Thanksgiving in Erzurum

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Thanksgiving 2013
Erzurum, Turkey

I hosted Thanksgiving in Erzurum this year! The Fulbright Commission helped us secure two turkeys and a restaurant, Güzelyurt, in which to cook them. Last year in Erzurum, a colleague of mine helped me find a turkey, but when we’d acquired him, he was still alive. It was a messy process to watch him die and see his transformation from life to the center of a Thanksgiving feast. For more, you can read Hank Hindi’s story. As a result, I jumped at the opportunity to be supplied with dead, plucked, de-organed turkeys.

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Latasha Wilson Seems To Always Bring the Cold Snaps to Erzurum and the Wonderful Photography. (All of these pictures are her’s)

I arrived at Güzelyurt mid-morning the Saturday after Thanksgiving to start cooking. The cooks there helped me stuff the turkeys and insisted on sewing them back together with needle and thread. The concept of stuffing a turkey made a lot of sense to them, there are a lot of stuffed foods in Turkey. Poultry seasoning is uniquely American however and caused widespread interest amongst the cooks and the owner.

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Me, Turkish Cooks and The Center Island that is Entirely an Oven and Stove.

Then came the oven: it was the size of my apartment’s kitchen! It was an old-style oven with no temperature gauge that still burns wood. As I continued to check on the turkeys, one of the cooks would pull out the pans of turkey barehanded! He had hands like oven mitts. We talked and joked in broken Turkish.

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Gravy Making.

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The stove top is metal and all warming/simmer level. If you want to make it hotter you take rings off the stove top with a metal bar. One ring gets you to low heat — closer to the coals and burning wood. Two rings off lets you set your pot on the coals and boil anything.

When the turkeys finished cooking around four hours later, I made gravy. The cook nearly poured the half gallon of gravy over the turkeys, I stopped him just in time. The turkeys were lovingly wrapped up in paper and nearly a full roll of packing tape, and then transported by taxi back to my apartment and guests.

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OLD style oven

Ten Americans and fifteen of my Turkish friends and colleagues enjoyed these turkeys along with a range of side dishes and desserts: from mashed potatoes to çiğ köfte; pumpkin pie to baklava. Tom, a Fulbrighter in Bayburt, offered to carve a turkey. One of his Turkish friends Mutlu came into the kitchen and was laughing about how Tom was doing a woman’s work. I explained that it was traditional for the woman to cook the turkey and the man to carve the turkey. Mutlu jumped at the opportunity to take part in this tradition and offered to carve the second turkey. He spent nearly an hour happily carving a turkey perfectly. Thanksgiving was a joyous event this year, surrounded by my dearest Turkish and American friends.

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My Apartment and Friends

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Dessert! Emily and Her Beautiful Pumpkin and Apple Pies

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A Cow, My Birthday and “Game Over”

Here is a cow, being led through the city center of Erzurum. The holiday of sacrifice is coming…
Cows say "Muuu" in Turkey, not "Moo". My camera cord is MIA, so this slightly blurry picture is all you get.

Cows say “Muuu” in Turkey, not “Moo”. My camera cord is MIA, so this slightly blurry picture is all you get.

I started teaching on Tuesday of this week, following last week’s extended bureaucracy and cups of tea. My students range from eager and curious to completely disinterested and unwilling.

My first day of teaching was actually my birthday as well. I wrote “October 8th” on the board. My first class of students said “month, day. you birthday?”
I replied, “Yes, my birthday. What day is today?”
“Tuesday.”
“Yes! What date is today?”
No one knew. We went through all the months of the year, counted up to the 10th month and then there was a look of sudden comprehension and a resounding, “Teacher! Your birthday! Today! Happy Birthday!!!”

I had my students ask each other questions and then introduce each other to the class. One of my students motioned to me that he was finished. I find it often helpful to play dumb and asked, “What?” He told me, “Game over!” Everyone picks of bits and pieces of English somewhere these days.

