Welcome to Wrocław

wroclaw - 11Dzien dobrie, everyone! We’ve finally settled down long enough for a blog post!

First of all, Wroclaw is a beautiful, friendly city and we’re happy and feel lucky to be here. We’ve been busy getting settled in and starting a new school year, and getting the hang of life in our new city.  It has been been a few months already, but it feels like only a few days have passed.

Here is a bit to give you a feel for our new neighborhood, home, and school.

Our Home

We get a monthly budget for housing and we could have chosen an apartment left by a departing teacher, but we struck out on our own and are very happy with what we found. It’s a modern apartment in a brand new building, but nestled into a quaint old neighborhood – the best of both worlds! We didn’t find a two bedroom apartment, but the living room has a full sized bed, a wardrobe, a door, and patio access so when you come to stay it will be your room.

We have tons of storage space and every cupboard is covered in panels that pop out. All the appliances are new and sparkly! Our cats – especially Ching – are enjoying the patio and sofa, and there are plenty of nooks for Clark to hide in. We also love the patio and the view of our neighborhood – we can even see the spires of the old gothic churches that are all over the old city.

Nadodrze

A street in our neighborhood

Nadordze, our neighborhood
Our neighborhood is a mixture of modern and very old buildings. It evokes a romantic spirit but also suggests a bright future. Lots of things are happening in our neighborhood. A new headquarters for 3M is right next door. Ongoing gentrification turns older, crumbling facades into beautiful storefronts with charming restaurants and bars. And last year Stephen Spielberg filmed a movie on our block, the film – Bridge of Spies, starring Tom Hanks – was released in November.

We’re very close to the center of town, the old markets, and parks on islands in the river. Lastly, we are surrounded by tram lines and bike lanes. We have found it easy to get around by hopping on the tram. It takes Akasha 24 minutes to take the tram to work and about 35 to ride her bike.

While we are on a quiet street we are near cafes, art galleries, and some beautiful murals. We have meant to go to more festivals and events but we’ve been having so much fun just exploring the twisty streets around us.

We hope you’re able to come and visit soon.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Goodbye, Ankara: Here’s what we loved about you most

It has been an interesting two years and they have flown by quickly, due in large part to the charms of our temporary hometown, Ankara. For an international capital, Ankara can seem quaint and bucolic; the word provincial may even come to mind. But that’s not a bad thing. On the contrary, there’s plenty of fun to be found if you’re patient and keep an open mind. Here are some highlights of our stay.

Rainbow seen from our window

Rainbow seen from our window

Lojman Livin’ – Being up on a hill, away from the bustle of Ankara proper, does have its advantages. The view is consistently spectacular – we’ve watched many a storm roll in and enjoyed the rainbows (double, and triple!) afterwards, and waking up to the sun in the window has been a treat every morning. Bilkent has made the grounds very attractive, with plenty of flowers always in bloom and a constant variety of fruiting trees – spring has been a festival of scents and colors. So while we may complain a bit about being isolated in a ‘foreigner bubble’ away from the sounds of ‘real Turkey,’ overall we’ve been happy with our home away from home.

Ulus fish market

Ulus fish market

Ulus – This is the historic center of Ankara, the place where it all began. You can wander here every weekend and never see it all. The Romans were here back in the day, building temples and roads. Later civilizations would add and rebuild until today. Here you can visit an ancient castle, shop in a covered food pazaar, haggle over carpets, buy artisan jewelry, and watch craftsmen work in the metal district. Relax with a plate of the best manti in town, and before you know it you’ve had a great afternoon on the town.

On the daytrip

A rainy daytrip, with a cool waterfall

Hiking trips – Nadide Yildiz arranges some great trips. Some of them are just hiking off in a small town or wilderness reserve. Others are culturaly specific. We saw waterfalls, communed with trees and shrubs, and met great new friends. Either way, Nadide is a great hostess.

Great little restaurants on side streets – If you push out and explore you can find some great restaurants. Our favorite is a little fish place tucked between the Kizilay and Tunuli neighborhoods. It’s called Yesil Cam, named for the movie-making district of old Istanbul. Here the chef grills the fish on the street, and traditional mezes from tomato salad to lamb’s brains are brought to the table on a huge tray. The atmosphere is old Turkey. Musicians serenade you tableside with traditional Turkish folk music. If you’re there on the right magic night, you’ll see the patrons get up and dance on the sidewalk, shaking off the years with the help of the music and more than a little Raki. Akasha left a trail of her favorites on trip advisor if you want to try some restaurants off the main streets.

