At 9pm tonight, an ASBU car is going to pick me up in front of my apartment and take me to the airport. My flight to Istanbul will last from 11:50-1, and then I’ll pick up my bags and meet up with some other Fulbrighters until it’s time to check in for our 6am flights out of Turkey. Some will go to Frankfurt, and some of us will go to Amsterdam before completing our last leg back to the states.
Between last night and this morning, I finished up one last piece of business/fielded one last bit of Turkish nonsense in the form of closing my bank account. As usual there was a lot of unnecessary hassle before getting to the simple solution, but at the end of it I have my money and I can’t get sued/barred from the country for abandoning my account.
When there were 100 days left in grant I went to timeanddate.com and made a countdown. I remember getting to 80 pretty quickly and the 60s came up fast too. Things stalled out a little once we reached the 30s to the mid teens. For the final few days I was busy with moving logistics and completing teaching and the numbers going down didn’t have as much of an impact. When I woke up this morning, for the last time in my big bed in my big room, I refreshed my countdown and there was a 0 in the days slot.
I think I’ve been transitioning out of Turkey well. As I’ve talked about before, switching classes at the ministry with 4 1/2 weeks left helped. Getting out of Ankara as a pre-separation and going somewhere I didn’t have to try to keep people from realizing I was a foreigner and where people around me knew English if they weren’t actively speaking it helped. Having just 38 hours between arriving back at my apartment and leaving it for good helped.
A week or two ago a Wheaton friend put me in contact with a friend of hers who is thinking of doing Fulbright in Turkey in a couple years. She asked some questions about how the program operated and about my impressions. I told her that I disliked the experience for more time than I liked it, but that I am glad that I came and saw the grant to the end.
So that’s it for Turkey, and that’s it for the blog. Sonra görüsürüz Türkiye, yakinda görüsürüz Amerika.
I promised adventure, didn’t I? From Wednesday to Sunday, Chris of Maras and Belgium fame and I made another international excursion. Home base this time was Munich, but we made a couple of side trips as well. Experiences are broken into categories for your reading pleasure. Pictures are up if you are so inclined to check them out.
On the flight from IST to MUN, Chris sat next to a young couple coming back from working in Kenya for the year. They were from different parts of Bavaria, so they were able to impart a lot of important knowledge. For days when trains were needed, we could get a two person ticket and travel anywhere in Bavaria from 9am to 3am and save all the money. Most of our transportation was taken care of by the subway. Our AirBnB was just two stops from the central station. Tickets were on the honor system, and it’s possible we weren’t so honorable a couple days. We used the trains for our side trips. They were relatively new and at times disconcertingly quiet.
Our full day in Munich was the only really rainy day. Salzburg was the warmest and there wasn’t a single drop. It was rainy the morning of the castle day, but it actually got pretty nice during the walk up and it only started sprinkling right before we went inside for our tour.
For breakfast, we went to the grocery store next to the apartment and grabbed a couple pastries and some juice for the road. I think the most expensive day was €3.80 for both of us. On Sunday the store was closed but we went to the bakery a few buildings over and bought fancier versions of the previous days’ pastries for less than €7.
Dinner the first night was at Mr Pancake. The menu offered different style pancakes from around Europe or very thick American style pancakes with a strange variety of toppings. Mine had sausage, pickles, and a spiral of ketchup. There was a Chipotle-esque but also not at all the same burrito place across the street from our apartment. We ate there the second night. The veggies combination was eggplant, peppers, onions, zuchinni, and noted not-vegetable pineapple. We are at an organic pizza place in Salzburg and each got one of the day’s specials, white asparagus.
I had two traditional German meals. The first was cheese spaetzle, which was sort of like gnocchi mac and cheese. The second was potato soup with a hotdog placed on top and fried sausages on top of sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. We had Arabic food one night. I got an okra and tomato dish that I’ve been served as a side in Turkey, but this time it was on top of Basmati rice. On the last night we had Vietnamese food. The restaurant had a deal that you could order any main dish and then add a drink, an appetizer, and dessert, for just €8 more, so you know we went for the three courses.
