Welcome Friends! I hope you enjoy tasting these teaching and travel tidbits.
Come along with me as I attempt to navigate my way through a new country, school system, and life for a year!

Monday, January 21, 2013

♫ Always Look on the Bright Side of Life ♫

We bought the tickets ages ago, but the time finally came for Tessa Daniel, a fellow Fulbrighter, and I to meet in London to see Spamalot.  Tessa and I are both fans of the illustrious Monty Python; we have both made pilgrimages to the actual castle in Scotland where much of the Holy Grail was filmed and galloped around the grounds clicking our coconut shells together.  To see this story come alive on stage was every bit as ridiculous as we had hoped.  Each moment from the Fisch Schlapping Song through those who are Not Dead Yet, the Killer Rabbit and the Knights who say "Ni" right on to finding the grail was pure Monty magic.  It was, without a shadow of a doubt, worth the wait.
 Speaking of magic, since we were in the neighborhood, Tessa and I decided to hop on the Hogwarts Express. 

After pushing Tessa out of the way,  I managed to get through Platform 9 3/4.  I thought I'd end up somewhere with Harry and Hermione, but somehow I came through the wall into a red carpet gala, so I decided to hang with some of my friends at Madame Tussaud's.  

Loved you in "Shawshank Redemption" Mr. Freeman!
I know just how you feel, E.T., a stranger in a strange land!

When in London....

Let me explain this to you.

It's Michelle.  She wants to know if you can pick up some milk on the way home.

To balance out the weekend I thought I should take in a bit of culture, so I spent Sunday afternoon at the fabulous British Museum.  I was so inspired by the Greek art that when I got home I booked tickets to Greece for the February break.
By the time I left London, the snow was really coming down, and when I got home my back garden looked like this:

Below is my car 20 minutes before I had to leave for work this morning.  When I saw that I had a text from Stocks Green School, I assumed it was going to say we had a snow day, but nope, it was just confirming that there would be school as usual.   Going to school today was my first chance to 
actually teach on Martin Luther King Day, so all was not lost.  I led an assembly for Key Stage 1 classes where we watched the "Dream" speech and sang along with the guitar to lots of my favorite songs from the Civil Rights Era.  Snow, schmow!  We Shall Overcome!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Best Christmas Present Ever!

He didn't get to the UK until New Year's Eve, but since Carl was born on Christmas, his mother often said he was her "best Christmas present ever".   When I walked up to my flat upon my return from Turkey, it was my husband who opened the door.  The night before I left on my Turkey trip, I called Carl to tell him Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, and by the end of our conversation, he had decided to book a flight to spend the last part of my Christmas break in England.  I didn't think I'd be seeing him until March, so it was quite a treat.   We celebrated his arrival and New Year's Eve with a nice dinner out and brought the party poppers, Christmas crackers and hats from the restaurant back to my place to shoot off at the stroke of midnight.  If I had remembered I had a telly, we could have at least watched the fireworks over Big Ben, but I just didn't think of it, so we just popped our poppers in my kitchen.

The next day was sunny, so we decided to head to the White Cliffs of Dover.  It was a lovely day on the coast, and because it was New Year's Day, there was a special shuttle to the lighthouse where docents were giving tours.

Since Carl hadn't been to Canterbury, we stopped there for a wander through the town and a quick peek at the Cathedral on our way back to Tonbridge.


We went to London 4 times together while Carl was here.  We took in a lot of London theater and saw Wicked, Billy Elliot, and War Horse and attended a performance of Mozart's Requiem at St. Martins-in-the-Fields.  They were all so wonderful!  Theater is my favorite, so seeing 3 plays within a span of 4 days was a dream-come-true!