The way the calender works this year, all of next week is a break for a religious holiday (the one that will likely be the end of that cow). Three days teaching, one week off. Beginning English speakers in Turkey are quickly sentimental. Some of it is the Mediterranean show of emotion versus the more reserved German-ness that pervades large sectors of the US, some is that Turkish has the same word for “like” and “love, and some is a warmness toward foreigners that Erzurum is imbued with. The second day of class, one girl at the end of class said, “Teacher, I miss you! Long holiday. I miss you!” The rest of the class nodded sadly. No matter how loud they can be, teaching in Turkey means having such sweet students. It’s probably messing severely with my self image, but I love them for it. And for the continuous snacks and nuts.

My birthday was Tuesday! I was surprised with lots of creative gifts. David made fried rice and Emily carved up a pumpkin to make delicious pumpkin pie that I got to share with my closet friends. It was a nice mix of Turks and Americans and of both languages all evening. The next day one of my Turkish friends invited me over, she and her friends had made me two cakes and dinner and sung half of Happy Birthday in English, half in Turkish! 11 of her friends were there, one girl told me she loved me. It doesn’t surprise or weird me out quite as much as it did last year, and neither does kissing 36 cheeks upon entering and leaving an apartment (3 per person, per direction going). My Turkish is pretty passable in social situations at the point, though my grammar needs serious help. My friend gave me a clock in a pretty box with candy and a Qur’an, surprisingly the first Qur’an I’ve gotten since moving to Turkey. She promised to buy a New Testament so we could talk about them together. At the end of the night she and her friend walked me to the bus stop, but instead bundled me into a car with a young engineer and an old woman who took me home and fawned over me.

Starting to teach again has showed me how much I’ve learned since last year. I know so much better how to explain things, conduct a class, react to student affection and noise, and adapt to different circumstances. I hope I can say the same about how much I’ve learned 12 months from now.

I will be in Cappadocia next week, land of fairy chimneys and underground cities. I’m in the process of resolving my camera issues. In Turkey there are few solutions but many processes.

Cappadocia

Cappadocia

I’m Back!

The Huge Cabbages of Erzurum

David and I with the Huge Cabbages of Erzurum

I’ve been back in Turkey for a month. It’s a very different feeling this year to move back into the same apartment and step back into a city, friendships and a language I can converse at least a bit in. It’s a great feeling! Also, David has moved to Erzurum this year and is working in one of the private English schools. As a result, the ways in which my life feels split over continents has lessened by at least one large one.

My parents came to visit my first two weeks in Turkey. We spent a couple days on the sights in Istanbul, the Great Cistern never gets less cool.

Underground Cistern

Underground Cistern

Then we rented a car and drove to the Dardanelles and Cannakkale/Gallipoli, site of the World War I battle between the Brits, Australians, and New Zealanders against the vestiges of the Ottoman Empire and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. (Also the subject of a Mel Gibson movie, Gallipoli, where he looks very young and doesn’t sound all that Aussie.) Turkey has opened a simulation center there that puts any US national park/memorial to shame: Nine screens, 3-D, and they even managed to hold off on the heavy propaganda until screen 9.

We stayed at a lushly-treed Bed and Breakfast that night where the owner had lived in New Jersey for awhile. He did most of the talking, his wife did most of the work. She glowed at my meager Turkish and after two conversations (for those unfamiliar with Dratz vacations: we only stayed one night), she told my parents they could leave, but she’d keep me. She offered herself as my Turkish mother and 2nd home since I would be all alone in Turkey for the next year. Turkey is such a wonderful place and Turkish hospitality is unrivaled.

