Friday, October 3, 2008

Bellissimo! Venice, Florence and Rome

They say Venice (Italian: Venezia) is a city for lovers. To me it seemed more like a city of tourists. I mean, really, everything was geared to tourists (I think that's only true of the historic city, however, which is where I spent my time in Venice), and on top of that, when you hear about the canals, I didn't realize there would literally only be canals and pavements and squares. I thought there would be roads and maybe some cars, but sure enough: it's canals, baby. Canals.

Venice's famous Grand Canal

Anyway, I didn't have the best time in Venice, mostly because I was pretty exhausted arriving there, and I got eaten alive by mosquitos my first night there. I later counted well over 40 bites...and those were just the ones I could see! Anyway, I'm not saying Venice couldn't be an amazing experience, but if I went back there it would be with someone or a group, definitely not in summer (it was pretty sweltering), and only if I had a suffienctly higher budget. As it was it was pretty cool to wander around all the canals and piazzas (i.e. squares, not pizzas). Especially noteworthy was St. Mark's Square and the Basilica there. It's true that Venice is a really beautiful city, but my advice is to go during a cooler period of the year, have plenty of money to spend, and someone(s) to spend it with.

P.S. A ride on a gondola is anywhere upwards of 80 Euros. Not that I went on one.

An interesting anecdote before I left for Florence: as I was waiting in the Venice train station, a very loud woman and her (I guessed) mother, who was middle-aged, plunked themselves down next to me on my bench. I think the daughter must have had something wrong with her mentally from the way she was acting, but about 20 minutes after they'd first sat next to me (the mother was away for a few minutes), the young woman walked to the center of the hall and lay down on the floor, facing up. I exchanged a slightly amused glance and shrug with some other young travelers a few yards away, but when after 10 minutes there was no sign of life from her the other travelers appeared concerned, and went over and started trying to wake her. This drew a crowd of Italian youths, who also tried various methods of waking her. At one point, someone lifted her leg and she suddenly sat up and cried out! Then she jumped up and, looking very frightened started shouting and backing away from the people. Her mother eventually reappeared, and things settled down, but not before some policemen had been called in. I was chatting with the other young travelers later (Danish high school students), and they said the Italian guys had theorized it was an attempted con trick in which everyone's attention was on the young woman while the older riffled through people's unattended belongings. Thankfully I'd stayed with my stuff, and they'd made sure someone had stayed with theirs, so I don't think anyone was robbed that time.

After Venice it was on to Florence, and possibly my favourite leg of the Italian adventure.

Florence's beautiful skyline

 Not only was the city compact and very walkable, but my lodgings (a campsite overlooking the city where you don't need your own tent or equipment) were cheap at 15 euros a night, and all the facilities I needed right there. I also met some friendly travelers my own age or thereabouts, a couple of sisters from Australia and an American student studying in Paris and on a long weekend break to Florence. Of course I visited several of the main attractions while I was there, including the incredible and beautiful Basilica Santa Maria del Fiore (in photo above), supposedly the 4th largest cathedral in the world. It was certainly memorable, and makes the beautiful skyline of Florence (or Firenze in Italian) what it is.

My highlight, however, and one of the highlights of my entire summer, was the Michelangelo's statue of David at the Accademia Museum. If you haven't seen it in person, look it up on the internet by all means, but know that pictures simply do not do it justice. I'd seen plenty of pictures of it, and was somewhat excited to see it, but the detail and (if a statue can possess this) charisma were stunning, and made my stay in Florence more than worth it. Something that definitely has to be seen in person.

Florence was above all a beautiful city, due in large part to its architecture (not that I know anything much about that subject), but I couldn't stay forever, so after two days, headed for the seat of that epitome of imperialism, Rome itself.

Rome came a close second to Florence in Italy, although by this time I was tiring of the whole 'on the road' experience, and especially the lack of company that was part of it. As it was, I still managed to take in the Colosseum, which was quite awe-inspiring (another highlight); that took up the better part of an afternoon. I also went to the Vatican city, and had some incredible pizza by the kilogram at a little pizzeria a few blocks from it.

