evening and it is still dark out, it is soul sucking. Hence the reason I spent the past three years living in the tropics. Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m not a fan of the heat either but I would much rather be sweating then shivering. I might have just stayed right there in the tropics if it weren’t for my wife who was melting away by the 100*+ days - see Kim is a true Mainer from the western mountains who wears shorts and flip flops long into the winter. So, as all the good married couples do, we compromised. Turkey is supposed to have very mild winters with an average of eleven days of snow a year in Istanbul. It (supposedly) rarely gets below 30* F. I can handle that I thought - silly silly past Alisa. It is 45*F today and it is freezing! The wind is blowing in from the water with that winter undercurrent and all I want to do is curl up in my bed, eat soup, and never some out again. A few weeks ago I grudgingly unpacked all of the sweaters that I salvaged out of my storage boxes in Maine this summer and I have been rationing them since - hoping to use them as sparingly and infrequently as possible. But the current temps have brought the sudden realization that I did not even bring a jacket. Looks like shopping will be in my future. On a positive note, the cold has inspired me to pick up my favorite winter craft - knitting.
Kim in France
While Kim was in France the US decided to stop allowing Turkish citizens to get US visas. Turkey, in response, did the same thing back to the US. Meaning that all visa services for US citizens were put on hold. (Read about it here) Luckily Kim already had a tourist visa that she would be entering Turkey with but with the suddenness of the situation and the unclarity of it, there was a lot of nervousness from both of us about her getting back into the country. It is crazy that the presidents can just make rash orders like this that effect so many people. What if she hadn’t had a visa? What if the new teacher that came to my school arrived just one day later? What about the person on my expat forum who is getting married here next month and isn’t able to get visa for any of her family to join her? I hope they work this out very soon because I want you all to come visit me!
My Stolen Camera
This is a hard one for me to write about, so much so that I almost didn’t put it in the blog but it was a significant event that happened and I think I should share with all of you. Kim and I went out exploring one Saturday and we had a marvelous day of wandering the streets of Istanbul. We went to some different areas, meander the cobblestone paths, visited the spice bazaar, and even got a fish sandwich for Kim from one of Istanbul’s famous fishing boats. The last thing we decided to do was go uptown to check out this big grocery store that Kim had heard about. It was a big store and I was sure to keep my camera on me while we were shopping because we were moving back and forth from the cart. But as we were walking up to the checkout counters Kim asked me to go grab her a water so I set my camera bag in our cart knowing that Kim would be right with it and went searching for a water. When I returned I helped Kim load up the groceries and pay. As we were walking out of the store I realized that the camera was gone and the bottom dropped out of my stomach. I frantically went back into the store and scoured the checkout area then found a security guard. The rest of the night was a blur of watching video footage in the security room, talking with the police through google translate, and crying. The next day we went to the police station and filed a report then later in the week Kim went to some of the used camera stores in town and dropped off a flyer, but it seemed completely useless in a city of twelve million people. Here is the video from the footage if you are interested in seeing it. The first video is of them stealing the camera bag out of our cart while Kim is loading things onto the register. The second video clearly shows their face as they steal another bag from a different cart. The saddest part to me is the young girl that the woman have with them who is most likely carrying stolen items in her little backpack for them. It’s interesting that every person I’ve shared about this event who has lived her is shocked, saying these things never happen here.
This camera has been with me for six years, through sixteen different countries, photographing twelve weddings and hundreds of thousands of photos. It was a camera that I saved up for slowly by shooting weddings and portraits and a lens that I traded in four other lenses to buy when I moved to Myanmar. It was a constant source of creativity for me and all of a sudden it was gone. I cried a lot that weekend, knowing how long it would take for me to save up for a replacement that was going to cost a couple thousand dollars. I reached out to my sister Andrea, the other photographer in the family, who I know would understand my pain. When, to my surprise and delight, she shared with me that she had my exact same camera body that she was looking to get rid of because she had upgraded recently. When thinking about how to get it to me I knew that shipping it was out of the question because getting things (especially expensive, valuable things) through customs here is a huge endeavor that often ends up making the senders/receivers regretting that very action. But it just so happened that Stan was leaving for France later that week and Kim was going to meet him. Some quick work on Andrea’s part, creative packing on Stan’s part, and careful transporting on Kim’s part and two weeks later I was holding a new camera body. I’m still stunned at how that all worked out and the generosity of everyone involved. Now just to save up for a new lens.
