Hello Spring

Well, guys, spring is here! This is the season when my girly nature really goes nuts because I am obsessed with flowers. I just love them. They make me happy. Although it’s rainy here in Portland, I’m thinking about what all this rain will bring. I’m also reminded of that time last year when we went to Istanbul and I could not believe my eyes because there were so many gorgeous flowers everywhere. Especially the gardens at Topkapi Palace. It was just too much.

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See what I mean? Spring is the best. So is Turkey.

xxx

P.S. Provence looks like an incredible place to visit in the spring.

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Turkishly Delighted

Sorry for the long delay, folks! Been busy hosting and planning more trips, which I’m excited to share with you in upcoming posts!

A few weeks ago (can’t believe how fast time is flying), Jaro and I enjoyed a nice long weekend in Istanbul. Coming off the backend of our multi-week family trip in Ukraine (more on that here and here), it was the perfect retreat for us to reconnect. We arrived in the evening on a Thursday, and were relieved to immediately remove our jackets. Finally, some less depressing warm weather! We were met by our gracious host (from our Housetrip booking) at the bus stop, who led us to our cute apartment in the Beyoglu neighborhood, near Galata Tower. In fact, we had a view of it from our terrace, see:

A sliver of Galata Tower

So pretty! After wandering the streets of our temporary ‘hood for a while, we landed on dinner at our host’s suggestion, Güney Restaurant, near Galata. Um, have you ever had Turkish ravioli? Or pitta with herbs and cheese? I hadn’t either before this trip and had NO idea what I was missing. Now I wish it could be in my life every single day. With a side of yogurt dip. Let’s just say, this was my face after trying it:

The look of satisfaction

Friday, we got after it. Checked out all the major sites in Old City – Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque. Paid for entry into each attraction, so worth it.

Jaro inside Hagia Sophia

Me inside the Blue Mosque

But here’s a freebie – The tulip gardens in the area around the Palace were absolutely incredible! They were all perfectly in bloom and just gorgeous. Did you know that tulips originated from Turkey before they were exported to the Netherlands? Fun fact for ya. Anyway, I’ll add some more scenic pics separately after the post. I was blown away by the magnitude of these structures. Truly awe-inspiring. Throw in plenty of sunshine, friendly people, good food and you have yourself a day. That night we headed back to Galata Tower, climbed it, dominated it, and felt that earned us beers and a gluttonous dinner on Nevizade, one of the craziest restaurant streets I have ever seen. It’s a hectic, chaotic combination of the food carts in Marrakech, with the repetitiveness of Barcelona and the harassment of Brussels. It was insane. But awesome. We found a great place (read: a great host that didn’t try to harass me) and enjoyed dinner on the sidewalk.

Saturday was “let’s be adults and make a big purchase while we are here” day. We always get things for our home when we travel so we have decor from all over the place, but this was a big deal. We shoved our bodies through the sardine-can-like Grand Bazaar and bought a carpet rug. That’s right, a Turkish… rug. Doesn’t have quite the same ring as Turkish carpet, but it’ll do. The difference between the two is that carpets are knotted and rugs are woven. And while also cheaper, I honestly preferred the rug anyway because I felt it was more youthful and modern. All the carpets looked like they were for old people too traditional for my taste. We ended up with this great piece that we both love and it is getting trampled laying nicely in our office area. I still don’t like the process of haggling with these salesmen though. I always end up feeling guilt-tripped into buying something and that our offer is humiliating to them. I’d like to know how many mid-twenty-somethings walk in there and plunk down hundreds of Euro for a carpet rug. I’ll guess NOT MANY, so back off while we consider if this investment is worthwhile!!! He was even a little … mean about it. I felt Istanbullied! Oh God, okay, I’m done. I just can’t get enough of the bad puns, what can I say.

Anyway, spent that evening taking a sunset cruise up the Bosporus. So lovely! Sunset is the best lighting for landscape photography. I was going nuts. Afterward, we had our small world encounter. I met up with my bestie’s roommate from college who was also traveling through the city that same weekend! The powers of facebook and social media, scary sometimes when they allow these chance rendezvous to happen. SO wonderful to see a familiar, beautiful face. We ended up hanging out in Beyoglu, on Istiklal for a bit and then back over to Nevizade and rounded out the night at Galata Tower again, where we sat on newspapers and talked, drank beers and listened to music until 2am. So fun.

Sunday, Jaro and I headed over to the Asian side of the city by ferry. After experiencing a fancy spa-like hamam in Morocco, I was bound and determined to try an authentic Turkish bath. We heard from friends that the ones on the Asian side were the real deal, less geared toward the tourist. Sign me up! We ended up at hamam Aziziye. Don’t be fooled by the English text. NO ONE in that place spoke English. And I was the most comfortable with being uncomfortable that I’ve ever been. First of all, Jaro and I went in the separate male/female entrances (a guess based on a man walking out of one of them), this was no ‘couples retreat’. Once I was inside, it looked like a locker room, complete with half naked Turkish women whispering over tea. They were all incredibly gracious to me, I felt like they were just happy to see someone new in there trying it out! Those situations can be intimidating, but this one definitely wasn’t. I just made sure to keep smiling. Once I was undressed (sorry if this is TMI), one of the women led me through a door that opened into a magnificent sauna bathhouse. I was in! Beautiful marble floors and benches, along with tiled walls and domed ceilings greeted me! What a space! I couldn’t believe it based on the outside of the building, which just looks like any storefront. I stood there just staring and the woman waited patiently while I marveled. She then demonstrated the “bathhouse” process of sitting and pouring bowls of water on yourself. Seriously, not too shabby. Then she left me in there to enjoy and relax. Unbelievably, I was the only person in the place. I soaked it up, quite literally. I slowly realized I didn’t request the scrub down or massage I had seen on the website. So I padded over to the door, opened it, had 24 eyes staring back at me and I made a scrubbing motion on my arm to explain I wanted that done. With a flick of the wrist, a woman told me to go back inside. Like a chastised child, I obliged.

