Thursday, June 16, 2016

5 Months Later: Winter Vacation, Death, and Heartbreak

Well, I have once again gone a-wall. As I sit here at school, I'm actually free for once. Report cards are finished, lesson plans are finished, and I’m of course procrastinating on grad school work. I haven't written since my trip to Egypt in January, about 5 months ago. Yeah, my bad. But I honestly haven't had the motivation or the time. So here we go…

Winter Vacation

December and January brought 3 weeks of crazy travel through Eastern Europe. Europe in general was never on my radar, not until later in life anyway. Ever since living in Korea, Asia and Africa (including the Middle East) are the two continents I wanted to indulge in. Europe was always so... cliche to me. Everyone goes there. It's their go-to. People do up London and Paris. People at home don’t really think of places like Cambodia and Jordan as appealing.

So before I start, no, Jackie and I were not drunk when booking our flights. We CHOSE 14 hour layovers. Not only does it save a shit ton of money, but it fills up that passport with stamps and experience.. So no, no alcohol was involved. But 6 countries in 3 weeks were.

En route to our first stop, our first layover was in Belgrade, Serbia.

Welcome to our first experience with European Christmas markets! It was about 14 hours, so we hiked a bus into the city center and enjoyed an afternoon/evening full of good old Christmas cheer. Most importantly, my introduction to trdelnik/kurtoskalacs, a famous Eastern European rolled dough pastry covered with different toppings like almond powder, coconut, cinnamon, etc. I'm assuming these are what greatly contributed to my clear weight gain during this trip.

Two words: Nadia Comaneci. She was my childhood idol. First gymnast in history to receive the world's first perfect ten. 1976 Montreal Olympics. Yeah I know some things. We stayed in Bucharest for the first few nights. It was full of incredible food, some disappointingly rude people, and a bar crawl that turned into some fun friendships. Specifically, a group of American military who were stationed in Sicily, a hysterical and trashed Kiwi, and a few other randoms. We were the only two women on the crawl and fit right in! Then it was on to Brasov, that included a short train tide into Sighisoara, otherwise known as Transylvania, where the legend of Dracula reportedly lived. Boy was this small little village stunning. castles, mountains, and so much history.

Sarmale (cabbage rolls)

I mean just trying to be the next Nadia... had to.
Bucharest pub crawl
Ugh no words. Beeeeeeef
Christmas market
Langos (sour cream and mozzarella cheese on hot dough. Woah street food. Woah.
Dracula's castle


It was here in Brasov that I found out about my uncle's death. My father's twin brother. My godfather. It hit me pretty hard. I haven't talked to that side of the family, including my father, in 6 years. There's no point to it. My father is my father because he has my blood. That's a fact that I cannot escape. But he is not my dad. My uncle was a different story. Bryan. Seeing his name next to the word died in a text from my mother 4,600 miles away, gave me an instant heavy heart. I remember slowly sitting down on the dresser in our hostel, with tears slowly starting to roll down my face. I haven't spoken to my father's side of the family in years, so why did I feel this way? Bryan was my comfort when on visitation. He was the one in the room that made everything okay. For as long as I can remember, since I was a little girl, there was always that tenseness, the uncomfortable feelings, the elephant in the room… they were all lifted once he walked into the room. He was my father’s twin, but he was nothing like my father. Bryan knew how to father children. He was a dad, and he was great at it.

He had a wife who loved him, and two beautiful daughters who looked up to him. He was our rock as children. Our comfort. Our consistency when we had none. I don’t know if he ever realized what he did for us, and it hurts that I never got a chance to tell him. I took it upon myself to message my cousin Danielle, his eldest daughter, someone I haven't talked to in more than 6 years. I see her and her sister Katie from afar, across social media… but I have no idea who they are. They are my cousins and I don't know them. They needed to know. My aunt, his wife, had to know the kind of person my brothers and I saw her husband as. So I wrote Danielle a message in that little hostel in a tiny village in Romania, about the comfort her father gave us, about a man who gave us love when our own father didn't know how to. My brothers and to my surprise my mom, attended the wake in the days that followed. The feelings and reactions my brothers felt from that side of my family including our father was nothing short of uncomfortable. My mom on the other hand, being the kind of woman she is, held her ground and was their solely for supporting my brothers and my aunt, Bryan’s wife. They had been close during my mom’s marriage with my father. My mom needed her to know what kind of person Bryan was and how he helped and affected the five of us. I made a vow to myself and my cousins, that I would see them when I visit home. I want to know them, and I want to know about the man who was taken from them too soon.