At an Art Loss
I’ve had a lot of pent up artistic energy lately and have not been really sure what to do with it. Maybe it’s due to the loss of my camera. I’m so very grateful to have a camera body again, and lucky enough to have brought one other lens with me so I am able to use it. It’s strange how it is the exact same model as my past camera but it feels so foreign in my hand, it doesn’t have the same scratches on the bottom from the tripod, or the little tiny dent on the grip, the viewfinder is slightly different and the screen looks clearer without the protector on it. After I got it I felt a sense of resentment towards it in a way that I can’t quite put into words but I think is mainly connected to still feeling pain from the violation of having this precious tool stolen from me. Anyway, the other day I had enough of it. I decided to take myself on an art date day in town. I grabbed my camera and set out for the day to do some of my favorite things. First I took a ferry ride which I simply adore. Something about sipping a tea while sitting in the breeze on the ferry deck is pure joy. I took a series of photos while I was riding that I will save for their own little post. Then I spent hours wandering around art stores. I hadn’t had the pleasure of visiting any art stores yet and I loved meandering through running my fingers over the paper and brushes. I ended up leaving with a new sketchbook and didn’t waste any time cracking it open doing some ferry sketches on the way back over to the European side. Lastly I went for my first visit to Istanbul Modern, the contemporary art museum in town. Although none of the pieces jumped out at me I enjoyed taking my time to sketch a few different paintings and perusing the gift shop (aren’t art museum gift shops the absolute best??). It was the most wonderful day and I put this page together from momentums that I gathered to remember it.
One of the funnest experiences I had over the past month was participating in a Murder Mystery Dinner. If you are not familiar with the concept, it is a mix of a dinner and a play that everyone is a part of. Before the night you are given a character and a backstory, every person comes dressed up and stays in character. Throughout the night events unfold, more information is given to you in sealed envelops to help you respond in the way your character would. There is bribing and gossiping happening all around. Eventually someone gets “murdered” and each person investigates the others to come up with a guess at who did it. I’ve always wanted to attend a Murder Mystery Dinner and this one certainly did not disappoint. Our theme was 80s Prom Gone Bad and my character was J.J. Smart, the class valedictorian. The night was a blast due to our awesome host who put it all together and the very best of folks to play with.
In addition Kim was the caterer for the evening. She pulled off the most delicious four course meal for the 20 or so people attending and every bit of it was spot on. There were stuffed mushrooms, caesar salads (with fresh anchovy dressing), pumpkin and ricotta raviolis, red wine braised short ribs with polenta, and a chocolate guinness cake with raspberry coulis to finish it off. I’m bummed that I didn’t grab any photos of the food but take my word on the mouthwatering taste of it all.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was a great leader in Turkey who founded the country out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. He is deeply revered by all Turkish citizens. His statue and portrait are seen in restaurants and homes all throughout the country. At our school we have a photo of him in every single classroom. On November 10th the entire country stands still for one minute (9:05 am) to commemorate his passing. At school we had a large gathering that involved a speech, a wreath laying, and the minute of silent. Check out this short clip to see traffic stand still even on the bridges and highways.
