Hyvää juhannusta

Today is midsummer’s eve in Finland, and so many Finns are away for the weekend at their country homes. My host showed me around this morning, and we stopped at the beach and Seurasaari, a countryside-like town. Helsinki is a pretty small town, but the architecture is beautiful. There are lots of old building exteriors that have been renovated inside to house things like restaurants and shops (similar to DC, actually!). In the afternoon I visited a couple of old churches and had some tea (many shops and museums are closed for the holiday), and tomorrow I might head to Suomenlinna, an island with a fortress that was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s supposed to be beautiful! This evening I am headed to a midsummer bonfire in a nearby park, an old Finnish tradition to welcome summer. Some also have maypoles, and many choose to enjoy saunas during this holiday. Though many shops will open again tomorrow and Sunday,  there are a few that have signs saying that they will be closed throughout the summer because the owners are away at their country homes.


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“Can I put some more löyly?”

I have arrived! I reached Helsinki at about 7:30 this morning,  after about 3 hours of sleep. I very slowly made it to my Airbnb, where my host kindly greeted me with options to have coffee and porridge. Needless to say, I was soon eating after a shower. My host, Rose, told me that there was a nice park behind the building, so I took my journal and set up camp there for about an hour. I bought some groceries and took myself out to lunch at a Nepalese restaurant (of which there are many), and did what every sensible traveler does – got myself properly lost (calm down, it was intentional) and found my way back so that I could get a bearing for Helsinki. I ended my day at Löyly, a new sauna that has both smoke and stone saunas, as well as stairs leading into the water (the word löyly refers to the steam that rises off of hot stones in thr sauna when you pour it onto them – remember, the Finns invented saunas! Geniuses). As in the ocean. As in the Baltic Sea. Normally I would’ve been too chicken to do this, but when with Finns…
And let. Me. Tell. You. Until you have felt the contrasts between sweating out of more pores than you thought existed, seeing the steam rise off of your body when you step outside into the cold and rainy weather, and feeling the pain of icy cold water (I actually cried aloud) – I tell you, you haven’t lived, my friend! A standard visit at Löyly is 2 hours, but I could have stayed all day. The Finns, they really know how to sauna. While there, I was chatting with a Finnish man and his American daughter, both of whom gave me some lovely suggestions of things to do, to go along with some other suggestions I’d gotten from another local. Tomorrow…we’ll see!

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Next up: Scandinavia

It’s that time of year again – where I grab my passport, camera, and head out into the world to see what foods I can eat, people I can watch, and sights I can see. This year, I’ll be spending 17 days going to Finland (Helsinki), Stockholm (Sweden), Copenhagen (Denmark), and Oslo (Norway). It’s always been a bucket list item to go to Norway, and for some reason I decided that I don’t like money all that much anyway, so hey, why not add some more of the most expensive countries in the world? That being said, I much prefer spending my money on experiences than things (I say this while typing on a very old computer that dies when not plugged in).

There are a few things that will make this trip particularly different than my Amsterdam trip:

  • Local hosts. I am not staying at a hotel this time, but rather, using Airbnb to stay with locals in each country (with the exception of a layover I have in Iceland). I hope that this will add to the experience and that my hosts will have some nice suggestions of what to do.
  • No daily itinerary. That’s right. Believe what you just read. I, Planner of All The Things, Organizer Extraordinaire, Lover of Type A-ness, do not have an itinerary. There are a few things that I would like to do in each city (who could miss the Pippi Longstocking or ABBA museums?), but other than that, I’m going to just…go with the flow? Here’s to trying out this new life thing where I don’t plan every detail of every day and see what life brings to me. You can be certain that it will be uncomfortable for me at times.
  • Lengthy trip. At this point, 2 days before I leave, I’m feeling just a little silly about my second ever solo trip being 3 times the length of the first one. There really isn’t much more to say about it – oh, well! The flights have been booked!
  • Just 1 backpack. Is all I’m taking with me. As in, a carry-on (and not a backpacker’s backpack – a school-sized backpack). 1 backpack, 4 outfits, 1 camera, no hairspray. I’m going to travel, not lug stuff around Europe. Honestly, my biggest concern (as usual) is how many books I’ll be able to bring with me.