1233495_10153295891230451_2112911358_nWe went and saw famous Troy and also Troas, ruins just being excavated that show up in Acts 16:7-12. The next two days were spent being Greek ruined (meaning: being amazed at the history and how much remains but also lulled into a sense of sameness).
Troas

Troas

Assos

Assos

Then I flew to Fulbright orientation in Ankara to meet 75 Fulbright ETAs and garner some friendships and teaching techniques. A few days later I met my parents again in Erzurum, where life seemed to shift into place. They were amazed at the difference between being a tourist and a guest in Turkey. My friends know how to make guest feel special.

563606_10153295896805451_239839723_nMy parents packed up and left and life truly seemed to settle into a new rhythm. With David here, my roommate Emily back and my Turkish friends slowly filtering in for the new school year, life is fascinating and exciting but also ordinary. I enjoy hosting people at my apartment and, beside my parents, an American living in Kars (selling super delicious honey), two Fulbrighters from Bayburt and a breakfast for two new American families in town have been hosted at my apartment. It no longer surprises or irks me to spend 7 hours with a friend and feel it may not be long enough. Also, drinking tea and people’s kindness are the only things that make bureaucracy tolerable, once the US government restarts, perhaps the DMV should take notes.

My life and blogs will liven up once I have students and classes. Though I did make a brief trip to Dogubayezit and do believe I met a guy who smuggles Iranians over the Turkish border — though he kept referring to it as Couch Surfing….

Ishak Pasha Palace in Dogubeyazit

Ishak Pasha Palace in Dogubeyazit

Teaching, Living, Coalescing (TLC)

Erzurum Beauties -- while skiing (Photo Credit to Latasha)

Erzurum Mountains — while skiing (Photo Credit to Latasha)

This is my fourth week of teaching back in Erzurum, Turkey a little mindblowing for those Americans on/after Spring Break. It’s great to be back with all of the same students. Each class has really created its own personality and I’m trying to do better at catering to each class’s interests and needs, rather than having a set regimen. My least favorite class has been pulled into shape, and most days their dubious amounts of energy are directed in the general direction of learning English.

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My favorite English learning mistake was when a group of students were explaining a game show to me. One guy said:

“There are two persons. One asks questions. Other person push…. (confer with friends) …. push Ben-jah-min.”

“Benjamin? Push Benjamin? I don’t understand.”

“Yes! Benjamin!” (confusion).

Me: “Ooooooh. Button. He pushes the button!”

“Yes. Yes. Benjamin Button.”

I haven’t traveled since returning to teaching. Somehow, I’ve found reasons to stay in Erzurum each weekend. I went to the mall with students who wanted to play air hockey (there now exist 36 pictures of me playing air hockey) and go GoKarting. Last weekend I stayed the night at my friend Sevda’s house, each time I go she invites a near infinite number of people to come meet me — anyone in her life that’s ever expressed a desire or capacity for learning English. This time, there were six girls sitting around a low table making manti (the pasta/dumpling that’s so delicious). The friend from the theology department and the English teaching department were explaining and grilling me about Fethullah Gülen, Islam, and Christianity. I’ve also done a much better job of sustaining one on one friendships that seem to have more depth, especially as my Turkish edges forward and they continue to learn English.
155974_10152617531540640_232740878_nOne weekend I went skiing for the first time in 10 years. It turns out you can see my apartment from the slopes. It was a beautiful, bright sunny day with fresh powder on the group. The group of us that went got lessons from someone our colleague termed “the best”. Only a couple hours in did I learn that this was an Olympian (competed in Salt Lake) teaching us beginning skiing. Well he took us down the green run lots of times and then a yellow run (Turkey’s different, yellow = slightly harder then green). Then he told us it would be the last run he did with us and asked who wanted to go down the hardest black. I raised my hand, since I’d much rather go down it with him than by myself. It really was near vertical, and I was unprepared. I didn’t fall, but the instructor also held my hand on each turn back and forth and therefore I survived. That was my private lesson from an Olympian.