A rough idea of where this pizzeria was (Piazza San Pietro just to the West of the river is the main square of the Vatican, so to speak):

View Larger Map

Of course my trip to the Vatican city had to include the museum, as this housed the famous God and Adam painting of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. I happened to be in quite a hurry (there was some time constraint that I can't remember) to see the painting, and entered the museum really to see the Sistine Chapel, despite the 8 euro entrance fee. Still, the Chapel was worth it.

Finally, it was on to France, or so I thought...

It turns out that the ferry from Civitavecchia (near Rome on the West coast of Italy) to Toulons in France was not leaving on the day I made the trip out to the little seaside town, so instead I had to catch the next train back to Rome (1 hour) and get an overnight train up to Milan.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Best of the Balkans: July 21-August 2

This blog, it seems, is getting more and more infrequent and general. The title of this post bears witness to the fact. This is mostly because a. I was worried about running out of money, and spending 3 euros a time on the internet seemed like too much to waste any of the time on writing blog posts when I could be emailing and facebooking and researching the name for giant greek beetles and b. I thought it would be rather pathetic to say to people I´d spent the majority of my time in Europe blogging about it rather than actually seeing it.

Skopje, Macedonia

100 Macedonian Denari:
That said, the Balkans were great, and despite having enough to say about certain ones to fill several posts, I´ll be brief. Macedonia, or its capital Skopje to be specific, was not too different from what one might expect of a former Yugoslavian country: a bit depressed (not depressing, mind) and bleak (especially the weather), but enjoyable nonetheless. A few interesting experiences there included: being ripped off by the taxi driver, whose English-speaking friend told me my taxi driver would take me to the address for a hostel I had written on a scrap of paper for 5 euros. I was sure this was probably exorbitant, and the distance to the hostel confirmed this, but I was willing to pay it. On arriving though, I discovered that I only (as I thought) had a 10 euro note; on presenting the driver with this, he said, "ok, thanks", and only after 5 minutes of protestations from yours truly did he fish around in his pockets for 100 Leva (I think that was the currency, can´t remember for sure) change, which of course meant nothing to me. I later found out that was worth about 1.40 euros. The next morning, while exploring, stopped to ask a young Macedonian couple for directions and found out that they weren´t Macdeonian at all, but Turkish, so I had a nice chat with them in Turkish before moving on.

Belgrade, Serbia
                                                                                                                                       Milosevic fan shirt

That evening I caught the train for Belgrade, meeting on the way a 20 year old Portuguese pizza-delivery boy taking a similar (but even more whirlwind) tour of Europe and a Slovenian student who was returning to Ljubljana after a long weekend away. We arrived there a couple of days after Milosevic´s capture, and exited the station to find a street vendor selling t-shirts with his (Milosevic, not the street vendor) face on the front and something in Serbian no doubt about what a wonderful hero he was for the Serbian people. The Slovenian student had to catch a connecting train back to Ljubljana, so the Portuguese guy and I spent the day walking around Belgrade, chatting on political and theological issues and the like. That evening I boarded the train for Zagreb.
Another train, another interesting character. I was happy in the prospect of having my carriage to myself, as I was the first one there and no one else was coming in. At the eleventh hour, though, a somewhat tough and sketchy (read: a bit mangy and scruffy) looking guy came in. His name escapes me, but it seems he had quite the existence. Currently manager of a floating hostel in Belgrade (two guests of which I´d shared my room with in Skopje, incidentally, and who he was able to identify), he was more in the longrun a filmmaker, and had once hitchhiked from Barcelona to Palestine to make a documentary (I think only about Palestine and Israel, so I´m not sure how the hitchhiking fit in). "Hmm," I thought. I wonder if he has tips on hitchhiking large distances across several countries, as it had recently entered my mind as a rather hare-brained scheme to do likewise, starting in Colorado and ending up in that land of cows, fat and drug-addled erstwhile football superstars, and Madonna: Argentina. Turns out he did: get dropped off and picked up at gas stations, and offer to pay part of the gas money. Logical enough. Anyway, he was originally from Chile, although he´d grown up in Greece. His English was excellent. He told me his great dream, or next adventure anyway, was to cycle (I think it was cycle, not motorbike) from Morocco to South Africa with some friends, filming everything they encountered on the way.