So bring on the pastries, potatoes, and fish, Scandinavia! I’m ready for you (I think).

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Amsterdam, Netherlands


I was particularly excited for this trip because it was the first time I have ever taken a trip completely independently, from booking to planning to actually going. It was a huge step and, though I am still reflecting from the trip, it was a great way to end the school year and kick off the summer with some quality alone time.

Day 1

It was a long flight from BWI to Iceland, but we finally arrived at the Keflavik airport, only to find that the Amsterdam flight was delayed! I took the extra hour to get a much-needed coffee, nutella croissant (Ah! The true sign of Europe) and Icelandic yogurt before the flight. The flight to Amsterdam was only about two hours, but combine jet lag with a child kicking your seat and it feels like forever. After the flight, I picked up my suitcase and got an iAmsterdam card, which gave me unlimited access to public transport for 72 hours, as well as some freebies and discounts to attractions around the city. I took a taxi to my hotel, where I checked in to a lovely and spacious (by European standards) room. After a quick shower (with the most delicious-smelling shampoo from Mauritius) and a granola bar, I was off again. I hopped on the tram (since I was not staying in the city center), and took it all the way to Centraal Station because, hey, why not? Next up, a free 1-hour canal cruise courtesy of that snazzy card I referenced earlier. I normally tend to shy away from the typical touristy things, but this girl is not turning down free activities! The cruise was mediocre, but it was still nice to see the canals and houseboats. I learned a bit about the architecture and its history in Amsterdam. It was a bit chilly, but in a brisk, motivating sort of way. So, feeling motivated, I walked on a main road for the next 2-3 hours, following the tram track so I’d have the option to hop back on it if I wanted. I scoped out a few of the things I have on my agenda this week and got my bearings. I also went exploring in a grocery store (one of my favorite travel traditions) and came out with toothpaste (nothing exotic, I’d just forgotten) and stroopwafels, the crunchy Dutch waffle cracker. This is my tasty treat for the week. I also peeped in on a lovely souvenir shop, just to see what I would be dealing with. In all of my years of traveling, I can confidently say that Amsterdam has the highest quality of souvenirs. I also saw a couple of Indonesian restaurants, and made a mental note, since this particular cuisine was highly recommended to me by multiple people. I made it all the way to the Rijksmuseum and the museum square and enjoyed a brie and tomato baguette and hot chocolate for dinner. Sitting on the edge of a fountain, I did some serious people-watching before getting on the tram so that I could go back to the hotel by dark.

Loneliness: 0

Frustration: 0

Thus far, Amsterdam is treating me well and the Dutch are lovely. Tomorrow, I’ll wake up looking forward to a leisurely morning spent in the Anne Frank Huis and the Tulip Museum. This will be followed by a relaxing afternoon in the Bloemenmarkt. Now, back to my stroopwafels…

Day 2

What an exhausting day! It was a packed day, starting with a hotel breakfast of beans, eggs, tomatoes, Dutch pancakes with chocolate syrup, coffee, feta cheese, fruit, olives and brie on baguette. Then a quick stop in my room to grab my belongings and I was off! I made it to the Anne Frank Huis and proceeded to stand in line for 3 hours. Luckily, there were two lovely English girls and a mother-daughter duo from Ohio behind me, and we ended up chatting for a couple of hours (because conversation is inevitable in lines that long). The Anne Frank Huis was wonderful. It has been one of my bucket list items for years to see the Secret Annex, and it was as real and powerful as I’d imagined. Obviously I couldn’t leave without goodies, so armed with souvenirs, I headed to a café I’d had my eye on while in line. It turns out it was one of the oldest cafes in Amsterdam! I treated myself to a light lunch of tomato soup and a cheese and tomato “toastie” (it’s a good thing I’m working on my tomato tolerance – they are everywhere here!). I wanted to save room for a nice gouter (French for an afternoon snack) later. Then it was off to the Tulip Museum (free admission with that iAmsterdam card!). Did you know that the word “turban” is derived from the word tulband, which means tulip? There was lots of information about the tulip’s popularization in Turkey – how ironic! Turkey is what brought both me and the tulip to the Netherlands, so hats off to you, former Constantinople!