We arrived to our AirBnB just before 4 in the afternoon. After freshening up, we made our first subway trip to Marienplatz. The square is famous for its golden statue of Mary, New Town Hall, and Old Town Hall, which is actually newer than New Town Hall because it was rebuilt after the war. Around the corner was the Viktualalienmarkt, where I discovered I own a flower stand. There is a pole in the middle of the market with painted pictures of what can be found in the market, carrying the practice of traditional community markets.
Thursday was our full day in Munich. We went to Olympia Park and walked around the greens, and then we went to BMW World. There was a museum in the BMW building around the corner, but this was free and had the newest and developing models on display. The next stop was to an art museum. There were four right next to each other but after reading reviews we decided the Neue Pinakothek would be our best bet. However, the ticket agent told us we could get the single entry for €10 or the combination ticket to all four for €12. After going through the Nueu (New) and seeing Cezanne’s, Monet’s, Manet’s, and Van Gogh’s, including one of his four sunflower paintings, we went to the Alte (Old) and de Moderne (Modern) museums too.
After lunch we went on a self-directed architectural sightseeing tour, visiting a bunch of old churches. The insides of these were much more ornately decorated than Belgium’s and there was less of a focus on stained glass. We walked through the city’s most famous beer garden, BLANK, looked at more buildings, and then toured Hofgarten during a break in the rain. Later in the evening, we walked through the English Garden, which was a large park. Just like in Belgium, it stayed light out until past nine, so we had plenty of daylight in which to conduct our excursions.
On Friday we made a jaunt over to Austria. We left home an hour earlier than we planned and were able to get a train leaving ten minutes after we bought our tickets. The ride was less than two hours and we were in the city before 11. I was disappointed that there was no Passport Control so I didn’t get to add a new stamp to my passport.
Before leaving the Salzburg station we stopped at Information to get a map and recommendations. The first stop was a semi-cool looking building, but we weren’t really sure why the woman told us to go there. Looking closer at the map, we realized there was an unassuming entrance that led to a very colorful garden. (After checking on Trip Advisor I now know this was called the Mirabell Palace and Gardens). After being relatively successful at getting off pictures without tour groups in the foreground, we walked a few streets back to St Sebastian’s Cemetary.
We had lunch and then used a foot bridge, the sides covered in locks, to cross the river. To the right, there was a place called The Lift, which is a museum but also an elevator to the top of a cliff to a great spot for getting pictures of the whole city. Next, we walked to the Old Town and went through a market before hoping around to several churches.
We split a chocolate covered pretzel to give us energy for the very uphill walk to the fortress. Inside, we walked around the compound and imagined how difficult it would be to get from place to place with armor on. Some of the inside of the fortress was open, and there were several spots that afforded panoramic views of the city and the fields and mountains beyond.
After the fortress we took a bus to Hellbrunn Castle. We saw online that it was also home to a water garden, and we arrived a few minutes before the last trick fountain show of the day. We weren’t really sure what we were paying for, but it turned out to be an awesome 45 minute tour of the old Archbishop’s garden that held multiple trick fountains. We were pretty good at spotting the hidden spigots so we stayed dry until the sort of sprinkler gauntlet at the end, and it was funny watching the same people get sprayed over and over.
On Saturday we took the train to Neuschwanstein Castle. You’ve seen it, it’s the white spire-y castle on the side of a green mountain that served as Walt Disney’s inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
Visiting the castle takes a lot of planning. It’s best to buy tickets in advance as lines can get really long. We got our tickets before the trip even started and knew to arrive over an hour before our tour time. When we went to collect our tickets, we found out that what we thought was our tour time was actually the pick up your ticket time, so we had an extra hour on our hands. This gave us plenty of time to eat and poke through the gift shops before walking up the mountain. The bridge where you take the famous pictures of the whole castle from afar was unfortunately under construction.
