Freedom never felt so good! The day we were released from quarantine was such a celebration! We all staggered out of our rooms, squinting from the sunlight that we haven’t been exposed to in two weeks. And it couldn’t have come sooner because we were all starting to feel it, slowly becoming one with our beds and loosing all semblance of motivation to do anything. It hasn’t even been a week since then but it’s been a whirlwind of getting acclimated to the neighborhood, starting school, and enjoying social time that doesn’t involve a screen.
When I first left quarantine and arrived at my airbnb I nearly had a breakdown. The security guards checked my temperature on the way into the building but it came up as 99.5* F (37.5*C) and they wouldn’t let me in the building. I tried to explain to them that I just came from quarantine and I just had a COVID test the day before, but they weren’t having any of it. No way were they going to let this strange foreigner chance infecting their entire building, even if it was only because it was my first exposure to SE Asian heat after 15 straight days in an air conditioned room. This was my first experience after the long long wait to get here and it was going horribly and I was about to break down when right then the new-teachers liaison called to check in. She arrived by my side within minutes of the call with a triage of help including the school’s head nurse. It took a few calls, the production of my quarantine certification, and a few more temperature checks, but finally they let me through.
After I dropped my bags and opened my welcome grocery bag from school, I joined the other new teachers in the area for my first real food out of quarantine, a veggie panini. Then I met right up with my real estate agent to see an apartment that was about to be snatched up by someone else. Afterward I headed straight over to the pet boarding house where Penny was waiting. Our reunion was as expected, without much excitement but with a lot of joy. The people who looked after her were so so sweet, one of them cried when we started to leave. But we made it back to the Airbnb fine and I took Penny on her first walk around the neighborhood. She was all about exploring her new turf. Although she is still just as stubborn about being on leash and has proceeded to lay down in the middle of the road while passing car drivers laugh at the two of us.
By the time I got back from the walk I was beat! I had only walked a mile or two but it was more than the last 15 days combined. I met up with my new friend Brianna for dinner at a craft brewery in my building before we did a quick shopping trip. I hate grocery shopping on a normal day, put me in a new foreign grocery store when I’m exhausted and the results equal two pints of ice cream, cereal, a dragonfruit, yogurt, bananas, water, and goldfish.
The next day I got to go into school for the first time. I met my new team of elementary specialists, along with a couple dozen other wonderful people. This is the largest school I’ve worked at with about 1200 students. I am one of three elementary school art teachers! It is fabulous to be a part of a team of teachers rather than the lone wolf tucked in a distant corner of the school that no one even knows where it is. And folks, brace yourselves, because I. HAVE. MY. OWN. CLASSROOM. Eeeeekkkk! For the first time in six years I will be able to take full ownership of my classroom space, get ready for a rainbow fiasco!!
It was a day chock full of meetings, greetings, and HR presentations. So many forms to sign. It was no wonder that all of us newbies ended up at a Kim-recommended Mexican place with pitchers of margaritas, telling stories and laughing away. But seriously, my new school is all sorts of amazing. Not only does it value innovation, but it expects it. I can finally teach the way that I know is best and have full support to push the boundaries of the current practice of Art Education. Plus I’ve fantastic colleagues that are doing the same and keeping the expectations high. I feel that this is a place where I will finally be able to reach my true potential as an educator while being fostered and encouraged.
Kim arrived early early on Wednesday morning. She is quarantining at the Holiday Inn and my school is doing an equally fabulous job at taking care of her, showering her with welcome baskets and fulfilling any requests she makes. We video chat every time I take Penny out for a walk so she is starting to get familiar with our neighborhood as well. I even took Kim on a long neighborhood walk the other day where we checked out the local restaurants and shops.
On Thursday we had student orientation during the day, and at night, a fabulous social for the newbie teachers with the admin at a local pub owned by a former student from school. Friday was go day, the official first day of school. I haven’t been in front of students for FIVE months, but as soon as they came in the room I snapped right back into my teacher mode. It was invigorating having them there and so so nice starting to get to know them. By the end of the day I was so energized that I rearranged my whole room. I can’t wait to see what it will look like in a month or two from now!
