Thursday, May 18, 2017

Winding Down in Turkey

After the conference sessions, we headed to this boat to go see the Black Sea. As soon as we boarded we had lunch and then learned that the weather was not going to allow us to go out of the strait to see it.
While that was disappointing, we did still see some amazing things from the water that were hard to see from land, like this fort...
...and these beautiful summer homes...
...and Maiden's Tower, a lighthouse with much folklore surrounding it. (Sorry for the graininess, it had started to rain a little at this point.)
We headed back to the hotel to get packed and ready to head home the next day. We met up with Beyza, my hostess for the conference who translated for me and helped me get ready for my panel. Cheers and thank you, Beyza!
One funny story to share: my hostess had tried to teach me how to say thank you in Turkish. This morning my room was being cleaned while I was in it doing some work at the desk. When the maid was leaving, I said 'thank you' in Turkish. She smiled at me and said, "Sorry, madam, I do not speak English." HA - so much for trying that phrase out!

In all, it was a very rich trip full of interesting places, people and conversations. I learned so much about a country that had previously been unfamiliar to me. Thanks for stopping by, I'll see you online soon!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Touring Turkey Continued

In between getting some work done, I decided to spend a little time touring more of the city. We tried the Big Bus tour, a hop on/hop off double decker bus. 
This was the view of the European side of Turkey as we approached the Bosphorus Bridge. The buildings are so colorful, the view reminds me of confetti.
We visited the Beylerbeyi Palace on the Asian side and encountered this sign containing the easiest Turkish words I've seen yet.
Built in 1865, the palace sits in the shadow of the bridge and was a summer residence of Ottoman sultans and a guesthouse for foreign heads of state. Daily tours are given of the inside but we didn't have enough time to take one.
A view of the Asian side of Turkey as we headed back over the bridge.
We stopped in a shop to buy some souvenirs. This wall of herbs, spices and teas smelled amazing. We ate enough samples of Turkish delight to count it as lunch - chocolate, pistachio, pomegranate, honey...yum! I bought some to share with my friends back home (and yes, you, Dad!). Afterwards, we grabbed a coffee at a cafe to cut the sugar a little bit.
After working in the afternoon, I met up with a group of speakers from the conference and had dinner and drinks along this pedestrian street.
We strolled around the city and landed on a cafe that faced the view in the previous photo. I had this delicious plate of grilled veggies and some cold appetizers (bottom right) with bread. There was a table of Turkish theater and philosophy students sitting behind our table that insisted we switch out our wine for raki, the traditional anise flavored liquor. It was good but we didn't drink nearly as much as they did.
All in all, a great evening trading stories and making friends with strangers (no more)!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Touring Turkey

The food I've eaten so far has been mostly lentil soup, hummus, amazing fresh fruits, and this glorious baklava.
These flags reminded me of Piccadilly Circus in London. I loved how so many people were out enjoying the beautiful weather, sitting in the parks, having picnics and walking around.
After roughly seven miles of walking, we headed back to the Lazzoni Hotel, where we're staying. I had booked a spa appointment in advance (like I do) and headed down to experience a Turkish bath and massage. (I stole this photo from the spa website, since it's a little hard to snap photos when you're trying not to slip on the wet marble floors.)

After the initial confusion of not knowing how to fashion a dress out of a tiny scarf, and a co-ed sauna/steam room situation, I was put on a warmed marble slab, scrubbed within an inch of my life (although it felt nice), encased in three feet of bubble suds (literally), and rinsed down with silver bowls of hot water. Afterwards, I had a blissful massage, which I fell asleep during but still enjoyed. In all it was a great way to end my first full day in Istanbul.
Monday was the start of the three-day World Cities Expo. I was on a panel about the intersection of culture and technology, which I found out about as the panel started (I had been told it was about education, so I vamped a bit). The three other panelists were very interesting and accomplished so we had a nice conversation after our individual presentations. The presentations were in English and the questions were in Turkish, so we switched between wearing headsets with an interpreter doing live translation.
After the day of presentations and speakers, we headed to the Ciragan Palace for a gala. This former Ottoman palace is now a five-star hotel and is the only hotel in Istanbul accessible by boat. We had juice on the terrace before going inside to the ballroom for a five-course meal and live traditional music. We then headed back to the hotel afterwards to rest up for another day. Thanks for stopping by the blog!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Catching Up in Turkey

Hello! I can't believe how far behind I've fallen on my updates and recaps lately. This year started with a cultural bang in Cuba and I've barely had time to catch my breath since. I like to keep my blog updated, even if only for my own memory jog down the road, but I started feeling behind and then decided to be kind to myself and catch up when I could. For the past four months, I've been to Detroit, Washington, D.C., Austin, Chicago, Lafayette (LA), San Francisco, Eugene (OR), Chattanooga (TN), and now, Istanbul. (If you are really interested in seeing a few photos from any/all of those adventures, you can check out my Instagram feed.)

