Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Where to Sleep, Eat, Drink & Dance in Prague, Czech Republic

 

Now I will not claim to be an expert on Prague, as I only spent one happy little weekend in the beautiful city. My friend Izy, who I unfortunately did not get the chance to see, has lived in Czechland for the past several months and no doubt can offer you many more recommendations. Still, I had an amazing experience on my trip and thought I would offer you information about the places I loved so much.

Where to Sleep in Prague:

Charles Bridge Economic Hostel
Mostecka 4/53
118 00 Praha 1 - Mala Strana Prague 118 00 Czech Republic

Dorm: Common Room 
Standard 5 Bed Mixed Dorm

This hostel, while not the cheapest option in Prague, was still incredibly affordable at about the equivalent of 16 euros per night for a 7 bed dorm. I selected this hostel because it was the highest rated place on hostel world and the location seemed unbeatable (right at the charles bridge, in lesser town!) I had a fantastic experience there. Each dorm has it’s own common room with flat screen TV, computer, etc;, a huge bathroom, and decent sized kitchen. It felt very much like an apartment, a “home base” rather than just a place to keep my stuff. It helped that every single person in my dorm was amazing and we made fast friends right away.  It was super clean, the showers were amazing (rain showers, people!) and I somehow lucked into being assigned the only queen sized bed in the room. Jackpot.


Where to Eat in Prague:

The Lokal
Míšeňská 66/12, 118 00 Praha 1
tel.: +420 257 212 014

Kliknutím okno zavřete

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Affordable, no-frills, and positively delicious, our group visited The Lokal twice on our short weekend trip. It helped that it was right next door to our hostel, but it was the kind staff and cool atmosphere that had us coming back. The place was recommended to us by one of the hostel managers for a place where we could find good Czech food at a great price. That picture above is a quarter duck and traditional Czech bread dumplings. So, so good, and only about 6 bucks. I was only able to eat half of it despite being starving when I started, and boy did the leftovers make a good lunch the following day. Oh, and please try the Goulash while you’re there – it was to die for.

Where to drink in Prague:
Vinárna U Sudu (Or as we called it, the labyrinth)
Vodickova 10, Prague 1



I don’t drink alcohol, but my newfound Aussie travel-mates did, and even though I chose a diet coke over beer it was still impossible not to enjoy the atmosphere of this really cool place. Downstairs you’ll find a medieval cellar that just keeps going and going and going, opening up into different rooms that are always packed with people. I kid you not, we took a wrong turn on our way back up and had no idea where we were for about five minutes. It was awesome, in a disconcerting sort of way.

Where to Dance in Prague:

Chapeu Rouge
jakubská 2, Praha 1
+ 420 222 316 328


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I didn’t get any pictures of this place, probably because I was too dang busy dancing. There are two levels: a bar on the ground floor with a quirky, twisted-circus sort of ambiance and a dancefloor on the lower level. I wasn’t a huge fan of the music on the lower level (mostly dubstep) but upon returning to the surface we were in for a big surprise. The DJ on the first floor was putting together an amazing mix of hard rock and pop, music from the 60’s, the 80’s, and modern stuff all flowing together without a single pause. We were all seriously impressed and were there until it closed and we danced our way out the door. It was definitely the music that made the experience.

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We made it back to our lovely little hostel (via this view on the Charles Bridge) just before 7 AM.
For some reason we thought it was a good idea to watch Pulp Fiction instead of sleep…
We all need to be a little crazy sometimes, right?

Please feel free to email me for more travel tips if you’re thinking about heading to Prague sometime soon!

Monday, February 27, 2012

If we sat down for a cup of tea...



If we sat down for a cup of tea, I'm sure we'd have a marvelous time. We would talk about our adventures, our love lives, our day to day joys and trials. We would listen to eachother's problems and offer good (or maybe not so good) advice in return. In that short period of time, we would become great friends.

I would tell you about how I had a breakdown last week, sobbing to my thoroughly confused but wonderful husband about how I don't feel like "me" anymore, that I missed America, and that I couldn't go another day without feeling happy.

