Saturday, December 29, 2012

Istanbul: Part I

I got home from Istanbul last night at midnight. It was a wonderful trip. I will post on it in parts since I don't want to overwhelm you with a load of text and a barrage of photos. (Yes, I took photos!)

For this first part, I'll just lay out my reasoning behind choosing Turkey.

My first reason for choosing Turkey: I wanted to go somewhere that wouldn't bombard me with familiar happy Christmas family images. This is my first holiday season away from my family and it's been hard enough without being reminded all of the time that I'm not home drinking cocktails and playing board games with the clan. Istanbul had the requisite Christmas adverts and acknowledged the holiday since the city is quite mixed religiously, but mostly it was just another day.

I will admit that I cried in my baklava on Christmas Eve. The hardest part, I think, about being away from my family so long is that I'm experiencing so many things that I know they would love. Our family life revolves, in many ways, around cooking (and drinking) together. (Well, I mostly drink a cocktail and observe the cooking process, but I'm okay with that role.) Sometimes, I get quite homesick when I'm eating something that I know my family would love. I want to share these experiences with them and I can't, so I end up crying over my baklava in a cute little cafe in Istanbul on Christmas Eve. I Skyped them later, though, and felt much better. Thank God for the interwebs.

Secondly, I chose Istanbul because I've traveled mostly in Eastern Europe (none in Western Europe) and I wanted a change. I expected Turkey to be wildly different than most of my past travel. It wasn't as different as I expected since Istanbul is a huge, modern city, but I loved seeing mosques and different styles of architecture. I think I've mentioned before that sometimes I get worn out by travel and stop seeing the wonder of a new city. Istanbul, I think, recharged those batteries in many ways just because it was quite different than other cities I've visited.

I also chose Istanbul because I wanted warmth. There was a little snow on the ground when we landed and it was chilly the first couple of days, but the weather warmed up nicely and I enjoyed having the sun on my face and leaving my gloves and giant down coat at home.

 After three days in Istanbul, the other ladies headed south to Cappadocia and I moved from our apartment in Sultanhamet (the old city) to a hostel in Taksim (the new town). I decided not to go to Cappadocia because I really wanted to stay in one place for the full week. They were happy with their trip, but I think I would have felt a bit overwhelmed and like I hadn't seen either place properly. Also, I love cities. I grew up in a small town and have lived in small towns my entire life. Currently, I'm in a small town. I wanted to soak up city life for the duration of the trip. I love nothing more than sitting in a foreign cafe and people watching and Istanbul delivered on both counts.

So, that's my reasons for choosing to go to Istanbul. I'll post later about the actual trip, my recommendations, and my impressions of Istanbul (both good and bad).

This post is brought to you by Dragonette, Big Sunglasses.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Frozen Toes and St. Lucia

I went to Riga to see off a friend, attend a concert with another friend, and retrieve my camera from concert-friend's apartment. And what did I do with my camera? I took pictures of the freezy-frozen snowy-snow.(I didn't take a lot of photos since A) the snow is not going anywhere and B) taking photos required me to un-glove my hands and in those few precious seconds of no-gloves my little hands freezy-froze.)

1. Rendi and I went to the Christmas market in search of very specific stockings for her window. 
2. Here is the Christmas market at night.
3. Here are some freezey-frozen ducky-ducks in the park.
4. And the park was also lovely at night. I think this was around 6pm.
5. There were giant frames set up for photo ops. This is my "I'm just casually leaning against this photo frame" pose. 
6. Lastly, we went to the St. Lucia's Day concert at Rigas Doms. I think some of the others got better photos, so I will try to pilfer those and post on the blog for you lovlies to see. And, yes, some jerk put a tripod up right in front of us. (I think he was an official jerk, but still....)

That is all for now. I'm sure there will be more snow photos since, you know, we have a crap-load of snow. Next week, though, I am in Istanbul! I will take photos! And eat lavash!