So that was that. Apart from his very smelly feet, and the fact that he made up for them by having a laptop on which he proceeded to play some music of the lulling-to-sleep variety, the trip was uneventful, and I woke up the next morning to find the train was stopped at a station. Turns out it was Zagreb. I dashed to grab all my things and hurtled out of the train, all the while Chilean-Greek-Serbian filmmaker was leaning out the window shouting at the station attendants who were about to signal to the train driver, "Waaaaaiiit!"

Croatia: Zagreb, Pag, and Zadar

As it was still 5 in the morning, I decided to wait a couple of hours to call Nika, so I waited an hour for the exchange bureau to open, then left my behemoth of a bag in a locker, and set out to explore Zagreb. Well. What a pleasant surprise.

As you leave the station, you might be forgiven for expecting more of the same post-Yugoslav architecture, drab and derelict buildings destroyed by the Balkans conflict of the early 90s, and bleak weather. But instead a very clean and well-kept park awaits your eager little eyes, as you step out into the sunlight, and...

                                                          The front of Zagreb's train station

But really, it is that nice, and in fact the whole of old Zagreb, with it´s amazingly well-maintained roads, parks and fountains, and beautiful architecture, plaza, and busy little trams are charming. After an hour of walking around, I went back to the station and called Nika, who told me her dad had a meeting and to come back at noon to call her for further directions, as he´d probably be done by then. In the interval, I walked down to Novi Zagreb (New Zagreb), which ironically looks older and more depressing than the old city. I then walked back and called her, to be told that his meeting would last till 4, and to return to the train station then and await a man (her father) who was "tall, wearing sunglasses, and looks like a mafioso". With a foreboding mixture of anticipation and fear, I waited.

4 o´clock came, and a black Renault Laguna pulled up. Out jumped the mafioso, smiling. He extended his hand: "Andrew?" I got in the car, prepared for an awkward, three hour silence on the drive down to Pag, where my friend from my Madrid days, Nika, and her family had an island house. Instead though, her father regaled me with tales of the former Yugoslavian republic and its breakup while we drove through beautiful mountain passes and forests.

Pag itself is the longest, though not biggest, of the Croatian islands in the Adriatic Sea, and the town of Pag, of some 1000 people, its capital, about 40 km along the island. The next four days were for me easily the most peaceful and relaxing of the whole trip, as Nika and I often meandered through Pag´s little streets and squares down to the waterfront, where we spent hours drinking cafe au laits and reminiscing about the good old days!

 Right: ice cream on the streets of Zadar (mainland) with Nika and her sister, Lina.

Her mother was an incredible cook, and pulled out all the stops in preparing lavish dish after dish for us, including a squid salad, a pasta with tomato sauce, and a sort of baked octopus dish. Okay, I´m not very culinarily minded, I know. Hence the descriptions may be a bit lacking, but the food itself most certainly was not.

We also took the family´s boat out to a little beach around the headland a couple of times, and spent the majority of the day there, the beach shared with us only by a handful of families from Slovenia and the Czech Republic.

Sharing a bottle of wine and Pag's famous goat cheese at an atmospheric wine bar:
One last experience, before I move onto Slovenia, was undoubtedly also the most bizarre. Every year during one weekend in July, it seems, the town conducts a mock trial for some poor, fictional fellow whose name escapes me and who apparently fulfils a sort of role as the town´s scapegoat. The judge inevitably finds him guilty, and, at midnight on the culminating night of the holiday, a funerary procession follows his coffin down to the water´s edge, where, after his coffin has been set alight, it is tipped off the bridge into the watery depths, down, down, down... The celebration also includes a few other interesting characteristics, such as a lot of young people of the town dressing in their grandmothers´ traditional black dresses (including, maybe even especially) the young men. There is also a dance in the central square, where everyone links arms and does this simple little three-step of increasing speed around its perimeter while being accompanied by a volunteer brass band (many in their grandmothers´ clothing). A word to the wise though: if you ever are lucky enough to witness this holiday, unless you have a Pagite with you, or one who can teach you the dance beforehand, as I was, don´t jump in, as they don´t take kindly to tourists who can´t keep up or mess up the rhythm!

