Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Snow, Birthdays and Trains

I am sure there is any good excuse for taking four months off from my extra-curricular blogging activities but perhaps the fact that the Turkish government closed all access to blogspot.com sites would be a valid one.According to the news the shut down was due to a violation of copyright of one blog showing football matches but it felt more like the hand of censorship.Anyways there are ways round such restrictions but I guess I couldn’t be bothered, now its up and running so no more excuses for not updating. I believe I left off somewhere in January but I can’t really remember February besides the fact it was cold we even got some snow. In March my friend Byron, who I met in Thailand on myeacher’s training course and also taught in Seoul with me, came for a visit. Unlike me Byron committed to two years in South Korea and his first stop when his contract ended was Istanbul. Iwas excited to show him how different these two cultures are and help cure him of the reflexive bowing and the bad after taste of Korean food. He had a great time visiting all the usual tourist cities, meeting my friends and I think most of all, enjoying all the yummy desserts.It was great to really be able to compare the difference from my
life Seoul was wonderful but I truly believe Turkey is way more my style.

April was of course my birthday and in true Maddy style I had not one but two killer parties. On Thursday April 7th, I arranged to have a work/student party at my friend Kemal’s new bar.
My students were really awesome they got me some of the sweetest presents. I got a purse, two scarves, a dress, a blouse, jewelry, a starbucks mug (they know how addicted I am to soy lattes) and even a glass that has mine and Michael’s picture engraved on it. Sooo sweeet !! The party was pretty awesome all the teachers came and my students, we all got pretty lose. The party didn’t stop till nearly 4 am and I was defiantly paying for the next day.On my actual birthday I was pretty much bed ridden till 5pm, classic! I managed to pull it together and put my party dress back on for party #2. That night we threw a little shindig at my pad, luckily the rain stopped just in time so we could enjoy my spacious terrace. It was a good turn out of my Turkish friends about 20 or so but the party didn’t last too long. My grumpy neighbor called the cops around 9:30 when there were about 5 people here. When the cops came they agreed there so no problem and just gave us a little warning about the music. Unfortunately they should up a second time just before 12 and pretty much kicked everyone out. So we had to move the party to bar a little earlier then expected but it all was good. We danced the night away and it was another birthday to remember!!

Two weeks later it was visa-run time again. Due to a little procrastination and lack of funds Michael and I decided to take a train adventure through Bulgaria and Romania. We departed Friday night form Istanbul and arrived in Bucharest, Romania 20 hours later. The ride there was actually pretty enjoyable we had our own private sleeper carriage and pretty much spent the whole time chillin’ out watching movies and reading, while watching the countryside pass by.

When we arrived in Bucharest we easily found a cozy hostel not too far from all the main attractions. We ate a huge Bavarian style restaurant that had a dozen beers on tap at a reasonable price. Which was a nice change from the over priced single choice beer of Effes in Turkey. We did a little exploring that night and surprisingly Bucharest was a pretty hopin’ city. Lots of bars and clubs with tons of young people, and even girls! (In Istanbul you’re lucky to find 10 girls in bar full of 60 men).

The next day we set out to find Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania. Instead of going with a private tour guide, I entrusted Michael to “Jason Bourne” our way there. There isn’t so much a bombing tourist industry in Romania and therefore a lack of English. We took another 3-hour train ride to a smaller city in the north expecting to easily catch a bus to the famous Dracula Castle but after a few wrong buses and some unhelpful bus station workers, we found ourselves stranded and running out of daylight. In the end we decided to make the best of it (aka continue drinking beers) and grab some food. We finally aborted our mission and decided to get the next train home, we discovered we had missed the train back to Bucharest and the next one wasn’t for another 7 hours at 2:30 in the morning.
Trying again to make the most of it we grabbed another couple of bottles and started loitering in the station. In the ended we caught a small mini-van back to the city even though we were unable to get a refund for the train tickets, but the van ride was quite enjoyable. There was a very talkative and touchy feely drunk guy next to Michael, who had the same ideas as us for road trip drinking. The whole time the guy was spouting off in Romanian, cheersing us and making the driver pretty angry every time he dropped his liter of beer on the floor. We eventually got back to our hostel after being dropped off in the middle of Bucharest and disoriented.
much broke the whole trip. We were counting that on

The next day and our last day was a mad rush. We had been unable to exchange any Turkish lira all weekend; leaving us pretty
Monday morning we could find a bank that would exchange our money, but no such luck. I spent an hour doing a crash course in all the tourist sights, snapping as many pictures as possible while Michael sorted out our train tickets home. Before we knew it we were running through the train station trying to catch the only train to Istanbul.
The journey home was anything but enjoyable we had skipped breakfast and spent our last dollars buying some snacks for the ride home. So for 12 hour journey through Romania we had a bag of chips, some juice and a chocolate bar. Still not sure why on an international train ride they wouldn’t have a proper food cart but when we finally got to Bulgaria around midnight we found a western restaurant that we were able to gorge out at for less then $8 each. The next 11 hours were even less enjoyable, our train was 2 hours late arriving and there was no sleeper carriage or heating. We were miserable trying to get comfortable in our single seats and use our extra clothes as blankets.

After the crossing the border into Turkey at 5 am, going through customs and sorting out our visa’s we were allowed back on the train which finally arrive in Istanbul at 11am! So all and all it was quite an adventure. From the little time I spent in Bucharest it was an interesting place with a lot of history. The trip was filled with a few almost missed or wrong trains, some money issues, another two stamps in my passport and getting another opportunity explore an unknown culture.