This post is brought to you by Sufjan Stevens' Sister Winter.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Poem (for Dray)

My friend Dezeree wanted me to update the blog with something about my daily life. Since my camera is in Riga and therefore unable to capture the fact that my little apartment is clean for the first time in weeks,  I thought I would write a poem. (In my head, this transition makes perfect sense.)

Poem about Grocery Stores

There is a small grocery store in the building next door and a bigger one across the street. 
Across the street and a block down is another grocery store. 
It's closest neighbor is a grocery store.
The big grocery store is right across the bridge. 

I don't know how all of these grocery stores survive. 
One day I think I'm going to find a grocery store within a grocery store.
There is a convenience store inside the big grocery store, which is close enough. 

All of the groceries have mostly the same things: 
frozen pelmeni, mysteriously preserved fish, Balsams, kvass, good bread.

I have never in my life seen so many different brands of frozen pelmeni.

This post is brought to you by Ellie Goulding's Hanging On and Maxima.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cats of Ukraine: Don't Pet the Strays!

I'm not supposed to pet the stray cats, but this one was hanging out by St. Andrew's church in Kyiv. So, Kitty can't be diseased since God is on her side. Or something. DON'T JUDGE ME!! IT WAS A MOMENT OF WEAKNESS!

Also, this is my "OMG KITTY! I WANT TO CUDDLE YOU!" face.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Kyiv: моє улюблене місто в світі.

I just got back from Kyiv last night. I love that place. (For those of you who can't read Ukrainian, the title should read "Kyiv: my favorite city in the world.") Instead of writing a long, boring account of what I did, I will do a list. With pictures. Because I can take pictures. And even post them.

1. I love my little city, but arranging travel to and from Rezekne is a bit of a pain. (I usually have to take a train or bus to Riga and then go from Riga to wherever.)

2. Rezekne is quiet at 6 am. 

3. Kyiv is worth the bother of travel. 


4. The workshop sessions were useful.

5. Talking to the other ETAs about our similar situations was even more useful.

6. Puzata Hata rocks my socks off. Cheap, easy Ukrainian food for the win.

7. Our sessions lasted until about 4pm, which didn't leave much time for sightseeing, but David and Beth are champs at fitting in a lot of sights in a short amount of time.

8. After the ETAs left, I headed to Independence Square and the apartment I rented with my lovely friends: Matt and Laura!

9. This greeted us upon entrance into said apartment. Hmmmm

10. I've seen Kyiv a few times before, but it's great seeing the city again with people who have never seen her.

11. We had a moment to chill with Bulgakov. 

12. Laura shares my love of folk culture, so we made the trek out to the folk architecture museum. 

13. We posed with some pysanky.

14. I'm pretty sure that pre-modern Ukrainian villages had giant pysanky dotting their landscape.

15. Honestly, the folk architecture museum is best seen on a warm, summer Saturday.

16. Saint Sophia's still makes me incredibly happy. There is something about this church that is just peaceful, even with copious amounts of tourists.

17. I'm not really religious anymore, but places like Saint Sophia's and Saint Michael's makes me realize that humans are astounding creatures and the ability to believe in something as nebulous as a deity can inspire some amazing things. (And some pretty horrible things, but I don't dwell on that while chilling with Sophia and Michael.)

18. Peaceful, no?  Despite the chill, there is something to be said about experiencing Kyiv outside of the normal tourist season.

19. Lastly, I recommend taking a gander at my friend Matt's blogs. He is in Kharkiv (the second biggest city in Ukraine) with his lovely wife Laura for the year. He's much better at taking photos of stuff and I know he got some some good shots of Kyiv. Marvel with a Mango and Use My Camera

This blog post is brought to you by Regina Spektor's Apres Moi.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


I went to Vilnius. It is, of course, a gorgeous city. Most capitals in this part of the world are gorgeous.

