Saturday, March 26, 2011

So I am actually trying this time!!

Before I start writing, I should say that this blog and entire blog site is blocked in Turkey by the government (type "Bu siteye erişim mahkeme kararıyla engellenmiştir" into translate to find out exactly what appeared on my screen). It is thanks to a proxy work around that I can write now (the same one that tricks my IP address into being in Baltimore, thanks Hopkins, so I can watch Netflix and Hulu too!).

Ok so I am currently in Istanbul, Turkey on the European side. It is awesome and very different from what I expected. We are staying in old town but still have to take the tram to get everywhere which is fine since its like a dollar each way which is so cheap!! We got here Thursday afternoon and will be here until Monday afternoon. Now while I would love to come on my own, this is actually part of an optional class trip since we are studying middle eastern politics and Turkey is a unique situation given it is only one of two "democracies" in the region (besides that whole pesky free speech element as described above) with the other democracy being Israel. Turkey is a secular islamic country which makes it easier for westerners to comprehend and explore in my opinion. Most people in the city do not wear head scarves and even dress very western so we fit right in (other than that whole not speaking a word of Turkish and trust me, I've tried).

The first day we got here, we settled in and then went around exploring. This trip is very different from the traveling seminar at the start since the schedule is really loose and flexible. The professors are also a lot more relaxed and making jokes. I think this is due to a couple of things. Firstly, we are all fairly comfortable with them by now since it has been 2 or 3 months. Also, this is an optional trip that we chose to come on so while there are some academic elements, there are also a lot of fun things to do. We took the tram down to the Spice market and walked along the river. While we did have a small little academic introduction to the city, we also stopped and did one of professor Rasckas favorite things, bought fish sandwiches off of the boats. When I say fish sandwiches, I really mean that they caught the fish in the Bosphorus in the morning, cut it in half and grill it on a boat and put it in between two sides of a baguette with onions and lettuce and then sold it. This means it still had some skin, bones, scales, etc. You are supposed to add lemon sauce and salt of course too once you buy it. This thing was only 4 lire (like 2 euros or so or 2.50 dollars). Once you get over the small bones and scales, it was really good!! I know it is unlike me to eat something like this but I really am becoming more adventurous in my eating!!! Every single person in our group (17 student and 2 professors) bought one of the sandwiches which was really cool because usually one person is too scared. We all loved it! I also of course bought some chestnuts which were good but since the Turkish seem obsessed with making their stands look pretty, they were a little cold from sitting out. I swear that they are all OCD or something because every food stand has some weird organization system. Anywho, we went back towards the spice market and the professors gave us an imprompto 20 minute break to explore the start of the spice market so we could get a taste before returning later. It was funny to explore the market with the professors and each buy different things to share like baklava, turkish delight, various nuts, etc. After that we went into a mosque right there next to the market and just looked around. I must say, when I chose to study abroad in France for the semester, I did imagine myself visiting more mosques than churches! So far, I think I have been to at least 3 or 4 active mosques. That night we just kind of walked around and ate dinner and called it an early night since we had been traveling since 4 am our time thanks to the bus to Frankfurt for our flight. A couple friends and I did buy this creme puff cake covered in this fudge stuff with hazelnuts and finished the night out eating that while watching Sleepless in Seattle at the hotel.

Day two was a lot of fun too but exhausting. We started out at the Blue Mosque which is only called the blue mosque in english and something completely different in Turkish. I have kind of gotten used to this whole removing my shoes and covering my head business, its kinda nice and reminds you that you are in a special place. On our way to the next location, we stopped randomly for Apple Tea (yummy!) and hung out for a while. After that we walked over to the funicular and took it up to Gallatia (I think thats how you spell it) and walked down the very European Street where we grabbed lunch and continued on to Taksim Square where we took another funicular down and walked to the Syracuse Istanbul center at a local university. There we had two lectures about Turkish politics which were actually pretty interesting. After that we just kind of walked around for the rest of the evening.

Today we started out at Hagia Sofia which is gorgeous. You can really seem the transformation from Orthodox Church to Mosque to Museum. the pictures don't even do it justice!! After that we went to the Topkapi Palace which is very different from European Palaces. Ottoman architecture, artwork and court are fascinating!! We also visited the Harem :). After that we went and had lunch (chickpeas, beef and potatoes and baklava, yummy!!!). We continued onto the bazaars which were a lot of fun!! I bought a bunch of stuff (food and non-food).