Budapest, Hungary.
After Romania, we hopped on a 14-hr train to Hungary, awoken every 2-3 hours by immigration officials asking for our passports at each border. We cracked open two bottles of red, snacked on nuts and Lara bars, and when my playlist got too repetitive, I journaled as much as I possibly could, sprawled myself across a row of seats, and contorted myself into every possible position I could to try and get some sleep. So, despite being terribly sleep-deprived, muscles aching, we marched ourselves off that train and onto the streets of this city that held new friendships, new adventures, and an incredible amount of memories ready for us to find.

Everything just seemed to work out on this leg of the trip. Good thing, because our next destination was far from that. But we’ll get to that later. We found our hostel no problem, and met a group of Australian boys and a fellow American 30 minutes in. Now I’ve stayed at my fair share of hostels, and have made some pretty great friends, but the group of us- it was like we had known each other for years. It was actually quite incredible. It was unlike any of the friendships I had made at hostels in the past. We clicked. Right from the beginning. And we spent every day/night together. Christmas markets. Bars. Exploring through the cobblestone streets. Dancing. Sharing stories. Sharing dreams. Everything. We did Budapest up. And it was amazing.

These Aussies though... (Carlos and Sam)
Last night in Bucharest (Ashley, Sam, and Carlos)

The Nutcracker at The Hungarian State Opera House on Christmas morning. Yeah that happened. No big deal. Just seeing the most famous ballet in the world in Budapest on a cold and magical Christmas morning. I saw it in New York years ago, but Jackie and I agreed that for some reason this show was far better than NY’s was. The dancers, the slight differences in plot, the setting, the fact that we were in Eastern Europe surrounded by these beautiful Hungarian families with their children dressed in their Christmas best. Maybe it was all of this combined, but boy was it magical. We treated ourselves to a lovely Christmas lunch afterwards and I skyped with my family that night at a corner café and watched my nieces open their presents and experience the joy and magic of their own Christmas morning.

Hungarian State Opera House

The food here. Wowza. Meat, meat, and more meat. Cheese. Bread. More meat. My iron deficiency was definitely thanking me. Incredible food. I made sure to research everything I needed to try. Most of which was red meat. And boy did I fall in love. Okay enough about the food. But really though. Insane.

Toltott Kaposzta (stuffed cabbage (much like the Romanian sarmale)
Goulash (beef stew)
Side note: Anyone looking to make their travels a bit easier, the Triposo app will be your savior. I have used it in many countries so far and it has never failed to deliver. It’s free and the best part- it works without wifi. You just need to download whatever city you’ll be in beforehand. It has maps, food, translations, activities, transportation info, basically anything you possibly need. It’s packed full and super easy to use. Recommend it to anyone. I have even used it in NYC; it’s amazing what you can discover in your own cities.

Back to Budapest- At the end of our days there, we had some crazy early ass train back to Bucharest to catch our flight to Istanbul. Our lovely Aussie friends decided to peer pressure us into going out until we had to leave. This meant getting back to the hostel around 5 am to leave. Well it didn’t take much convincing, so there we were. We went to out to dinner and sat at the restaurant playing Hot Seat for hours. And when I say hours, I’m pretty sure we sat there for a good 4 hours. Probably cleared out their wine while we were at it. We ended up at some crazy bar after, and when I say crazy, I mean I can’t find another word for it. Literally porno figures on every wall, paintings of people with rabbit masks on, sculptures of creatures hanging from the ceiling. I mean this place was insane. But it had some great music, and we danced the night away. We arrived back as the sun was basically coming up. Budapest you ended on quite a great note. We’ll just leave it at that. I really didn't know what to expect with this city, but it for sure blew me away. Probably one of the biggest highlights of my trip. 

In front of the Hungarian State Opera House
The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Oh Istanbul. We had such high hopes my friend, such high hopes.

