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A First Taste of Istanbul at Cooking Alaturka

Any time I land in a new country, the first thing on my mind is always food. It doesn’t matter the place, it doesn’t matter the time, and it certainly doesn’t matter if I ate two hours ago on the plane. I feel like I haven’t properly arrived in a place until I have a portion (or two) of its food safely housed in my stomach. And it was the same when I set foot in Istanbul.

For this trip, though, I hit the ground running. Rather than head to one of the copious Trip Advisor-recommended restaurants that surrounded my hotel, I got my hands dirty (or at least really garlicky) in a cooking course at Cooking Alaturka, a combination cooking course/restaurant tucked in one of the back streets of Sultanahment. Cooking Alaturka is run by a Dutch woman, Eveline, who’s lived in Istanbul for over ten years, and her Turkish right-hand chef, Feyzi. Over the course of six hours, Eveline and Feyzi taught us how to make five traditional Turkish courses. They’re quite a pair. Eveline’s enthusiastic and patient; she’s the teacher of the duo. Feyzi’s a man of few (English) words, but he had a wicked sense of humor that usually involved inviting us to try heaping spoonfuls of red pepper.

Ezogelin çorbası - red lentil and bulgur soup with red chili and mint. The chili added a kick, and the mint provided a cool complement. A squeeze of fresh lemon added a citrusy twist.
Ezogelin çorbası – red lentil and bulgur soup with red chili and mint. The chili added a kick, and the mint provided a cool complement. A squeeze of fresh lemon added a citrusy twist.

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Abu Dhabi’s Modern Marvel

The inner prayer hall of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which can hold up to seven thousand worshipers.
The inner prayer hall of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which can hold up to seven thousand worshipers.

When it comes to buildings, age is something to brag about. Structures like Stonehenge, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Coliseum are beautiful in their own right, but so much of our candid admiration of those places comes from their age. We marvel, not only at their beauty, but that they were built thousands of years ago, in times when modern machinery wasn’t even a glimmer in the greatest genius’ minds. To be impressive, to truly take our breath away, we assume that a building has to be old.

There’s something about a monument that was built, brick by brick and as a product of the sweat of manual labor, that makes us so much more appreciative of it. If the Taj Mahal had been built three years ago, rather than 350, it would still look just as majestic, but it would lose that romantic air that comes from being built without the hulking help of cranes and backhoes.

One of the reflecting pools at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
One of the reflecting pools at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

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A Sweet Return Home

The only thing that compares to the adventure of leaving home is the sweetness of coming back to it.

I went from this...
I went from this…
...back to this.
…back to this.

My summer vacation has finally come to a close. After spending the past three weeks cavorting around Turkey, I’m back at my desk at Aomori High School, surrounded by exams to grade, lessons to plan, and grad school enrolment (!) to complete. And oh, how good it feels to be home again.

I feel like I say it after every trip abroad I take, but this one may have been my best yet. Turkey, to put it simply, was good to me. Its sun turned my skin a few shades tanner and my hair a few tints blonder. I perused its bazaars, climbed a few of its mountains, and dove into its Mediterranean waters. I descended to new depths underground and reached new heights above it. I consumed as much of its delicious lamb, baklava, hummus, and halloumi as my stomach could handle. And I made a whole host of new friends and even reunited with an old one. The next month or two of blog posts will undoubtedly be dedicated to all of those memories, and I already can’t wait to relive them again…

…but for now, I’m just happy to be home.

Anyone who’s left home for any substantial chunk of time knows how much of a relief it is to come back again. Last night, when I staggered through my shabby, cozy apartment’s front door, weighted down by a backpack substantially heavier than when I left, I think that I was just as happy as I had been when watching the sun rise over the otherworldly rock formations in Cappadocia a few weeks prior.

Adventures abroad are all good and fun, don’t get me wrong. I know that I’m ridiculously lucky in the life that I’ve ended up with, but I love both sides of that life; I love the comfort and contentedness I feel at home as much as the foreign adventures I enjoy away from it. My feet love to tread over as much new ground as possible, but after a while, I can’t help but crave familiar surroundings and the routine that I left behind.

