Tag Archives: Friends

Creeping on Valentine’s Day

Perhaps because it’s so close to my birthday, but Valentine’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. I can’t tell you how many Valentine’s-themed birthday parties I had, and I always consider the holiday to really just be an extension of my own birthday. Valentine’s Day was always one of the best days in elementary school, when classmate would fill your milk carton mailbox with all kinds of superhero Valentines and candy.

Despite all this, February always lies in the part of the semester where it’s easy to fall into a funk. The weather can be dreary, and midterms loom dark like storm clouds overhead. Granted, life here  in Florence is pretty peachy. I love February, but I can’t help but notice others falling under this month’s dark spell.

And so, I decided to take action.

I’m incredibly grateful for my experiences thus far, and I wanted to thank the staff here in some small way. I enlisted my roommate Julia to help me make Valentines for the professors and staff here. We then decided to expand it to make Valentines for the rest of the students.

After buying a couple bags of Baci from the grocery store, Julia and I sat down after dinner to begin composing our Valentines.

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We searched for Italian love poems on the internet, and wrote them out on one side of the Valentine. I then drew random pictures to accompany the poems: zombies, a surfer, a bird, a caterpillar, an old man.

Once we compiled all of our Valentines, we went through and wrote a personalized message to each person.

Some were outright creepy.

For others, we relied on horrible puns.

As the night went on, our Valentines only continued to get weirder.

Julia even wrote one for me!

Three hours later, we finally had completed all of our Valentines along with smaller notes to give the professors and staff. The next morning, we arrived early to the Villa to put them on the desks in the classroom before hiding out in the main building so no one would know.

We had a moment of panic when our City of Florence professor announced we would be meeting in the library instead––how would everyone get their Valentines?! Luckily, we whispered our plan to her and got everyone to the classroom. We didn’t want to be the first ones in the classroom, but everyone was taking forever to get ready that morning. Julia and I kept trying to delay going to the classrooms ourselves, walking around the gardens while simultaneously fretting that maybe everyone would just find our Valentines really, really creepy instead of comical.

Luckily, it all worked out! Everyone was surprised to find the cards and candy in the morning, and it put a good start to our early field trip out into the city. Despite our attempts to remain anonymous, pretty much everyone knew right away that it was us––I mean, who else would go to such lengths to make such elaborate Valentines?

Now we’ve got to start planning for the next holiday… St. Patrick’s Day, perhaps?

Music in the Library

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Our Italian professors arranged for a singer and guitarist duo come perform at the Villa last Tuesday night. They played both Italian and American songs––the girl had an incredible voice, à la Joss Stone––and we had an opportunity to sing along with a song that we had practiced in Italian the week before, “Ma Che Freddo Fa.” Our Italian professors invited some guests to the concert, and it was a lot of fun to talk to them (in Italian, too!) over dinner.

Cos’è la vita-a-a, / senza l’amore-e-e, 

è solo un albero che foglie non ha più.

E s’alza il vento-o-o, / un vento freddo-o-o,

come le foglie le speranze butta giù.

Ma questa vita cos’è se manchi tu.

Turkey in Turkiye

We got back late last night after spending the Thanksgiving weekend in a whirlwind trip to Adana and Cyprus, after taking three flights and three days. Our actual Thanksgiving evening was spent in a restaurant in Adana, eating none other than Adana Kebap (so good!). Because we would be away, we celebrated Thanksgiving on the Tuesday before, inviting all of our Alanya friends to a giant turkey dinner.

We don’t have ovens in our apartments, so we were somewhat limited in what we could make, ordering a turkey from a local hotel and pies from a restaurant. Mara and I claimed the mashed potatoes, so we spent the afternoon peeling potatoes, boiling them in water, and mashing them up with copious amounts of butter and milk.

At one point, when Mara, Amanda, and I were peeling potatoes, Lindsay remarked, “Of course we have the Foley’s, O’Malley’s, and Galvin’s peeling potatoes.” Of course.

We decorated Yamaç Cafe with a box of Thanksgiving decorations that had been shipped from the U.S., then laid out all the food in a huge spread: turkey, mashed potatoes, salad, rice, baked carrots, brussels sprouts, gravy, stuffing, pies, and so on. We invited our host families for the meal, and slowly the restaurant began to fill up with our big Alanya family.