I started the weekend off by getting a very thorough two-hour long health check that included everything from a stomach ultrasound to teeth and eye checks. Then I went shopping for a care package for Kim. I tried to find the most strange and unusual foods I could which resulted in me getting seaweed Pringles, chicken nugget shaped chips, a Japanese poofy cheesecake, chicken flavored cheese spread, and ramen noodle snack bites. Plus a large range of ramen noodles including cheese flavored and a spaghetti version. Also a variety of local beers so she could have a little tasting party.
We had another social Sat night at the craft brewery again. I brought Penny down to meet the crew since everyone had heard all about her long journey getting here. She convinced many people to give her pets and belly scratches.
Sunday was all about apartment hunting and I’m so excited to share that I found a place that I LOVE! It fulfills all the requirements that we were looking for and more. It is only about 3 minutes from school and it is gorGEOUS!! We are working with the Realtor now to finalize the negotiations and will hopefully be able to move in next week! It also resulted in me taking my first motorbike ride with the landlord in between apartment buildings. It went well and was not scary at all! I think there is hope for me yet. I can’t wait until Kim can get a bike that we can take on all sorts of adventures.
It’s been a lot this week. But all good things. I’m just not used to landing in a place by myself. Usually Kim takes care of the home stuff so I can focus solely on work but I’m currently doing it all (well, doing as much as I can) as Kim waits eagerly to join. But I’m managing just fine and I’m simply glad that we are all finally in the same country. It has been such a long time coming, so many months of uncertainty and worry. And we are on the other side, nearly completely to the end of this insane journey. And you know what? I couldn’t be more glad. I am SO excited for this new adventure. (PS Here are a few extra snaps from the week)
Looking back on 2018 makes me wonder how I am going to be able to keep topping these amazing experiences that make up my life. Seriously. They say to live the life you love and love the life you live and I am unabashedly doing just that. The year started off with the best treat of welcoming our new golden retriever, Penny, into our family, followed by a spring filled with visits from my family members, including lots of Turkish road trips and unbelievably beautiful adventures. The summer was kicked off with our Myanmar family in North Carolina for a wedding celebration and stretched long allowing us to fully soak in all the goodness that is family time back home in Maine. The fall brought our second year in Istanbul, a blooming of my personal art making, plus more travel in the winter. Each year that I have put together these blog posts (2014, 2016, 2017) I feel a deep sense of gratitude for where our journey has led us and the soul-warming experiences we have had along the way. Thank you for being along for the ride. So, without any further ado, here are 18 memories from 2018.
18. Adopt Penny
One of the very best decisions we made this year was to invite a new 4-legged member into our family. The story of her adoption starts back in Myanmar. After we accepted the move to Istanbul in the spring of 2017, we both began researching the new city that we would call home - me in the form of the art scene, the history, the neighborhoods, and the things to see and do. Kim devoted her research to two topics, the food (street food, restaurants, grocery store prices - she knew walking off the plane how much to pay for an apple) and animals. As I’m sure you know, Kim’s family has always had golden retrievers and they take up a big part of her heart (bigger than my section I’m sure). This is when Kim connected with Yasemin, a woman who has devoted her life to rescuing (mainly) golden retrievers off the streets of Turkey.
The story goes that years ago golden retrievers became the “must have” for the Turkish high class, and so everyone began importing and breeding them. Quickly they became over bred and less desired and turned onto the street. Since goldens are so docile, they have little chance of surviving on the streets against the other, more aggressive, types. So Yasmin steps in when she can, rescuing every golden she can find. She then works with golden adoption agencies in North America to send them to people who are anxiously awaiting a golden friend. Unfortunately, this whole operation has to stay underwraps because she has gotten threats from locals who think that she is stealing dogs and selling them. But, she goes on to do her good work, quietly.
Kim quickly offered to become a foster home for dogs who are awaiting their ticket to a new home. We had also talked about the possibility of getting a dog this year. While we were in Egypt for our winter break Kim got the message from Yasemin, she had a dog for us. Kim must have watched the video Yasemin sent of (what would be) Penny every minute of our trip, while anxiously and excitedly wishing it to end because she now had a four-legged friend to get back to. The day we came back, January 1st, Penny walked into our apartment and Kim knew she wouldn’t be leaving.