The Pazaars – foods, fleas, and anything you could want. We’ve been to the big food markets at Yuz Yil, Umitkoy, and many other locations in Ankara. Once a month an antique mall sets up in one of several rotating marketplaces, and you can sift through remnants of Turkey’s cultural history – comic books, movie posters, costume jewelry, vintage clothing, old tin toys – anything and everything. It’s like a pop-up museum, and everything’s for sale.

Game Cafes – scrabble, chess, backgammon, just not a lot of cards. You can play games, drink a cold beer or a hot nescafe, and play games all night long. If you are feeling like a super dork, try playing english scrabble with Turkish letter distributions.  Even without Q’s, it’s not easy – you get way too many vowels, especially u’s.

Ataturk's resting place

Ataturk’s resting place

The Anitkabir – This is a monument to the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He saved Turkey from being divided up by western powers after WWI, and laid the foundations for the Turkey that we know today. His picture remains a fixture in every office, restaurant, shop, and classroom in the country. This complex of polished stone and granite columns features a museum of his life, a history of his military exploits, and his final resting place. A proud, somber site, one of the few must-see attractions of the city he made the capital.

Finding not-Turkish food – Because Ankara really doesn’t have a lot of food that isn’t Turkish. And because Ankara has a big mall culture, with lots of the same chain restaraunts, when you find a unique restaurant it is really exciting. Some of our favorites have been Big Bang Burger, Wu Yang, and Cafe Linz.  Wu Yang is an east Asian restaurant with Chinese and Korean food. it can be great, if your order right.  I love the house made spicy tofu.  It is similar to Sundubu with fluffy clouds of tofu in a spicy sauce. Order a side of rice and kimchi to put yourself in Korea for the evening. Definitely show up with a group of 6-8 to get the circular table, order a variety of dishes, and share family style. Cafe Linz has delicious desserts like a house made chocolate souffle and sachre torte.

Street Dogs – Ankara has them. So does Istanbul and Izmir. Everywhere in Turkey are street dogs. For the most part they’re friendly, well-behaved, and cute, prefering to spend time napping in public squares to begging for snacks. They make for great local color. Several friends adopted them for house pets, and for a sweet friendly dog you couldn’t do better.

We could go on: Cheap taxis, friendly faces, simit carts, dondurma (ice cream), doner shops, walks in the wilderness, endless shopping caverns, crafting supplies, Ankara has it all, and with its own flair. But it’s time to move on.

Thank you Ankara for your hospitality. Now, we’re heading to Wroclaw, Poland next, as you probably know. We are going to continue blogging on this site, and plan to do so more frequently.

Thank you for reading, we’re happy you’ve joined us on the web or on the road.

Remember: Adventure is out there!

Goodbye, Remi: So long and thanks for all the cuddles

June 24th, 2001- June 8th 2015

Sir Remington Rio. Houndington. Senior Muddypaws. Mr. Panty. Houndie. We had a lot of names for our dog, but mostly he was Remi. If you met him, you loved him.

Remi joined our family on Halloween, 2009. He’d led a sheltered life up to then, but made up for that with us. We took him to the Boundary Waters. He moved to Korea with us, then to Turkey. Remi was the best ambassador of goodwill the US could have hoped for. Everywhere we went people wanted to touch the black and white dog, and Remi put up with the attention like a champion.

Remi loved pretty much everything. He loved peanut butter, bread, cat food, and food the cats made (eew). He loved long, long, walks, playing in  water, chasing cats, and sniffing hedgehogs (the hedgehogs didn’t care for that too much.) Long walks with Che, Charlie, Willie, annoying his cousin Rosie, chasing his sister Ching and brother Clark, waking Mike up by breathing too loud, sighing that Akasha should go to bed already, and eatting.

Things he did not love include broccoli, celery, getting a haircut, and being alone.

Things that shouldn’t have gone into his mouth include: half a bag of cat food, a pound of grapes, a rat (dead), Tanci and Kat’s steak dinner, Akasha’s falafel, an entire bag of bagels, rat poisong (twice), Jenni’s caffeinated energy bars, Mopko pig jowls – We’re sure there’s more.

He had a good 14 years on earth and saw more of it than most. Yesterday, while out for a walk, age finally caught up to him, and he couldn’t finish the walk. Our vet came and took him back to his office, where he determined Remi’s liver had failed. The vet made him comfortable, and he passed on just before dawn. He will be missed by all who knew him.