My host family was amused that we called the meat “turkey.” In fact, the Turkish word for the bird is hindi, which is also the word for someone from India. So really, the circle of confusion just continues!

While it’s hard to be away during the holidays, there’s so much to be thankful for here in Alanya. I am thankful for my friends and professors, those who have shared this wonderful experience with me. But I’m also incredibly thankful for my “Turkish family,” who has generously and open-heartedly welcomed me into their home and lives. I can’t say how lovely it is to see The Hunger Games in a movie theater full of Turkish teenagers, to play countless games of Okey, and to share meals that always include never-ending amounts of delicious food. (They even brought me a cake and a container of ashure to take home with me after the meal!) They are absolutely the best.

It was truly a Happy Thanksgiving.

One Day in Budapest

Since I was already leaving for Vienna the next morning, I was determined to cram as much as I could of Budapest in my one full day in the city. The best way to accomplish this? Free walking tours!

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Budapest is the capital and largest city of Hungary, with a population of over 1.74 million along the banks of the Danube River. While it once was composed of three different cities––Buda and Óduba on the west bank and Pest on the east––it was unified in 1873 into one: Budapest.

Alex and I got out early to meet up for the start of the morning walking tour. You can find tours like it all across Europe, which are most popular with the young and hostel crowd since they’re only funded by a policy of “pay however much you can” at the end of the tour. We were paired with Anita as our tour guide, and started out for a 3-hour tour of some of the major sights on both sides of the river.

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Anita began our tour with an overview of Budapest’s history, from the seven original tribes of the Hungarian people to their horrendous luck in also being on the losing side of wars over the past centuries. In the 16th century, the Ottomans pillaged Buda and occupied it for 140 years, during which they constructed many of the traditional Turkish baths that you can still find in the city. With the fall of the Austria-Hungary Empire in 1918, Hungary declared itself an independent republic. Hungary once again was on the wrong side of World War II, where it suffered serious damage and remained under Soviet occupation until the fall of the USSR.

Our tour began in the Pest side of the Duma River, slowly making our way over the Chain Bridge to the Buda side, where the old castle and palaces are located.

In our tour group, we quickly became friends with Cindy, a girl from Chile who was about two months into her 3-month solo trip across Europe. She had previously spent two years as an au pair in Massachusetts, and she now was traveling across Europe by couchsurfing and meeting up with old friends.

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After the tour, Cindy joined Alex and me to grab some sandwiches at a local grocery store and eat them near the Fisherman’s Bastion. We walked around a bit, crossing over the bridge and taking lots of photos.

Cindy had to go meet up with her friend, so we said goodbyes and exchanged contact information to stay in touch and exchange photos. Alex and I went on the prowl for some free Wi-Fi and  ended up in the lobby of an extremely posh hotel.

Since we enjoyed our morning walking tour so much, we decided to also meet up for the afternoon Communist walking tour. This time, our guide Anna took us by some of the remaining buildings and monuments from the Communist era, but also told us a lot of anecdotes about life under Hungary’s version of “Happy Communism.”

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In 1949, the Communist Party gained control of Hungary, subsequently enacting an era of state socialism under the influence of Moscow. However, unlike many other countries east of the Iron Curtain,  demonstrations in Budapest in 1956 led to the outbreak of the Hungarian Revolution in defiance of the Soviet occupation. In response, the state began to enact several reforms to appease the people––for example, Hungarians were allowed to purchase their own kind of blue jeans and could buy real Coca-Cola at the store. As a result, from the 1960s to the 1980s, Hungary was often satirically referred to as the “happiest barrack” within the Eastern bloc.

Anna shared with us all kinds of stories about life in communist Hungary, such as how the state supplemented two-week vacations for all Hungarians, dubbed James Bond movies in a way that left out all references to Communists as the enemy, and created all kinds of bureaucratic nightmares, such as the arduous seven to 10 year process to buy a car. While Hungarians lacked many types of freedoms, Anna explained the kind of nostalgia for the by-gone era that still persists for many older Hungarians. More than once, Anna commented on the need for a generational change––that it would take several generations to truly instill a “democratic” way of thinking in the country.