Back to life in Istanbul, I think my honeymoon phase might be over. It’s been six months of experiencing a rich culture and making lots of new friends but I am feeling like the time has come. I missed my sister’s 30th and my nieces 4th birthday this month and any day now I will be missing the birth of my 3rd niece. It’s these moments when you wish you could be in two places at once. Class loads are fading out as summer slowly approaches. I have had most my students for over 5 month, although it has been extremely rewarding watching their English skills exponentially improve, there is something stronger calling me home. I am not sure what the future holds for me at home, I am sure it will be a dose of reality and without a doubt some good times with old friends. So for now I am counting the days till summer!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Going Dutch

Since I am technically an illegal alien in Turkey I am forced to leave the country every 90 days, but I like to think of it as free holiday. I looked up flights to Berlin, Spain and London but the cheapest ones were to Amsterdam, so why not.
This was my second trip to Amsterdam, but the first was somewhat of a blur. It was 2006 and I went to Amsterdam with my study abroad program after spending a few nights in Paris. So the whole idea of international travel was well beyond my head, plus I wasn’t even the legal drinking age in America so I had yet to develop the matured taste for beer.
I had originally planned to take the trip alone but at the last moment Michael worked some magic and arranged to escort me all the way to Amsterdam. We arrived in Holland late on Saturday evening; we had a small layover in Munich, just enough time for a proper German beer, pretzel and my favorite Ritter Sport chocolate. On Sunday the weather was surprising crisp and not too cold. I was fearing the worst, I thought I might be trekking through a foot of snow and trying to keep myself from hyperventilating but the weather was only slightly colder then Istanbul. We spent the day wondering the streets, taking pictures and just enjoying the peace and quiet. Amsterdam was a nice getaway from the chaos and noise of Istanbul. You don’t realize how much noise 18 million people make, especially when they all seem to be taxi drivers who love blaring their horns.

Amsterdam is so cute, all the precious Dutch people strolling around on their bikes; you can just feel how they are living the privileged life in the top percentile of the world. The streets are spotless, there are barely any cars and the people are extremely friendly. The food was not to bad either, of course we had plenty of French fries with mayo and ketchup, I had some delicious crepes and no trip to Holland in complete without a few Heinekens. I even had a chance to meet up with one of Sophie’s friends that lives in Berlin. It continues to amaze me as I travel to all the corners of the world that I am never far from friends. It truly is a small world and I am fortune to experience just some of its many wonders

The next few days where pretty mellow, the weather was grey and Amsterdam is not as crazy as most people like to assume. Dutch people are pretty reserved; the only rowdy people are the handful of drunk English blokes wondering the streets. Even the red light district is clean and safe; I mean for heaven sakes there are swans swimming in the canal just outside the windows with half naked prostitutes dancing in them. This imagine kind of sums up Amsterdam.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Holidays

A second year away from home during the holidays and sad to say but its gets a little easier each time. The holiday season really was a blur, I guess especially in a Muslim country. We had a cheesy Christmas party at work, in which I received my awesome Tarkin binder. Christmas was pretty unusual this year but nonetheless a great day spent with close friends. I made a special Turkish breakfast and we spent the day singing bad Christmas songs and drinking Baileys. That night we had a nice Raki dinner with friends. Besides the missing visit from Santa or a stocking full of goodies, Christmas was still a holiday.

Zane arrived in Turkey last Thursday and as always it so great to have a friend from home visit. You can relax a little bit more and reminisce about the good old days. Hard to believe we have been friends for almost 10 years and had the opportunity to visit each other around the world. It has also been very interesting listening to Zane talk about his experience in Kabul, Afghanistan and even a little eye opening for a bleeding liberal such as myself. We spent the majority of his visit hopping from bar to tourist attraction, foreign food restaurants and then back to cocktails. I finally had a chance to eat some Mexican food and some yummy sushi.

The other great thing about having a visitor is having an excuse to do all the tourist things you should done already. We went inside the Sophie Mosque, which is being renovated to reveal all the Catholic paintings that were covered up. We also went to the Grand Bazaar, which was truly grand, over 4, 000 shops!

New years were pretty awesome this year. Erhan and his friends decided to avoid the whole club scene by throwing their own party. We rang the New Year in style and I even had a special kiss this year ☺

No better time then the first of the year to reflect on the last 12 months, and oh what a journey it has been! 2010 started off right, on the island of Boracay in the Philippines on one of the best vacations of my life. I truly feel in love with the country and I am already making plans to return for NYE 2012. I ended my year abroad in Seoul, saying goodbye to some great friends and an overall life changing experience. Next up was a 4 weeks tour of Thailand and Cambodia with the two greatest friends a girl could ask for. Once again Thailand didn’t disappoint and it was nice to return to my home on Ko Chang! After that I got a chance to visit Sydney, Australia a dream come true and a wonderful transition back into Western culture.
My return to America in April was just in time for my birthday and Coachella. My summer in Cali was unreal and better than I could ever had imagined. It was an honor to be there to walk down the aisle and share with Sarah her magical wedding. Meeting my raver family, starting weekly family dinners and Sunday fundays in San Diego are defiantly the highlights of the year.
Sharing a bed, a house and new experiences with Brittany really showed me what the word friendship means. She was my rock, my energy, my inspiration and my best partner in crime. The end of the summer brought some tough times and a growing phase that sparked my need for adventure and lead me to Turkey. Since the moment I landed at the Istanbul airport I have been overwhelmed by the hospitality and the quality of friends I have met here. I am excited to start the New Year in Turkey and to continue building and enjoying my life in middle earth.