All of my trips have been work related and while I am very much looking forward to some vacation time in the near future, I feel blessed with jobs that have taken me to amazing places, near and far. My current trip is especially exciting because I can't say that Turkey had been high on my list of places I was planning on going, but it has been an incredible trip so far. I am here to speak at a conference about smart and connected cities (yes, I know I'm a nerd), and today I had the chance to explore part of the old city with a colleague.
After taking a taxi and walking past shops with towers of Turkish Delight, we started at the Istanbul Archeology Museum, which is made up of three buildings. The ceramic tiles (left) were my favorite, but the statues, columns and outside features were beautiful too. It was hard to believe how old many of the artifacts were, dating back as far as 4100 BC.
While the inside of the Hagia Sophia is wonderful, the scaffolding, throngs of people and light going every which way wasn't, making it difficult to get a photo worth sharing. I would highly suggest clicking on the link to see the inside of this former Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal basilica, which was later an imperial mosque, and is now a museum.
Across from the Hagia Sofia, is largest of the hundreds of underground cisterns that used to supply the city with water, the Basilica Cistern. This underground marvel was renovated in the 80's and is still being worked on. The "crying pillar" (center, bottom) had a hole in it that people kept sticking their thumb into and moving their hand in a clockwise motion. Since I didn't have time to look it up, I didn't want to do more harm than good and skipped it for now. I also liked the upside-down ancient Roman Medusa head at the base of a column.
The Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque, is still an active mosque, hence my headscarf. The architecture, history and beauty of this mosque, built starting in 1618, is really something to behold.
After the mosque, a man who had following us, giving us hints about where to go, waited for us at the door. He wanted us to come see his shop. And while it felt a little like "don't fall for buying the frying pan at the home show," it was a pretty special experience we couldn't have planned. The main salesman had grown up in the U.S., his father a skilled tailor (in Rochester, NY no less!). He'd moved to Ohio and Jersey and a few places in between.

The shop was run by his family who were from Southeastern Turkey. Amid rugs, tea made by a young Syrian refugee man, discussions about world politics, and ornate craftsmanship, we were won over and left with rugs --because you never know when you'll be back! I'll share the rest of the day with you tomorrow - I know, there's so much in one day!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Rest of Cuba

I presented my last three posts in themes because I took so many photos and saw so many things that I couldn't figure out a better way to share my eight-day adventure with you. In doing so, I failed to include a few scenes and moments that I will fill you in on now. Enjoy!

I rode a horse, led by a dog in a small animal circus. I have heard that a video exists of this also, but I have not seen it. The lesson here is that whenever someone gestures for me to get on a horse, I oblige.
One of the days we went to a forest for a tour of local plants, trees and flowers. I loved this "shaving brush" tree, which I have been unable to positively identify online. It grows in white (like this tree) and red. Both were spectacular.
We took a ride on this sweet old steam train. We sat in an open car full of benches while the soot and ash blew back in our eyes.
Okay, back to the animal circus for a second. The best part was the tiny apparatus that the owner built for each and every act. There were tiny see-saws, hoops, little jail cells, dog-sized soccer goals and beds, and about fifteen other inventions.
In addition to the government ration bodegas, which supply a pre-set amount of grocery items that each person can purchase for their household (5 eggs, a pound of salt, etc.), there is also a government store that provides inexpensive necessities. There were blue patent leather shoes for women, black leather shoes (with and without laces) for men, laundry soap, and light bulbs.
There were so many beautiful churches, with amazing vintage cars parked outside.
Part of the reason I wanted to get to Cuba as fast as I could, was because as "progress" happens, people may to want to change it into a pristine and shiny version of other places. I love the look of the weathered buildings, next to the brightly colored buildings. I hope some balance is struck over time to maintain the beauty of the old and new. I hope you can get there soon and enjoy the wonderfully rich offerings this amazing country has to offer.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Culture of Cuba

The thing that has always fascinated me about Cuba is the culture. The history and people are striking, but the art, music, and dance are memorizing. As I went through the history and culture class last semester, I realized how little I knew. I had no idea just how much influence Cuba has had globally, especially through writing, music, film and art. I couldn't get enough of the sidewalk bands, the hotel lobby dance performances, or the art in its many forms. There was so much to see and experience. Here's a peek at a few of the things I enjoyed.