Weekend in Nemrut

Nemrut mountain national park, in southeastern Turkey, is a bit remote but utterly charming. It’s best known for the mountaintop giant heads, built by a megalomaniac king, King Antiochos I,  a few thousand years ago and many people just go for the relics.  We discovered the lower regions are filled with wonderful hiking trails and rushing streams and even more antiquities. It was very relaxing and everyone agreed it was our favorite trip within Turkey.

On our second consecutive long weekend (it was Labor Day this time), we went with a group of friends to  Adiyaman. There we were met by Bayram, the owner of Karadut Otel Pansyon, who drove us an hour out to his place in the national park. We spent a day touring the sights, starting with sunrise on the giant heads, after a long nap we hiked around the valley and relaxed. After lunch Bayram’s son took us out on a tour of the region including the Roman bridge, the “new” Kahata Castle,   and the Arsameia Ruins.  The next day we took a leisurely walk around the valley floor. As you can see, the pace of life might be slow, but the beauty of the countryside is spectacular.

In the valley it was a perfect spring day, 70 degrees and sunny. Flowers were in bloom, and springs trickled their way into little waterfalls burbling along our hiking path.  Just 20 minutes away, up at the top of Nemrut it was cold, exceptionally windy, and there was still deep snow on the ground. We had imagined a dry, brown, landscape and were awestruck by just how green and rich the region was.

I would love to return to the Pensyon and spend time in Karadut again. It is a perfect retreat. While the food was simple, it was good. The vegetables, eggs, and meat served in the Pensyon were produced by our host and his family members. A traditional farm to table establishment. They made us feel at home and were beyond hospitable. On our way to the airport, Bayram took us to his favorite shop for the regional dish, cig kofte. We were passing a wedding, and he stopped for 10 minutes to introduce us to his friends. We had a cup of tea, danced with the bridal party, and cheered for their wedding. It was a one of a kind trip.

Venice for the weekend

One rule of international living is you don’t waste a 4-day weekend, so last Children’s Day we rounded up some friends and flew to that great jewel of the Northern Adriatic, Venice, Italy. AirBnB hooked us up with another charming apartment, the weather stayed sunny and warm, and the tide was kind to us. Rather than write a bunch, we though we’d let the pictures speak for themselves: (click on them to enlarge)

Venician Window Garden

Venetian Window Gardening

Venician Garden

Venetian Balcony Garden

Howdy

A quick howdy from a lovely plaza

The Grand Canal

View from the Rialto Bridge of the Grand Canal

Tiramisu

That Italian staple, tiramisu

 

Mike looking at boats

Mike pondering life and stuff

Even the laundry is pretty here

Even the laundry is pretty here.

Sweets and Susan

Susan and Akasha eye the sweets

Mary

Mary – detail from a mosaic in St. Mark’s Basilica

Friends on the terrace

Friends on the terrace

Singing boat ride

A gondola-ride serenader

Lions of Venice

Lions of Venice on a bridge keystone

Sarah

Sarah reviewing her photos

Jeff and Mavis

Jeff and Mavis and their chauffeur

Patio garden

Patio garden

Hyacinths

Hyacinths were blooming all over the city

pigments

an entire spectrum of pigments for sale

Candied Clementine

Candied Clementine in dark chocolate.

Produce delivery

Everything comes on a boat in Venice – including the produce

Wedding photos

Wedding photo

Gondola, at rest

Gondola, at rest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was more beautiful than we could have expected – a great weekend of wonderful food and great friends. Thanks Mavis, Jeff, Susan and Sarah!

Up next: The giant heads of Nemrut. (duh-duh DAAAAH!)

Spring Break Blitz: Jim visit 2015

When last we heard from Mike’s dad Jim, we’d just finished a trip through Ephes, Antalya, and Cappodocia. The ‘Balloons and Ruins’ tour, you could call it. But that was a year ago, and for Jim, that’s too long to keep the wanderlust at bay. Since he didn’t have a chance to visit Istanbul last time, a return visit was on the agenda. Here’s how it went down: Istanbul (part 1)

Every ten feet, a doner stand

Every ten feet, a doner stand

I (Mike) hop on a bus and go to Istanbul to meet dad at the arrivals gate. (Akasha is still teaching and will join us later.) We take the bus to Taksim square, and soon enough we are in the heart of the doner district. “So much doner,” Dad says, looking at the dozens of giant inverted cones of meat spinning in the florescent light. Well, we had to have some, because when in Istanbul, you eat doner, you can’t help it.