Now I am excited for the next two days which are filled with walking, tea and exploring of the Asian side of the city. I will update more later!!!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Make-Up Entry #4: General ‘Bourg

Ok so make-up entry on the general situation here in the ‘Bourg. Life is pretty normal here. Midterms are over thank goodness and my internship is progressing. I really am starting to feel at home and like I know where things are. I even went to a chocolate tasting!!! There is probably a lot more to write but I am blanking at the moment. Sidenote though, I promise more postcards are coming, I just have to mail them!!!! Next entry will be about Istanbul where I will next weekend!!

Make-Up Entry #3: Family/Disney

Ok so this past week my family was here visiting me, minus Matthew since he had minor leg surgery. It was really nice to see them and show them around my new temporary hometown of Strasbourg. It was a Sunday which meant everything was closed but I took them all over the city and even to meet my host mommy. On Monday I took them to my school and showed them all over it before they had to catch their train to Paris and my two midterms. My friend Eliza and I went up Friday night to Paris to meet them at Disneyland Paris (Bobby’s choice of course!) only to find that Bobby and my dad had returned home early due to some interesting events back home. It turned out to be ok though since we had a girls weekend of Eliza, my mommy and I at Disney. We had a great time, even going as far as to sport the Minnie and Mickey ears. Oddly enough though, all of the rides kept having technical difficulties making it hard to be able to ride anything! Oh well, still had fun. How can one not have fun with Mickey-shaped pizza and a Mickey-shaped brioche filled with nutella? Exactly. We even rented Ratatouille the movie that night since we were at Disney in France. ☺ Even though the weekend did not go as planned, it still turned out to be a lot of silly fun!!

Make-Up Entry #2: Spring Break

Ok now onto Make-up entry number 2, spring break. I am not sure why they even tried to call it Spring Break given it started in February (February 25) and ran through the beginning of March (March 6 – my 21st birthday!!!). The trip started out in Budapest with me, Thomas, Devron and Ari. Caitlin had a personal emergency and returned stateside but she joined us in Vienna and continued with us to Prague.

Travel to Budapest – interesting. Again, in our efforts to be thrifty, we took a bus for 14 hours instead of a train. It was not as bad as I thought it would be to be honest and we made it there alive.

The hostel in Budapest was actually pretty nice and the four of us had our own room. We did a lot of walking around both the Buda and Pest sides of the city which are really pretty. In addition we ate a lot of Gulash (yummy). One of the big things we did in Budapest was visit a very large and seriously gorgeous Synagogue near our hostel. I had never been in a Synagogue before so that made this even more interesting. There was also a memorial next door which we went to. So to start off this explanation, we walked past this synagogue every morning to go downtown and would look into this bizarrely and eerily beautiful garden which appeared to be a memorial garden to those who perished during the war in the ghetto since this was the Jewish section of the city. Once we entered the memorial, we read that this garden was on top of 25 mass graves of people who died in the ghetto. I almost there up right there and then because it was very unexpected. While it was upsetting, it was one of those things that (a) I should have not been as surprised by and (b) I think I needed to see to understand the situation a little better. Ok so on another related but happier topic, during our stay, we went to a hummus bar across the street which was amazing. Anyone who knows my love of hummus will understand. It was a giant plate of chickpeas, hummus, veggies and fresh bread. I was in heaven for this meal. Like everywhere else, we did a ridiculous amount of shopping.

Now onto Vienna. This was kind of our relax city and not spend as much money since it is absurdly expensive city. Our hostel was really cool and definitely catered towards to the young adult traveler. It had a nice setup and even a bar downstairs. We had a room for six people so once Caitlin arrived, there was only one random person in the room but she was kind of chill. We explored the area around Schoennbrunn Palace which has always been my favorite Palace in all of Europe. It is smaller and in my opinion prettier than most palaces plus it looks like a real house a opposed to a show piece. I guess as a child I also really liked the zoo in the backyard and the maze. After some walking of the grounds, we went up to the Gloriette for coffee and hot chocolate while looking around this truly gorgeous site. After that, we walked around downtown and went shopping. The next day we visited the ferris wheel and little mini amusement park thingy which was historical and whimsical. Other than that, we relaxed before leaving for Prague.