Penny has been a joy to have with us all year long and makes us smile and feel loved every single day. She was a very shy, anxious, tiny creature, who has grown into a friendly, sweet, not-so-tiny member of our family. From spending her days on the streets and then in a cage in a pound, she quickly took to Kim and now follows Kim wherever she leads. Penny flew to Maine and back with us this summer and just blossomed, running around in the yard and going on hikes with me. She got very itchy and come to find out she is allergic to Maine grass - seriously. Penny loves her giant bed, walks to Krispy Kream where she convinces strangers to feed her their donuts, and having her head rubbed. We are so, so glad she is ours.
2. Black Sea Birthday Road Trip
For Kim’s birthday this year I surprised her with a long-weekend road trip. As you know, Kim loves driving and I love riding. So we hopped in our rental car (having to pick Penny up and place her in the back because she had no idea what was going on), and set on our way. I had randomly picked out a place for us to spend the night, having no idea that it was a spectacular little gem of a city called Safranbolu. It was jaw-droppingly gorgeous, straight out of a fairy tale. We wound our way through the mountains that bordered the Black Sea, and winded our way back down. We found a castle, jaw dropping mountains, and bee keepers selling honey street side. Read about the whole trip over here.
3. Dad & Pam Visit Istanbul
In March we had a fantastic week when my Dad and Step-mom, Pam, visited us in Istanbul. Neither had ever traveled abroad before and it was an absolute joy to be able to share in their first international experience. I’m not sure how to put into words the depth of fulfilment it gave me to be able to provide/share this life-changing experience of traveling to/with the man who made it possible for me to be able to live this amazing life of traveling that I do. I think out of all my seven siblings that I am the most like my dad, from him I got my understanding and compassion, my quiet, observant quality, my work ethic and my overall personality. We share similar processes of how we form opinions, translate thoughts about the world, save memories, and react to situations. He has quietly encouraged each of us to dream, always supportive of whatever way we choose to spend our lives. Finally, he got a little peek into what my life was made of.
It was a whirlwind of a time, trying to show Dad and Pam all Istanbul had to offer while stopping to enjoy the little intricacies that only appear to a fresh-off-the-plane set of eyes. We visited all the sites, wrode the tram down Iskale street, took a ferry ride on the Bosphorus, showed them our neighborhood, and treated them to all our favorite Turkish foods. Oh, and then there was the hilarious costume photo shoot we found ourselves in that I still cannot stop laughing about!
4.Ephesus/Pamukkale Road Trip
We didn’t just stop in Istanbul though. They were set on seeing as much as they could so we hopped back down to southern Turkey to walk the ruins of Ephesus and visit the Virgin Mary’s house. Seeing my dad sitting in the grand amphitheater, taking it all in, is a sight I will keep close to my heart. These places meant a lot to Dad who connected with the stories from the Bible in a way that was not possible before.
We popped over to see the calcite pools of Pamakkale and almost got lost on a long dirt middle-of-nowhere road that Google sent us on. They then went to spend a few days seeing my oldest sister Renee in Egypt before having one last Turkish breakfast with us and then flying home. I think that we may have ignited the travel bug in them and I hope that we will be able to have another adventure abroad again so very soon.
5. Family Trip to Athens, Greece
Kim and I weren’t alone for long because only a few weeks after Dad and Pam left, my sister Amanda and her husband Josh joined us. These are two of our favorite people in the whole world and to be able to share another adventure abroad with them is what dreams are made of! You might remember them from our road trip around Israel. This time we were headed to Greece! First stop, Athens. We spent a few days in this ancient city traipsing around the Parthenon, taking in all the history at the museum, enjoying every stop on Kim’s personally made food tour around town, and of course taking ALL the pictures. I’m still thinking about the Greek yogurt top cream with honey and nuts we had *drool*
6. Santorini aka Heaven on Earth
It was easy to decide to make Santorini our other stop in Greece. After seeing just one of the jaw dropping photos of the white houses clustered on the cliffs over the ocean, I was sold. And boy was it perfection. We had decadent meals served by waiters who became friends and invited Kim into the kitchen. We had adventures out on quad bikes, zipping around the island and eating sandwiches we whipped together on the back of the bumpers. I had a quiet morning wandering session squeezing through all the nooks and allies of Oia and being blown away by the beauty at every turn. We even took the time to hire a professional local photographer who got some unbelievable photographs of all of us exploring the island. The whole experience was perfectly incredible.