Kim has been spending her time doing what she loves, cooking for people. She developed a service where she offers a variety of food and sells it to the teachers/staff at school. Every week she puts out a menu of salad, dinner, casserole, soup, and specialty items then delivers the orders to school. We are so grateful that she has had a tremendous response from the teachers, enough to keep her happily busy every week. The main disappointment of our apartment is most certainly our kitchen that is the size of a closet. I have no idea how she cooks dozens of meals in that space every week and nearly never complains about it but I think I have previously established that she is some sort of kitchen goddess. Here is this week’s menu to give you an idea of what she’s been cooking up:
We have been taking weekly Turkish Lessons which have been great but not sticking as well as I would like. Kim has trouble following but I’m understanding in class fairly easily but as soon as I leave I seem to leave all that I’ve learned behind as well. I think they are helpful no matter what though - even if it’s just a word or two a week. Thankfully Turkish is significantly easier than Burmese, at the very least I can read and pronounce the words. I think our teacher gets exasperated by us though, a group of teachers together is not usually an easy group to handle.
In Other News . . .
I’ve been teaching a beginners yoga course after school, and Kim has been tracking down every market in town. I’ve just completed my 10th week of weight lifting and am really enjoying seeing my body change and feeling stronger by the week. I realized that I forgot to bring any brown closed toe shoes so I tried to go shoe shopping the other day only to find out that they don’t carry any women’s shoes above the European size of 40. This is equivalent to the American size of about 9 in women's. Isn’t that crazy! I managed to track down one pair of brown boots in a 41 that mostly fit my feet but I now know what is on my summer to-buy list. There certainly have been some downs over the past two months but thankfully there have been a lot more ups and all in all we are so very happy in Istanbul, at my new job, and in our new home. We can’t wait to explore more of this country and Europe, but right now we are happy wandering the streets of Istanbul, experiencing the newness of the honeymoon stage.
Here are some tasty bites we’ve had while out and about.
Kim trying some street mussles
Ferry rides are my favorite
There is a "Fruit Garden" just down the street from us where anyone can go and pick fresh fruit for free, right now it's pomegranate season.
Our new weekend routine of going for a late Turkish breakfast every Sunday
I've been rolling with my kombucha brew this year and have expanded to Jun (made with just green tea and honey) as well as hibiscus tea kombucha. So tasty!
This is Phoebe. She is a cat that hangs out in our apartment compound because she used to belong to a teacher that lived here but she got left behind. And then another teacher adopted her and left her behind again. So sometimes we let her come cuddle in our apartment.
Until next time my friends
I’ve been an official resident of Istanbul, Turkey for two weeks now and I have a full mind, sore legs, and a deep sense of awe.
The other morning I went for a run in our neighborhood. I stepped over fat, sleeping street dogs, passed waiters carrying tea out to businessmen chatting at the tables which were spilling out into the sidewalks, forced myself to continue pass the luscious smelling bread wafting from the bakery, and continued all the way down until I reached a dead end in front of the Bosphorus. I paused here for one of those movie perfect moments as the sun just sneaked over the horizon lighting up the bridge that connects the continents of Europe and Asia (yet still remain Istanbul on both sides). To my side stood the most stunningly detailed mosque that oozes grandness and history. On the river edge a fisherman pulled up his line with a small wiggling fish on it and as he drew it to the shore one of Istanbul’s greatly beloved cats snuck up and tried to claim it for her own. It was one of those slices of time where the energy of a place reaches your soul and imprints itself. It was one of the many moments of falling in love with Istanbul that I’ve experienced since arriving.
Never before have I lived in a place with such deep, rich history - as I walk the streets I see bits and pieces from empires that thrived ages ago, I see traditions dating back centuries, and places that are still used as they were used literally thousands of years before. It brings with it a feeling of oneness with the greater line of human history. The beautiful street cafe life of Europe is thriving here but intertwined with it is the exotic middle eastern flare. Just walking the streets have brought enough entertainment to fill our time as we ooh and ah at the shops and restaurants all around.
To give you a bit of a background on how we ended up here; Kim and I knew early on that our third year in Myanmar would be our last, it is a beautiful and interesting country but the trials and challenges weigh on you and we wanted to leave while still in good spirits. As we set out in search of a new international placement we knew we wanted a huge culture shift so we set our eyes on Eastern Europe or South America. After many months of searching, applying, and interviewing, I was offered the position as middle school art teacher at MEF International School in Istanbul, Turkey. We were elated and accepted quickly.
