Friday, May 31, 2013

Weekend in Istanbul

Whew, it has been a busy week for me on the work front.  I got three new assignments last weekend, so I have spent this week with my nose to the grindstone, researching, writing, researching, writing...You get the idea. 

But now that the work is done, I can finally blog about our awesome trip to Istanbul last weekend! 

We flew out last Friday morning, turning our three-day Memorial weekend into four.  The flight was very quick, taking about an hour.  E was amazing on the flight there and back, and I will go so far as to say he was amazing for the entire trip.  He didn't have a single meltdown and he was a trooper as we dragged him from one historic site to the next.  He sat in his stroller, walked holding hands when he got tired of sitting,  used his words instead of whining and enjoyed ice cream cones at the end of every day as a reward for being such a good boy.  In fact, the kid had so much ice cream (Hey! We were on vacation!) that when I asked him if he enjoyed Istanbul, he said, "Oh yes mommy, E liked to eat all the ice cream."  Glad you enjoyed it kid, cuz it will be a while before you get special treatment like that again.

Our first day was enjoyable.  We arrived in the afternoon and since we were staying in an (awesome!) apartment near Galata Tower, we made that our first stop.  The area around the tower was very nice, surrounded by cafe's, restaurants and boutique stores.  We bought tickets to go to the top, which provides the best panoramic views of the city. But if you're claustrophobic, I don't recommend it.  I am happy to say I did it so I can check it off my bucket list, but I will never do it again.  The platform at the top is extremely old and so absurdly narrow that two people could not stand side-by-side.  We had to shift our bodies to pass by each other, as many people were stopping to take pictures and blocking others behind them.  It was beautiful, I will attest to that, but I was ready to come down after about 5 minutes.  

You can see the panoramic views in the photo collage below, as well as photos from our walk across the Galata Bridge the next day.  E loved the bridge because of all the fisherman and their fresh catches.  E enjoyed hollering out, "Look! Another fish!" every time someone reeled something in, even if it was only the bait.  

After Saturday's walk across the bridge, we enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the Spice Market and up to the Sultanahmet to view the old city.  Our first stop was Topkapi Palace, which we only viewed from the outside because the line for tickets was too long.  It didn't bother us because it was a good spot to people watch and let E run around for a bit.  

Later we strolled to the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sofia) where we purchased tickets to go inside.  And oh my goodness, how beautiful it was.  The colors on the ceiling, the dome appearing to suspend in mid-air, the details in the architecture--it was simply exquisite.  Even E tilted his head back and whispered, "Wow. Beautiful."  Beautiful is his new favorite word, by the way.  

After touring the Aya Sofya, we made our way to the Blue Mosque where we stopped to rest and take photos near the fountain outside the perimeter, and then made our way inside the courtyard.  Again, we did not go into the mosque as it was the middle of prayer time, but our goal is to go back on our next trip.  The open courtyard itself was beautiful, especially the tile work on the domed ceilings.  

Finally, we made our way to the Grand Bazaar which was originally only intended as a pit stop (because we can buy any of that stuff here in Adana at any time) but because E actually fell asleep in his stroller, we walked around for two hours while he slept.  Why, you ask?  Because the ground inside the Grand Bazaar was smooth and did not consist of broken cobblestone that we had been battling since our arrival.  You see, we made a last second decision to bring our light-weight travel stroller instead of our BOB jogger, and well, the small stroller was a bust.  I think we cursed that stroller at least a few dozen times as the wheels consistently got stuck.  And the stairs!  Good thing S is training for a marathon.  He "trained" by doing the heavy lifting up and down.  But I digress.  We let the kid sleep and then made our way back to the Galata Tower where we had a fabulous dinner on the roof of the Konak Cafe.  I had an excellent kofte (meatball) with yogurt casserole dish, while S enjoyed a seafood pasta.  And the views could not be beat.