As I'd mentioned in my first post about Cuba, there is a man who has shared his mosaic art all over his neighborhood, including this building.
Although it's a bit dark, this mural almost glows. It was painted by kids and their teachers at an adjoining community center that helps mentor and teach art to children.


We had the immense pleasure of watching this group in a museum one of the days. This sextet plays their own take on traditional and modern Cuban songs. They were truly a delight to watch and listen to. However, the speech at the beginning was my favorite part.

Many items in Cuba seem to be upcycled, recycled and reused over and over again. This concrete egg pays homage to this resourceful culture, as you can see.
Another element of the culture I loved was the ability to weave in whimsy. This take on a seahorse at our hotel was an excellent example (which being life-sized, had to be ridden, of course).
Our "good game, high-five line" after a friendly game of baseball. Each of the Cuban athletes wore orange pants to unify their team and the hat and jersey of their favorite American baseball team.
Each year, from December 16 until Christmas Eve, the town of Villa Clara splits into two halves for Parrandas Remedianas. Each half designs huge floats that soar above the streets, along with elaborate costumes and headpieces to compete with each other. They now declare no winner, unlike in years past, but still celebrate the end of the festival with a huge fireworks show in the streets.
This amazing pencil drawing was done by one of the high school students at the local art academy in Cienfuegos.
These oil paintings were done by one of the visual arts teachers at the school. Luckily, they were for sale and I bought the one on the top left to bring home.
Even the Spanish tiled floors (this one was in a museum) were too beautiful to ignore.
Combining history, art and culture, was the Che Guevara Mausoleum. You were only allowed to take photos of the front, however, the mausoleum (located underground) was one of the most beautiful memorials I've ever seen.
Unfortunately, every picture I took of dancing was too blurry to share, but you can imagine brightly colored costumes, fast rhythms and lots of hip action, right? Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Flavors of Cuba

I was a bit surprised to find the most exciting flavors of Cuba to be in the cocktails. The food was good but not spicy like I had expected. We had one meal with some peppers that had a little kick to them but that was about it. Lots of salt, rice, beans and plantains. Here are some of the flavors I found.

As far as street food goes, the crispy flour tortilla chips covered in sugar were as yummy as any. How this guy kept them so fresh in the humidity was beyond me.
With the notoriety of the Cuban pork sandwich, I was wondering how easy I would find my pescatarian diet. It wasn't very difficult. Most meals offered a fish option, like this one with red snapper, along with veggies and fried plantains.
Cuban coffee is very strong. Similar to Italian espresso, the traditional way that makes it Cuban is to add sugar directly to the espresso pitcher as the shot is being pulled. This iced version above was delicious. 
Like most tropical islands, fruit was abundant. The pineapples grow small but sweet and coconut is used for drinking and flavoring things like ice cream.
After our visit to the Hemingway House, it reminded me that I hadn't had an authentic daquiri yet. This "natural (not frozen)" version at our hotel bar in Cienfuegos was tasty.
Since we were traveling in a large group, most of our meals were a set menu with your choice of drink and main course. Most meals came with salad and bread to start and dessert at the end. The majority of the time dessert was ice cream, except for when we had flan or guava jelly with gouda cheese on top (pictured). I was not a big fan of the latter.

The traditional drink of Trinidad is the canchanchara (and it is very strong). It's made of honey, lime, rum (of course) and ice -- and is typically served in a pottery cup like this one. They say it was invented to withstand the difficulties of the 10 Years' War.
While everyone else ate their pork filled plantain patties, I enjoyed these cabbage and cucumber filled ones.
The Cuba Libre is another traditional cocktail found everywhere. Just cola, lime and rum and you're in business!
One night I was served a veggie omelet with root vegetables and rice.
The mojito was hands down my favorite. You just can't beat fresh mint, lime and rum - yum!