Well after a lovely 5 days in Croatia, it was time to be moving on, so I caught the bus into Zagreb, before getting an evening train for Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

I was met in Ljubljana by another friend from my Madrid days, Laura, who was interning for the summer at the U.S. Embassy there. She also happened to be housesitting a palatial apartment (with dog--B.B.King by name--included) for an embassy couple who were away on vacation. It was good to chat about SLU and hear the latest on what´s been happening there. The next morning I got up early so I could be out of the apartment at the same time as Laura, and set off for a day on the town. Well, once again, I was very pleasantly surprised to discover the charms of the old city, established on the banks of the Ljubljanica river (Ljubljana means "beloved", so it´s fair to assume Ljubljanica has something to do with love, too!). There are several pedestrian bridges crisscrossing the little river, with a couple leading to the main plaza of the old town, dedicated to a poet and his unrequited love for a woman whose statue cruelly taunts him from the other side of the square. Apart from idly wandering along the waterfront and taking in a few cafes along the way, I stopped in at the city museum, which is surprisingly modern and well laid-out, if a bit on the small and sparse side. Well, it´s good to have an excuse not to wear yourself out for several hours walking around a museum! In the afternoon, I returned to the apartment, and Laura and I went out for dinner--an interesting place with no menus, where the waitress simply mentioned some things that were on offer. You tell her which one sounds good to you, mention any modifications you want, and you´re set. Not bad at all.  Here is a picture of the restaurant in question, and although I look a bit disgruntled, really I'm just tired!

                                          A unique dining experience in Ljubljana, Slovenia

So that was my Balkan experience. That evening, I walked to the train station, and caught the 2.20 am train through Trieste to Venice. Vincero, vincero, vinceeeeeeero!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Greece: Home of the Acropolis, Socrates...and giant flying beetles??

On arriving in Thessaloniki, we found out straight away that there was a strike and we couldn't in fact get a train down to Athens, and that we would need to take a bus instead. So Dani and I, after saying bye to Ana (who was going to be staying in Greece for a while), got on a bus for Athens, erstwhile capital of culture and knowledge for Western civilization, present day capital to a somewhat lesser empire of drug addicts and prostitutes. At least, that's what we seemed to find almost immediately once the bus dropped us off at Omonoia, Athen's central plaza and home to some of the seediest people this side of the Tiber.

                                                      Nondescript Omonoia Square, Athens

After finding (of course) an internet cafe, we located Dani's hotel, which it turned out, would let me stay for the same price (he had reserved), so we took showers and wound down a bit before going out to explore a bit. As it was quite late, my exploration mostly involved the area in and around Omoneia, which included a cafe at the top of a large department square just off Athena Ave. to the south of the plaza. It had great souffle and a nice view of the Acropolis, which I decided to make my goal for the next day.

Me (apparently trying to look butch) in front of the Parthenon
The next day dawned...well, late, for me anyway. But we made it to the general area of the city which housed the Acropolis by early afternoon at any rate, taking in Hadrian's library (very disappointing, not worth the entrance fee) on our way. The Acropolis was definitely worth it though. Even though there is a lot of restoration work happening on the Parthenon (the main building at the Acropolis), it was still a sight to see, and quite amazing to think of how long it's been around and still in decent shape.

Later that evening I said bye to Dani as he headed off for the Greek isles and I caught a night train into the Peloponesse, or the Western town of Kiparissia, specifically. As exhausted as I was, I of course slept, although since it wasn't exactly the most luxurious of trains it was pretty fitful. That's why I expected I would be awake in time for Kiparissia, and was therefore shocked to wake up to an almost empty train at dawn! I asked a station attendant if we had reached Kiparissia and found I had missed it, and it was the last stop! So I got off to wait for the next train back, and in the meantime, had a coffee at a cafe near the tiny station. I can't recall the name of the town, which is a shame, and apparently it's too small to show up on any internet maps, but I was almost tempted to stay there, it was so lazy and seemingly untainted by tourists. A quick walk down to the beach, though, revealed that it's beach was dirty, probably because it was only frequented by locals and didn't have any reputation to preserve.
                                                                                        Charming Kiparissia (Peloponesian Peninsula)
So I got on the train some 30 minutes later, and spent a very peaceful (if somewhat lonely) day in Kiparissia, making three different trips to the beach throughout the day and wandering along it's coastline, where I was shocked (and disgusted) to discover the eponymous creatures of this posting...on research, I have decided, the Great Silver Water Beetle, which swarmed in droves out of the coastal bushes, and which I sometimes literally mistook for birds (the bigger ones anyway, which could reach up to two inches long). Shudder.