I would also tell you that all it took was a hair cut and color, a few yoga classes, and some warmer weather to completely change that and turn it all around. Life is beautiful again and I feel silly for my meltdown.
I would complain that my body is totally not built for yoga but my soul definitely is. It hurts me and I make a fool of myself, but I love it. 

I would laugh with you about how one knows they are in housewife mode when the highlight of their week is getting a crockpot. No really. I'm over the moon.

I would tell you that we spent all day saturday cleaning our apartment and doing laundry and this is probably the first time since we've moved in that I'm not embarrassed about how it looks.
I would tell you that I'm learning what it truly means to blog for "me." I can't force inspiration. I can't pretend to be a fashonista/DIY-master/gourmet chef when I'm just not. I can't force projects on myself if I'm not in the mood, just because I know it would be great on the blog. I'm learning to just go about life, living it the way I need to live it, documenting it along the way to share with you.
Not to you,
Not for you,
with you.
Because you are my friends and I love you. 

I would tell you that sometimes I wish my husband and I could pack up all of our stuff into cute little backpacks and just wander this beautiful earth like nomads.

I would also tell you that sometimes I wish my husband and I could just hole up in our little apartment and forget that any world outside exists at all.

Oh, and you can't forget the time we'll spend going over the best-dressed and worst-dressed of the Oscars this year. I mean, that's totally a must.

Thank you for being my friend, and continually reading about my little life. 
I'm looking forward to having tea with you. 





Thursday, February 23, 2012

I’m Glad I Exist.

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At lunchtime, I bought a huge orange.
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave-
they got quarters and I had a half.

And that Orange-
it made me so happy.
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.

The rest of my day was quite easy.
I did all of the things on my list,
and enjoyed them, had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.

- The Orange, A poem by Wendy Cope

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Spring Fever

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I have been ready for spring for weeks now. Winter has it’s good qualities, but I feel as though the magic of it sort of runs out after new years. After the holidays, winter starts to seem long and gray and bleak. I can almost taste springtime, it feels so close to me but not close enough to touch or feel. This could be the California girl in me talking, but I really miss warm weather. I miss the feeling of the sun on my face, of being able to wear light, flowing fabrics without the heavy coat and scarf and boots. I miss flowers, I miss birds chirping, I miss spring!

April, May & June can’t come soon enough. Until then, however, I’ll just have to look at pretty pictures to hold me over.

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By the way, are you as absolutely in love with Ruche’s new lookbook as I am? It is as if they took all of my daydreams and put them all together in one beautiful place. I die.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Praha-ha-ha-ha

 

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This Weekend in Prague, I:

  • Had my first experience traveling with Eurolines, and international bus company that goes pretty much everywhere in Europe for much cheaper than trains do. Overall it was an extremely positive experience and I’ll be traveling with them again in the future!
  • Arrived in the city at 6 AM, lost and somewhat confused, but somehow managed to make it to the Charles Bridge to see the sun rise over the city.
  • Made fast friends with my four Australian “dorm-mates” and proceeded to spend the entire weekend adventuring with them and learning Aussie slang.

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I also:

  • Learned that the Czech Republic’s four main food group’s seem to be: bread, meat, lard, and vinegar-soaked vegetables. It was awesome and worth every minute of heartburn.
  • Crinkled up my face in confusion when seeing people at the market eating lard on toast. I mean, what?!
  • Was ambushed by a parade of intoxicated, costumed Czech people and joined in the fun. The parade part, not the being intoxicated part.