Sunday was a bit more relaxing as we took E to a playground and later met a couple of S's A-100 friends (who happened to be vacationing there that same weekend) for lunch in Sultanahmet.  Then we made our way to the port for a Bosphorus cruise so we could all relax, talk and take in the sites at the same time.  The cruise was beautiful.  The city is so large and you really get a feel for its enormity once you're out on the water looking back.  While cruising, we saw several party boats with guests celebrating Sunnet, also known as the celebration of circumcision.  In Turkish culture, little boys are circumcised between the ages of seven and 10, and families go all out, spending every penny they can to throw a good party.  The circumcision itself takes place weeks prior to the actual party (because could you imagine actually having to dress up and put on a happy face after that?) and come celebration time, they don elaborate garb reminiscent of a sergeant major, complete with a pointy hat and scepter.

We spotted this little guy posing for photos before the cruise.  He was one of many that day.

After the cruise, we spent time walking down Istiklal Street, stopping for dinner at a really amazing restaurant with yet again, spectacular views of the city.  We kept E out later than usual so we could finally see the city at night.  That's the trouble when traveling with a toddler, you're at home by 8 p.m. in order to put the little guy to bed.  But E was a trooper that last night and stayed out until 10:30.  He didn't even make a fuss, but that could have had something to do with the post-dinner ice cream we all shared.

We flew out the next day and went straight home to settle in our own beds for a nice, long late-afternoon nap.  We loved Istanbul (although if you have kids, I don't recommend using a cheap stroller to get around!) and we hope to go back at least once more during our time here.  There's just so much more to see!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Learning Through EdX

I am a nerd.  There, I said it.  I was that kid who always had her nose in a book, whose idea of a good time during road trips was to play trivia and study the road map as we drove, and who got excited when a new encyclopedia showed up in the mail every month.  I went to space camp for crying out loud.  And I liked it.

So when we moved to Turkey and I realized I would have a lot of spare time between my sporadic workload and weekly Turkish lessons, I thought about what I could do to fill my time.  Then I read this article and I thought, why not?

The article reads, in part:

"Over the last year, elite American universities have raced to stake out a place in the new world of free online courses — and now, universities around the globe are following suit...

Meanwhile, edX, a nonprofit venture started by Harvard and M.I.T., is doubling its university partners to 12, adding Rice University, the Australian National University, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland and, in Canada, McGill and the University of Toronto...

EdX, which began with a single M.I.T. electrical engineering course taught by Dr. Agarwal, now offers about two dozen courses, a roster that will grow to 50 to 100 next fall.

EdX expects to serve a billion students worldwide over the next decade on its open-source educational platform, Dr. Agarwal said. About 700,000 individuals are using the platform now, he said, with more than 900,000 course enrollments."

College courses offered online? For free?  Sign. Me. Up.

I finished college.  I finished grad school.  I'd never planned on going back for another degree because I didn't want to pay any more than I already have (and still pay) in student loans.  But to have the opportunity to learn and take interesting college courses without having to pay for them?  Yes please.'s course offerings are limited right now, with only a handful of courses offered from various universities in the United States.  But the organization is growing and hopes to offer at least 100 courses within the next year.  

With the cost of earning a college degree getting more expensive every year, it will be interesting to see if this sort of learning phenomenon takes off, or if it does, if it has staying power.  Because I'm sure there are millions of people out there like me who like learning, but don't want to pay the high cost of doing so.  

I have already registered for my first course--Ideas of the 20th Century, which is offered through UT Austin and provides a review of how philosophy, art and literature helped shape the last century.  The class doesn't start until fall, but I am really looking forward to it.  If it goes well, I can see a lot of courses like these in my future.   

Oh, and did I mention it's free? 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Let's Go To The Mall

Our attempts to get back to the beach have been thwarted two weekends in a row.  Mother's Day weekend brought rainy and unseasonably cool weather, so we were forced to stay close to home, much to the disappointment of me, Mom, and E, who had been walking around the house with his pail and shovel for two days saying he couldn't wait to play in the sand. 

Then yesterday, S was called into work unexpectedly and by the time he was home, it was too late to pack up the car and go. So we decided to spend an afternoon at the mall instead.

There are two malls here in Adana.  One is closer to our apartment, but it is multi-leveled which makes it a hassle to enjoy when schlepping a large stroller around. The elevators are extremely slow and always crowded, and the escalators just aren't wide enough to fit our BOB.  (Yes, I am that mother who puts her stroller on the escalator).  So, we headed to the other mall that is only one level and more stroller-friendly, and also has amazing play spaces for kids of all ages. 