Anyway, following that calm day of beaches and wandering through the quiet streets and up the hill to the castle at the top, I got on the train back to Athens, only to miss it too, the next morning! But thankfully only by one stop again.

I spent the day and another night there, as I found out there was no night train to Skopje from Athens, and the following morning I got an express train back to Thessaloniki, and there, at 6.15, boarded a train for the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bulgaria and crazy French women and accordions, Oh my!

The trip to Sofia was pretty uneventful, but it was thrilling to finally be off, heading to uncharted territories, boldly going where no ma--okay, where I had never gone before! With the windows open and the night breeze rushing in, we said goodbye to the Bosphorus and left the twinkling lights of Istanbul behind.

Arriving in Sofia around 11 am, Dani and I bought tickets for Thessaloniki for that evening, also a night train, I left my bag with an attendant (no lockers here!), and we set out for a walk around the town.


Well Sofia is a charming little city; we stopped in at a couple of old churches, as well as the odd cafe or four, before hitting up a sidewalk vendor for some GREAT(and cheap!) pizza. Then we hung out at the park for a while, before going to *blush* an internet cafe WITHOUT WHICH I wouldn't have discovered a Bulgarian friend (Minna) from Madrid was living and working in Sofia, so we arranged to meet her 20 minutes later.

Minna took us to meet some of her friends, whereupon (isn't that a great word?) we went to a pub for dinner, which meant a local sausage done in one of those long coils ("multo bene!" or whatever it is one says on this sort of occasion). After that we headed back to the train station for the night train to Greece.

With Mina and friends in Sofia, Bulgaria

Another night train, a whole other experience! Firstly, we met a crazy but lovely French girl, Anne, who maybe was not crazy so much as eccentric; a few Spaniards, one of whom was crazy enough to be traveling without a passport; and many, many Bulgarian gypsies, one in possession of an accordion and not afraid to use it! I shared a carriage with several of them for part of the time, using Turkish to communicate with one of them, who translated for the others.

Location was a very fluid concept that night, reminded me of something I read once:
"All night now the jooks clanged and clamored. Pianos living three lifetimes in one. Blues made and used right on the spot. Dancing, fighting, singing, crying, laughing, winning and losing love every hour..." -- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.

Well Dani spent the night in relative comfort, having paid the extra 20 Euros for a sleeper car, while I settled for the cheap, seating only carriage. Although it was a memorable evening (at one point involving dancing in the passageway with said crazy French girl while the gypsy played a tune on his accordion), it was also uncomfortable and tiring, and I was glad when it was over and we arrived in Thessaloniki at last!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Road to Europe

Stunning view of the Bosporus at sunset in Istanbul (original photo from this site)

A memorable meal at Recepusta with Ian, Bedra and Audrey

So despite my best intentions, my plans for a regular blog during my year in Turkey were obviously somewhat of a failure. Still, I had a really great time, made some wonderful new friends, learned a new language, got to watch the sun set over the Bosporus on several occasions, took part in an Iranian New Year celebration in which we jumped over traditional Zoroastrian fires, and a lot more that would take far too long to recount. It's funny how little you may think you develop or learn in a year while it's happening, and how you really have to look at it in retrospect to even get an idea. Even so, it's still hard to sum up in any concrete statement or list of truths what I learned this year about life and about myself; sometimes it feels like relatively little, but at other times I get an impression of the bigger picture and it's really astonishing to think of all the ways I've progressed (or at least changed) during the year. Even on the superficial and practical level, I now have a CELTA certificate, a year's worth of work experience, and all the benefits--both personal and professional--that a new language and exposure to a new culture and people entail.