We first passed Hohenschwangau Castle, where King Ludwig II spent his childhood. He had Neuschwanstein built as a space for operas to be put on. Each completed room with the exception of the throne room had scenes from a different opera. The castle’s exterior was designed by a painter, not an architect. Construction began in 1869 and ended in 1886 when the king died. Only 1/3 of the rooms were completed, and the concert room was finished just days before the king died. No further work was done and the castle was open to the public a few weeks later.
We got up to the castle well before our tour time, so we had lots of time to walk all around and take pictures. It is very important to be on time for your tour. If you do not walk through the gates before the next time comes up 5 minutes later, they do not let you in. We were first in line for our slot and stayed up front for the whole tour, where I learned all the cool stuff from the above paragraph.
The castle day was a nice change of pace. We just had that one main attraction that was a big time commitment, so we weren’t running all over from place to place like the previous days. I’m glad we got to see and do all that we did, but it certainly made for a tiring trip!
After work last Wednesday, I went into Tunali, the neighborhood home to Niza Park Hotel. I sat in Kuglu Park for a bit and watched the swans, geese, and ducks swim around. I hit up Very Cupcake, ate the cookie dough treat outside, and then walked through the shopping streets back towards Kizilay.
Later, I met with Keanna and Alexis of Lightening Girl fame and Phebe, the English Language Fellow at another university. We went to a restaurant named Roka. Once we sat down, the waiters put paper placemats over the table, and then beds of greens and fresh squeezed lemon juice were set on top of the mats. Next came little side dishes to share like cig kofte and eggplant salad, and lentil soup for everyone. For the main course, we got plates with grilled chicken or kofte and thin bread wraps to put everything together into little sandwiches. For dessert we were brought the Turkish version of tres leches, which Alexis aptly said she used to call milky bread before learning its name.
On Saturday morning, I finally got back to Harikalar Diyari, the large park two metro stops from home. I took my book and walked around to different spots, sitting by the artificial lake for a stretch and in a flower garden for another. From one angle, I discovered I could actually see the buildings around my apartment from inside the park.
As I was walking into my building’s entrance later, Karlene was walking out. My phone was dead so I didn’t bother bringing it with me (and I wasn’t expecting any contact on a Saturday morning) and I of course didn’t have wifi in the park. We had been invited to make dinner with our coworker Ebru and her husband. Karlene was going to catch the bus right then, so I turned around to join her.
To buy our ingredients for the evening, we went to Metro, a German version of BJs. Back at their apartment, Karlene and I started making chocolate chip cookies while Ebru got to work on the side dishes and her husband started grilling. Turkish grills are low to the ground and are about half of the size of an American grill. They use coal, and someone has the job of constantly fanning the flames to get it hotter. When the cooking was almost complete, our other coworker Sibel and her husband, who live in our neighborhood, arrived. We ate on the rooftop terrace, which Ebru has exclusive access to. We moved inside for dessert, where our American cookies received high praise. It was just before midnight when we got in Sibel’s car and headed home.
Today was my last day of teaching. Ramadan started yesterday so I knew these last two days would be lost since everyone was tired and hungry. I stayed away from book activities to spare myself the torture. Today went pretty well, ending with one of my trouble students very earnestly telling me “We will forget you,” before another student said he meant ‘not forget’ and that got a pretty good laugh. No one signed up for tutoring so I got to leave early.
I think leaving would have been more difficult if I stayed with my original classes the whole way through, and I’m both glad to be able to exit with ease and a little sad not to feel that connection.
This next and final week has both adventure and logistics (canceling utilities etc) on the docket. You haven’t quite heard the last from the blog, dear readers–stay tuned for the exciting conclusion next week!
People who don’t like Ankara, especially those not native to the city, typically have two complaints about it. The first is that, like much of Turkey, it has no sea. But not every place can be on the Mediterranean, Black Sea, or the Aegean, and geography cannot be helped, so let’s take a look at strike number two.