Dad in front of the Blue Mosque

Dad in front of the Blue Mosque

But as good as the doners are, you come to Istanbul for history. And Dad likes the ancient sites and museums. So in the morning we head right to the big ticket tourist sites, conveniently clustered in the Sultanahmet district. When we climb off the tram, boom! it’s the moody, dust-colored domes of the Hagia Sophia, and just across a beautifully manicured plaza stands the stately and grandiose Blue Mosque. Collectively we’re up to our noses in thousands of years of history, and Dad and I are suitably awed. It’s raining a bit, so we head inside to the museums. Now, I like a good museum, but Dad LOVES a good museum, and the Topkapi museum is filled with all sorts of things to keep his eyeballs full. From sitting rooms where Sultans made battle plans to relics of Muhammed and Moses (yes of course that’s his walking stick in that curio cabinet), thousands of treasures are on display. It’s one of the benefits of being an ancient center of power: You get to ‘collect’ lots of cool stuff! Trabzon

Akasha dipping her toes into Black Sea water.

Akasha dipping her toes into Black Sea water.

Istanbul is great, but Turkey is huge and there’s tons to see, so we catch a plane bound for Trabzon. This is where Akasha is waiting for us – she’s finally done with school and ready to party with us on the shores of the Black Sea. She’s been wanting to visit here for years because the mountains south of the sea are so steep that the locals have a sophisticated whistle language that they call across the mountains with. We book a tour bus at the local agency and take a ride into these mountains, and get a sense of how steep they are and how remote a village can be, and why they might need a whistle language. Our driver is fearless, making a relentless assault on the switchbacks and narrow roads. And then we stop near a waterfall, with a great view of the tiny and ancient Sumela Monastery clinging to the narrow steep cliffside.

Sumela Monastery

Sumela Monastery

We climb up the narrow steps, take a look at the beautifully painted church. For over fifteen hundred years, generations of Christian monks stayed in this tiny niche, until World War I and shifts in population left it deserted and it was converted to a museum.

Georgia The next day we rent a car and drive east along the sea. It’s a windy and rugged drive along a coast dotted with ancient castles and palaces from the days of mythology. We stop in Rize and hike up old fortress walls, then down to a graveyard from the 1200’s. We’d be happy just to poke around the Turkish coast, but Akasha realizes the country of Georgia is only a few hours away. Why not put another stamp in the passport? Jim is up for it, of course – we love Jim for his sense of adventure – we probably wouldn’t be here if not for him. So on we drive, stopping only for snacks, and then we are in Georgia, the land of cone-topped churches, with a neon cross on a dark hill, and we have only a few hours to get the car back to Trabzon. A further exploration will have to wait. We drive back in darkness and rain and a fading rush of adrenalin.

Gaziantep From Trabzon, we fly south to Gaziantep. Here, we stay at one of the nicest hotels we’ve found: The Zeynip Hanim Hotel. It’s in the heart of old Gaziantep, down cobbled streets barely wide enough for a cab to squeeze through. Inside its white stone walls, Zeynip Hanim has plenty of old-school Ottoman charm, a lovely courtyard, and rooms that are spacious and warm. Here we are welcomed like long-lost relations, given tea, and shown on a map where all the sites can be found.

With our new friend in Gaziantep

With a new friend in Gaziantep

After checking in, we are hungry, so the concierge walks us down to the Kadir Ustan Kebap for dinner. This is a bright friendly place with fresh food and a super-friendly owner. The waiter fills our table with so much meze (appetizers) that there’s barely room for Dad’s lambchops and Mike’s antep kebap. We all enjoy the food so much, and the owner is so friendly, we decide to go back the next night. That’s where we meet a wonderful family – two dentists and their daughter, a senior in high school. Akasha and the mother chat the night away, and everyone gets along so well that the next day, we meet up and they show us around their city. They take us through the market district, where metal-workers are pounding red-hot metal into trays and teapots. Our new friends help Akasha track down a set of copper pans. They take us to an underground cave-mall lined with carpets, then to a Sufi museum, and after that, a coffee shop where we sample the region’s famous pistachio coffee. It was a true whirlwind of hospitality. I need to quickly mention the Zeugma Mosaic Museum – one of the great museums of Turkey. Short version: These mosaics, housed in two cavernous buildings, were taken from the remains of the city of Zeugma. (History geeks will want to click here.) It was an amazingly lovely place with an great collection. It is well curated and displayed. I would recommend getting there early before the crowds.