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And then we:

  • Impressed the masses with our mad dancing skills, way into the early daylight hours. We met an Irishman named Finbar (Kid you not) who gave us an “unofficial” walking tour of Prague which mostly sounded like this:
    “This bank is not Irish, don’t go there. This pub isn’t Irish, don’t go there. This pub is Irish but still don’t go there,” etc;, etc;
  • Walked across the Charles bridge at sunrise for the second time, and proceeded to continue our sleep-deprivation by watching Pulp Fiction at 7 AM.
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You also can’t forget how we:

  • Developed an odd obsession with the “Astronomical Clock” guy, or the guy who plays the trumpet from the clock tower each hour. Something about the way he waved his long flowy sleeves…
  • Got overly excited when seeing the Astronomical Clock guy somewhere else and proceeded to convince him to let us try on his outfit. Still quite unsure of how this happened, but I have photo-evidence.
  • Went on a “Ghost & Legends” tour of Prague by night, which was by far the most bizarre and ridiculously terrible tour of all time, but somehow this only contributed to the awesomeness of it all.
  • Reached a state of complete awe when realizing that no matter where we were in the city of Prague, it looked like we were on the set of some kind of movie.
  • Completely and utterly fell in love with a city and a group of people in just a few days time.

Talk about one crazy whirlwind of a successful trip.
Loved every minute of it!

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Being Positive

Hey Friends,


All is well from Prague! Or, as my new friends and I like to call it, Praha-ha, because it's a city that's always making jokes. Don't worry, I'll explain later. Today is my last day in Prague and I want to make the most out of it, so I asked my dear friend Gentri from Gentri Lee to talk today about the things that make her smile. We all need some more sunshine in our lives, don't you think? 

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Hello Daryl's lovely readers! I am BACK and so excited about it! :D Some of you may remember when i guest posted HERE. Well, I am here again while Miss Daryl is off on an adventure. Her entire life is an adventure really. I love living vicariously through her. haha!

My name is Gentri and I blog over at Gentri Lee.


I am currently in Esthetician school so I get to share skin care tips and fun posts like this:



We had a fantasy makeup day at school (non-day to day makeup) and I chose to turn my friend into Effie Trinket from the Hunger Games! :D It was SO MUCH FUN and I think I did a pretty good job. haha!

I'm a mountain girl and can't get enough of them. You'll find a lot of my adventures and pictures have to do with the mountains. There's just something about them. I love feeling like I am on top of the world surrounded by what I think, is the most beautiful type of scenery on earth. I love the peace and quiet, the stillness, the vast expanse of Heaven above and the wide, unexplored mountain range below.


I also love posting about the little things in life. I KNOW that those can be the most important moments in life and I have trained myself to not take them for granted.

If anyone were to ask for advice from me, I'd say pay attention to those small moments. Whether it be finding shapes in the clouds or making shapes with your shadows, laughing at a recipe gone wrong or eating your favorite cupcake, enjoying the fun print of your shirt or the pretty buttons on your skirt, writing in the sand or feeling the ocean, watching the sun rise or the sun set. Whatever those small moments may be, savor them. Because in the blink of an eye, they'll be over.
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I hope that this post was able to brighten your day. Be sure to notice those little things. :)

Thanks for reading! And thank you Daryl for letting me guest post!

Love,

Saturday, February 18, 2012

5 Must-Do’s When You’re in Istanbul

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After this trip, Turkey will always have a special place in my heart. I thought I’d take the time today to list the highlights of our Istanbul adventure in order to help those considering traveling to Turkey in the near future. This is a short list of things we really enjoyed, but if you’re traveling to Istanbul soon and would like more recommendations…please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email!

FIVE THINGS YOU GOTTA DO IN ISTANBUL

1. Bring Out Your Inner History Buff at the Hagia Sophia

HagiaSophia1

The Hagia Sophia, or Aya Sofya, is an incredible building that has really seen it all. Istanbul is, after all, the seat of four world empires: The Byzantine, Roman, Latin, and Ottoman Empires to be specific. If you’re a history buff like me, this building is like one ginormous candy store. Originally built as a Christian church way, way back in the Byzantine empire (You know, when Istanbul was Constantinople…I’m not the only one singing the They Might Be Giants song in my head right now) it was later converted to a mosque after the city was conquered by the Ottomans. Subsequently, visitors will see a fascinating mix of Christian and Islamic themes, and the mosaics uncovered on the walls and ceilings are absolutely incredible.

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2. Bask in the opulence of Topkapi Palace. 

