Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Honeymoon in Italia

Italy, since I was a little kid, has always topped my bucket list of places to travel. My paternal grandmother Annunciata was Italian, so this sliver of connection is the only concrete heritage I have outside of being an good ol' American mutt. Annunciata is my middle name and I've used it as my online handle for nearly every website ever, despite it being continually hard to pronounce. I also happen to look just like her, which made the idea of visiting a place where the people look just like me and my grandmother highly romanticized my entire life.

I had always hoped that Dad would come with me. About three years ago, I started talking about it in passing with him and soon begged him to go. He told me he couldn't go, that his knees would give out (in hind sight something that is entirely possible given how much we ended up walking), so instead he gifted me with some money to go on the trip. To do something that he would never do.

Nearly as soon as Joe and I started dating, I told him I wanted to go to Italy with him. I'd already had many opportunities to travel, but he had become a father many years ago and never really was able to. Well, one thing led to another, and the trip was put off. You know, marriage, a baby, a house... little things like that. But the trip never left my mind.

So, eventually, all things aligned and we started planning it. A ten-day trip through Venice, Florence, Pisa, my grandmother's village Pievepelago in the mountains, Rome, and Naples. A belated honeymoon in Italia. How perfect. How beautiful.

To say Italy was everything I expected... Well, it would be impossible. It couldn't possibly have been what I'd imagined in my head since I was a small child. While we were midway through the trip, Joe asked me if I had heard of the "Paris effect" (he's full of factoids like this). I said I hadn't, and he explained that it's a phenomenon wherein after Japanese tourists visit Paris, they become disillusioned with the city because it wasn't what they expected to see after romanticizing about it for so long. This "Paris effect" hit me pretty hard in Florence after being pestered for the twentieth time by panhandlers to buy a laser light flyer that they kept shooting over people's heads admiring the Duomo.

But, really, though it wasn't what I expected, it was still pretty great. Here's a highlight reel.

Chill, unassuming, cool. Awesome feel.
Friendliest people I've ever met. Everyone offered help, even without asking.
Bicycles, bicycles, everywhere!
If we didn't have kids, we'd want to live here.

Breathtaking to see, very original to look at because of the canals. Just like the pictures you've always seen.
Very, very touristy and crowded. We had difficulty getting a feel for what "Venice" culture would be like without tourism.
The gondoliers wear striped shirts and straw hats.
Panhandlers in St. Mark's force birdseed or roses into your hand, then demand you pay them.

Easily walkable, everything of note within 15 minutes or less.
Most crowded city we visited. Long lines for everything, even with an advance purchase ticket.
David was as amazing as everyone says. The Duomo makes my eyes hurt after staring at it with it's pink and mint intricacies.

Grandmother's village
This place will live on in my memory forever, like Rose thinking about the Titanic. Idyllic and pristine, it was without a doubt the highlight of my trip.


Hot, crowded, we left within 30 minutes of arriving.

Splendid. Ancient meets Renaissance meets 21st century.
Truly a city everyone should see at least once.
Vatican Museum, St. Peter's, Colosseum, Trevi Fountains... worth it.
Pretty much the best part of our trip. Very fun city, great food, awesome variety, plenty to choose from.
Hotter than Florida in the summer.

They. Have. Deep. Fried. Pizza.

What the trip did become, though, was this: (1) an unforgettable adventure with my best friend, (2) a lifelong dream fulfilled (Dad did come with me, and I put his ashes in the stream in Grandmother's village) and (3) a renewal of gratitude for my comfortable, homebody life in Florida.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Judy Garland

Without a doubt, as a six year old kid, I wanted to be Judy Garland when I grew up.