Then it was off to Dam Square and the Scheltema bookstore – a five story bookstore. Yes, to answer your question – I was in heaven. Leaving cold, rainy, brisk weather to step into a warm, cozy bookstore was just where I needed to spend a long time before exiting with – of course – books. With directions from someone at the bookstore, I headed to the Bloemenmarkt, the outdoor flower market. Rain or shine, the tulip sales will prevail! Upon browsing each stall carefully, I chose the USA-certified bulbs to bring back and was off on a mission again – this time in need of a warm beverage and snack. A cup of hot chocolate and a Belgian waffle with ice cream and chocolate sauce were soon in my possession (the Belgian waffles I had in Amsterdam were not like the ones in the United States – they are crunchier and chewier, with a sugary coating).

Freshly fueled, I headed off in search of a souvenir shop I saw yesterday and loved. I got a few more souvenirs and stopped at an Indonesian restaurant I had also seen the day before. It was a tapas-style restaurant, and I ate at the bar. The waiter was very kind and brought me a lunch portion of assorted tapas with vegetarian dishes. It was tasty, but Indonesian food would not, as it turns out, make my list of top 5 favorite ethnic cuisines.

The Dutch are incredibly kind and I’m continuing to enjoy myself thoroughly! I got back to the hotel at 9:15 and it still wasn’t dark outside!

Loneliness: 0

Frustration: 0

I’m looking forward to a visit to the AMI Headquarters tomorrow, as well as the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. No stroopwafels today – that gouter and filling dinner did me in!

Note: There is a lovely type of blue-printed porcelain in Holland called Delft blue. This pattern on porcelain is on various things (dishes, clocks, teapots, etc.) and is a pattern that was introduced to the Dutch by the Chinese.

Day 3

I woke up a little later today and had breakfast before heading out around 9:30 for the AMI headquarters. I got there a little bit early and wandered. When I rang the doorbell, a woman named Nina (who works on fundraising for the AMI headquarters expansion, and helps with office administration) answered the door. She and I had a coffee and chatted about my experience in Amsterdam and with the Montessori world. She gave me a tour, even showing me the elevator that Maria Montessori used since she was so old when she lived in Amsterdam. I also got to see Maria’s study and desk!* We then headed to the library and Nina told me about the expansion of the headquarters. I spent some more time in the area before hopping on the tram again to go to the Rijksmuseum. It was enormous! It reminded me of the Biltmore Estate. There was a fashion magazine exhibit called “New for Now.” I truly did get lost a few times. By the time I found my way out, I was famished and enjoyed a veggie dog (with the works – cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, etc.) on the fountain. It was an absolutely beautiful day outside! I then wandered over to the Rijksmusem Garden that Nina had mentioned to me earlier that day. After relaxing and enjoying the sun, I wandered through an open grassy area, past the Concert/Opera House, then back around to the Van Gogh Museum. I love Van Gogh and impressionism, as well as art movements around and based on impressionism, so it was a lovely visit. After that, I headed back to the Rijksmuseum Garden to bask on a bench in the alternately cooling and heating of the soft sun and gentle breeze. After enjoying the beautiful weather some more, I headed off to a falafel and French fry street restaurant I’d seen a few days earlier (notice a trend with my food choices here?). If there’s anything Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern and years of travel and eating taught me, it’s this – always air on the side of street food. I had a huge falafel sandwich and some fries with curry sauce, mayonnaise and onions. No room for dessert today! After a short walk around the block, I got back on the tram and headed for the hotel around 6:40 to have some time to read and drink a cup of tea.

Tomorrow will be a relaxing day as I explore the Jordaan area (another recommendation from Nina) and Vondelpark to picnic, people-watch and journal.

*Did you know that many of the sandpaper letters are based on Maria Montessori’s handwriting? Cursive was so much more beautiful back then!

Day 4

My final day in Amsterdam was spent wandering. After a late start, I explored the Jordaan area and Dam Square. I had Indonesian food again for lunch (Kintijl de tijger): potato, pickled cucumber, tofu, cabbage, fish/shrimp dumplings in peanut soy sauce – this meal was much more enjoyable than the first Indonesian meal I enjoyed!