Last stop on Spring Break 2011 was Prague in the Czech Republic. Where to start, oh right, we got lost within 20 minutes of being there. After some heated arguments and many stops asking for directions, we found the hostel. It was supposedly highly rated online but alas, it was crap. After a day, Caitlins allergies were so bad and all of us so creeped out that her mom insisted we move to the Marriott. In the end, not a bad decision and again thank you. So other than that, we did a lot in Prague. The first day we (minus Ari who kinda did Prague on his own) went to the main square and walked around. Since it was the start of Karnival, there were little booths with ham on the square. You went up, said you wanted ham, they cut a slice, weighed it and you paid. I was scared at first but oh my gosh was it yummy!! We ended up doing that the second day too! We also walked around and tried to find Kafkas house which ended up being a kinda odd museum. We went into a Kafka bookshop and got some pretty cool stuff too. After all that, we walked over the Charles bridge and into s few smaller streets. For dinner we went to TGI Fridays since we wanted a taste of home and it was quick given Caitlin, Thomas and I were going to the ballet that night where we saw Swan Lake. It was my first time and it was gorgeous. The next day we walked over the bridge again and up to the castle which was gorgeous. We all went back and took a nap after that and met up with Ari because we were all exhausted. After dinner, the boys went out on a Pub Crawl while Caitlin and I had a girls night of light shopping, watching tv/movies, packing and the hotel bar. The next day we woke up and left to go back to the ‘Bourg.

So the trip home. This was another fine idea to save money and included a bus and three trains. One of the connections was only 19 minutes and had me terrified but we made it home on time and missed none of the connections. We arrived back in Strasbourg about 15 minutes before midnight on the 5th so by the time I got back to my house, I was 21! Nothing big though since being 21 here means nothing. I did celebrate with Caitlin and the guys in Vienna so it did not go completely unnoticed. Overall I would say it was a fun, culture filled break!

Make-Up Entry #1: Morocco

We (Eliza, Ari and I) went to Morocco at the start of February (11-13), which was a lot of fun! Since we only had a few days, we went to Marrakesh. We left Thursday afternoon from Strasbourg (from here on out called the ‘Bourg but don’t pronounce the g, will explain later). Rather than explain this in parts, I will explain all of the travel arrangements now. Since we are cheap college students and very resourceful, we found that if we flew out of Geneva at 6am on Friday and back into Charles de Gaulle on Sunday morning-ish, it would be the cheapest option. Downside, since we had to be in Geneva by 4am, we had to take a train the night before and the last one leaving the ‘Bourg to Basel with a connection to Geneva got us in at like 9:45-10pm the night before. What does this mean? Yes, we slept on the floor of the Geneva airport. Anyone of you who has travelled with me knows that this idea of camping out in an airport is not completely unfamiliar but still very odd. I have this to say, it was February, Switzerland, night and stone floors. We were very cold. Anyways, once we got on the plane we were lucky enough to get exit row (it was one of those no-assigned seats airlines, EasyJet). After a relatively relaxing plane ride, we landed in Marrakesh and went through passport control. We spent the entire time trying to find ways of ensuring Ari would get through because he is paranoid and Jewish. He thought that due to him being Jewish, they would arrest him or something. It’s a long story but this theme runs through the entire trip.

Next part of the trip, the hostel. In accordance with the whole finding cheap options, Ari found us a “lovely” backpackers hostel right near the city center form 8 euros a night (yes, that is 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8!!!!!! Euros….). At first we thought, ok this is quaint… but after a while it kinda got weird. First there was the terrace which had been advertised as a place to hang out, meet new friends, relax and drink tea. This was not the case, instead it was a roof-top terrace covered in laundry looking at other roofs covered in laundry. Next is the room, we made sure to get a room with only three beds so we had no randoms in there which would have been super awkward given Eliza and I are girls sharing a room with a guy and that is inappropriate under Sharia even in its mild forms. As a result, we created a backstory where Ari was married to Eliza who refused to change her last name and I was one of their sisters-in-law. Thank goodness we did not need to explain it because it got complicated. Anyways, the room had three beds but the forgot the sheets and we had to ask for them. When they came, I kinda wished they had not since they scared me. We also somehow locked ourselves in our room like six times. There was a slightly broken window up above Elizas bed and our light had only one working bulb. This place was sketch times 1000. I saved the best for last, the bathroom. We had a shower/toilet/sink combo next to our room. This was not a real toilet but rather a dirty hole in the ground with no paper. Upstairs they did have a real toilet but it leaked all the time and flooded the floor plus was always out of paper. There was also no soap at the sink. So, we still used that one but used tissues and hand sanitizer (I always come prepared!!). I feel I grew as a person as a result of this experience, kinda.