I’m attending the Turkish version of 12th Night tomorrow, and hurriedly reading the play so I have some idea what’s happening. I’ve really settled into living in Erzurum and am enjoying both that every day is different, but also that their is rhythm, and I can anticipate some things. There are good days and bad days; good weeks and bad weeks. For the most part I really enjoy my job and living here, especially since it’s only bitterly cold some of the time. My definition of normal has changed such that my life now falls within the realm of normalcy.

I definitely want to stick around next year.

11 Unique Things About Spain

I traveled to Spain after spending time in Central Europe.

1. Star Wars Siesta

Spain's version of a city park

Spain’s version of a city park

Plaza de España in Seville, Spain

Plaza de España in Seville, Spain

star wars set in seville

Star Wars was partly filmed in seville

Siesta is a Spanish concept that in essence means countrywide nap-time to escape from the sun: 2-6pm. I’m not sure about summer but in winter the Spanish seem to oscillate between using it for sleep and an energetic break time. Either way, nearly all businesses close for four hours. The first siesta I took was in Seville at the Plaza de España, a sun-drenched park covered in ornate tile and sleeping Spaniards. This scenic locale is also featured in Star Wars, Lawrence of Arabia and the Dictator. Yes, I napped near where R2D2 rolled.

2. Weird Schedule of the Day, the Day is Focused on the Night

Siesta kind of throws the day off “normal”. Some businesses, like banks, solve this problem simply by never re-opening after 2pm. Others re-open from 6-10pm. Instead of dark signifying the end of a day, it signifies a new beginning. Kids come out to play, old people stroll with their dogs, all well after sunset, meaning that night loses its fear in Spanish cities. As well, “normal” dinner time is shoved back to 9 or 10 pm. The restaurant I went to in Madrid was open from 9:30pm to midnight. So the parties don’t begin until after midnight and don’t really end until sunrise. The only time Spain seemed to sleep was 10am on a Sunday morning.

In Seville, this meant that people in my hostel had a syncretic schedule between Spain and “normal”. There was always someone eating, someone sleeping and someone trying to figure out what was open. Around 6pm the kitchen would fill with travelers, students, a doctor, a chef and me cooking and munching on food. (That chef deeply complimented me on my use of bay leaves.) From 8-9pm our hostel had free sangria. Then we’d figure out where to go to dinner together and what to do after.

3. Spanish Dancing

Flamenco Dancing: I’d seen pictures. I foresaw a tourist trap. Instead I found crazy intense rhythmic clapping and stomping and a highly emotive singer. Flamenco is a dance that is more about its sound and its emotion than its look.
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Street Performer: This guy was impressive. The two characters top halves are stuffed. The man’s feet are his feet, the woman’s feet are his hands. And he makes them dance. Naturally. SAM_0544There was also lots of dancing in the streets at Carnaval. We’ll get there…

4. Columbus and Other History

As I’ve said, Spaniards hang out a lot and don’t seem too worried about getting much done, other than partying. Why is that? Well when Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, he brought back ridiculous amounts of gold and silver. So much so that it actually became illegal for nobles to work, because the country had so much money. There are a ridiculous number of parks, plazas and ornate churches. Life in Spain is not centered around work, but around parties and free time.

I also learned that King Ferdinand was not fond of Columbus, there were complicated arguments about profits. BUT Queen Isabella was very fond of Columbus, which might explain the King’s dislike. SAM_0488
One thing that money helped (re)build was the Seville Cathedral. This cathedral incorporates an old Muslim minaret, and is largest church in the world…by volume: meaning St. Peters in Rome has more square feet, but Seville has more cubic feet. Columbus is buried there. Well, the biggest chunk of Columbus in the world. They actually opened his grave up to check that it was him in 2006. 10% of him is there. Yes, that’s the biggest chunk.

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Columbus’ tomb

5. Tapas

When I was in Seville, I’d go out to dinner with friends and we’d share tapas. Tapas are lots of little dishes, like Turkish mezes or Chinese dim sum. I had some delicious eggplant grilled in brown sugar and patatas bravas (spicy fries) among others. After Seville I went to Granada. Every Spaniard I’d met said that “real” tapas were only in Granada.