I then headed toward Vondelpark and stopped in the Magnum ice cream shop. They had a create-your-own-Magnum ice cream bar. Mine was meringue, caramelized hazelnuts and freeze-dried raspberries with a classic chocolate shell and a white chocolate drizzle. I finally understood what I always thought was over-the-top, excessively sensual Magnum commercials – it really is that good! I ate my ice cream in Vondelpark and am writing this as I enjoy some sun in the park.

I strolled over to Museumplein and had a brie sandwich for dinner, then took some pictures and hopped on the tram to go back to the hotel to prepare for my departure tomorrow!

Noteworthy words/mentions:

-kaas – cheese

-takk – bye

-stroopwafel – syrup waffle that can be placed on top of a cup of tea or coffee so that the syrup inside melts and the eater is treated to a delectable snack

-when crossing the street in Amsterdam – beware of the bicyclists!

-one Dutch food is hering (herring), which is eaten by holding the tail, holding the fish up, and starting at the head

Thanks for a lovely stay, Amsterdam! What a great city to explore all by myself.

“When she was a child,
my love carried a road map in her hand
the way other girls carried handkerchiefs.”
― Roman PayneThe Wanderess

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Reykjavik, Iceland

In April, my dad and I ventured into Iceland (the land of fire and ice, as it is often referred to). Below is an account of our week in Reykjavik!

Day 1

We arrived early at our hotel, and spent a few hours eating breakfast and resting. After some rest, we decided to walk to Hallgrimskirkja, a large iconic church in Reykjavik. It’s on many postcards, and we were able to take an elevator to the top and get a lovely view of all of Reykjavik. We then meandered over to the harbor for a photo op – it was absolutely breathtaking to see the clouds, mountains and sea all at once. By then, it was time for us to check in, so after a quick shower and a nap, we headed out again! This time we ventured into the city center and checked out a few souvenir shops. When we left the hotel, it was fairly gray and cold, but within 15 minutes, in classic Iceland fashion, a blizzard descended upon us and we ducked into a café for tea and a snack. My dad ordered the cream of asparagus soup – I’d like to pause here and sing the praises of Iceland’s diary products. The cheese, yogurt, buttermilk, butter and cream are among the most delicious and high-quality dairy products I have ever tasted in my life. You can bet your bottom dollar there is no rBGH in sight in Iceland! After our snack, we headed back to our hotel to rest up for the next day.

Day 2

One of my observations in Iceland was how much ethnic cuisine there is! Nepalese, Thai, Indian, and even a “Chuck Norris” grill were along the streets of the city center. We started off our Monday morning with the Harpa concert hall, which is an incredibly beautiful and jaw-dropping work of architecture. There were hundreds of irregular hexagons and pentagons all over the façade of the building. When we first entered, there was a sign at the information desk informing visitors that the desk was “closed for a family event.” Another pause here to discuss Icelandic culture – it was lovely to note how much emphasis the culture puts on life outside the workplace. In the United States, everything is always open on time, regardless of the personal life. However, in Reykjavik, many stores opened later, around 10, and closed fairly early (with the exception of some particularly touristy stores) in order for families to have time to buy groceries and be home in time for dinner. How nice it would be if the US put some more focus on other aspects of life and less on workaholism.