 Sometimes, while walking around cities like this, I realize that the architecture no longer excites me in the same way it did when I first started traveling in this part of the world. I don't know where that awe went?

Then, sometimes, I turn the corner and find something like this: 

And I remember why I love traveling.

There are some weird parts that set Vilnius apart from other cities. Užupis is one of those parts. Unfortunately, I picked November 1st to go exploring and most of the shops were closed due to a holiday.

Couples engrave their initials on the locks and lock them onto the bridge. 

In 1997, the area declared itself independent. Their constitution is pretty great.

 My favorite part is "Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat."  and "A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need."

The area has a lot of art in random places. I approve of this.

Vilnius also has a lot of graffiti. I kind of dig the juxtaposition of the graffiti and the old architecture. Since I don't speak Lithuanian, if any of the following tags are offensive, my apologies.


I love the mermaid in this shot. This was along the river at the border of Užupis.

My hotel, Downtown Market, was pretty good. The shower was a bit dodgy, but the price and location were right and it wasn't a hostel. They provided a pretty good breakfast each morning in my room.

I'll leave you with my favorite shot. The tree is is covered with knitted sleeves. It does get chilly in Vilnius, so I'm glad the tree will be warm.

Next week is Kyiv. I'm stoked! And I'm very glad that I'll get the election results surrounded by Americans.

This post is brought to you by Missy Higgins' song "Hidden Ones.

She's holding a torch in her hand
Pointing towards Heaven
And on the streets below her, people living out of trashcans
Are trying to believe she's got a plan

We dug a hole under the sea
But nobody knows how to stop the bleed
There's 999 channels on my TV
And I still have no idea what to believe

There is a choice
Follow the leader
Or use your voice
Cause this will just keep up
Until we make a loud noise
And the hidden ones speak up

Over the water to the east
Two million in a square refuse to sleep
Till every pleading voice is heard
And all the world has seen
Revolution pull king down to his knees

Because they made a choice
Not to follow their leader
But to use one voice
Showed ordinary people
Can make a really loud noise
When the hidden ones speak up

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Into the Swing of Things

I'm getting used to life here. The grocery store still makes me happy, but it is becoming less of an adventure. Using my stove still incites copious amounts of swearing, but I suspect that will always be the case. My classes at School 6 are becoming fairly routine and I've visited the two other schools at which I'll be helping.

So far, I haven't been super homesick. I get to talk to my parents and friends through Skype and Facebook, so that helps. I can't honestly imagine doing this without the internet connecting me to people at home. I did get homesick on Friday. Classes were kind of overwhelming and the heat in my apartment hadn't been turned on yet, so I came home to a cold room. That made me miss the warmth of Texas and therefore my family. But, I went out with friends and felt better after some wine, interesting salads, and a gin and tonic. :)

I went to several celebrations in the past week or so. First, I went to Rikava to celebrate Teachers' Day. The party was fun, if overpoweringly scented like flowers. Latvians love their flowers. I thought I received a lot of flowers my first day at Rogovka, but that was nothing compared to what people were receiving at Teachers' Day. During the award portion of the day, each award-winning teacher was given at least five bouquets. Some were given upwards of twelve. The flowers were gorgeous, but multiply 12 by 30-35 teachers receiving awards and add in 150 different kinds of perfume in 1 room, and I was very close to pulling out my inhaler. Oy.

The second party was hosted by Rezekne University as a celebration for Teachers' Day and to celebrate the end of a project. It was held at a log-cabin-type place near the city. There were fewer flowers, thankfully, but more dancing. The food was great. The wine was plenty. The dancing.... I like to dance, but usually I dance with friends in dark bars where nobody can really see me dance and where nobody else can dance either. I joined in a bit, but tried to avoid dancing as much as possible. The others were quite good dancers, so I felt like I had two left feet when I did participate.

