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Currently visiting my brother in Germany; we took a trip today to visit a castle in Marksburg.  We had a wonderful tour!  Fortuantely, we were the only ones who showed up for the guided tour-nothing like having a tour guide all to yourself when you’re in a torture chamber and squirming with questions you want answered!  Shot some photos you might like:


Looking through the cafe window at the turning leaves.  I arrived in Germany at just the right moment to enjoy the colors!


View of the Rhine river, looking down from the castle.


Looking over the castle wall into the sunset. Awwww.


The Bosphorus

To get a feeling for how enormous this city is, I took a boat tour of the Bosphorus this last weekend.  Excellent views of the shorline really made me wonder if I’d ever want to live anywhere else. 🙂



And what could possibly make a boat trip better than a two hour stop at a castle? Unfortunately, the castle wasn’t open to be explored, and a sudden rain made street wandering impossible. Fortunately, there were figs to be enjoyed 🙂

The Beginning of a New Love Affair

ImageExcuse me for not writing for a few months, but I’ve been in the process of a big change: I moved to Istanbul.


Oh, Istanbul.  How I love thee.

As I approach my one-month anniversary in this city, words continue to escape me when I try to describe it.  Truly, this city is an overload on all senses and emotions.  Furthermore, my own ignorance becomes more apparent with each passing day, and I continue to be excited, knowing that I am learning so much.  For now, please enjoy  my photo posts from a few different activities I’ve done recently!  Let’s start with a trip to the Grand Bazaar 🙂





Culinary Success of my life thus far! (take 2)


Okay, okay, I know I used this title on my eggplant boats a few months back, but really, this is “the one.”  Trying to figure out what to do with an enormous bag of spinach, I made due with my other available ingredients and created an excellent garbanzo bean salad.

For the dressing, I used my handblender (best investment ever) to mix:

  • a couple cups of raw spinach
  • a finely chopped big garlic clove
  • a quarter or a finely chopped red onion
  • a few tablespoons of olive oil (4?)
  • hearty amounts of salt and pepper
  • juice of a huge, super ripe lemon

Blending it all together, it made a dressing similar in texture to a pesto sauce.  I mixed it up with some rinsed garbanzos and another half of a red onion cut into slivers (I don’t care for big chunks personally, just for adornation).  I let it sit and get funky in the fridge for a day, and this afternoon served it over a bed of spinach to friend E with marinated salmon steaks for lunch; we had ripe pears for dessert.

Yes, it was as radical as you can imagine.  The lemon juice takes the spinach to another level, and the red onion and garlic turn it into one of those “so-good-for-lunch-but-can’t-talk-to-coworkers-after-break-without-brushing-teeth” meals.  Try it!

Basque Country: El Centro del Mundo (or so they tell me)


Here I am in Basque Country! Pais Vasco is in Northern Spain, and also crosses into France.  It is considered part of “Green Spain,” which is pretty obvious looking at the photos.  To be honest, I came home from this trip with mixed feelings.  On one hand, it was beautiful, the air was clean and crisp, the food was INCREDIBLE, and the people were very friendly.  At the same time, I left feeling more like a foreigner than ever.  Maybe it was because I was juxtaposing it with my trip the week before to Scotland?  Leaving Scotland, I’d felt like I had visited home and that all Scots were extended family.  I definitely did not have that feeling in Basque Country.  For the sake of not saying anything bad about my experience, I’ll just leave it at that 🙂

Day 1 in Lekeitio:


Lekeitio is a gorgeous little town of 8,000 people that grows to a whopping 800,000 residents in Summertime.  And really, is it any wonder why?  The town touches a beautiful, clean beach, and reaches up to rolling hills and forests.  I’d want to take my family here as well!


The port in Lekeitio; all around the docks are little cafes and bars where locals gather to watch Athleti games. Aupa Athleti!


The coastline is rocky and famous for its enormous waves; statues close to the water have broken because of the force, and surfers from around the world come to ride.

Day 2 in Bilbao:


All buildings are adorned with red and white striped flags, including administrative buildings, to support Athleti Club, Bilbao’s soccer team.  With their final against Barcelona coming up in a few weeks, the decorations are more obvious than ever.