After Harpa, we headed to the Saga Museum, which I highly recommend to anyone who visits Reykjavik. It is a wax figure museum with an audio guide that explains the history of Iceland. Did you know that Icelandic is the closest to the original Nordic language, as it has been isolated from the rest of the world (unlike other Scandinavian countries whose languages have changed with other European influences)? Also, Leif Ericsson found America almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus did (take that!)! After learning lots of lovely facts, we strolled over to a Catholic cathedral, and then stopped for a warm drink, as the weather continued to change every 5 minutes. After some light shopping, we stopped in a beautiful restaurant for lunch (which turned out to be one of the oldest buildings in Reykjavik). I ordered the fish stew, which came in a deceptively small bowl as I couldn’t even finish it! This was rather disappointing to me as it had some wonderful Icelandic cream and cheese in it, but alas, the stomach can only hold so much. After lunch we went back to Harpa concert hall for “Iceland Encapsulated,” a 360 show that briefly showed many different parts of Iceland. Unfazed by its mediocrity, we pushed on to do some more shopping and stopped in a cozy bookstore and had some more coffee (anticipating seeing the Northern Lights that evening). We then returned to the hotel to find out that the Northern Lights tour had been postponed due to the weather, which was disappointing (especially since we had had about 3 cups of coffee throughout the day at this point). However, our whale watching tour for the next day was not cancelled, which did brighten our spirits. After a delicious meal at a Thai restaurant, we proceeded to remain awake much later than we wanted before finally drifting off.

Day 3

After breakfast, a light stroll and a stop at a grocery store, we were picked up by a van to go on our whale watching tour! It was a very stormy day, and extremely cold, and there were full-body overalls for everyone to wear to stay dry and warm. The water was incredibly choppy, but there was no way I was going to go whale-watching and risk not seeing one! It was hard to see, but we did spot a humpback whale feeding and doing its signature tail flip above water.

After a very choppy and cold ride, we warmed up with an evening “lunch” of delicious noodle soup and went back to the hotel to rest until the Northern Lights tour. Our van came to pick us up around 9, and after collecting some others, we got on a larger bus that took us out into the middle of the Icelandic wilderness, where we waited some time before, luckily, seeing one of my major bucket list items. The lights are incredibly beautiful in person! They are most commonly green and blue (red and purple are extremely rare), and are in the shape of arches when there is no wind. Camera photos (such as mine) portray different colors, so though there are different colors in the photos, the lights we saw were actually light green and yellow. At the very end, we were incredibly fortunate to witness this amazing aurora borealis in the form of a dome above our heads. It was truly breath-taking, and, accompanied by gasps, oohs and aahs from all of the spectators, a magical experience.

Day 4

This was a fairly mellow day as we took a bus to Hafnarfjórdur, a fishing village outside Reykjavik. Unfortunately, all of the museums were closed (keep in mind that our visit was during the off-season), but we were able to peek into an exhibit at the fine arts museum. The exhibit was called MEN; it was about men and their changing roles in society. We also went to the “elf garden,” where visitors are supposed to try and find hidden people in the rock formations. After our morning in Hafnarfjórdur, we headed back to Reykjavik for soup and a sub at the Lobster Hut, and some walking around in the city center accompanied by a Belgian waffle with nutella gelato and hot chocolate. We spend the rest of the day strolling, resting and walking by the waterfront, ending it with delicious Thai soup for dinner.

Day 5

This day was spent doing the Golden Circle tour, which includes Pingvellir park, the Gulfoss Waterfall and a geysir. We started with a visit to Pingvellir park, where the Althing (the world’s first Parliament meeting) took place. For all of you Game of Thrones fans, yes, this is where some of the series was filmed, and the tectonic plates make for a beautiful setting for a walk in the drizzling, misting rain. After that we headed to the Gulfoss waterfall. It was pretty, but (and I know I am spoiled with wonderful travel experiences when I say this) not as jaw-dropping as Iguazú in Argentina! We then moved on to the original geyser (called Geysir), the first geyser ever found and named (the etymology of the word is actually Icelandic), and popped over to the original Icelandic national cathedral, ending with a visit go a geothermal power plant.

Day 6

Our final full day in Iceland was spent at the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spring. Everything was bright blue (think the color of toothpaste), and we could see the steam coming up off of the water! There were also warm hotspots around the lagoon, and buckets of silica mud masks which made your skin taut but was a nice exfoliant. It was cold outside, so we soaked in the water for about an hour and a half before exiting to shower (where algae and mineral shampoo and conditioners were provided). We had Thai food again for lunch, and finished up some souvenir/gift shopping before a nice dinner at a restaurant called Harry’s café where I had a delicious filet of grilled salmon. The next morning, we packed up and left Iceland! All in all, it was a lovely trip. If any of you ever choose to go there, I would recommend just 3-4 days in Reykjavik, and the rest of the time spent traveling around the rest of the country during the summer or winter (so that you either have beautiful views of snowy mountains or grassy knolls; we ended up with sort of a brown, muddy view of everything).