7. The Fairy Tale that is Cappadocia
We weren’t done yet though. Amanda and Josh had one more stop they were dying to make and that was back in Turkey. So we flew back there, grabbed a car and made the not-so-quick drive down to Cappadocia. A town in central Turkey known for its land formations in the shape of cones. It has underground cities that you can still go and (try to) squeeze through and an astounding show every sunrise where the sky fills up with hot air balloons that bobble around through the clouds. This was such a special place and I already have plans to return back in 2019.
8. Bike Ride to Bulgaria
Back in Istanbul it was a normal week when I saw an online posting for an opening on a weekend bike ride from Turkey, through Greece and Bulgaria, and back to Turkey. I thought about how insanely awesome that sounded by the insane outweighed the awesome in my mind. The next day my colleague/partner in crime/work wife mentioned that she would be going on a bike ride that weekend. Could it be? Yes, the exact same one. And quickly the decision was made, the plans were booked, and I was on a bus to the most north western town in Turkey. Two days, three countries, 28.4+ miles, one night in Bulgaria, and one very sore bum later I had a fantastic experience with some even more fantastic people.
9. Wilmington Wedding
Immediately following our last day of school in Istanbul I flew to Wilmington, North Carolina to meet up with Kim and our Myanmar tribe. I am so grateful that we have been able to get together two years in a row despite being in all different parts of the globe. Sharon, Steven, and their two kids are in Malaysia currently and Shelly & Luis are in Florida. We all got together to celebrate Shelly & Luis’ wedding in Wilmington. It was such a festive time that was jam packed with quality moments of the everyday sort - dinners together, drinks around the pool, walks around the adorable little town, and all the conversations that we could squeeze in between wedding prep. The ceremony was lovely, funny, and heartwarming; and boy did everyone dance the night away. As always, it was too short to spend with some of my favorite people in the whole world but I’ll take the little slivers of sunshine and hold on to them tight.
10. Boston TAB Institute
Mid summer I took the train down to Boston where I joined other Art Educators from all over the world at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design for the TAB Summer Institute. TAB stands for Teaching For Artistic Behaviors, an art teaching pedagogies that I have been following since I very first started teaching. TAB teachers follow a three sentence curriculum: What do artists do? The child is the artist. The classroom is their studio. When I want to explain my method of teaching simply, I tell people that I don’t teach children how to make art, I teach them how to be artists.
It is challenging as an art teacher to not have many people in the same field as you in the same space to bounce ideas off of. Then on top of that to be committed to this amazing choice-based methodology, greatly limits the amount of like-minded art educators I’ve come in contact with. This can often be a challenge to continue to grow professionally. This is why I was so excited that my school, MEFIS, approved my request to attend this conference.
For a week I was surrounded by art educators who are passionate about giving the student artist as many opportunities for agency, independence, and choice as possible. We had round-table discussions about what is working and not working in our classrooms, presentations from some well practiced TAB educators, and talked with the founders of TAB. We also had a large studio open all week with a variety of different centers set up for us to go in, be inspired, and make art. It was a week of being re-centered in my teaching philosophy, networking with other talented educators, getting inspired, and making art.
Plus, I spent a glorious half a day wandering around the spectacular collection at the MFA Boston - sketching, gawking, and trying to take it all in. It was everything you want from a Professional Development and more!
11. Summer in Maine
What a luxuriously long summer we had in Maine. It was the longest I’ve spent in Maine since we moved abroad and it was just chalk full of all the summertime goodness - campfires, unintentional family get togethers, strawberry picking, swimming, hiking with the pup, sunsets behind the mountains, ice cream trips, so many sleepovers, shopping, camping, and on and on. Kim was happy to accept a job as a prep cook and baker at the Gingerbread House in Rangeley which kept her joyfully busy for most of the summer. Meanwhile, I hoped around from couch to couch soaking in as much family time as sanely possible.