Overlooking a surreal Capadoccian valley during a scooter tour near Nevsehir with Audrey

A picnic on the ODTU campus with Ian and some of the Ankara Couchsurfing group

As I said though, it's over: I left Turkey this last Tuesday (July 15th), to embark on a European tour before starting the next stage of my adventures on the other side of the ocean.

My plan was to get a train (using an Interrail pass I had purchased, highly recommended for those eligible; the equivalent for non-Europeans is Eurail) from Istanbul to Athens via Salonica, but when, after having checked the TCDD (Turkey's national rail company), which said there were 3 trains a day between Istanbul and Salonica, I went to the train station on the morning of the 15th, they informed me that the next train to Greece was in 3 days, on Friday! So some quick thinking and 32 Turkish Lira later, I had booked a sleeper car for Sofia, Bulgaria instead, with the plan to spend a day there and get a night train down to Athens. While booking the ticket, I met a young Spanish guy, Dani, who seemed to have had the same plan and was therefore in the same predicament. We were stuck in Istanbul for the day (the train for Sofia left at 10 pm and it was 8 am), so we decided to make the most of it.

Both of us had seen the sights before though, so making the most of it involved stopping for some coffee before heading to Sultanahment for Turk kahvalti (a traditional, full Turkish breakfast). We then wandered down to Gulhane park, where we siesta-ed under the shade of a tall tree, before moseying back to the madding crowds for some internetery and tavla-ing in a cafe overlooking a street near the Aya Sofya. It was there that I heard via a text message that some of the ex-Bilkenters were also in Istanbul, so Dani and I headed out to meet them for dinner.

After that it was back to the train station where, after a worrying 15 minutes of realising I'd lost the ticket for the locker where I'd left my bag that morning and having to get a reluctant, grumbling station director to enter his PIN code to open it for me, I boarded the train for Sofia...

Sunday, May 4, 2008

6 months sonra...

Ahem! Hello again, my vast following of loyal readers! 6 months later, and I'm back to report on the various deeds and misdeeds of the last half year. I won't pretend it's been an uneventful 6 months, or that I'll even pretend to fill you in on anything, but being slightly obsessive compulsive, I have to finish what I've started, so let me summarize. Briefly.

The highlight of November was the St. Andrew's Day Ball, put on by the Ankara Caledonian Society on November 30.  The food was unfortunately nothing to write home about (including a disappointing haggis), but drinks and dancing were aplenty, which made for a convivial atmosphere and I do believe a good time was had by all.  About 25 members of the CELTA and SSI programs ended up going; all alerted to it by yours truly.

Myself and a rather skeptical looking Ananda

December was a month of contrasts. It was the best of times, it was....well anyway, 6 long months seemed to stretch ahead as we realized we'd only finished one course and had three to go. On the other hand, teaching was no longer as stressful as it had been, and we had our first significant break over Christmas. I decided to visit Izmir (formerly Smyrna) with a friend, Gloria. It was a really nice and restful week; happened to coincide with Kurban Bayram (Sacrifice Holiday, also know as guess what? That's right: Eid-al-Adha, to commemorate Abraham's sacrifice of "Ishmael" on Mount Moriah). One day we walked up to Kadifekale (literally Velvet Castle) on top of the hill, and had to side step rivulets of blood running down the cobblestone streets as people were slaughtering sheep left, right and center! Also met up with an old friend from high school (wow I sound like someone in his 50s), Murat, who was visiting family in Izmir; we sat and had tea on the waterfront in Izmir. Took a day as well to visit Bergama (formerly Pergamum), which was pretty cool.  I tried my hand at some poetry while in Izmir, inspired during a ferry trip at sunset.

Izmir ferries

Moon Over Izmir

We sat on the ferry, she and I,
And the Moon,
Magnificent, white, and full,
Hung in the purpling sky
Over Izmir.

Smog shrouded the coast as the sun set behind our backs--
It was beautiful still, but you weren't there.

As the wind whipped the sea and threatened
To carry spray over the side and into our faces,
The gulls flapped, awkward yet persistent,
Hanging in the air like the promise of tonight.