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Many of you know of my recent excursion to Turkey! I find that the best way to post about this is to post all of my adventures on one post, one day at a time, including our very short time in Amsterdam, since I journaled each night on what little paper I could get my hands on. Here goes!

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Day 1 (Thurs, 4/10)

We got off the plane to an insane line in customs, but once we got through, we enjoyed a scenic shuttle ride to our hotel, with the Turkish driver using his broken English to point out a fish market, remnants of the old wall of Constantinople, the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque and (at last! at long last!) the Hagia Sophia – which we stopped directly behind, as that’s where our hotel was. In the Ritz, you find chocolates on your pillow. At the Ottoman Imperial, you’re greeted with a fresh glass of hibiscus tea and Turkish delight on your pillow. Turkish delight, people. So far, I love Turkey!

After settling in to our hotel, we had a light dinner and attempted conversation with the kind-faced Kurdish man who worked there. As we walked back to the hotel, we passed a shivering young boy on a doorstep in the rain. Even the most exciting of trips don’t allow anyone to tune out those in need.

We returned to a front seat view to a huge group of Egyptians chanting about something or another, just in time to hear the 9:10 call to prayer, which was extremely exciting for me!

Day 2 (Friday, 4/11)

First, we had breakfast in the hotel. I had a delicious black olive spread, fresh figs, börek (a cheese pastry), coffee and menemen, a dish with egg, red pepper and green olives. Next we went to the Aya Sofya, what I’d been waiting for ever since I started my work in Religious Studies! I was ecstatic, and we spent 1 1/2-2 hours admiring the exposed mosaics and relishing the history of the church-converted-mosque-converted museum. Upon exiting the museum, we accidentally tried to enter the men’s side of the nearby hamam (Turkish bathhouse)…whoops. We stopped in a mausoleum and went shopping in the Arasta Bazaar, experiencing the full extent of Turkish hospitality, from sampling literally every kind of Turkish delight they had, then leaving all of our spices, teas and goodies in the shop while we received a restaurant recommendation, where we ate a ridiculously enormous meal consisting of fresh stuffed grape leaves as meze (Turkish starters/appetizers/tapas), lentil soup, a kebap for my mother, and a seafood salad with fresh and perfectly-seasoned seafood. After some complimentary tea and baklava (YUM), we stumbled on to our waiter’s cousin’s store (seriously, everyone in Istanbul seems to know each other…Turks are phenomenal sales people!) and bought some more treasures. Next, on to the Blue Mosque and Kücük Aya Sofya (Little Aya Sofya) and then back to the hotel to drop off our things, have dinner and walk around some more.

Day 3 (Sat, 4/12)

Another delicious breakfast of eggs, ekmek (bread), olive spread, figs, Turkish coffee (which I actually enjoyed!) and kiwi. We took a cab to the Western District to see the lovely Chora Church, followed by a long, adventurous walk through the winding streets, getting different directions from 3 different people, until finally coming upon the church of St. Stephen of the Bulgars, which was closed, and ending at the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate. After this, we headed to the Grand Bazaar, which was a sensory overload experience of epic proportion, and then the Sahaflar Carsisi, the Book Bazaar, where we bought some art.

We braved the public transportation of Istanbul (which was actually phenomenal) and had tea and baklava right outside Topkapi palace before entering and seeing the palace and harem quarters. We went to the hotel, stopping at a small handicrafts store on the way, and took a quick rest and journal break before dinner. We went to a small, lovely jewelry and antiques shop near the restaurant where we ate lunch yesterday (Friday), and then went to the same restaurant where we had a very long meal – a few hours spent at dinner, where we were then joined by our new friend from yesterday (the one who owned the store where we bought some lovely things) for tea. Exhausted, we finally went back to the hotel for a good night’s rest.