Let’s start with the positive, so I don’t sound like too much of a Debbie Downer. It only seems fitting to start with the food… WOWOWOW. Yeah, that’s a lot, but completely necessary. Every meal became hummus and dolma (stuffed vine leaves). It was our go-to appetizer. After the first two meals, there was never even a question. Just an automatic order. And apple tea. This traditional Turkish tea was the perfect way to warm up after coming in from the Arctic that decided to camp itself outside. Lamb. A given. The lamb here was incredible. Then of course, pide (Turkey’s cross between a pizza and a calzone.)

Stuffed eggplant

Apple tea
The Grand Bazaar.
One of the world’s largest and oldest bazaar’s. 61 streets. Over 4,000 shops. It was pretty incredible. Chaotic. A maze. Annoying vendors. Actually Turkish vendors kind of make Thai vendors seem like nothing. I do admit I called out one of the men pretty badly. He made a comment about us being American, which of course was a judgment, being that he never even asked me where I was from. And even if he would have, I would have said I was Canadian. (It’s my thing. In certain countries, it’s a much safer and less frustrating option.) So yes, complete judgment. Anyway, he made some smart ass comment about us haggling and walking away, because you know since we’re American, we have money. I turned around so quickly on my feet. I’m surprised I didn’t punch the guy out. I was done with this day at that point. Done with the cold and the fact that my feet were literally crying in pain with some degree of massive frostbite. Done with the masses of people and the haggling. Done with the sexist comments and the uncomfortable stares. I looked this guy straight in the eye and told him that not all Americans are rich, that how dare he make that judgment, that how dare he judge a whole nation’s people on his own stereotypes. I was livid. However I decided landing myself in prison in Istanbul wouldn’t really make for a great time, so I gave him one last look and walked away. On a more positive note, I bought myself two beautiful, massive, thick, Turkish scarves, and a couple of other goodies for my future house. You know, things to add to my already busting boxes in my garage back in NY... the boxes that are waiting for my ass to finally settle down and put my life and adventures out on display.


That next day, a boy broke my heart.

A boy I thought was a man. A boy who had changed my view on the rest of my life. A boy who made me believe in love again. A boy who had made me stop lying to myself and others. A boy who made me believe there was someone else out there for me. A boy who scared me half to death because of what all this meant for me. This boy, on this random day in a small café in Istanbul, broke my heart. He broke it at the exact moment my roommate walked in through the door and found me holding back tears. He broke it as she sat down across from me, and I lost control of those tears. I fell apart. I hated myself for not seeing past it all. I hated myself for allowing him to enter my friends’ world and fooling them as well. I hated that I let my guard down enough to be fooled as to who he really was. I had never been that girl. I had always been smarter than that. Too smart sometimes to the point where I never let anyone in. But I did this time. I did because I truly believed in it. In us. I opened my heart that had been brutally closed up waiting and waiting for someone else. I became every other naïve little girl falling for a guy and not seeing his true colors. And I’m embarrassed to actually admit to that. That moment in that café, unfortunately is edged in my heart, and continues to burn me when I let it. But fast forward 6 months later and I can truthfully say that I have come to terms with the fact that I dodged a psychopathic, narcissistic, verbally abusive bullet. But it’s also left me at square one.

6 months.

And I’m over it. It doesn’t affect me like I thought it would. His name makes me uncomfortable but also makes me want to throw up in disgust. Seeing him at his bar makes me cringe in anger and crack up in laughter. I dodged something harmful. He does nothing to serve my life. He does nothing for me.  

And then we have 21 months...

And his name gives me comfort. Seeing him makes me content. His words, his voice, his passions, his life, his choices… I care about every single one of them, while at the same time I don’t give a flying shit. He does everything for me, and nothing at the same time. And it’s like he drove away in that truck and left me at my front door yesterday. Sunken to the ground, barely breathing. Like a baby rocking back and forth to try and calm themselves down. And that’s when you realize, yet again, that this love is more than love, I don’t even have a word for it. I’ll never have a word for it. He’ll never have a word for it. It continues to confuse the absolute shit out of both of us. Because that comfort also brings discomfort. That contentment also gives me chills. The love and overwhelming passion I have for this man also brings the biggest pang of anger, frustration, and confusion I have ever felt towards anyone in my entire life. It’s constant. And it doesn’t waiver. And that, that terrifies me every day of my life. We terrify me.