“Real” tapas meant that you order a drink, usually sangria or beer, and food comes WITH it. This blew my mind, as it meant that Chinese tapas in Granada were considered real tapas because you ordered a drink and then got a plate of noodles, dumplings or eggrolls with it, automatically. Drinks were 2-2.5 euros. In Granada I had Spanish tapas, Mexican tapas, and Chinese tapas. It was easy to round up a group at the hostel to go for tapas because it was a tasty, cheap, good-way-to-bond meal.

6. Churros and Chocolate
SAM_0796Spanish-wide favorite snack. Deep-fried pastry covered in cinnamon and sugar. Dipped in liquid chocolate. Need I say more?

7. Granada: Alhambra, Street Art, Hippies

Alhambra

Alhambra

Granada is the Boulder of Spain with its hippies, good food and nearness to the mountains. This small city is also known for the Palace Complex of Alhambra built as a fortress in the 800’s and transformed into a Palace in the 1300’s by the Sultan of Granada. It wasn’t until 1492 that the Muslim Emirate of Granada was surrendered to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Big year for Spanish history. (1492 was also the year of the Spanish expulsion of the Jews.) The Palace may be one of the most intricate and detailed places I’ve ever seen.

However, the city has more. It has an Arab quarter with steep, winding streets of whitewashed walls. There’s some cool street art, my favorite was a painting that incorporated stairs. At the top of the ridge is a youth correctional facility that use to be a church (odd mix). On the other side of the hill, is a neighborhood that doesn’t officially exist. It’s a series of caves that use to be populated by gypsies and are now squatted in by hippies. Rent-free living. Though half of them don’t have water or electricity. With a high concentration of hippies comes a high concentration of substances but also parks where strangers jam in the park and groups stand around and practice juggling.

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8. Carnival
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An Austrian woman, a Kiwi girl, 2 Swedish guys and I decided to go to Carnaval together in Cadiz. The deal, set up by a university student group, was 20 euros for 5 hour bus rides from Granada to Cadiz and back and 13 hours in Cadiz, and breakfast. However, the hours you are then are 5pm-6am.

Cadiz has 160,000 inhabitants on a peninsula on the Atlantic, where Columbus left on 2 of his 4 voyages. This little city hosts the third largest Carnaval celebration in the world (after Rio and Trinidad) for 10 days, though no one seems to know quite how many costumed people descend on the city. And it is all night, city-wide, costumed street party. We’re talking pirates with tricked out cars starting dance parties in a plaza. The difference from Halloween is that groups dress up together, so there’s 20 Marios together, pacman and ghosts, a flock of chickens, eggs, whatever you can think of.

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I  went from wearing my superman socks, to having a cape, to having a Sponge Bob poncho and painting my face to look like Sponge Bob. It was a good night. Though somewhere there was a parade and somewhere there were groups doing ironic skits about Spanish politics, the party was just too massive to find them.

Creepy Sponge Bob for Carnival in Cadiz

Creepy Sponge Bob for Carnival in Cadiz

9. Art and Whimsical Architecture

After Cadiz and Granada I went to Madrid. Where the highlight was seeing the Prado and works by El Greco, Goya, Velazquez. However, my favorite painting was Caravaggio’s of David with Goliath’s head. While I was at the Prado I ran into Rachel and Alyson who are Fulbrighters in Erzincan and we spent the rest of the evening hanging out and eating some delicious food.

Then I made my way up to Barcelona where Gaudi’s whimsical architecture reigns supreme. Here are a couple of his buildings and parks.