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When I had been researching this trip online, numerous sources told me to steer clear of Topkapi palace because of the crowds. Something fascinated me about this place, however, and it was so close to our hotel I knew we had to go. We went in February, low season, and in the morning, and the place was far less than crowded…it was actually our most enjoyable experience of the trip! My advice would be, should you be going during high season, to choose a weekday as opposed to a weekend and go right when it opens at 9 AM. Go straight for the Harem, which is the most popular part of the palace to tour and for good reason. It was incredibly fascinating…each room more lavish and decorative than the next. You learn some crazy things, I tell you…such as the fact that the sultan had a minimum of 300 concubines in the Harem at all times. Crazy? I think yes. 

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Be sure to check out the treasury and the weaponry parts of the palace as well. In the weaponry room you can scratch your head in confused amazement at the Hungarian greatswords that are over 9 feet long, and if you like shiny things you’ll definitely find your fix in the treasury. Let’s just say I spend several minutes staring, wide eyed and mouth open, at an 86 carat pear shaped diamond the sultan used to wear around on his turban.  I would highly recommend renting out the audio guides. We had a great experience with them and it was wonderful to be able to tour the palace at our own pace!

3. Eat at a point-and-choose restaurant.

These no-frills restaurants can be found on just about every street in Istanbul and are great for budget travelers. The food is displayed in the windows, you point at the one you want and then it’s served to you on a tray cafeteria style. We ate at these places often to save money and were always blown away by how good the food was.

4. Take a ferry to the Prince’s Islands

The Prince’s islands allegedly got their name during the Ottoman empire when the sultan would send misbehaving prince’s there as punishment. Well, going there certainly isn’t punishment now! There are no cars on these islands, so your options for transport are horse-drawn carriage, bicycle, or your own two feet. Take a stroll and enjoy the scenery, especially if the weather is nice!

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5. Shop at the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market

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The Grand Bazaar is absolutely mind blowing. Supposedly the largest covered market in Europe, you can find just about anything here. Leave the money at the hotel if you just want to window shop…the shop owners are excellent sales people and had us considering purchasing things we’d otherwise have no interest in at all. If you’re looking for teas or spices, head down to the Egyptian spice market over by Galata bridge. I bought incredible loose leaf teas and fresh Turkish saffron!

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I hope you found this helpful!

Oh, by the way, did I mention I was in Prague right now?
oops.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Is Intensive Language School Right for You?

 

{Just outside my language school in Heidelberg, Germany after a World Cup soccer game.}

As most of you know from having read my love story, I attended an intensive language school in Heidelberg, Germany the summer of 2010. It was one of my favorite life experiences and something I will never forget! I’ve received a few emails here and there about studying German and so I thought I’d put a post together that threw my two cents in about the private language school experience. I wanted to give you guys more than a single perspective, so I’ve enlisted the help of two very lovely ladies: Lisa from L!$@’s Life and Megan from A Suitcase and Stilettos. 

LANGUAGE SCHOOL FAQ

What is the point of going to language school?

The most obvious answer to this question is, surprise surprise, to learn a language….but there is so much more to it than that! When I first went, I signed up for an intensive (M-F 9:00 to 2:30 every day) language course in a four week period. This was the most eye-opening, whirlwind, exciting four weeks of my young life! If you’re looking for more than just a vacation, an alternative could be putting down roots in a city for a month or two while taking the time to learn the language and befriend the people. In that short period of time, being completely immersed, I went from understanding no German at all to being able to communicate in every day situations…sometimes poorly, but the improvement was undeniable. The lessons I learned there went deeper than education alone. Sad but true fact, and I truly don’t mean any offense by this: Americans, especially young Americans, have a tendency to live in their own little world. When I was in Heidelberg, completely out of my element, for the most part the only American in my class, speaking broken German and improvised sign language to new friends from Spain, Italy, Morocco…let’s just say the lid was blown right off of my “little world,” and I realized just how much I needed and wanted to learn about the world I live in.

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My friends from Spain, Switzerland, and Italy in Heidelberg Germany at the World Cup Finale.