Half of the summer we spent backpacking Ecuador with my younger brother Drew, it was an adventure filled trip that showed us a lot of what South America had to offer. We sailed down a river in the Amazon on a carved out canoe, we climbed a suspended bridge and ziplined across canyons, we ate so many empanadas, we staggered the ecuador, we wandered through ancient Inca ruins, parasailed over the ocean, spent hours picking out the perfect “panama hat,” and nearly died climbing down to a stunning emerald lake in the middle of a mountain range (at least it felt like I was going to die because the altitude was over 12,000 feet).
Another unforgettable adventure for certain but nothing can compare to the feeling of coming back home. We spent most of our six weeks in Maine visiting as many people as possible. One of my favorite parts was our family and friends camping weekend up in Avon where we all had a blast hanging around the campfire and swimming up in the mountains. It seems to keep getting harder and harder to leave all you fine folks in Maine. It’s funny but it really is the little things that I love and miss the most like shopping dates with Amanda, photographing with Andrea, chasing Zane around, life talks early in the morning with Dad, ice cream dates with Nikki, Mac, and Danny, chilling with Drew, seeing Sam’s first apartment, making tasty treats with Autumn, and simply spending time with all the rest of you. Know that you are dearly missed and thought of often.
Ready or not, Kim and I dragged all of our suitcases onto the plane and were Istanbul bound before I knew it. We had a bit of a hairy transit with some visa confusion, not being able to find our bags, and nearly getting our contact lenses confiscated in London, but all in all we arrived in safely with all of our belongings to find a warm greeting from my principal who picked us up from the airport. Here are a few pictures of my new school.
The first two weeks here in Istanbul has been jam packed. My new school had a great orientation set up that filled all the newcomers in on working at the school and living in Turkey. We had interactive basic Turkish language sessions, Turkish history lessons, plenty of insurance/bank/info paperwork to fill out, trips to the tax office, the police station, the phone company, and so much more. I feel extremely well cared for here and it is a huge relief to know that there are so many people that want us to feel happy here and have gone out of their way to help us get settled.
I’ve spent the first two weeks in orientation at school by day and out exploring the town at night. We live in school provided apartments which are directly next to school. Once we get a little more settled in our apartment I’ll share some pictures of it but for now here is our building and the apartment pool with the school directly in the background:
We live in a quieter area of town but just a short walk away is a fun section with lots of stores like cheese stores, household goods stores, grocers spilling out onto the sidewalks, spice stores, electronics stores, etc etc etc. We also have so many food places including a variety of restaurants, many kebab stalls, a very famous bean restaurant, pizza places, bakeries, dessert places, and even a section of very well known baked potato stalls. Near the edge of the Bosphorus is a market area filled with stalls to buy art and jewelry and souvenirs. This whole section unveils a range of bars and clubs on weekend nights. It took me a few days to not feel completely overwhelmed by this area because there is so much going on but now I am excited to try all the different places and explore even further out.
It is crazy hilly here! I had read before arriving to bring good walking shoes and I am so glad I caved and bought a new pair of sneakers before coming because I have never seen such a hilly place in my life! We live in the middle of this giant hill and it took a few mornings to actually make it to the top. Kim has been walking miles everyday as she has been going out and exploring the town. I’m afraid that one day I’ll miss step and find myself tumbling down one of these massive hills but at least I’ll be able to get the hang of it before the snow starts to fly. The weather has been gorgeous. We didn’t expect it to be quite this warm but it has been in the high 80s or low 90s everyday. I think fall will be arriving soon though because I can already feel a shift in the nightly temperatures to being a tad cooler.