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Church of the Holy Family in Barcelona

Church of the Holy Family in Barcelona

Park Guell designed by Gaudi in Barcelona

Park Guell designed by Gaudi in Barcelona

10. 1 Billion Rising

One Billion Rising in Front of Barcelona Cathedral

One Billion Rising in Front of Barcelona Cathedral

In front of one of the major cathedrals was an event put on by One Billion Rising, that incorporated woman and girls — young and old — dancing, doing skits and playing songs. One Billion Rising advocates against violence toward women around the world. It was a cool event to stumble upon. For Baylorites: a mixture of SING and Tunnel of Oppression.

11. Hot Chocolate and Hospitality

The last hostel I stayed in was in a nice neighborhood outside the hustle and bustle of the center’s tourism. It was more like a house than a hostel, with a Spanish host (Jose Maria) who spent an hour telling every guest about his hostel and his city. What a beautiful, calming place for 6 euros a night. I also slept in a tower. A good place to rest and be refreshed. Not just this hostel, but every other hostel had free hot chocolate in Spain.

7 Things To Do in Central Europe

I’ve been traveling but really don’t want to rub it in too much for all you working/studying-stiffs in the US or to my Turkish colleagues that don’t get a winter break and have to go into the office even without classes. I’m very blessed to get to travel. So I’ve spent some time in central Europe and wanted to share some of my experiences.

1. Go to Poland, “Stay Forever, Then Leave”

Poland’s deepest love: JP2

It does not seem to matter where you go or quite what you do, everyone loves Poland, even mid-winter. When I was in Berlin, I asked at my hostel what was the cheapest way to go to Poland, the guy working there was from Poland and proceeded to plan out buses and trains to cover 6 days around Poland. He said the cheapest way was through a city named Poznan. Very specifically he told me to only spend one night in Poznan and then head to the next city.

The next morning I took the Polski bus (that kindly waited several minutes for me, since you can only book online). Once in Poznan, I ended up entirely lost. I met several old women who would very kindly chatter at me in Polish about how far away I was from where I wanted to go. But even wandering around with my pack was great in Poland. I ended up walking into a hotel/squash court where the receptionist and I struggled to understand each other but she was intensely kind and helpful. She ended up calling me a cab as I dripped dark, muddy snow on her perfectly white floor.
Charming PoznanI showed up by cab to a beautiful Old Town, pedestrian streets and the Frolic Goats hostel (named after two goats that escaped being slaughtered to frolic in the town hall) as it was starting to get dark. I checked in, met the three Asians in my room (how does that happen?…in Poland) and went out to dinner with the one from Taiwan. The next morning I wanted to see the city and broke the Berlin rule and asked to stay another night. The guy at the Frolic Goats said, “sure you can stay, you’re going somewhere else in Poland, right?”

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The day was great, Poles seem to have no love of Poznan, but every foreigner I met loved the little place. When I checked out the same guy said, “Finally.” My day was highlighted by acting like I knew what I was doing and walking past security into the middle of a movie set. It was the filming of a historic scene of ice skating on a frozen lake in front of a beautiful church with quite the number of guys on horses.

I went to Warsaw after that and stayed in my favorite hostel of all time, the Oki Doki, where Serbian Bojan is the spirit of the place. My room had 10 foot ceilings and was covered in newspaper with a type writer set on the desk. Bojan took a group out to see the Jewish parts of the city (i.e. the out of the way parts of the ghetto wall that still stand from WWII). The Oki Doki also held a hot chocolate outing, pub quiz, and  free spaghetti night while I was there. Full marks.

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Jewish ghetto Wall in Warsaw

Jewish ghetto wall in Warsaw

The old town of Warsaw has been spectacularly rebuilt since World War II. And Christmas was still here! I went to the Museum of Caricature. I also ended up at a fortress/prison that had an intensely interesting set of exhibits about Soviet era re-locating of people including the sending of Poles to the -stans and the pictures to prove it. That place was creepy though since I doubt a thing has been changed since it was a prison.