After the tour, we scoped out a traditional Hungarian restaurant that we found on Trip Advisor, and ended up having one of the best meals we’ve had on the trip so far—they even had a man playing the harpsichord in the restaurant!

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Afterwards, we walked over to the Buda side of the city once again to get some night shots of the city, especially the Parliament Building.

What a beautiful city!

Life 101: Lessons in Turkey

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I’m currently at the Antalya airport, mooching off this café’s free wifi as I wait for my flight to board. (My flight leaves at 10:50 a.m., but I left Alanya in the dark of 4:40 a.m. in order to take a shuttle with everyone else.) As we begin our fall break and split to our separate travel plans, it seems like a natural opportunity to reflect on my time in Turkey so far. These past 35 days have gone by both fast and slow—it’s strange to think I’ve already been here for over a month, but then it also seems like these experiences fill quite more than a month. Time is a funny thing.

I’ve also learned a lot over these past several weeks. I know it’s cliché to talk about travel in this way, but I don’t quite know how else to put it. Instead, I’ll try to move beyond the clichés of “travel while you’re young” to keep track of all of the specific things I’ve learned thus far:

For example, I’ve learned that there’s few better ways to create a connection with someone else than learning some basic phrases in their native language. This morning, I was proud to know enough Turkish to be able to ask our bus driver how he was and talk about where our school was.

Helping out in the English class at the local middle school

Helping out in the English class at the local middle school

Living in such a tourist destination like Alanya, I’ve also further appreciated the importance of language—and how sad it is that most Americans only truly know one. Earlier this week, when we were trying to order pizza, the man on the phone asked us if we spoke Swedish or Danish, before passing the phone to someone who could speak better English. Many Alanyans speak some kind of combination of Russian, Danish, Swedish, German, or English along with Turkish. We had a conversation about this early on the trip with our tour guide in Istanbul. “Americans are lazy about language,” he told us, “but they can afford to be. You can’t travel to another country if you’re Turkish and expect someone to speak Turkish.”

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Sign in front of the bookstore in the Antalya airport

At the same time, I’ve learned to nod and mutter enough “Evets” when someone talks to me in Turkish and I have no clue what they’re talking about. Truth is, the smile and nod can also get you a long way.

I’ve learned that it’s better to walk. Walking allows you to slow down and appreciate your surroundings. It can also allow you to unexpectedly stumble upon a World Lacrosse Expo in the middle of the beach at night—just like Alex and I found after dinner one evening.

Lacrosse... in Turkey? (This was also several minutes before we almost got pegged in the head with the ball, twice.)

Lacrosse… in Turkey? (This was also several minutes before we almost got pegged in the head with the ball, twice.)

I’ve learned that it’s important to make time to write. While I kept a meticulous journal of each day during the study tour, I’m still making sure I write down a couple of sentences for every day even when we’re in class. As a result, this past months has been one of the best-documented times of my life. I’m so afraid to forget anything that I’m driven by this compulsion to obsessively capture as many moments as I can. However, it’s also given me a wonderful record of my experiences in Turkey to look back on once I’m home.

It's also great to receive letters too!

It’s also great to receive letters too!

I’ve learned how to develop a more serious resting face to ward off aggressive shopkeepers and hawkers. This is partly a cultural adaption—it’s very much an American thing to smile at everyone you meet and greet them accordingly. While Turks are equally just as friendly and hospitable, they also don’t go around randomly smiling at strangers (which admittedly can be pretty odd). It can give off the wrong impression. And so, I’ve also somewhat adapted to this habit.

Serious face? (Or maybe i still have some work to do...)

Serious face? (Or maybe i still have some work to do…)

I’ve learned that I can never live for too long away from the beach. It’s something that I truly fell in love with this summer when I lived in Santa Cruz, and it’s something of which I will never tire in Alanya. I love its changing colors—the way it can be like smooth silver in the morning and a rich blue in the heat of the afternoon. I love the waves, the sand, and the sun. I may never truly be able to tan, but I could honestly lie out there for weeks on end (with many reapplications of SPF 50, of course).

I’ve also learned that possibly the best way to cope with locking yourself out of your apartment is to create a blanket fort in the middle of your friends’ apartment and singing Disney songs obnoxiously at the top of your lungs. I’m incredibly thankful for the people I’ve met on this trip so far, and I couldn’t ask for better friends to share in this experience.