I have never sugar-coated my travels. So I’m not about to start. Who am I to beat around the bush or give you an unrealistic view of my travels and experiences. So please bear with me and my temporary venting. Things get better soon I swear!

The weather.

I blame this pessimism on that. I’m allowed to. The wonderful things I had heard about Istanbul, and there were a lot, crept through here and there. I saw them. I knew they were there. But the weather took over to the point where I was miserable. There, I said it. I was miserable for a majority of my time here. The cold and ice really got to me. I mean damn, I spent four years in Oswego, NY. You’d think I could handle the most severe winter conditions after that. No. Absolutely not. Not when ice covered the hilly streets like a thick blanket, and the city did NOTHING about it. There were days that we only made it to the restaurant right next door to our hostel so that we didn’t have to walk on the streets and risk breaking a bone or worse. Good thing their wine and fresh hot pita were on point. The walk to and from the Bazaar that day was hell.
Blue Mosque
We didn’t come prepared. Yes, we had a coat, thick socks, gloves, hats, scarves, but the boots I bought in Bucharest did not hold up. My patience was gone. I tried desperately to stay present, to take this city in despite not feeling my feet, despite the ocean that was filling inside my boots, my knees in pain from slipping and walking like I had a legit stick up my ass. We went to the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also known as the infamous Blue Mosque, which was a stunning beauty. I made a decision not to climb the steps up to it. Jackie did and it took her a good 4 whole minutes. 4 minutes to walk up about 15 steps. It was a scene I will never forget. These people were crawling up these steps. Crawling, slowly, creepily, slipping with every hand and foot that was placed. I will never forget watching her and turning around at the exact moment a woman fell right on her back and head, letting out a scream that sent chills up my spine. She was told to lay still and I prayed that she would get up and that I didn’t just witness a woman become paralyzed simply trying to get a sight of this mosque. Thankfully, she did stand up, and Jackie eventually did make it down safely.

Side note: A few days after we returned home, we saw a video on the news of pedestrians getting buried by snow as it came crashing down off a mosque in another city in Turkey.

Hagia Sophia Mosque
Side note: About a week or so after we returned back to Abu Dhabi, we heard news of a bomb going off right in front of the Blue Mosque. I remember watching the video and seeing the exact spot I stood, on that crowded and cold street, looking up at this beauty of a mosque. I stood in my apartment, sick and counting my blessings.

Good thing Istanbul was full of amazing red wine, food, and good shisha, because it literally made all the difference for us.

I hope this blog doesn’t sway anyone away from Istanbul or Turkey in general. Really. It’s a beautiful city, it’s a beautiful country, full of life and energy… in the warmer weather. So please, I beg you! If your dart lands on Turkey- Choose. A. Warmer. Month!

We decided we needed to get the hell out of this city, and quickly. So we booked a quick flight to Cappadocia. Now the taxi that we booked was parked all the way down the hill from our hostel because it couldn’t make it up with the ice. So let’s paint this picture. The two of us with huge ass backpacks, boots with no grip, scarves up to our eyeballs, walking as slowly as humanly possible down this steep ass hill, all while trying not to land ourselves in the hospital with a spinal or head injury. It took us a good 20-35 minutes to walk down this hill. The joy of backpacking. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies.

Side note: The airport we were flying out of had recently been bombed about a week prior. So there was that to deal with it. The security remained high, but it didn’t stop the feeling that I was on edge the entire time we were there. Nor did it help that there was an encounter by an extremely odd man at the checkout line. No bags. No passport in hand. No friends, family. Nothing. Just standing there. It was real. It was unnerving. And I was on my guard every minute we sat in that airport.