The last party I went to was to celebrate Rezekne's Business Fair. There was a lot of food, more dancing, and a performance by a group of local brothers who won a Latvian reality family singing competition. They sang the song "Angels." I'm so used to hearing Lativan that it took me to the verse to realize that they were singing in English. :)

I also went to the Rezekne Business Fair. I bought some cheese and a present for my mom.

Exciting stuff, eh? The next few weeks should be more adventurous. I'm going to Riga next weekend. I'll be in Vilnius, Lithuania for a few days during the last week of October, and will spend a week in Kyiv to attend a Fulbright workshop and to see Laura and Matt. I'm pretty stoked about the travel! I promise to take photographs.

Maybe I'll even wrestle a bear so I have something fun to put on my blog.

This post is brought to you by my new favorite ginger kid, Mr. Ed Sheeran. Yes, I know I'm a bit late to the "Woo! Ed Sheeran!" party, but whatevs. I apologize to my former favorite gingers: Ron Weasley and Prince Harry. We can still hang out.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cats of Latvia

By request :) I'll do a real post tomorrow. Maybe.

What're YOU lookin' at? Move along. Move along.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Michael's Day Market and Rogovka

It has been a busy week or so! I completed my first week of leading conversation classes at School 6, graded some essays for the university translation class, and went to the Michael's Day market in Rezekne.

This band was playing at the market. They were fantastic! I wasn't the only one stopping to video them. Below are some pics of the market.

This is the market before it got really busy. 

This was the stand selling all sorts of smoked meat. The smoked fish stand was next door. 
Here is one of the looms (I think that is the right word) that an artisan was displaying.

It was a good market and a good day. I bought a couple of presents to send home for Christmas and some local honey comb.

Today I went to the town of Rogovka. It is 20 minutes away from Rezekne. I will be going each Monday to help with English classes. They gave me a lot of flowers: 6 bouquets! I felt like Miss America. Or one of those ice skaters who get flowers thrown at them after a performance. I also received a bag of apples, two peppers, and some chocolate. I think the apples came from the school orchard.

Here are my flowers. They make my apartment very cheerful. I put them in my windows. Latvians seem to really enjoy flowers.

That is all. This post is brought to you by Matisyahu's Sunshine. This song makes me happy. :) The sun has been making short appearances here. I am soaking it up while I can!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cats of Latvia

This Latvian cat can't wait for my conversation class at School #6.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Ludza and Grey Peas

Yesterday I went with a friend to Ludza, a town not far from Rezekne. It is only 30 km from the Russian border and is one of the oldest towns in Latvia. According to Wikipedia, it was mentioned in the Russian Chronicle in 1173! Here is a picture of the castle ruins.

And here is a view of the town from the castle:
It was kind of wet and cold, but we walked around the town anyway and had lunch at a cafe. I had grey peas and ham. According to everyone I've talked to, this is the quintessential Latvian dish. It was good. The dish reminded me a lot of the black-eyed peas and ham soup we have at home, but much less soupy. I also had a cold strawberry soup for dessert. Anna had warm cherry dessert soup. I'm a big fan of this soup as dessert idea. Here is a site about Latvian cuisine:

I was going to take some nice photos of Rezekne this weekend, but missed the morning sun and decided to wait. Of course, Inta told me that the sun might not come out for some time.... I think I need to buy some vitamin D!

Tonight I'm headed to Rezekne Augstskola to help Inta out with her Business English class. The students are quite great at English, even though this is their first year in university to my knowledge. It makes me wish we emphasized language learning earlier in the US. Here, they start formal language training in the first grade. Many people in Rezekne know at least two languages (Latvian and Russian). The younger people tend to have had English in school as well.

Oh well, I'm sure Congress will read this blog and decide to pass funding for public school language education. I'm pretty important, you know.

Today's post is brought to you by The Killers "When You Were Young" and Peka, Liliya's adorable kitten. (Liliya and Peka let me stay with them for a little over a week while I found an apartment.)