Absolutely the best lamb I’ve ever eaten.  And, in Basque tradition, they claim them to be “los mejores del mundo entero”  Typical.


One of the oldest bars in Bilbao; in the past different alcohol brands would tile their advertisements, hence the Malaga (Andalucia) reference.


Huge dog made of flowers!  It’s called “El Puppy“, but when locals pronounce it with heavy accents, it sounds like “El Poopy,” as in, “Mama! Vamos al Poopy!”  Of course I laughed 🙂

*Fun fact: the building behind the dog was designed by the same architects that did the EMP in Seattle, sorry I forgot to include a full photo!

Day 3 in San Sebastian:


San Sebastian is famous for their pinchos (pinches of food), which essentially are tapas but better.  The variety is incredible, and the pace in the bars is FAST.  It functions completely on an honor system: you take whatever you want to eat, drop your toothpicks and napkins on the ground, and before leaving flag down a waiter, who adds up what you owe based on what you tell him you ate.  I can’t imagine this working in the US.


Basque Country (and San Sebastian in particular) is famous for its seafood.  Point in case: gulas are baby eels.  Clearly these are imitation, or else I wouldn’t be able to afford them!


I know, I know, why would I want to spend an afternoon in such an ugly city?  I ask myself the same thing.

(This is the beach in San Sebastian, and despite it not being quite Summer yet, the sand was packed with people)


Main church in the center of San Sebastian.  I didn’t enter it, but I did enjoy eating an icecream on a bench in front of it!

Scotland in a (too fast) heartbeat


It is monday morning, and I am exhausted.  I returned last night from a not-quite-three-days trip to Scotland.  Now, I general I like to think that I’m a spontaneous and adventurous person.  However, as of late I haven’t been doing much in my life to further confirm this to myself.  About two weeks ago, my friend/coworker E mentioned that she was sick of waiting around for people to put together travel plans, and therefore had planned her own solo trip to Scotland.


I’ve wanted to go to Scotland since I was in 4th grade and did a project on the country. (I brought shortbread for the whole class and got an A :D)  Jealous that E was showing me up in the ongoing-adventure that we call life, I essentially invited myself along.  I bought a ticket, booked the same hostel, and can now say that this was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.


We arrived late on Thursday night; on Friday morning, the game was on.  We were going to have roughly 60 hours in the country and had to make them excellent.  Friday morning started with a free walking tour of the city with Sandeman’s tours.  Because these tours are free, the guides work extra hard to impress and entertain their followers-they work solely off tips.  Our guide (Andy) was everything we could have hoped for: An Edinburgh native, he knew all the answers to all questions, pulled volunteers (me) from the group to give demonstrations, quoted poetry, satisfied those who were curious about the inspiration behind Harry Potter, gave excellent recommendations on things to do/places to see/where to eat, and above all, was a fantastic storyteller!  Thank you Andy!


Truly, I was very interested in the history of the city, and really enjoyed learning about it by not just talking about different stages of the cities development, but citing specific stories to keep us entertained.  For example, while walking through what had previously been the darkest and dirtiest neighborhood in Edinburgh (drugs, prostitution, gambling, drinking, etc), Andy took a moment to tell us about William Burke and William Hare.  They were famous for murdering people in these neighborhoods and then selling the bodies to the medical school for student observation and dissection.


Interesting black market, right?  The twist on the story came when The Williams murdered and brought in a rather famous prostitute; unfortunately, one of the medical students observing her dissection *ahem* recognized her, and could confirm that she had *ahem* been in perfect health just a few days earlier.  It started an investigation on the two men, which ended with one being hanged and the other walking free.


The three hour tour was packed with riveting stories, and E and I recommended it to multiple people before we’d left the country.  Friday afternoon involved an early Haddock and chips (fries) dinner (thank you to the man behind the counter who gave us a meal and two drinks for free!!) before a comedy show.  The show, “Lingua Frank”, followed the story of a Scottish self-proclaimed “nobody” who throws his life and money into developing an English immersion program for the language school that he works at.  His life is miserable, especially because his girlfriend left him for a different teacher at the school, the *gasp!* American newcomer!  The American is also promoting his new EFL program, “Speak American Real Soon”, in the school.  A competition for the girlfriend and the honor of a better English ensues.