People say there is nothing to do in Ankara. Whenever I hear that my mind goes back to when we spent the fourth quarter of Civics in 8th grade doing Project Citizen and the ‘problem’ my class tackled was that there was nothing to do in Plymouth (The mall is in Kingston, so therefore Plymouth was bereft of any sort of entertainment). My second reaction is to think ‘well of course there are things to do in Ankara.’ There are historical sites like Anitkabir and about a thousand museums in Ulus. There are several very large parks, many of which house amusement parks. There are 12 major shopping malls.
Recently, an unrelated comment from one of my students shed some light on what people really mean when they say there is nothing to do in Ankara. Ankara is the city you go to for work, and sometimes you also live there. Ankara is where scholars and politicians and government workers flock to if they want a prestigious job in their fields. It has become a place for very busy people who don’t always prioritize the arts and entertainment.
Outside the heart of the city, Ankara is very residential and becomes increasingly so the further out you go. I’ve talked with other Fulbrighters in the past about how I almost always make my own food and very rarely go out to eat. I always have to explain that I have five grocery stores in walking distance, but I don’t have a cig kofte place or a soup restaurant or a place to grab late night doner. There are a few cafes/a couple restaurants in the immediate area, but Eryaman was designed to be where your home is, not where you conduct your life.
I went for a walk the other morning. I went down a few paths I’ve never walked through, just to see where they went, and as suspected all I could see were apartment buildings. I tried to come up with an idea of understanding just how many people lived in my section of the neighborhood, and then expand that to all the other neighborhoods Ankara has.
On my last bus trip home, coming in from Fethiye, I woke up just past five in the morning as we rolled through the very beginnings of Ankara. We transitioned from untouched fields to metropolis with the concrete skeletons of apartments buildings to come. Some had signs in front with very fancy names and a projected image of what they’ll look like at some unnamed date in the future when they are finished. How many new residences are currently being built for residents that don’t even know they are moving to Ankara yet? How much longer can Ankara go on growing? Even with the massive expansion that has happened over the last decade or so, there’s still plenty of fields on the outskirts of the city that could be turned into more apartments if necessary.
But I just can’t see that being practical much longer. When you take out the time walking to and from the metro stops, it takes 50 minutes to get from Eryaman 5 to Ulus, and another 5 or so to get into Kizilay, and another 15 to the neighborhood where the other Ankara girls live. (As a measuring stick, it takes 45 minutes top to drive from 4 White Oak to Wheaton.) There is a great deal of the city, not to mention the far away residential expansions, that is not accessible by metro, and if there are busses out that way there are maybe 1 or two. Expecting all new residents to get cars isn’t practical—putting aside the fact that there would be nowhere to put them all, cars are extremely expensive in Turkey. So how are all these new residents expected to get to their jobs in the center of the city?
It’s become quite clear that Turkey is going through something of a transition period. I can’t predict what will happen with that any more than I could say whether it will be rainy on September 24, but I think it’s fitting that as the country changes, the city that houses its government is under construction as well.
Last Thursday was May 19, a national holiday in Turkey that meant a four day weekend and therefore called for some travel. I went to Fethiye, specifically Oludeniz, in Mugla with Sarah and Rebecca, Fulbrighters in other cities. Pictures are in the album if you’re interested. (At one point there was something on the lens I couldn’t get off so there’s unfortunately a little speck in some of the pictures, but eventually it went away.)
I took an overnight bus on Wednesday and by 8 Thursday morning the three of us were assembled at the Otogar and waiting for a dolmus to take us to Oludeniz. Rachel had booked our hotel. The Belle Vue is situated on top of a pretty legit hill, but its location allows for an incredible view of the sea and the resort town below. There were plenty of hotels closer to the beach, but they would have been pricier and you couldn’t see anything except the surrounding buildings.