Huge Christmas Tree in Warsaw

Poland’s got to be the friendliest, least assuming, humble country ever. They’re awesome because they have no clue that they’re awesome. And I still need to go back to see Krakow because it’s supposed to be the best part. I managed to meet up with the guy from Taiwan I met in Poznan again in Warsaw. His advice, “Go to Krakow, stay forever, then leave.”

This Crosswalk Commemorates that Fredric Chopin is Polish. Poles just kind of shrug and smile.

2. Attend An Opera in Budapest

Budapest sleet killed my camera, so this is thanks to Dresden

Budapest sleet killed my camera, so this is thanks to Dresden

The Budapest Opera House looks like it belongs in a movie about the 19th century. It’s regal with stacked opera boxes. It costs $10 to tour the place mid-day, but through a little careful price checking, it only costs $2.50 to go to an opera. You get bad seats, but it’s actually a lot more fun than I thought it would be. Dresden and I went and saw the Flying Dutchman. In German. With Hungarian subtitles. So it took a little patience. But it was a modernist take with hilarious t-shirts (all the sailors and women had their love’s face printed on their shirt) and glow-in-the-dark boots. Both seeing the opera house and hearing the orchestra were independently worth the price of admission.

3. Operate an Air Raid Siren from World War II (Hospital in the Rock) – Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is actually the connection of two cities separated by a river. 1. Buda atop a hill with a crazy-historied castle and old town. 2. Pest with its culture and more vibrant atmosphere. Beneath Buda is a series of caves that were transformed into a bunker-hospital during WWII. During the Cold War it was then turned into a nuclear bomb shelter, complete with top-secret refilling of the gas tanks (a “water flowering truck”). I toured the “Hospital in the Rock” and during the tour they take you everywhere. Near the end of it they explained the air raid sirens that punctuated Budapest’s life during World War II and the year long siege of the city, then occupied by Nazis, by the USSR. As an exhibit they show you two leftover hand operated air raid sirens. But instead of the normal, “Don’t Touch” signs, the tour guide asked, “Do you want to try?” Heck yes.

Fun fact: Sugár in Hungarian means radiation.

3. Swim in a Thermal Lake (Lake Heviz, Hungary)

View of the lake from the air, clearly not my picture, camera still yok.

View of the lake from the air, clearly not my picture, camera still yok.

Three hours outside of Budapest is a Hungarian resort town that few non-German or non-Hungarian speakers every make it to. It’s an entire thermal lake with a resort in the center. The lake itself is just barely warm enough to swim in…with snow around the outside. There’s a resort in the center of the lake that has indoor pools and Soviet style water message (six water jets at different levels that a tone tells you when to shift between). The water itself is supposed to treat Rheumatism along with a host of other illnesses, so the clientele is older.  When Dresden and I checked into the resort (for the “steep” price of $9 for 3 hours), “student” was a very unusual confusing word. Partly the lack of young people, partly the near absence of English speakers. However, since the water is seen as medical treatment, there are a ridiculous number of very proper Hungarian old women, wearing make-up and ridiculous floaties or water wings, and wearing them very seriously.

4. Attend Mass in Prague

Prague

SAM_0230 Prague. I bought myself a camera in Budapest

After wandering around old town, seeing Lennon’s Wall and John Hus’ church (a guy who tried to Reform the Catholic Church a hundred and fifty years before the Reformation), I wandered into the back streets and a small cathedral. As I sat there I heard an organ playing in a small chapel connected to the main cathedral. A third of the population of the Czech Republic is Atheist but the Catholic church I wandered into at 11am was alive, spirited, with a good mix of young and old. The organ was being played by a lively, 60-something man with one leg that was not at full capacity. The singing was being led by a joyous older woman with a strong voice and a commanding helpfulness. She found me a place in the Czech hymnal, not that having the words to Czech songs really helps me sing them… Such life and spirit in that chapel.