Not the actress, mind you. When I was a little kid, my mom had a best friend named Judy Garland. Her name was Garland by marriage and maiden name was Sunshine, which is still an awfully cool surname. When I was a kid, Judy invited us over to her house for parties, and I used to get insanely excited. Judy was not only vivacious, fun, and an avid collector of Wizard of Oz memorabilia, but she was also a world traveler. Her home was like a funhouse of old movie posters, postcards, jars filled with coins and beads from Vegas and Mardi Gras, and all manner of collectibles in lighted glass display cases. On her walls, I saw pictures of her in at operas in Europe, fishing in Alaska, posing with kangaroos in Australia, visiting places I had only seen in Disney movies.

RIP, Aunt Judy. I know you're making someone up there laugh.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Using MBTI-Style Questionnaires to Inform Instruction

I presented at SSTESOL 2016 today! If you are interested in my action research concerning MBTI-style questionnaires, I would be happy to share my findings.

Also: Yes, I am very, very pregnant.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Turkish Dancing and Coffee Night!

Tonight, the gracious hosts of Ladies Coffee Night at the Istanbul Cultural Center invited me to give a short presentation. Then, we played games, ate delicious food, and danced the night away!

You can see my presentation here:

And my dance moves here:

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Monday, September 1, 2014

Living and Loving Lithuania!

"Lithuania, huh? I think I had a friend who lived there... or maybe it was Latvia."

Around April of this year, I had a friend recommend to me the Lithuanian State Scholarship Program. Essentially, this program pays for you to stay a month in Lithuania and learn language classes while enjoying cultural outings. I applied, I got in, and I had an experience I will never forget!

I encourage all interested parties to apply for this scholarship! http://www.smpf.lt/en/statescholarships 

The beautiful summer balloons in Vilnius's "Uzupio Republic" August 6, 2014. 
A scavenger hunt across Vilnius with students from Armenia, Georgia, Poland, and the USA on August 7th, 2014.
 At the Lithuanian capital building August 9th.

 Lithuanian Traditional Circle Dancing.

 Taking a weekend side-trip in Riga, Latvia with my friend Irene from Ukraine.

Another side trip to Talinn Estonia with Irene and Nadia.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Great Turkey Adventure, Part I

Why are you going to Turkey?” was a question I was asked about a dozen times before I left, almost with a sense of bewilderment that someone would go for vacation. Answering this question was hard to do, because my explanation is manifold. 
First, I planned this trip because I had two friends and former classmates are living in Istanbul and Bursa, respectively. They are working as English professors at universities in both of their cities. Second, I had been obsessed with history as a kid and used to spend hours pouring over encyclopedias which led to a love of many cultures, Turkey included. I read historical fiction on the Byzantine empire and had a slight obsession with Empress Theodora. I have wanted to see the Hagia Sophia since then. Third, I have developed, like many other Americans, a deep admiration of Rumi's philosophy any poetry. When I was eleven, my family and I went to see the whirling dervishes of Rumi, which partially inspired my religious studies minor in undergraduate. Then of course, I study world dance and wanted to learn folk dance and hear live street musicians. I actually got so many reasons that I wanted to go that I began to worry that it couldn't possibly live up to my heavily romanticized expectations.

I chose Turkey, “Just because.” This was a trip for me.

Suffice it to say my trip was AMAZING. YOU should go, and YOU should go, and everyone should go! I fumbled my way through the streets of Istanbul, cultural goofs and indecency in smaller towns like Bursa and Iznik, and managed to find myself lost only a small handful of times on the behemoth of options that encompass Turkish transportation (metros, ferries, buses, domestic planes, taxis, and shared trams aka “dolmas”). My trip spanned 12 days for seven cities in four countries with layovers: Washington D.C. → Munich, → Istanbul → Cesme → Chios → Efes → Iznik → Bursa → Istanbul → Washington D.C. → Home. The initial layovers in Washington and Munich were quite intentionally, because I'd never been to either city.


Washington D.C.
Somehow, I missed the requisite field trip that every other grade schooler took to Washinton D.C. As such, our nation's capital was a bold new world full of free museums, impending monuments, and fancy government employees in suits wearing name-tags. I won't go into too many details because everyone went on that field trip, but I will say that seeing the cherry blossoms on the Memory Mall had me awestruck. Best of all, I was able to meet with an amazing dance friend and we shared delightful Ethiopian noms and stories.