Day 4 (Sun, 4/13)

We thought we’d head over to Aya Eirene for mass (a small church on the grounds of Topkapi Palace), but it was closed! A wild goose chase ensued via public transport, ending in mass in English at the cathedral of St. Anthony of Padua in Beyoglu. After mass, we took the Marmaray (an underwater metro to the Asian side of Istanbul) to Kadiköy, a gorgeous coastal area where we had a delicious lunch and wandered around fish markets and outdoor bazaars. After returning on the ferry, we went to the Cemberlitas hamam, where we encountered and experienced a hot marble room, lots of scrubbing, being covered of at least 2 inches of soap and a soak in a hot tub. After stopping at our hotel to moisturize and deodorize, we went back to the same shop as yesterday to spend some more time, where I bought a few souvenirs. We had a quick dinner and packed to leave the next day (Monday) for our 5-day Aegean tour!

Day 5 (Mon, 4/14)

Please excuse how short the following posts are – there was not much time to write on these days, so I essentially just wrote a list of everything we did!

We were picked up by the bus at 6:30 am at our hotel, and joined by the rest of our group shortly thereafter. First, we went to Gallipolli, stopping to see various trenches, sites and monuments, as well as the Anzac memorial. When we went to the Turkish site, a group of Turkish girls (let’s say early high school age) approached me and mimed with their camera. As I reached for it, they pulled away, shook their heads, and pointed at me. “Oh, you want a photo with me?” I asked/mimed. Yes. Safe to assume it’s because of this crazy curly hair of mine? We took many, many photos, and, satisfied, they wandered off to their somewhat frustrated teacher.

At this point, I am learning how the letters in the Turkish alphabet sound, so during the long bus rides between stops, I’m reading everything I see! Alas, I don’t know how to use various characters on the computer to write in Turkish here, but these are the English equivalents of the words I learned in Turkish:

Hello. Good morning. Please. One water, please. Numbers 1-5. Thank you. Thank you very much. Where is…? I do not understand. Bread.

Pretty good, eh?

Day 6 (Tues, 4/15)

After breakfast, we left Hotel Iris to go to Troy. Not the most exciting trip, but interesting to be there anyhow. After an incredibly long drive following Troy, we stopped for lunch and headed to Pergamon and the Acropolis which, as I wrote in my journal, was amazingly wonderful – it was beautiful and we had views of the entire city (although the amphitheater was so high it seemed dangerous). After much more driving, we got to another hotel and had a quick dinner before bed. While riding in the bus, it was interesting to reflect on how many minarets I was seeing as opposed to steeples. It was a different experience to be in a country where there are more mosques than churches, often 2-3 in a 5-10 block radius.

Day 7 (Weds, 4/16)

We started out at Ephesus on this beautiful morning and saw many temples and the enormous library! We also got to talk about some mythology, both Greek and Roman, including the stories of Hermes and Medusa. We stopped at a women’s carpet-weaving cooperative, where the government sends women from remote and poorer villages to learn to weave carpets by hand, a lost art form. We saw some women weaving beautiful carpets, on different-sized looms and with various threads. We also saw how silk is made, from the cocoon to how it is spun and then dyed. Followed by this, our entire group enjoyed some rolling around on various carpets made from wool, cotton and (our favorite!) silk.

For lunch, we had gözleme, a sort of Turkish crepe filled with vegetables and/or meat (mine had potato, spinach, onion and Turkish feta cheese). After having way too much gözleme, of course we had to have ice cream – so we went to the village of Sirince for shopping and dessert. The ice cream we had, dondurma, has orchid seeds in it (the ice cream is not crunchy), which makes it very chewy. It was pretty good – I had a chocolate and vanilla cone. The most interesting part about ordering this ice cream is that the vendor scoops it with a long metal pole with a small spatula on the end and lifts it in the air, often waving it on the street. It looks like a long chunk of taffy is being stretched out. The vendors also love to play tricks on those who buy it, pretending to put ice cream in their cone and then snatching it away, or attaching a rubber band to the cone and then yanking it before the person can eat it; a young boy on our our experienced this, but he had a great sense of humor about it and we all enjoyed the show.