Antalya From Gaziantep we fly to Antalya, a resort town on the coast of the Mediterranean. Our hotel is again in the old quarter, the cobbles and narrow streets a challenge for me in the rental car, but Akasha’s expert navigation gets us there no problem.

Mike onstage at the Termassos theater

Mike onstage at the Termassos theater

In the morning we go out to Termessos, the most impressive unrestored ancient city we’ve ever seen. Its a a steep drive followed by a long hike up, but eventually we are in the rocky remains of walls and columns with spectacular views of the valley we drove up. Then we find a huge theater dug into a cliffside, with more mountains looming across the valley. I scamper down the hard granite steps to the stage, grown over with scrub and littered with stones. Akasha tells me to pose for a picture, and I answer. Then I realize that though she’s a few hundred feet away, we’re using our normal voices. Thank you, ancient, amazing acoustics – we can hear each other perfectly. An hour in the other direction from Antalya are the remains of the city of Perga. This is a much more accessible ruin because it’s on a flat plain, so it’s a much easier walk. Most impressive is the bath, whose walls are still standing, and some are still holding water.

The sheep of Perga

The sheep of Perga

We wander out into Perga, and come back as the sun begins its final descent to the horizon. Everything is orangey and glowing in this light, and it gets very romantic. Then we are distracted by bells and bleating. Akasha sees them first: a herd of sheep being led through the ruins – about twenty of them, cranky and tired. Akasha and I both want to pet them, but they’ve been walking through too much mud to be very cuddly. The shepherd guides them with a tapping stick and voice commands over the broken monuments and under the shining columns, to the grazing fields on the other side of the walkway. It’s very cute and bucolic. As we drive away back to the city we can continue to pick out columns and arches popping out along the roadside. It’s weird to realize that as modern as Turkey is, it’s also ancient all the time, if that makes any sense.

Istanbul, part 2 The next morning we drive to the airport and part ways. Dad and I send Akasha back to Ankara and work – her vacation has ended far too quickly. We board a plane and return to Istanbul. We have time to poke around the Basilica Cistern, the great underground reservoir that once kept the city supplied with water. We walk again through the Grand Bazaar. “So many things!” Dad says. “Who buys it all?”

Dad and me having a civil discussion.

Dad and me having a civil discussion.

We take the metro out to look at the Seven Towers area of the Theodosian Walls. This is our second visit, and I realize dad must think I am strangely fascinated by these fortress walls. “So many rocks!” I say. “How did they move them all!” But that’s family, to put up with each other’s weirdness. On our last night together, we have Thai food for dinner in the Pera district, to celebrate the end of a great trip, and also because it’s almost my birthday. In the morning I escort Dad back to the airport, where he begins his journey back to good ol’ Birchwood, USA, and I take the bus back to Ankara and Akasha. And that was our final Spring Break in Turkey. We’ve enjoyed our time here, and hope to see a few more sights in Turkey, like Mt. Nemrut. We have plans to visit Venice, Italy this month. And remember that we will also be in America for six weeks before our next adventure in Warclaw, Poland, begins in August. So get ready, America, because here we come!

Big news!

I am excited to announce that Mike and I have accepted a contract  and I will teach 4th grade at Wroclaw International School  ww.wis.fem.org.pl   It is a very small international school in a beautiful city.
My friend Nancy introduced me to to the school, she taught there after she taught in Jeollabuk-do, Korea and has said wonderful things about the school and the city.
The school is growing, but they cap at 15 students per class and the students are from a variety of countries.  Wroclaw is home to many international companies. It will be nice to return to teaching in a heterogeneous population. This school uses the IB PYP as its core curriculum and does not teach a national curriculum.The director meets often with the parents and there is strong  communication between parents, teachers, and students.We are super excited that our friend Susan has also accepted a contract there to teach Pre-K at WIS.
We are very excited to move to Wroclaw. It is just west of Dresden, and NE of Prague. It is a lovely city with many green parks, a beautiful old town, and lots of international restaurants. We will need to find an apartment, but we think that Remi will enjoy the dog friendly city.
We will be coming home by June 22 and I need to be at school by August 12th for orientation.We have rented a house in Uptown between the Wedge and MIA. We are excited to go to Camp du Nord, and the BWCA as end cap family trips this summer and hope to spend lots of time with friends in between. Sadly, we will have to go to the State Fair in 2016. We are very excited and can’t wait to tell you more when we get home.
Mike and I just traveled around a bit eastern Turkey with Jim.  Now they are in Istanbul wandering the old city while I am here teaching and petting the furmily.  Soon we will be posting about our visit and tell you more soon!