Should I go to a private language school or do a study abroad program?

This entirely depends on you. If you’re happily working your way towards a degree in a university that offers study abroad programs that keep you on track for graduation, I think choosing a study abroad program would be a no-brainer. However if you’re less focused on the grades and more interested in the language and cultural experience, I would have to say a private language school is the way to go. These schools tend to have small classes and can be relatively inexpensive, depending of course on where you are and the intensity of the pace at which you’re learning. You’ll be sure to find people from all over the world, their to learn the language for a vast variety of different reason.

Where can I find a private language school that’s right for me?

Try languagecourse.net. I found my school through this website, it’s free and lets you compare and contrast different schools your desired area! Click here to check it out.

Where should I stay while in language school?

This of course depends on the situation you find yourself in and your personal preferences! Living in Germany now, I obviously just stay at home and go to language school during the day. In Heidelberg I shared a small apartment with an American friend about fifteen minutes away from my language school which the school provided for us. Staying with host families is also quite common. Lisa from L!$@’s Life can explain a little bit about her experience with a host family:

“I went to Japan for a 5-week intensive language program at the end of last year for 2 units towards my university degree. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I don’t know why, but over those 5 weeks I changed so much. I stayed with a host family while I was there. In general it was a good experience, but sometimes trying to fit into a different family can be hard. I tried though. We had some good laughs…some of which I expect were at my expense, as I couldn’t always say what I wanted. They liked to take me shopping a lot and they even took me for my first (and probably only) Onsen experience (A public spa; male/female separated).”

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Lisa and her host sister in Japan.

What would my schedule be like at language school?

This of course depends entirely on your language school. If you find a school you think is right with you, ask them what a typical student schedule with be. In my experience, the workers there are more than accommodating!  Here is what Lisa says about her schedule:

”Each day I would wake up around 7-7:30 get dressed quickly, eat some breakfast if I had time and then race out the door to catch my 40-50min train into the city where I studied. We started at 9am each day and would go to either 2:30pm or occasionally 12:30pm. Classes alternated between things covered in the 2 units, such as speeches, group projects, as well as formal and practical exercises in Japanese. We also had self-study time to go over things we needed to or do our homework for the day. Sometimes I needed to stay extra after class to study because it didn’t come as easily to me as some of the others.”

My German language school schedule was very similar to Lisa’s. Almost every day after class, I would go on adventures with my friends, try out new food, or go swimming at the HUGE community pool there!

At the pool with my friends! Dear goodness this makes me miss summer.


How much should I study outside of class?

It goes without saying that the more you study, the more you’re going to learn. However, different approaches to studying work for different people. This is what Megan from A Suitcase and Stilettos has to say:

“Hi everyone!  I am Megan from A Suitcase and Stilettos and I am currently an American living in Norway.  By definition, the Norwegian language should be easy to learn as it is Germanic, similar sentence structure, and several of the same words, right?  Disclaimer:  Norway has like 500,000 different dialects.  Well, not quite that many, but there are a lot, which makes learning the language quite a challenge for a foreigner!  I began in language classes about a month and a half after arrival and am very glad I did!  My language class is only one day a week, which works well for me because it gives me a week at home to study and improve on my own...and to use what I learn in class on the 'streets' throughout the downtime.  I study a lot at home...and I mean A LOT.  My boyfriend, who is Norwegian, and I only speak Norwegian at home...and when he is not here during the days, my time is spent studying and writing.  I would say I probably study like 3 hours a day if not more (and that does not include conversation with the boyfriend).  The classes introduce me to new findings and my instructor is always there to help, but I would say the class itself is not where I learn...home is where I learn.  But the class continues to keep me motivated and I would definitely recommend an intense language course to any foreigner residing in a country other than their home!”

Megan and I have very different studying “styles,” for lack of a better term. I’ve found it works much, much better for me to go to class every day and study a limited amount each day at home, because I’m am a not very self-motivated person. Think of the way that you succeed best in regular school, it’s safe to assume you’ll do well in language school if you follow a similar routine.