A few minutes later (or 15..), a women came in and instructed for me to lay on the marble slab in the center of the room. I obeyed, laid face down, and proceeded to get scrubbed. And when I say scrubbed, I mean, scrubbed. Seeing all the dead skin rolling up on my arm was strangely satisfying. A swift slap to my butt and I knew I was supposed to roll over. That process was followed with a healthy splashing of cold water (so invigorating!) and a quick, rough massage with the best smelling eucalyptus oil I have ever sniffed. And a shampoo! I was really, really, really clean. Squeaky clean. But also soft from all that oil.

After a little more lounging, I guessed it had been an hour and headed out to meet Jaro. He had the same silly grin as I did as we approached each other. So, did I sell you on it? If not, let’s talk again. It was that awesome. Best 20 Euro I ever spent. That’s right, that hour of bliss was 20 Euro. I guess it’s not for everyone, you have to be totally comfortable wearing your birthday suit in front of others, and I suppose some germaphobes could worry about hygiene. …Over it! Here we are having lunch afterwards, smiling like goofs:

J+J and a Goblin

After some shopping (Turkish bathrobes!) and strolling, we headed back to European side. That night, we not-embarrassingly-at-all went back to Guney. Listen, you guys, I NEVER repeat a restaurant when I travel. It was just that good and super close to our apartment.

And that was that. We headed out on Monday morning back to Kiev. I surprised myself with how much I loved visiting this city. Beautiful scenery, great food, (mostly) friendly city, interesting history…. the list goes on. Istanbul’s got it all. It’s this crazy juxtaposition of old and new, rich and poor, happy and sad, bullies and friends. But that all makes the world go round, right? I can’t wait to go back. I leave you with this:

Turkish ravioli

xxx

Weekend Wrap Up

Hey friends. So last week, I was really jazzed about doing this weekly post. Until I really didn’t do much this weekend and don’t have anything to write about… Awkward silence.

Okay, that’s not true. I did do stuff. I do things when my husband travels for work and I don’t tag along. When you live in a foreign country and are not planning on ever currently working, there is no excuse. There is always something new and cool to check out. I will write a separate post about my thoughts on traveling while being an expat wife this week actually. Stay tuned!

So Thursday (my weekends can start when I want them to). Thursday started my weekend. I saw the forecast, saw a bright, sunny sun, and 15 degree temps, so I headed to a popular warm weather destination here is the Netherlands – Scheveningen. This coastal town, just a skip from Den Haag, is our very own version of the Jersey Shore. No, I don’t mean Snooki or MTV, I mean a huge boardwalk filled with tons of sidewalk cafes and lots of activities for the kiddies. Tons of people were strolling around (on a Thursday, suspiciously), and enjoying the sunshine. Like this scene in picture #1:

Scheveningen's beachside cafes

And this is just the very end of the boardwalk. It stretched quite a ways in the other direction (aka: In the direction of the sun. aka: Horrible front-lit photos.) Notice how huge the beach is also? Can’t wait to party here in the summer!

On Friday night, I had some girlfriends over for dinner and cooked the delicious feast seen in picture #2:

Dinner with friends

You can’t tell because I didn’t spend the time to take a decent picture, but it’s stuffed chicken & baked goat cheese salad with bacon-wrapped scallops and a gigantic plate of cheese. Yum!

Saturday was a bit of a bust for me. I’ll admit it. I just wasn’t feeling like going out and the inevitable consequences I would have to deal with on Sunday. So what did I do instead? Maybe picture #3 is a hint:

The Blue Mosque

No, I didn’t escape town for the day, I booked a new trip! That’s right – Jaro & I are going to Istanbul, Turkey! After experiencing the incredible culture of Morocco that I wrote about at length here, here & here, I’m so curious about and excited to visit another Muslim country. Jaro has been there and swears I’ll love it, which makes me that much more pumped. We’re going at the end of April, which I hear is a great time to go. Yay!

Sunday I woke up at 8am. Feeling refreshed, excited and, guess what, not hungover! So I hopped on my bike and pedaled off to Vondelpark and the city was the quietest I have EVER seen it. Pure bliss. It was a bit soggy outside, but I managed to snap this beautiful shot for picture #4:

Spring has sprung in Amsterdam!

When I actually love on my camera a bit, it loves me back! I then had lunch with one of my high school teachers who is also an expat in Europe. It’s incredible to me to have these new connections and re-connections with people here (as in, across the pond) from my life back home. Gives me that good “it’s a small world after all” feeling. Love it.

So there you have it. My weekend wrap up. Did you all have a good weekend? Anyone else out there flying solo and making the best of it?

xxx