After dessert, my mother and I headed to St. John the Baptist’s Basilica and then the grounds where the Virgin Mary most recently lived, where there is a small chapel now. There were few people as it was the end of the day, but it was peaceful. After returning to the hotel, we went to a Turkish supermarket, tried to see the sunset (failed finding the harbor), attempted to pick oranges off of some trees (again, failed, as I was not tall enough to reach even the shortest-hanging orange) and had dinner at the hotel before tucking in.

Day 8 (Thurs, 4/17)

Our day started with a “fashion show” at the Baggio Rossini leather factory. As a vegetarian, I was less than impressed with the lamb leather coats and clothing, but it was interesting to see that these manufacturers supply for much larger, famous labels such as Chanel and the like.

For lunch, we had pide, which is like the Turkish version of a pizza – or so they claim. In reality, it was a pita-like flatbread with toppings, no sauce, and only cheese if you asked for it, which I foolishly did not, so I ended up with a salad on top of pita bread which I desperately tried to season with chili, red pepper, salt and finally some slabs of Turkish feta cheese (which is incredibly delicious and, in my opinion, better than the Greek feta that is sold in the US).

On our way to Hierapolis and Pamukkale (where we saw hot springs and terraces where even Cleopatra once bathed!), our tour guide told us about Turkish marriage customs. Way back when, women used to put glass bottles on their roofs when they wanted to signal that they were ready to get married. Sometimes, these bottles might indicate something about the women (a short, round bottle vs. a tall thin bottle…maybe this was our tour guide making fun, but I’ll never know!). When a man and woman want to get married (and I believe this is what happens today, but it also might be something that mostly happened in the past), the bridegroom’s family goes to visit the bride’s family. The two eldest members of the family do most of the conversing, and everyone continues asking, “How are you? How are you? How are you?” for a very long time, after which the eldest member of the groom’s family asks the eldest member of the bride’s family for the bride’s hand in marriage for the groom. At this point, the eldest member of the bride’s family asks the groom various questions (about gambling, drinking, salary, etc.). Once the family agrees to the engagement, the bride brings in coffee (normal, European coffee for everyone), but with an especially disgusting cup for the groom. Think back to those times you were bored in a restaurant and put all sorts of seasonings and sauces together to make “witch’s brew.” Now add coffee. Essentially, that’s what it is – and here’s the catch: the groom has to drink the entire cup without making any faces or sound, as a reflection of how he will act during the marriage. HA!

After spending some time at the terraces and wading in the warm water, we headed back to the hotel for a belly dancing show and dinner. At this point, I am still loving Turkey more than ever!

Day 9 (Fri, 4/18)

This day was filled with mostly driving. We did make a few stops, one for a delicious dinner at a place where yogurt is made (apparently, Turkey made the first real yogurt, which is quite different from the yogurt we eat here and in Europe). After this, we stopped in Bursa to go to a silk bazaar and another bazaar before heading back to Istanbul.

After a very long drive (about 11 hours), my mother and I finally reached our hotel, where we got about 5-6 hours of sleep before waking up at 3 AM for our flight to Amsterdam.

Day 10 (Sat, 2/19) – Amsterdam

Upon arriving in Amsterdam, we exited and airport for our 4-5 hour layover and proceeded to get very lost and end up in Zaandam. Not Amsterdam Centraal, which was where we were trying to go. Literally, everyone in the city speaks beautiful English and was very kind in helping us get to our destination. We braved public transport yet again and got to the Anne Frank house, located behind the Westerkerk Church. It was about 10:30 AM at this point, and we joined the line (which was possibly the longest it has ever been – seriously, that’s what the tram driver told us) and waited. And waited. AND WAITED. For hours. About 3 hours, to be exact. This was broken up by me and my mother leaving in shifts to wander around the church, buy coffee, see a few shops nearby, etc., but it didn’t change the fact that by the time we got in at around 1:35 PM, we had about 25-30 minutes total to breeze through the Secret Annex to make our flight in time! Despite the long hours spent in line, it was still an amazing experience. Finally, I got to see what I’ve been reading about for so many years, including the pictures that Anne put on her walls as decoration when she was living there. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed, but I don’t think I’ll be forgetting what I saw anytime soon.

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If you want to check out the next chapter of my life, see the following blog: http://senoritadcruz.wordpress.com

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