E and I were laughed pretty hard at the Scottish actor playing an American.  The stereotypes were spot on; it was everything we try so hard to convince people that Americans are not like.  The foul language (dropping the F-bomb every couple words), the raunchiness, the pomposity, the sense of self-entitlement; we were laughing because yes, this actor was definitely portraying an American, and at the same time we were weeping because we’re not all like this!

In a sense, it made me sad because it made me feel like the gestures and actions of every respectful American that goes abroad and does not have any of the above mentioned characteristics are acted in vain: all it takes is one good asshole to make the rest of us look bad.  Anyway, I will continue to do my part to prove that not all Americans fullfill this stereotype.  (Ironically, after the show we went to a cafe and probably the most obnoxious American girl I’ve ever seen was sitting across the cafe shouting her dramatic story in an inappropriately loud voice-I now know way too much about her relationship with Josh and Josh’s mother, who’s apparently “a total biotch.”)


Saturday came bright and early-we still had yet to see the downpour that the forecast had promised us!  E and I took a tour to the Highlands; this proved to be the most magical part of the trip.  Personally, I’m big on daydreaming and processing my thoughts alone; I’m not big on talking things out usually.  On cultural trips, I like to observe and listen and not do much talking.  So watching the incredibly scenic countryside go by, while listening to the history of the regions we were driving through and the various clans that lived there was my cup of tea.

We were part of a small group tour (16 people total), which gave us the ability to stop the bus every 40 minutes or so to get out and walk around and see monuments, incredible views, take pictures and explore little towns for a while.  The final destination was Loch Ness (duh) but it was definitely not the only highlight of the trip.  For me, listening to the story of Mary Queen of Scots while driving through her birthplace and then where she was imprisoned for 19 years was the highlight. Between stories or history bits, our driver (Mike) would play traditional Scottish music, giving us history about the songs.  Overall, a truly incredible daytrip.  (Minus the fact that we didn’t see Nessie)

Our last night was spent with an excellent pub crawl.  Because my parents read this blog and I don’t want my image tarnished with them, I’m just going to say it was great fun and we met lots of people from all over the place, including a great group of Canadians.  Because I hadn’t packed to go out, I hit the town in jeans, my vans and tee shirt and cardigan.  I’ve never been so comfortable and ready to boogie, and my body was sore from the dancing the next day.  🙂

Sunday morning E and I purposely got lost on the search for the perfect breakfast.  We figured the more lost we were, the better the reward of breakfast at the end.  We found a restaurant that I’ve completely forgotten the name of, on a street that I can’t recall.  I chose a traditional Scottish breakfast which was pretty similar to what I’d make for a Sunday brunch with a couple fine additions: sausage, an egg, beans, a roasted tomato, sauteed mushrooms, toast and a potato scone (which has nothing to do with English scones and I personally think the Scots do them better).  With full bellies, we hiked to the castle and went in as far as possible before they told us we had to buy tickets.  The following busride to the airport was a sad farewell; I fully intend to come back again.

Overall, the Scots were the nicest people I’d met in a long, long time.  They were so welcoming, so humble and polite, and so happy to be helpful.  In every store or every situation, the people were approachable and friendly; usually a bit bashful to ask for advice or directions, we ended up leaving with lots of good friends.  They are heavy users of “please”, “thank you” and “sorry!” when squeezing by; every “hello!” was followed with a warm smile and a look in the eyes.  I felt like every person we met was happiest when making sure everyone else was happy as well.  I’m already daydreaming about my return trip.

John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl”: His take on the American Dream?

I adore John Steinbeck.  I’m always eager to read more of his work, and was probably the only kid in my sophomore English Lit class that was stoked to read The Grapes of Wrath.  Last night, I picked up The Pearl, and I just finished it about ten minutes ago. 

The Pearl is a short story (88 pages in my version), perfect for a vacation.  The version I read was published by Penguin Books as part of the John Steinbeck Centennial Edition set.  Besides being a gorgeous book (you know, one of those that just feels like baby skin in your hands), it’s also promoted by the Great Books Foundation that encourages discussion of classics.  Bookies, take note. 