The Turkish people as a whole love kids, and it is rather common to build malls, restaurants, and cafés around children’s needs.  Every nice restaurant has a playground for the kids to enjoy and the wait staff acts as babysitters while parents sit and enjoy their meals.  S and I haven’t quite gotten used to this luxury because we still get up to monitor E’s play wherever we go, only to be shooed away by a waiter telling us he will be okay.  And he is, so we try to chill out and go with the flow.

Anyway, this particular mall has not one, but two arcade/Chuck-E-Cheese-type places inside, as well as two trains that travel around the corridors and several random bumper car stations and carousels.  E had never taken interest in any of these places before, mostly because they were extremely loud and crowded and I think they intimidated him.  But yesterday?  Yesterday was the day he finally asked to go inside.  So we did.  

He drove a little electronic car...

Then tried his hand at piloting an airplane, before getting completely freaked out by the sudden jerks and lurches, and demanded to be removed before he flew into a full-fledged tantrum.

This was just before the meltdown.
So we walked around for a bit to let him check out the rest of the chaos fun activities before settling for a ride in this cool boat.  Of course, he demanded that Daddy ride with him.  S was more than happy to climb aboard.  In fact, it was hard to tell who enjoyed it more.

Check out the bumper cars in the background.
The fun-zone also had an entire trampoline section, which was composed of several mini-trampolines divided by nets so the kids could jump and not fly into each other.  It was very interesting, to say the least, and even though E really wanted to jump, the line was too long to wait.  So, we got him a balloon and headed for the  nearby Starbucks, where yes, there is a play area for kids.  

Don't worry, it's only milk.
**And just so everyone isn't totally confused, there are actual stores at the mall.  In fact, there are some really good stores, with very affordable clothes.  Marks & Spencer, Mango, GAP, LC Waikiki (a Turkish store similar to Old Navy), DeFacto, and much more.  Turkey is a great place for affordable clothes.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Typical Day

Pardon the radio silence, dear readers.  This household was recently derailed by the evilness of a nasty, ruthless bacterial infection that had me, in particular, knocked on my @ss for the past week.  But all is good now, thanks to the wonders of antibiotics. Score.  

Now where were we?

Recently an old friend reached out to me on Facebook to ask, "So, what are your days like there?  Like, tell me about a typical day."   To which I responded, "Well, it's pretty much how it was back in the States." 

And this is true, to an extent.  But then I realized I should elaborate a bit more, and what better forum than this here blog.

Humans, by nature, are creatures of habit, and we are no exception.  We have our routines, and just like we did in New York and D.C., we follow them.  It may sound boring, but when your husband is working 5 days a week, you, for the most part are working during the week, and your kid is in preschool 5 days a week, you tend to fall into a routine and pretty much stick with it.  A typical day for us is pretty simple--wake up, work/school, run errands, walk the dog, family dinner, maybe a tantrum here or there, go to bed. Rinse and repeat.

See, it's a pretty typical routine.  Just like in the States.  Except, we're not in the states.  Because there are always the little obstacles that stop and make you realize you're living in a different country.  Besides the language barrier, there is  for example, the journey to E's school where I have to walk in the middle of the street because the sidewalks here are used for parking cars.  I just listen for the roar of an engine behind me and jump out of the way before a car, or bus comes barreling by.  Or there's my afternoon walk with M-dog, where for example I use the Call to Prayer from the local mosque as my queue that it's time to take her.  Or that picking up food for dinner involved me standing in the aisle at the store for 10 minutes trying to remember the Turkish word for "chicken" while attempting to locate chicken broth. It's all those little things that add a little spice to the routine and make it unique.  And I like it.  I think we all need our routines, and we tend to create them wherever we are.  They're important to function, especially when you have children.  But you also have to adapt to your surroundings, which is what we have done.

Now weekends, on the other hand, are a different story.  Sure we stick to a running routine, but for the most part, we are always off on some adventure or another.  The beach, hiking, visiting archaeological sites, castles, you name it, we do it.  The weekend is our time to explore this amazing country that we get the privilege of calling home for 2 years.  

But then again, deciding we will explore every weekend is another routine we've perhaps fallen into?  If so, we enjoy it and wouldn't have it any other way.