After breakfast at the hotel, we paid the owner 10 lira and a driver arrived and shuttled us to the private Paradise Beach, where we sat right on the shore in lounge chairs with umbrellas at the ready for when it got too hot. Paragliders drifted in and out of view throughout the day. We were settled in by 10:30 and stayed for about 4 hours, at which point we started thinking about getting some food. We chose to walk back into town and headed down the main strip, poking into gift shops while we hunted for a restaurant that looked good. Eventually we landed on Sugar and Spice, which offered a break from Turkish food. I got veggie curry that came with rice, potatoes wedges, and three onion rings.
Left: The view at the private beach. Right: Waves crashing at the public beach.
While digesting, we did a little more window shopping. Our next move was to get some ice cream, which we took onto the public beach. The water up against the shore was a saturated light turquoise that faded into a deeper blue the further out it went.
It got a little breezy as it got later. On the walk back up to the hotel, which was much closer than I realized, we stopped at a convenience store to get some snacks for later. Back at the hotel, wifi didn’t reach the rooms, so I went up to the pool to check in on the world and do some coloring. Rachel and Sarah came to join me a bit later and we sat up there until after it got dark. None of us had slept particularly well the night before, so we were all asleep by 10.
We had breakfast at the hotel again, this time for free because we slept there. At 10:30, a shuttle from Pegas Tour arrived take us down to our boat for our all day tour. The shuttle was already occupied by a bunch of British people who were staying at a different hotel.
On the boat, we went up top and claimed our spots. It was a while before the boat got moving so we had plenty of time to get in some sunbathing without missing any new views. We finally pulled out at 11:30, at which time we went down below and grabbed a table at the side of the boat. The first stop was at a small cove called Camel Beach. We had 45 minutes to hang out on the sand and do some swimming. Stop number 2 was to another swimming spot, no land this time.
Our third stop gave us views of new cliffs, hills, and waters to look at while we ate lunch. Everyone got a plate with bulgar, salad, and bread with either grilled fish or chicken. We were lucky in picking our spot earlier that day because we were the second row of tables to be served.
Stop 4 after lunch had the option of climbing up to some ruins, which we got to enter free with our museum cards. Stop 5 was to the famous Butterfly Valley. In retrospect, it would have been better if we used the hour to hang out on the beach, swim, and admire the enormous cliffs. Instead, we chose to pay the 5 lira to enter the reserve and walk to the hyped up waterfall. We saw 2 tiny butterflies and the waterfall was really just a water trickle. It was still a nice little hike though and it felt good to get warm from the trek and then get the cooling breeze back on top of the boat.
There was one final stop on the way back to the main beach. There was a really pretty cave, but it was too cool to swim by then, so we admired it from the top of the boat. We got back in to shore at 6:15. With the exception of the 5 tl for Butterfly Valley, the entire trip, including lunch, was 30 lira, aka $10. Can’t top that.
We took the shuttle back to the hotel and spent a few minutes freshening up before getting dinner at the hotel–a four course meal for 25 lira. A little later, we grabbed our jackets and walked back down into town, stopped to see our ice cream friend again, and sat on the beach. The waves were a little stronger than the day before, and we could hear the stones rustling with each ebb. Sarah is getting married in July and both she and Rebecca are renewing next year, so we had plenty to talk about before the day in the sun tiredness out enough to head to bed.
We slept in the next morning, but were still up in plenty of time for breakfast. The sky was a little gray and the weather report was showing clouds for the rest of the day, so we decided to head back into Fethiye earlier than we originally planned and explore around there. We packed up, settled the room tab, and caught the dolmus.
Back at the otogar, we bought our tickets for the ride to Antalya later and then hopped on another shuttle to the old city. Rachel looked for a purse for her summer internship and to use next year while Sarah and I went into the gift shops. You can find pretty much the same things no matter where you go in the country but it’s always fun to look around.