The summary in the back of the book is concise: “The diver Kino believes that his discovery of a beautiful pearl means the promise of a better life for his impoverished family.  His fall from innocence is one of Steinbeck’s most moving stories about the American dream.”

After having just finished Travels With Charley, I’m curious about Steinbeck’s take on the American dream.  Specifically, because of his definition of “American” as something that can’t be defined.  Being abroad, I’m constantly trying to explain aspects of American culture, or where exactly I’m from, or what specifically makes me American; it’s always an impossible conversation.  Reading Travels With Charley made me overwhelmingly proud to be an American, yet at the same time all the more confused and if not two steps closer towards understanding my culture, then definitely two steps back. 

Defining “American” is like defining the horizon: you can observe it, you can make very accurate statements, you can constantly come closer to a solid definition, but to be frank the horizon is something too abstract to force into a tangible, understandable means.  This, I believe, applies to the idea of what is “American,” as well.  I do think, however, that reading The Pearl has pushed me a little closer to some sort of understanding.

In the story, Kino and his wife Juana are devastated when their newborn is bit by a scorpion.  After being turned away by the local doctor for not having money, they desperately take the family canoe to the water to search for a pearl.  Kino finds the biggest, most incredible pearl they could have ever dreamed of.  Instantly elevated to a celebrity status within the community, he struggles with the newfound power, riches, jealousy of others, and threat on his life and his family’s by thieves. 

When Kino first goes to the doctor, it is only because he has forced himself.  The difference of class is obvious between Kino, an impoverished indigenous man who lives in a hut, and the educated doctor who only wants patients who will pay him enough to return to Paris.  Kino’s biggest struggle is the difference of edcuation.  Kino is smart, but not book smart.  When the doctor greedily returns to Kino’s hut, seeking to take care of the baby, he knows his strongest weapon to keep power over the family is his knowledge. 

The doctor claims the baby needs more help (though little Coyotito has already started to get better).  Beyond his control, “Kino felt the rage and hatred melting toward fear.  He did not know, and perhaps this doctor did.  And he could not take the chance of pittign his certain ignorance against this man’s possible knowledge.  He was trapped as his people were always trapped, and would be until, as he had said, they could be sure that the things in the books were really in the books.” (Steinbeck, p. 30)

I believe that Steinbeck accurately represents Americans in the honesty that we view our own faults.  Considering our own person, I believe Americans culturally assess their weaknesses with honesty.  How can we lie to ourselves?  In the story, Kino is forced by his circumstances to flee his village and bring his family to safety.  Multiple times in the story he is forced to make a decision: stay or go. 

Though The Pearl is based on a desperate escape formulated on one compulsive decisions made after another, all as a result of the pearl coming into his posession, I don’t believe this was Steinbeck’s commentary on the American dream.  The American dream is consistentely told as a pursuit of riches, at any cost; often we carefully overlook the price that such riches come at.  We lose family, friends, relationships of all sorts; we invest our time into our own growth versus the growth of a community.  In the end, we are left with only material possessions, and the truly worthy possessions we once had are long gone.  All of this is true, and has been told again and again.  However, I don’t believe this is Steinbeck’s goal with this story.

I think Steinbeck has a particular talent at displaying Americans’ mobility in various contexts.  In this story, for example, I think that Kino and Juana’s flight from the village is not unlike our past expansion into the wild frontier.  Neither we nor they had any idea what they were getting into; regardless, they moved.  In our modern times, (and thanks to the enormous landmass that is our country) we are never limited in life by our physical boundaries.  We always have the option to move, and this is precisely what we do.  For better opportunities, for better education, for better climate, for better housing, for better jobs, for better food, for better neighborhoods, we move.  The motives are diverse, but usually it’s because we can all agree that something better or more promising awaits us.  I think John Steinbeck’s The Pearl shows us a part of what it means to be American in Kino and Juana’s story: when we realize our potential, and are afraid of the consequences of not acting on it, we must move forward, literally and figuratively. 


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