Kim is head over heals in love with the food here. She has been filling her days with exploring the depths of the supermarkets near and far as well as tracking down open air markets (like farmers markets) around the city every day of the week. She has been cooking up a storm with all of the delicious ingredients she has been finding. We’ve been eating cheese nonstop (to make up for the lack of cheese we experienced in Asia) and so many fresh veggies. At school the lunches are provided free of charge (with daily vegetarian options) so I’ve been enjoying some different dishes like lentil soups, interesting salads, and a whole slew of cooked veggies. Then there is the fantastic dining out experiences we’ve enjoyed. Kim has been eating kebabs daily while out on her adventures, while we have started to eat our way through the many restaurants in the area.
The prime event was most certainly the traditional Turkish breakfast we had today. We had heard of this spectacular part of Turkish culture before even arriving and we were so so looking forward to it and let me tell you, it did not disappoint! The breakfast was comprised of a variety of smaller dishes including honey butter, green olives, black olives, fresh marmalade, cheese with cherry jam, eggs cooked with tomato and cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta cheese, fresh butter, a cheese plate with a variety of cheeses, a tomato paste dip with olive oil, fried eggs with sausage, and an endless supply of multiple kinds of breads. All of this was more than Kim and I could eat and was only $25!
Another top event so far was the cruise that MEF arranged for all of the teachers to go on. As we sailed along the Bosphorus and took in sights of Istanbul from the water, we socialized, ate dinner, and danced the night away. It was a lot of fun to have everyone together enjoying themselves.
Istanbul is well known for adoring it's street cats. You see them all around town plus plenty of places that have left food out for them (and the street dogs), here are some food dishes outside our local grocery store, some cats outside our apartment and laying outside a store. Also, one of the golden retriever street dogs that I had to convince Kim to not bring home. The last is a bottle return machine that releases cat/dog food at the bottom.
This year I will be teaching 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th grade art as well as an 11th and 12th grade combined class. I spent some long days (and nights) working on curriculum planning for the year but am now rewarded with a nice long holiday before school starts. We have a full 10 days off in which Kim and I are looking forward to exploring Istanbul further, eating lots of amazing food, and doing some lounging by the pool. So far Istanbul has lived up to all of our expectations and I can't wait to see what else this spectacular city has to hold.
I'll be honest, China scares me a bit. Maybe more than a bit. It's just so BIG and has so many people and is kind of a mystery to me. My only interactions I've had with native Chinese citizens is mostly limited to my time traveling through Asia. Many times I've come across throngs of Chinese tour groups laden down with the biggest and best photography equipment pushing to get to the very best spots of (insert any major landmark here). Pushing. There is always pushing. I even witnessed one tour group in the airport once rush to a section of four empty immigration lines as if their lives depended on being first, despite the fact that ONLY their own tour group was lining up. I put a great deal of effort into not judging others, and especially not stereotyping a whole race, but these situations made me hesitant to ever put myself in the throngs of China.
However, as most people know, there is China and then there is Hong Kong. Although I don't fully understand the politics of the relationship between the two, I know enough to say that China and Hong Kong are separate entities that have their own governing systems and policies. So when the opportunity came up to do a Professional Development workshop in Hong Kong I was hesitantly excited for my first bite of China.
I am happy to say that I not only did not get trampled by crowds, but I managed to have a lovely time in the "Pearl of the Orient." Hong Kong is a HUGE bustling city of 7.3 million people that is known for shopping with it's hundreds of malls. It is popular as a modern Asian city for both expats and locals living fast paced, big city lives.
As always, Kim, myself, and my friend and colleague, Sara, enjoyed wandering the streets, tasting the food, and soaking in the sites. We had Chinese dim sum, noodle dishes, chicken and rice, and so many other street treats. My *hands down* favorite find though was Nan Lian Garden. It is a public park adjacent to the Chin Lin Nunnery, both built in the style of the Tang Dynasty. As I wandered though I couldn't help but closely relate it to a Japanese garden where each and every item within the space is specifically chosen and placed. The walkways wind unevenly through to encourage a slowness and watchfulness in the experience. I had learned about these creations in college and it was a surreal experience to finally be meandering my way through one.
Alisa & Kim
Two expats living, teaching, and eating their way across this beautiful world