We decided to eat around 2 and walked a couple streets over from the main square to get away from tourist prices. We found a very normal looking small restaurant, took a quick look at the menu and decided this was exactly what we wanted. Sarah and I got manti and Rebecca got lentil soup, rice, and salad. The ladies working were very nice and we know they liked us because we got free tea after clearing our plates.
With some more time left to kill, we walked down to and along the marina. We came across a little craft market. No one was pushy or trying to get one over on anyone–it was just people who like to make stuff selling the things they like to make. After making the rounds there we got on the shuttle back to the otogar, took a three and half hour ride into Antalya, and Rebecca and Sarah headed for their hotel and I got on my bus back to Ankara. The bus got in just a bit before public transit started, but I got on the first train, had good luck at the transfers, and walked into my apartment at 7:31.
Somewhere along the way this became something of a travelogue but I swear I’ve still been working. It’s time for a teaching/general life update.
At the ministry, my intermediate class continued to be the best parts of the week. After the third week, they switched books to focus more on preparing for their IELTS exam, and I got more freedom to do outside activities with them. We held debates, argued for a space on a sole surviving life boat, created new cities, and interrogated suspected tea thieves. In my lower level class, most of the students became more engaged in my lessons (two of the fourteen stared at the floor all class but at least they had the manners to ignore me in silence).
This past week, week 9, Karlene and I switched classes. I found out about this move on the Tuesday of week 8 from students who came to tutoring, since the people running the program ‘thought I had been told.’ I was pretty bummed about the move and it felt like an unnecessary halt in momentum. With only five weeks left, I wasn’t sure how much time (or motivation) I’d have to form an effective relationship with my new students.
Both of my new classes are working out of the same book, but they are at very different levels. The higher level class is lovely and everyone is very motivated. They won’t ever replace my chickadees, but I’ve enjoyed lessons with them so far. The other class is of a lower level but some of them think they know everything. I saw them on Thursday afternoon and I was shocked at how disrespectful they were. They certainly weren’t angels on Monday and Tuesday, but this time they were flat out ignoring at me and giggling like children when I got upset with them. None of the other three classes have ever behaved like they were and I know for a fact they don’t act like that when their Turkish teachers are leading class. I hope they got whatever their problem was out of their system because I don’t want to spend my last four weeks feeling angry and having to yell at adults.
On Thursday evening, I went to see How to Be Single with the other remaining Ankara girls. In Turkey, you pick your seats when you buy your tickets. There’s an intermission in the middle of it, right in the middle of a scene, so people can have a smoke break. The screen went off and the lights went on for a few minutes, and then there were a bunch of commercials for resorts that didn’t give their locations, and then the movie came back on.
I played tourist in Ulus on Friday. I walked through Genclik Park when I got off the metro and then I dropped my bag off in my office at ASBU. I went to Hacibayram Mosque and the Temple of Augustus right behind the school, and then walked back down through the square and visited some of the museums in the area. I got in free with my museum card to one and the other waived the 3 lira fee because I’m a teacher. Touristing done, I walked to Ankamall and did some shopping, and then I headed back home.
Yesterday, one of my coworkers got married. She had a more modern wedding, so a lot of the fun traditional customs didn’t happen. For the ceremony, there was a slide show to an Ellie Goulding song that did not edit out the swears, and then the couple walked in together and up to the stage, where they sat at a table facing the audience. The officiant sat at one end of the table and three witnesses sat at the other. The officiant talked for a minute and then asked the groom and then bride if they wanted to marry each other. They signed the contract and then everyone clapped. There was a receiving line in the lobby and then most people left.
Our coworker who had driven us to the wedding had said there would be dinner and a party after the ceremony. While this was not incorrect, we thought ‘after’ meant immediately after and not at 8 pm (Everything was done at 4:30). The plan was to go to another coworker’s house until the dinner and then have the party until god knows when. I don’t like not being able to control when I go home on any day, but even Karlene wasn’t down for this particular plan. A different coworker drove us to the bus stop and we headed home. I made scallion pancakes for dinner.