And as I thought,
"Isn't this sort of like life, always expectantly waiting
for the shore ahead or looking back to the one behind,
instead of living in the moment?"
I had to chuckle at my own philosophic pretensions.

It's tomorrow now,
And tonight never came,
And I am reminded of something a famous poet once said,
While trying hard not
To imagine how the wind would have whipped your hair,

Still the seagulls squawk expectantly,
Hanging in the air above the pier like portents.

Or like the promise of next week.

That was December. January was nothing too special, except the end of the second course, and saying goodbye to some students I'd actually grown quite fond of :) Beginning of February meant another week-long break, for which I visited Mum and Dad in Morocco--first time I'd been back in exactly 10 years. It was every bit as good as I remembered--the sounds and smells, the sights...and the food! I loved Taza (the town they live in about halfway between Fes and the Algerian border), and the people I met there. Overall a restful and enjoyable week.

Coming back meant the beginning of course three and also the CELTA course for me--the principal reason I came to Turkey for this job. CELTA stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, and would give me a certificate that is recognized worldwide, and a requirement for a lot of TEFL jobs--handy thing to have. The CELTA lasted 8 weeks, and was extremely intensive! Each week we had a Teaching Practice in which we were observed very stringently for a lesson, which may not sound like a lot, but involved planning meticulously, deciding what objectives needed to be covered and how to cover them (if they weren't covered it would be considered a failed lesson), as well as 3 days of class input, and an assignment almost every week.
 A proud moment with the CELTA group and instructors after completing the course

 That (the CELTA) and course 3 finished mid April, which meant it was time for another week-long break. This time I traveled with Christina and Wendi to the South East of Turkey, which was incredible! We visited quite a few cities in the week, starting with a flight from Ankara to Adana, which we spent the morning and afternoon in, before getting a bus onto Antakya (aka Hattay). General consensus was that Hattay was one of (or the) best town on the trip, although my personal vote was for Mardin, which we'll get to in a moment. After a couple of nights there, we got another dolmus (small bus where you pass your money forward through the ranks of passengers to the driver and receive your change back in the same way) to Gaziantep, renowned among Turkish cities for its culinary prowess. It lived up to its name, as I had there the best Iskender Kebap (slivers of meat over bread with tomato sauce and melted butter and yogurt on top)I've had in Turkey, as well as some incredible Fistikli Baklava (Pistachio baklava).

Balik Golbasi (The Pool of Abraham) at Urfa

Then it was on to Urfa, where we visited the Pool of Abraham, where according to Muslim tradition Abraham was thrown to his death from the castle overlooking the city. The forest into which he fell turned into water, and the stones in the forest became fish, and they can still be found there today, lending the pool it's Turkish name, Balik Golbasi (Fish Lake). We managed to procure for ourselves (actually he asked if he could trail along and practice his English with us) an impromptu tour guide of 19 or 20 who went by Yusuf (although not before being surrounded by a gaggle of 9 or 10 curious youths--my posse). He took us up to the castle on top of the hill, where we were set upon by another gaggle--this time of middle--high school aged girls, who were eager to speak to us and have their picture taken with us. Then it was a theological conversation with Yusuf under the shade provided by the castle wall, before heading back down and getting a refreshing drink in a cafe that's ensconced in a cave--very touristy, but atmospheric nonetheless). Finally it was on to Mardin, my favourite town on the trip, but which because it is so late in the evening I won't go into too much detail on. Suffice to say the people were friendly, the food excellent, and the views (overlooking the hazy Syrian plains to the South as the sun set and we sipped cay on a terrace) unbeatable. Then it was back to Ankara, which was not without misadventure--our plane was cancelled, which meant a 14-hour bus trip back on my 23rd birthday.

Christina, Wendi and me with the cocuklar (children) of Adana, where we proved a big hit

And finally, to conclude, the fourth and final course has started, meaning there are 7 weeks left of teaching, before the summer "hols" start. Looking forward to it, although not to the prospect of leaving behind some wonderful friends I've made, as well as the language and country that I've just really started to appreciate. That's all for now, but watch this space, I'll be back soon...