 

How do I make the most of my language school experience?

  • Don’t speak your native language. It’s tempting, but fight it. I promise it will be worth it.
  • Be outgoing! Introduce yourself to those in your class and establish out-of-class relationships.
  • Do the homework. I noticed a significant speed in my improvement once I started really buckling down on my assignments.
  • Make an effort to live like the locals, especially if you’re just visiting the country you’re studying in. Shop where they shop and eat where they eat. Lisa made an adorable chart with her reactions to Japanese food!


    Food

    Impression

    なべ (Nabe)– one pot dish with noodles

    Love it! So good and I had it a few times with my host family

    やきそば (Yakisoba) – kind of like a Japanese stirfry

    Pretty good. I actually tried some with octopus – very rubbery

    おこのみやき (Okonomiyake) – cabbage pancake with bacon, topped with mayonnaise & Okinomiyaki sauce.

    I LOVE THIS STUFF!

    I ate it SOOOO MUCH! :D

    こんにゃく(Konniyaku) - essentially a jellified plant

    I nearly vomited while trying this…the texture is what got to me!

    オムライス (Omuraisu) – An omelet encasing rice with your choice of sauce etc on top

    Had this at a restaurant with my host family…Loved it! Delicious!

    Mister Donut

    Not the best donuts I’ve had…but they were ok.

    Mos Burger

    Amazingly delicious! Get the Mos Burger first time.

    Tully’s

    My favourite coffee place where I only drank iced or hot chocolate. It was my go to place!

 

If you’ve been bitten by the travel bug and want to experience life in another part of the world, I highly encourage you to consider attending a language school abroad! I can say from experience it’s something you’ll never forget.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A First Glimpse at Istanbul

 

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To those of you who have sent the angry emails demanding photos from Istanbul (You know who you are) I apologize for the delay. The fact of the matter is, I took so many pictures and experienced so much in that four day trip that I haven’t really known where to start. Subsequently, I’m going to need to break down this trip into parts in order to properly do it justice.

The first order of business I want to address is the confused looks of some of my friend’s faces (I am imagining the confused looks as most of these conversations took place via internet) as to why the man and I chose turkey for our next trip. My answer is short and simple: Because it’s fuh-reaking awesome. I mean talk about a cultural eye-opener. Istanbul has something about it, some “it” factor I find difficult to describe – but I’ll try.  It’s a sprawling metropolis that is gorgeous and beautiful and somewhat contradictory. The heavy eastern influence of it all is undeniable: the smell of tea and spices and roasted lamb, the bazaars, the sound of the Muslim call to prayer five times each day. No matter where you are in the city, an impressive domed mosque can be found within your line of vision.

tower1(from this spot atop the Galata tower we counted over thirty mosques, just in one direction. Talk about a breathtaking view.)

Yet there was something incredibly European about it too. Istanbul sits quite literally where Europe meets Asia, there is an Asian side and a European side of the city. As we walked through narrow cobblestoned streets and alleyways, perusing the sidewalk cafés and restaurants, I couldn’t help but be vaguely reminded of my times exploring the historical centers of old cities in Germany and France. 

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Blue Mosque

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This is just a first glimpse of our trip. We learned way too much, ate too much good food, and experienced too much awesomeness to just throw it together into one mish-mash of a post.

And to those friends who first scratched their heads at me (again, I was picturing the head-scratching whilst using social media) as to why we chose Turkey over say, Vienna or Rome…I say I’m trying to expand my mind’s idea of what “Europe” is. It’s much, much more than Paris or London or Venice. My girl Megan has been taking eastern countries by storm these past few months, countries I hadn’t even heard of despite living just a hop skip and a jump away from them…and for that I am ashamed. I’m making an effort to change this, to explore the lesser traveled roads of the incredible continent I now call home.

Oh, and one more reason why Turkey rocks my world:

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I haggled a cashmere scarf (pictured above on my head) down to fifteen Turkish Lira.
The equivalent of about eight bucks.

Bam.
Lawyered.

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