Next, I went to Munich. Given the constraints of a layover, I was able to explore Marienplatz and see many of the old cathedrals, the clock square, the bartering square, and the Forever 21. However, my primary objective was the Munchen Hobrauhaus. Of course, the beer was delicious, and so was the food. Going to Oktoberfest will continue to be one of my life goals.

Arrival in Istanbul
At this point I had been on planes and layovers for 48-hours and was both sleep-deprived and severely unshowered. BUT, I was set for Istanbul! My arrival was shaky at best, terrifying at worst. I landed at 2:00 in the morning and had to wait for a shuttle at 4:00. During that time I befriended a janitor who helped me plug in my phone and spoke exactly two words of English ("hello” and “selfie”) and then a shuttle driver who began a conversation with me about Stephen King after seeing the book I was reading. I arrived at Taqsim Square at 4:00 in the morning and was told by the hostel proprietor where I made a reservation that they were full and had no rooms for the night. He directed me to another hotel, which I still didn't find through a ten-minute search. After garnering attention, shouts and whistles from men who were lumbering through the alleys of Istikal (there are a LOT of alleys) I ran into a hotel and was able to mime and Turklish my way a place to stay. I got a tiny, dank room with a bed fit for one of the seven dwarves, put my jacket over the pillow, used a scarf instead of a sheet and fell asleep until noon the next day. Honestly, it wasn't a great introduction to the city.

Hostel and Sultanamet Square
Luckily, this rough arrival was in no way indicative of the day that followed. Wednesday, I woke up and found another hostel (The Chambers of the Boheme, which I highly recommend!) nearby using a wifi signal where the owner made me a Turkish breakfast. I also met a fellow traveler at the hostel, a young woman from Germany pursuing graduate studies in Brussels, who journeyed with me through the tourist attractions of Sultanamet.
 The Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, delicious food, and incredible company. These main attractions are all within walking distance of each other, and are staggeringly beautiful architecturally.

We were staying on Istikal, which is a street brimming with life at all hours of the night, including a number of street musicians who play guitar, oud, clarinet, and darbuka. The night life lasts well into the early morning hours, as indicated by the noise which continued outside our hostel window until 4:00am or so.

Galata Tower, Tokepi Palace, Cistern
Thursday was my fullest day. One of the amazing things about being an ESL teacher has been the connections it has given me around the world. I met with a woman whom I had never met, but mutually communicated with through a co-hort in my M.A. program! We had mostly talked about Doctor Who and Sherlock, but we met in Istanbul to see Galata Tower and eat at the Istanbul Shake Shack. (Yes, there is an Istanbul Shake Shack.) Later that day, I sadly had to separate from my travel partner, and explored Tokepi Palace, the Archaeology Museum, and the Cistern Basilica on my own. Also, incredible! The Sultan's rooms at Tokepi palace were overwhelming!

Hodjapasha Dance and Galata Bridge
That evening I chatted with the hostel proprietor and a Swiss woman who had taken a multi-country train ride to Istanbul, before I left to watch Turkish folk dance downtown. The name of the theater was "Hodjapasha Dance Theater" and it was a converted mosque turned into an amazing display. (I gave them a good review on TripAdvisor.) Afterward, I met with my friend Alex (also from my M.A. Program) who is a teacher at a university in Istanbul. We walked over Galata Bridge and through the city at night which provided a completely different perspective of the staggering levels of complexity that comprise Istanbul.

Friday was full of planes and buses, aiming for the southwestern coastal city of Cesme. For these rides, I had finished the only book I brought with me and had no wifi, which led to fill nearly thirty journal pages full of thoughts and plans. I wandered throughout Cesme and slept until my friend Ame (you guessed it, another friend from my M.A. Program!) arrived at 4:30am the next morning. Bum part was that our ferry was at 7:00am...

I will write about my trip through Greece, Ephesos, Iznik, and Bursa soon.