Hey guess what? It’s May 15! Aka 8 1/2 months down, 1 month to go day. Whaaattttt
Weekend four in a row of travel ended the streak with a bang-I went to Belgium! My friend Chris (of Maras fame) and I went to Brussels and Ghent Thursday to Sunday. The usual day by day play by play would produce an entirely too long post, so instead I’m going to break things down into themes. Hopefully that will keep things fresh for those of you following along at home!
Transportation (The wordiest part of the post. There are pictures coming, I swear!)
The man at the checkout counter in Ankara lived in Woburn for a year. He gave me an aisle seat at one of the emergency exits for both flights, so I had all the leg room in the world. Boarding began early, a practical miracle for Turkey. The flight was at 9:55 and only an hour and fifteen minutes long, but good ole Turkish Airlines came through with a boxed lunch–cheese and veggie sandwich, veggie cup, and a little cake. In Istanbul, I successfully adulted my way to the correct wing and through the various checkpoints and called Chris to see where he had set up shop. The flight to Brussels was about three hours and included a full meal. I chose the paprika chicken and buttered rice, and it came with a classier cold slaw salad, warm bread and butter, crackers and soft cheese, and a coffee mousse. On land, the man I talked to at passport control was very friendly and had lots of recommendations.
The reverse trip was not as pleasant. Getting into the Brussels airport was insane. Starting in the parking garage, where the train station also lets out, everyone was slowly herded into a popup warehouse city. First was a security check, where you needed to show your passport/ID and ticket to enter. The next room was massive lines for check in, but for some reason Turkish Airlines had a sort of cutsies deal going on, so we went right to the room with their desk. Our passes were scanned as we exited, and we were finally able to enter the airport. Hardly anyone was inside, a huge contrast to the mobs we just left behind. There was another security check, followed by border control. We arrived at our gate just before boarding started. Not everyone left early enough to get through the unexpected security, and our flight was delayed. Meal service took entirely too long, and by the time they got to my row, they only had pasta left, which was fine with me but not with others. We got the bread and crackers again, but this time there was eggplant and a wild berry cream mousse.
Our flight had been scheduled to land at 4:15, but with the delay it was just before 5 when we exited the plane, less than 20 minutes before boarding for my next flight began. I had wanted to get the flight at 7, but the man at the office insisted I had plenty of time to get to the one at 6, because apparently Turks don’t think flights can ever be delayed. I was going to miss my flight, but when we entered the domestic transfers wing, there was an employee calling for people on the 6:00 flights to Ankara, Izmir, and Konya. We went through secret passage ways for a special passport control and security check. I got to my gate at 5:19, and boarding hadn’t even started yet. I was the forth person on the plane. This time the meal box was a turkey sandwich, eggplant salad, and chocolate mousse.
Moving About the Country
Getting around Belgium included trains, trams, and the metro. No one checked our tickets to/from the airport or Ghent, so it was on the honor system that you bought your fare. The same was true for the metro. Some stations had no ticket scanners, so we were able to hold on to our tickets for our next trip. I never realized how clean Ankara’s metro system is until I saw how dirty Brussels’ was. There weren’t rats or anything like you can find in Paris, but there was just trash everywhere. That aside, it was simple and affordable to get from one place to another.
Over the course of the trip, we were able to complete Belgium’s Big Four:
-Beer: Thursday night ended with a stop at a colorful pub for a glass of the famous Delirium. (We popped in to the actual Delirium Cafe on Friday to see what it looked like but didn’t get the chance to patronize it.) It was pretty quiet inside, but the stacks of glasses and the mural on the back wall provided plenty to look at.
-Chocolate: I got some cheapo chocolate to bring back for my students, but we also stopped into several of the nicer shops. We got macarons from one shop I can’t remember the name of and meringues from Elisabeth.