5. Visit Dresden with Dresden

Dresden

Dresden

SAM_0182While traveling with Dresden, we made both of our first trips to the town of Dresden. As an Elizabeth I’m use to my name being pretty common, especially amongst European cities. Most cities give me a street, maybe a square, Budapest even gave me a pretty ugly bridge. But seeing your name ever.y.where was a fun phenomenon to witness. Dresden, the city, is famous for the allies fire-bombing it during World War II. But the old city has made a comeback, the biggest cathedral is still getting its finishing touches. There’s also a cool artsy part of the city with a building whose gutters make music when it rains (first place I’ve traveled where I wish it would rain). There’s also a huge war history museum north of the main part of the city that fascinated both Dresden and I. It’s one of the few museums I’ve been in where it’s closed and I haven’t wanted to leave because I’m learning an intense amount. I got to re-ignite the IB love for Bismarck and learn about war and language. There was an interesting thread that ran through everything about World War II, this concept that WWI wasn’t lost militarily and that over-confidence by the Germans led to World War II. Strong dose of guilt.

6. Stop By the Bone Chapel in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic
SAM_0273A chandelier that includes one of each bone in the human body. The bones of at least 40,000 people. Human bones making the Schwarzenberg coat of arms. The wood-carver’s signature in bones, the one who “organized” it all. It was also just above freezing in the chapel and Erzurum cold outside. Enough said.

7. Play Around at the Music House in Vienna

Schönbrunn Palace

Schönbrunn Palace

I went back to Vienna, I really love that city. Every street is so pretty. And the Schonbrunn Palace gardens are just as gorgeous covered in snow as when they’re covered in flowers. This was my first time to go to the Music House in Vienna though and it’s perhaps my favorite museum of all time. A four-floor, multimedia extravaganza that teaches you about everything from how you hear to letting you mix and distort 6 out of 100’s of sounds at a time. I also got to conduct a version of the Viennese Philharmonic that actually kicks you out if you’re bad. It also told the real stories of people I think of as stodgy composers, but perhaps that’s just cause I learned about them in Elementary school. They’ve also got a program that uses Mozart’s Name Game algorithm to instantly make a song out of your name. The whole place is pretty sweet.

Alright friends, that’s what I’ve got. For those of you hungar(y)-ing after posts that counts as 7 blogs, right?

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Turkey! It can be difficult to live in a country where most people don’t know when Christmas is, much less what it celebrates. Anyway, I didn’t start teaching until October, so it shouldn’t be too much of a shock to teach on and through Christmas. In Turkish fashion, Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!
The last couple weeks have brought new challenges and successes. Taylor was here for a week a and a half, and that was absolutely wonderful.

Erzurum

We went to Kars and Ani for a couple days and stayed with Cat, resident honey tourism starter of Kars. Cat’s a Coloradan, former-Fulbrighter, National Geographic young explorer seeking to start up a honey tasting tour business (like wine or cheese tasting…but sweeter). We stayed in her house as she explained the difficulties of starting a business in Eastern Turkey. It was great to go see Ani in the snow, hear some conspiracy theories and history, and go to a hamam with Taylor.

Ani
I teach a new class now, doctors in their 30’s-50’s. It’s amazing the difference a small class size and highly motivated students have. They have a lot that they wish to be able to communicate, and I learn a lot about medicine and Turkey in the process of teaching them some English. My students have decent medical English but nearly zero conversational English. My first class I asked if they had children, one guy told me he had two children, “a son and a doctor.” “Oh how old are they?” My son is 12, my doctor is 8.” “…Oh! You have a daughter!”

Giving tests to my 18 and 19 year olds was a real struggle, since cheating is blatant and rampant. I’ve decided to give oral exams from now on, which I’m doing this week — so I’ll see how that goes.

I really enjoy the relationships that I’ve built these last couple months. Watching movies, building “gingerbread” houses, eating lunch, celebrating brithdays — Turks seem to know how to focus on the people rather than the event.

Zeynep and I