Spontaneity at it’s finest.
So as we sat there at that airport, we thought about our recent flight search at the hostel. We knew we needed to get out of Turkey, we just didn’t know where to or when. So we opened a few tabs and got to searching. Berlin... that was where our new Australian friends currently were. When we messaged them and they informed us that they were leaving in a few days, we scratched that idea. Sicily... that was where our new American military friends worked that we met in Bucharest the first night. Booking a flight to Italy 3 days beforehand. Some might say that’s ridiculous, financially irresponsible, crazy. It was most of those things and none of those things at the same time. When we saw the price for that flight, our mouths dropped. We honestly thought it was a mistake. It still could have been. I guess we’ll never really know. So as we sat in that airport, we parked ourselves at a small café, bought a mediocre cup of coffee to get an hour of wifi, and booked a last minute flight to Sicily. I was going to Italy. This country, along with a few others, is on what I call my Relationship Country List. Countries I have no interest in going to while I am single, staying in $12 hostels, carrying a backpack on my back. These countries I want to do up right. Spend a bit more money, stay somewhere where I don’t have to be up all night because the dude in the next bunk is snoring and stealing your roommate’s water in the middle of the night. But the truth is, my life is changing every day. I don’t know what it holds, so why am I going to hold back when an opportunity stares me right in the face. So here I was, hopping on a flight to Italy in 3 days, on a complete whim.  

Back to Cappadocia- In fucking credible! Excuse my language. A small town in the middle of Turkey. Known for its infamous fairy chimneys (these beautiful cave dwellings edged into the side of the mountains.) Wow. Now here is a place that I would love to get back to in the summer. We booked a small little cave hostel. Literally a cave. The warmest, coziest hostel I’d ever stayed in. I mean makes sense... it's a cave. We spent 2 nights there only. And our sole purpose- hot air balloon ride! We were lucky though. Because of the high winds, snow, ice, and other shitty cold factors, a lot of the rides had been cancelled in the days prior. We had to be ready at an obscene hour. 4am or something. This ride was nothing short of incredible. I mean really. Absolutely stunning. The frostbite on our feet… not so stunning. We found ourselves constantly moving. It was a pain I never thought possible due to cold. I mean geez we weren’t climbing fucking Everest. I was starting to think, were all of these frigid temperatures bringing out this annoying complaining side of me that I’ve never seen before. And then I looked at my roommate, and the rest of the people in that balloon. I noticed how I was pulling my feet slightly out of my boots because they felt weirdly warmer that way when not squished against the inside of my boot. How that made sense? I do not know.

But it was the only relief I could get. When we landed and hopped back on to the bus, my feet were out of those boots the second my ass touched that seat. And I sat there, legs up to my chest, squeezing my feet, rubbing them and warming them as much as I could. I do have a picture of them that I sent my mother and she was horrified. It was pretty bad. But that hot air balloon ride- pretty bad ass.

Fairy chimneys

Sicily, Italy.
Pizza. Wine. Cannoli. Repeat. And boy did we repeat. It blew me away. This country. There are almost no words. After 2 ½ weeks of chaos, we were finally able to relax. Take a hot shower, take off our disgusting thick socks, our scarves, hats, gloves, coats, and sit outside a corner restaurant with pizza containing the freshest, most delicious ingredients, and a bottle of Nero Di’Avola to the face. All was good in the world. I can’t even talk about the food because I would probably sound like some obsessed crazed foodie. Which I was. 
My first one. In love. That pistachio cream though. YESSSS
So I’ll just quickly list some things...

Mushroom, gorgonzola, pistachio, pizza.

Pesto pasta.
Meat and cheese platters. Bread, bread, and more bread.
Red wine, red wine, red wine.
Pistachio cannoli, chocolate cannoli, regular cannoli. Tomato, fresh arugula, fresh ricotta,grilled eggplant, pistachio pizza.
Did I mention pizza?

Okay I swear I’m done. We met up with our friends from Bucharest who were stationed here in Catania. Flirted hardcore with our Italian waiter. I turned into a blushing little girl, swept off her feet, and tripping on my words with every “bella” I heard. The men were beautiful. The women were beautiful. The people were beautiful. Italy- you have officially found your way to my heart, and you are officially off my Relationship Country List.

Fish market outside of our hostel

My absolute favorite moment.


After Sicily, we flew back to Istanbul to catch our flight home. But first, it was a 12 or 13-hour layover in Bahrain. Boy was that an interesting day. I won’t even tell you the amount we paid for our visa for just 12 hours in this country. We didn’t realize until I looked at my receipt. Live and learn right. But… it consisted of a short ride into the city, getting a latte at Starbucks, a manicure/pedicure, some lunch, and relaxing before it was time to head home. Will admit, I will not be going back to Bahrain again.    

3 weeks. 6 countries. Friendships. Heartbreak. Loss. Memories. Laughs. Adventures. Reflection. And a definite test of patience.