-Fries: Some of our meals came with fries, but we made a point on Friday to stop at Fritland for a large order. I admit that I have adopted the un-American custom of eating fries with mayonnaise.
-Waffles: Our last ‘meal’ was waffles on Saturday night. I got mine with nutella and Chris had his with speculoos. The waffles themselves had a nice crisp to them and were thick and fluffy on the inside.
Other meals included a veggie patty at Peck 47 in the city enter, hummus and roast veggies with a bulgar and red lentil salad at EXKI, and a hazelnut based veggie burger at Jack’s Premier Burgers in Ghent. The best/most adventurous meal was Ethiopian food at Toukoul on Friday night.
-Grand Place: Brussel’s main square is blocked in by incredible buildings. Each building had its own style, but they all were remarkably detailed. Chris said there were buildings like them in Vienna and other cities he’s visited but that they were never all in one place like that. Streets of shops and markets spiraled out from the square. Out AirBnB was only a few minute walk away.
-Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula: We went into a few churches during our trip, but there is no comparison to St. Michael’s. Intricate stained glass windows with fully saturated colors lined both sides of the cathedral and statues of saints were attached to the main columns. 10/10, would recommend.
-Atomium: The Atomium, so name because it was modeled after an atom, was built when Brussels hosted Expo in 1958. During the day you can ride up an elevator in the central tower and get a good view of Brussels.
Chris’ parents lived in Ghent for a year when his father was doing Fulbright, so they were able to give us some ideas of what to hit up. We spent part of Saturday there, more than enough for the small city.
-Small Beguinage Our Lady of Ter Hoyen: Our first stop was to what was an old convent. Apparently it used to be a very popular tourist destination, but now it’s just a courtyard of photo-worthy cool buildings to walk around.
-Gravensteen Castle: I’ve seen my fair share of castles in Turkey, but Gravensteen was of a very different style. Inside, there were rooms dedicated to weaponry and armor, torture mechanisms (as well as a guillotine), and other elements of medieval castle life. We also got to walk up to the tops of the castle and around its courtyards.
-Walking Tour: After the castle, we popped into an information office and the woman gave us a map of a walking tour that showed the best churches and other pieces of architecture in a loop around the city center. Some of the city was built on the river, which made for great pictures. The sun came out while we ate, so we went back to the river after and took better pictures.
-Musical Instrument Museum: Also called MIM, the museum had three floors of instruments from all around the world throughout history. The exterior stood out from the other buildings on the street as well. Below is a picture of me out front showing off my ‘I’m in Europe proper so I’m going to look fancy’ and ‘it was in the 40s and rained all day Friday’ combo outfit. (In this particular shot I was telling a woman on the sidewalk to pass through, but it came out best.) Upon entering, we were given head sets. Many of the instruments had numbers on the floor in front of them. If you dialed in the number, you could hear what the instrument sounded like.
-The Royal Greenhouses of Laeken: For three weeks out of the year, the Royal Greenhouses are open to the public. Our trip just happened to fall during those three weeks, so we started Saturday there. The pathways start you walking outside the greenhouses and taking in the landscaping behind them, and then you backtrack through the greenhouses themselves. The flowers were vibrant and abundant, and the greenhouses structures were beautiful. On the way out, we stopped for a pastry in the domed end of the entry hall. I felt very lucky to experience a part of the city that most people don’t get the opportunity to.
It was nice to get out of Turkey for a few days, and of course getting to Europey Europe was pretty great. My students told me I looked tired today, but I didn’t feel it (In Turkey, telling someone they look tired or unwell is meant and received as an expression of care rather than ‘oy, you look rough’ like it can in the US). French was spoken in Brussels and Dutch in Ghent, but everyone spoke English, so asking for information was painless. If we were awake we were moving (except for the evenings when we watched Game of Thrones and Star Wars), and as first trips to the EU go, I don’t think it could have gone better. Well, the weather could have been nicer. But what can I do sometimes?