Next part is the market. One word, freaking awesome (ok fine two words). The square was full of food vendors with fruit, dried and juiced, snake charmers, dancers, etc. The juice was honestly, best juice ever. The snakes, scariest thing ever. I hate snakes with every fiber of my being. In the market, there were booths/stalls of everything imaginable from pillows to bags, tourist crap to plates to more. The thing to do is obviously to haggle. Since I am no good at haggling, Ari took over and managed to get all of us stuff for like 50% off. I felt bad but at the same time was able to buy more stuff as a result. Shopkeepers kept thinking we were anything but American and trying to convince us prices were great against the pound so we should buy stuff. It was kinda hard to not respond, ya great against the pound but crappy against the dollar. By the time we left, I had bought this really cute leather and fabric duffle bag, a bunch of pillow covers, some jewelry, scarves and a few gifts. It was a very productive trip. ☺ One downside of the market was the existence of some real creepers. I got hit on by this creepy shopkeeper dude who was very inappropriate and then this other guy tried to “jokingly” harass me with a wooden toy snake. Now I am terrified of those things. On a funnier note, someone offered to buy Eliza from Ari for two camels. Needless to say, he said no. I said he should have said yes if the guy had offered to add a goat to the deal. Eliza was not totally amused by this.

On the second day (Saturday), we went on a tour up in the Atlas mountains which was a lot of fun. We left really early but managed to see some beautiful Moroccan countryside and mountains. It was gorgeous. We went to an old Kasbah (where Eliza and I covered up with a Hijab since it is a very conservative area) and to a Berber “city” often used in movies to be various countries in North Africa since it is in the desert. Movies such as Alexander were apparently filmed there. This trip was really fun but it hard to explain in writing.

The last major part of the trip was the food. Oh my gosh, it was good (and cheap). For the equivalent of 30 euros, we all three managed to get 2-3 courses on non-Vegetarian food and mint tea. Besides that, is was amazing. All different types of food I have never eaten before from Tagine to Couscous to Pastilla. Also the pastries were rather yummy. Overall, some of the best food I have since I have been in Europe/study abroad. Mostly because it was so different I guess.

Morocco was an exhausting trip but really rewarding. On a political note since some of you might be wondering why we went to Maghreb (North Africa) given the then and current political climate. Morocco is considered a relatively stable Arab state given it is a monarchy with no massive opposition. We were there the weekend Mubarak in Egypt resigned which we were unaware of at the time. Saturday night we did hear some chanting in support of Mubaraks resignation but it was nothing dangerous and honestly, kinda cool and unique since most people never get to experience even a small sense of that spirit. We only knew it related to the political situation because Ari could understand a few words since he speaks Hebrew which is similar to Arabic. Since we left, protests with a more violent nature did break out in Morocco but have been pushing more for general reforms and freedom rather than overthrow and their protests have been heard by the monarchy who has promised to start implementing the reforms it promised. The entire time though we were careful to keep a low profile and no one suspected American, even after we switched to English. We went at the right time and we knew that as soon as we set foot in Paris and read the headlines…

Ok so I really am horrible at this….

Seeing as it has been one month since I last wrote and a lot has happened, I am going to break this entry into multiple ones (probably 4) all written now but to make it easier to understand.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ok, In my Defense, I have been busy. :)

Hello Again,

So I know it has been a while and I am very sorry! I am just going to write about everything that has happened since I arrived in Strasbourg. I am warning everyone, this is going to be a very LONG entry and possibly a little scattered...

Ok so to start off with, I have an awesome internship. It is at the Council of Europe which is based here in Strasbourg. I am working in the Congress -- Chamber of Local Authorities which works to preserve local democracy and promote grassroots movements. This can be on subjects relating from the environment to violence, immigration to voting. It is actually pretty cool. I am working on two projects there at the moment. Firstly, I am working on editing the Wikipedia page in English for the Chamber of Local Authorities because it is a little outdated and needs to be expanded (go look for yourself). The second is helping to work on organizing a conference in April for European Mayors to address the situation of Roma in Europe which is a very hot button issue at the moment, especially here in France thanks to Sarkozy and his extreme policies. This internship is 3 college credits which means its a pretty large time commitment but it is one of the only ones (or possibly the only one) that hopkins gives more than 1 credit for because there is a written paper component. I have my own little desk and computer. I feel so grown up! I also have my first ever personal work email address: So official isnt it? My officemate Cansu is really nice too and has been really helpful! Shes from Turkey and is taking a gap year before law school. She makes longer work stretches really fun and has shown me the ropes. She has also offered to introduce me to some other interns from the Council and show me some stuff about Strasbourg. I should also say that I have a picture badge that lets me through nearly all security gates/doors. Again, am I really old enough to have a photo ID just like my daddy? I remember when I was little looking at my daddy's compaq badge and thinking, wow, thats so cool and adult like. I guess I am now hitting that point in my life....