Just a few of the summer highlights included Meg’s adorable book themed baby shower, frisbee golf afternoons and spontaneous sunset hikes with Drew, planning and watching Sam & Cody get engaged, going to the Great Falls Balloon Festival (a tradition I haven’t made it to in 4 years), family amusement park day at FunTown SplashTown, spending hours in the craft store with Autumn (and then nights watching movies and trying out all our purchases), attempting stand-up-paddleboarding and then kayaking while pouring out our deepest worries and biggest dreams with Amanda, hanging with Zane - the coolest nephew ever, wandering my home-town fair with all the fam, wedding dress shopping for Sam with all the girls, avoiding the freezing mountain water at Smalls Falls with Nikki, Mac, and Danny, endless hours of driving just to share conversations with Andrea, hiking with Lanie, and all the amazing meals from the grill enjoyed on our picnic table with Kim.
Just before I was to head back to Istanbul in early August, I got word that the school building was still under construction and they moved our orientation to online which meant that I got an EXTRA two weeks at home!! In this time I was able to photograph a last minute wedding down in Boston - which allowed me to fund my camera replacement (from the one that got stolen last year).
12. Second Year in Istanbul
After the extra time in Maine, as much as I hated to leave, I felt myself getting antsy to get back to our normal routine and at the end of August I headed back to Istanbul for our second year in this big, beautiful city. The first task at hand was unpacking our new apartment. We were happy to move into a different school-provided apartment still directly next to the school. We were looking forward to more light, a small balcony, and (mainly) a much bigger kitchen. Kim arrived a few weeks behind me so I spent that time arranging and rearranging, unpacking, and organizing. I bought a stunning kitchen island, a water cooler, a bigger mattress, and even more plants. I feel really good with what I was able to arrange for the unique space we were given and both of us feel much happier than last year. Kim is able to satisfy all her kitchen needs while I have my own little art corner, these are both in the same open space so we can each do our own thing while still staying connected.
I’m enjoying my second year teaching art to grades 5-8. I feel that this is my ideal age-range. I know that middle school can make most people cringe (I said for years that I would never teach middle school), but there is something that clicks in place with these students around this age, they are old enough to do more advanced things, have depth in their ideas, and have longer spurs of concentration; yet they are young enough that they still really want to do what they are supposed to, they don’t (usually) have that teenager attitude (yet), and they are funny. I enjoy my schedule and my extra responsibility of being Head of Department for “Group 6” aka the specialists. Kim is just beginning a new work venture that has a lot of potential and we are both excited to see where it goes. I’m glad to say that Kim and I will be staying for at least a 3rd year, if not more after that.
I’ve had days of playing tourist and wandering the grand bazar, riding the ferry over to Asia, and exploring the nooks and crannies of new neighborhoods. But most of our days are simple, walking Penny through the park, having a tea down on breakfast street, or spending the evening cooking/art making at home. We are very comfortable and happy with our little but grand life over here.
13. The Art of Papercutting
This school year has seemed much calmer than ever before. It took me a few months to realize that this is the first time in my seven years of teaching that I am not in my first year at a new school, nor am I job searching (which is practically a full-time job of it’s own). This has allowed me to have a lot more time and headspace to work on my artwork. Starting back in May, I was inspired to create a papercut map of istanbul to place over my Ebru artwork. Ebru is the traditional Turkish art of water marbling that Kim and I took a six week workshop in (Kim continued with private lessons afterwards). After that, my love for papercutting was reignited and I began making all sorts of papercut artworks. Our friends Katherine and John who are still teaching in Myanmar commissioned a Yangon themed papercut from me and it will forever be one of my favorite artworks I have ever created. I made a letter “O” for little baby Oakley’s baby shower, and a few other little pieces. When I returned to Istanbul I continued working on the papercuts. I began designing little scenes encapsulated in circles that could be shown against a real life background, I created geometric designs, and then I returned back to maps.