After a few weeks of changing hotels every night or two, the only bed I want to sleep in is my own. After a few weeks of eating out for every meal (delicious though they all were), the only food I want is what’s been made in my kitchen with my own hands. After a few weeks filled with a go, go, go! mentality, all I want to do is stop, sleep, and watch the new episode of Doctor Who. In my soul, there reside both an ambitious dromomaniac and a Netflix-worshiping homebody. Too much time spent patronizing one means that the other rears its head with a needy vengeance.

For now, the hermit side wins out.

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Otaru’s Winter Lantern Festival

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What I would do for a bit of a cold snap…It’s currently about 90 degrees Fahrenheit with a heavy blanket of clouds to ratchet up the humidity, and basically the only thing I have enough energy to do is splay myself out in beached whale mode on my bed with my fan pointed directly at me. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for a healthy dose of vitamin D, but I’m finding myself wishing for cooler weather.

IMG_0484 Cooler, mind you. Not colder. Not cold, like Otaru in winter.

Otaru’s a little seaside town about a thirty-minute train ride from Sapporo, and I went there for a daytrip during the weekend I trekked up north for Sapporo’s annual Snow Festival. I hadn’t blogged about it before because, frankly, I didn’t really want to think about snow until December…Today, though, I wouldn’t be too opposed to seeing just a few flakes.

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The Cliffs of Hotokegaura

The craggy white cliffs of Hotokegaura in Aomori
The craggy white cliffs of Hotokegaura in Aomori

Even though I’ve lived here for nearly three full years now, Aomori still manages to surprise me in the best possible ways. There’s always some naturally gorgeous spot to stumble upon for the first time and make me fall in love with Aomori all over again.

See Exhibit A: the cliffs of Hotokegaura (仏ヶ浦), which now reign supreme as my absolute favorite place in Aomori.

Sapphire water, white stone, and verdant trees set the scene.
Sapphire water, white stone, and verdant trees set the scene.

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Chand Baori Stepwell – “I’m Pretty Sure Batman Stood Here…”

The stairs of Chand Baori in Abhaneri
The stairs of Chand Baori in Abhaneri

As much as I love my day-to-day life, sometimes escaping is the only thing on my mind. Sometimes daydreams of far off beaches, exotic foods, and foreign horizons take center stage in my brain.

And when summer vacation is just lurking around the corner, that feeling has only become exacerbated. Sometimes it’s just me feeling antsy. Sometimes it gets a bit more severe. (Case in point: for the past few months, I’ve flirted with the idea of dyeing my hair blue and just heading to South America for a solid year or so when I’ve finished my time on the JET Programme.) And despite the fact that I’ve been grounded in Japan for almost three years now, some people might think that even that venture was an escape from “real life.”

But aside from traveling, the other form of escape I so often utilize is far more accessible on a day-to-day basis: books and movies. I’m a bibliophile and cinephile in equal parts. In my college days, one of my favorite classes was one on film theory, a love that I later parlayed into writing frequent reviews for the campus newspaper. And my love of books? Well, that’s been running rampant through my veins for the better part of two decades now.

What I really get a kick out of, though, is when those two loves bleed into each other. It’s why I loved seeing Pont de Bir-Hakeim , featured in Inception, in Paris. It’s why I loved visiting the Hobbiton set outside of Auckland in New Zealand. And most recently, it’s why I loved seeing the Chand Baori stepwell in India this past winter.

Chand Baori...look familiar?
Chand Baori…look familiar?

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I'm choosing to believe that the little blob below it is a heart.

Aomorian Graffiti

Of the many reasons I love my placement on JET, one of the most practical stems from the proximity of my school to my apartment. While a lot of other JETs have to take the bus, drive, or bike to their schools, my morning commute clocks in at a quick four minutes on foot. (And if I’m particularly in a hurry, I just duck through one of the chain-link fenced gaps near the back of school grounds and shave that down to two minutes.)

Being so close to the field also means that I get a front row seat to the team-building practices that go past 9 p.m. and involve, of all things, taiko drums.
Being so close to the field also means that I get a front row seat to the team-building practices that go past 9 p.m. and involve, of all things, taiko drums.

Anytime one of my students asks me where I live, I just point out the window of the classroom. From my apartment’s balcony to the school’s baseball field, it is a literal stone’s throw. It’s incredibly convenient and has made my life pretty stress-free when it comes to getting to work…

…but it does have one minor drawback. Continue reading

Permanent Resident of Dromomania Central

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