Onto the next subject, I also love classes! I am taking 12 credits worth of actual classes since i am getting 3 credits from the internship. The first class is France from WWI to the EU which is a history class in French. That class just makes me smile. Next class is Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe which looks at Eastern and Central Europe post WWII. This includes the Cold War, Balkans, etc. Very complicated but really interesting. Next class is Europe and the Arc of Crises. Another Poli Sci/History class but this one looks at the identity of the Middle East and parts of Northern Africa. We are studying political changes and even the current crises all over the region. Last class is another French (history) class called France Under the Occupation and it is with the director of the program. I say history in parenthesis because it is kind of a history class, kind of a literature class, kind of a everything interdisciplinary approach to looking at a (still) very painful time in France's history. I really like all of my classes and professors. The two french classes include a trip in March to a concentration camp in France (the only one since they considered Alsace to actually be German and by they I mean the Germans) and the Arc of Crises goes to Istanbul. Needless to say, I am very excited. Lastly, I am taking a not-for-credit german class at the Universite Populaire (night classes) on Monday nights which is pretty fun except for I think I am the youngest person by at least in a decade in there which is funny.

Ok next subject. I love my host family and am finally feeling at home in my room. It is a little weird getting used to things but I am falling into a groove. I have to be places at 9am everyday (and Ive only overslept once so far!) so I get up and have eaten breakfast everyday. For anyone who knows me very well on a daily basis, you know that I dont eat breakfast so this is progress for me. Anyways, I am also eating so many new things! I tried rabbit for the first time which was interesting. Tasted like chicken and pork at the same time if you can imagine it. It is now the other other white meat. I thought it would be a red meat but nope. I am also eating a crap-load or pork but I am growing to love it. Basically, I am eating a lot. Oddly enough though, I am eating more and somehow losing weight which makes me happy since those are two things I like to do: eat and get healthier.

Ok now onto another subject. I went to Switzerland last weekend (not like yesterday but the one prior). It was really odd to go back as an adult but I think I needed it. We went to Basel and Zurich and just walked around. While there, we of course hit every chocolatier on Bahnhofstrasse which about broke the bank but oh well, at least I got my Teuscher fish chocolate. For those of you unfamiliar with Teuscher, look it up because (a) it kicks lindt and sprungli's butts and (b) I do not have enough time to profess my deep and profound love for it. If I could marry food, I would marry Teuscher. Understand? :) Anyways, It was really nice to just walk around and show my friends some of my favorite places while also learning what it was like to be there as a 20-year-old. I even got to return to my happy place on the lake which was pretty except for a few clouds which made it impossible to see the Alps. :( Anyways, it was kind of a day for personal reflection which I know sounds odd but if you know me, I have a lot of those days because I overanalyze...

That Sunday, we had to be back in Strasbourg because there was a mandatory school field trip to tour Alsace. We visited a cute little village/church and bought really good baked goods (who can say no to a chocolate eclair? if you can, you have problems). After that we had an AMAZING lunch of wild boar and spaetzle. It was also all you can eat which is dangerous but yummy. After than we visited a pretty castle up in the Vosges where we saw snow and signs of German pompous behavior when they reacquired Alsace and Lorraine after the Franco-Prussian War. That evening was the wine tasting trip, school sponsored wine tasting. :) I tried 5 4 different wines I believe and somehow managed to spill an entire glass down my front. But it was good and I ended up buying two bottles :).

Ok, another subject once more (I was not kidding about this being a very long entry). So Strasbourg. I love it here. I have been exploring and exploring and keep finding new places! I also love the trams and buses, they make life so much easier! We have found our favorite restaurants, bars, snack places, grocery stores, banks, etc. Our adventures so far have included climbing the cathedral tower (which is free the first friday of every month) so of course I did it, finding a French club, meeting some odd English dudes who are working on Sherlock Holmes II in a bar, exploring the set of the movie (because parts were filmed here and yes, robert downing jr was here) and somehow walking to germany, yes walking on foot from downtown Strasbourg. Many others of course but way too many to list!

Overall, I am loving life here. Next weekend I am going to Morocco with two friends (Eliza and Ariel) which should be a lot of fun. We will see what crazy adventures we get into or if I happen to kill Ari in the meantime. :) I think Eliza being there might save him. Anyways, until next time my dearies! And to the Kappas back at JHU, good luck with rush and I am thinking about you!! Let's get some new baby owlettes!!!! (sounds better than little keys...)