“The Places the Make Us,” is an ongoing series of layered map papercuts. The original one I created included four maps, one for each of the places that Kim and I have called home since we were married. I just adore cutting maps and am so happy that others have liked them too. I have created three commissioned pieces from this series, personalized for the special locations of each client, and have three more on the docket. One of my goals this year was to find a way to get my art out there more and I love that I can create these one-of-a-kind, individualized artworks that are beautiful and layered with meaning. Please get in touch if you are interested in commissioning an artwork from me.
14. World Record Setting in Kas
My oldest sister, Renee, is a professional freediver currently living in Dahab, Egypt. She has unrelenting ambition to make her dreams a reality which led her to the World Freediving Championships in October. Coincidentally, these were held in Kas, Turkey - just a short flight and a few hours drive away from Istanbul. It was priceless to be able to watch Renee surfacing as the new USA National Record Holder, after her record-breaking free immersion dive of 63 meters (203 feet). For those who are unfamiliar with free diving, it is diving without using any breathing aparatas aka holding your breath. It is always uplifting spending time with Renee who is an inspiration for all of us Blundon siblings.
Kas is the cutest little ocean-side town on Turkey’s southern coast. The sunsets were unbelievable and the vibe was quaint and breezy. We even took a quick trip over to Demre, the home of St. Nicolas - the man who eventually became known as Santa Claus. There we were also able to visit the rock tombs of Myra, an ancient city.
15. Moroccan Road Trip
Winter break this year brought us to Morocco, a country that has always been in the back of my mind. When planning our two week trip, I came across story after story of scams, harassment, overwhelming touts, and other forms of things that traveler’s dread. Now, we are no nieve travelers but the vast amount of these stories that I read gave me pause. I arrived in Morocco very guarded, ready to fend off the numerous hassles that I was told I would face. You know what happened? Absolutely nothing. Not once did I feel any more harassed or harassed or tricked than any other country we have gone to. I felt perfectly comfortable as a woman, traveling with other women, despite all of the people telling me the contrary. To our advantage, it was winter so my legs and arms/torso was nearly always covered, and we had a car so we avoided many tourist heavy areas (like bus stops).
Our friend Katie joined me and Kim for the two-weeks as we drove around from fantastic city to the next. We flew in to Casablanca but did not spend any time there as I had researched that it was nothing but a big industrial city. Driving up the coast we spent on night on the ocean-side town of Assilah before heading to the mountain village of Chefchaouen. From there we went down to the ancient city of Fez, spending days wandering the incredible median (main city area where no cars are allowed). After enjoying the culture of Marrakesh we finished off our trip at an all-inclusive resort before heading home.
Morocco was everything I had hoped - beautiful chaos, endlessly winding medinas, stunning mosaics, cute towns, tasty couscous, cactus gardens, and an overall fabulous adventure.
16. The Blue Perl - Chefchaouen
Hands down, my favorite place in Morocco was the mountain village of Chefchaouen. This is known as the “blue perl,” due to the blue paint that covers the majority of its buildings. Some say it is to bring the sky down to the earth so the people are closer to God, others say the blue keeps away the mosquitos, whichever the reason everyone can agree that it is absolutely stunning. I spent hour just wandering the narrow walkways taking pictures at every turn. It was a photographer’s dream for sure!
17. 30th Birthday Surprise Trip to Paris
Kimberly made my dreams come true when she surprised me with a weekend in Paris for my 30th birthday. The whole trip was absolutely magical. It was beyond anything I could have hoped for. It will truly be a memory to last a lifetime. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have a wife that would give me such an experience. Read about the whole wonderful trip here.
18. 4th Year Married
In May of 2018, Kim and I celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary. I am in awe every year of how much we manage to still learn about each other, what elements we are still discovering, and how our relationship changes as the different aspects of our individual selves continue to develop. Although we have faced challenges, just as all others do, we continue to come out stronger and closer as a result. And still, there is no one I would rather adventure, through the world and through life, with.
Well there it is, another big, long, way-to-many-photos, yearly blog post. If you’ve made it all the way to the end, cheers to you! Thanks for following along on our adventures. See you in the next one!
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.
Alisa & Kim
Two expats living, teaching, and eating their way across this beautiful world