Both Carl and I both loved being able to walk to the train station from my flat and within an hour be in London!  Just walking around the city was so much fun.  Covent Gardents became our regular lunch stop and we enjoyed seeing places that we had visited on our honeymoon 26 years ago.  That time we climbed all 528 steps to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral.  This time we just went to an evening service on the ground floor.  We just happened upon this motorcycle in need of a driver and then wandered into "Winter Wonderland," a Christmas festival happening in Hyde Park.
At Winter Wonderland

Service at St. Paul's Cathedral
Of course we had to have our photo at the gates
of Buckingham Palace!
Big Ben at Night

On Sunday, I wanted to share 3 of my favorite things about my UK life with Carl:  my church, the farmers market and panto.  First we went to church at St. John's in Hildenbourough, where Carl got to meet some of my lovely friends.  Then we headed to the  farmer's market, which just happened to be in Bexley that weekend at Hall Place.  While we were there, we noticed an advertisement for a bonfire later in the day to celebrate "Twelfth Night" so we returned for the festivities.  The fire itself was not all that impressive, but Hall Place is pretty interesting and we got to join the kids coloring sprites.  Carl colored a very nice sprite and proudly hung it in the orchard.

No trip to England at this time of the year would be complete without panto!!
I took Carl to his first ever pantomime, Peter Pan.  I'm addicted, it was my 5th panto this season.  
Fun, fun fun!!!


When I had to return to work on Monday, Carl returned to Canterbury to explore the Cathedral during the day, then on Tuesday went back to London to spend time at the British Museum.  On his final day here, Carl went to school with me, where he was a big hit with my pupils.  Trying to keep some semblance or order while Carl was tossing kids in the air was a bit of a challenge, but it's always so fun to have two different parts of my life collide.  He told the kids he would be back in the spring, "when the flowers bloom," which I thought was terribly hokey, but the next day, they were all looking for signs of buds.  One of the kids gave me this card the other day, which begins on the right side of the paper, and says "to mister tuisku Love Myles."  The left side has directions for me which read, "Can you send this to mister tuisku pleese Mrs tuisku if you do giv it I wil giv you a sweets...if you downt you wil get nothingk."

I guess I know how I rate!  But that's okay, I'm busy looking for signs of budding flowers.  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Turkey for Christmas!

Since I was going to be away from home and family this Christmas, I decided to make the best of the situation by going somewhere I had wanted to visit for a long time:  Turkey.  I've been especially interested in Istanbul, as it's a city where so many different cultures merge; in fact, the city itself is the only city to be partly in Europe and partly in Asia.  I intended to travel alone and made some tentative plans for my trip, but had been so busy I didn't really have time to think about it too much.  Then I got a message from my friend, Catherine (who I went to Bath and Stonehenge with, if you've been following this blog) telling me that her plans to go to Eritrea for Christmas had fallen through and asking if she might join me traveling to Turkey.  Catherine is very adventurous and is a fun person to traipse around with, so it was a pleasure to have a travel buddy.  We met up in Istanbul on the first day of the Christmas break, then the following day visited some of the most well-known sights of the city, most of which are very close together in the old city, known as Sultanahmet.   We began at the ruins of the Hippodrome, where crowds of 100,000 cheering fans would gather to watch the chariot races when Constantinople became the capital of the Byzantine Empire in A.D. 324.  In those days, fans would choose their favorite chariot based on the political party that sponsored it, and 8 chariots, each pulled by 4 horses, would tear around the track.  I just kept thinking of the races in Ben Hur.   Now the area is a park with 3 obelisks remaining from its glory days.  Next we headed to the 400 year old Blue Mosque.  I think this was the first time I've ever been in a mosque, and that in itself was quite interesting.  The population of Turkey, although a secular country, is 99 % Muslim and I picked up a pamphlet at the mosque to learn more about Islam.  When the current pope visited here he remarked,"May all believers identify themselves with the one God and bear witness to true brotherhood," which I think is a good start to building an understanding between 2 religions that at times have found themselves at odds.  

Courtyard of the Blue Mosque

Interior of the Blue Mosque

Topkapi Palace was also on the agenda for our first day.  It was the palace of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years.  Photos were not allowed inside the palace rooms, but it was interesting to see the exhibits.  My favorite was the staff of Moses.  I'm not really sure how they know this stick was the one Moses used to part the Red Sea, but hey, Wikipedia agrees that Topkapi Palace is where this relic is displayed, and who am I to argue with Wiki! Other relics include the footprint of Mohammad, his bowl, and hairs of his beard.

It was only a short walk to our next stop, Hagia Sophia.  This amazing building served as an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral from 360-1453, then a mosque until 1931 when it became a museum.
Hagia Sophia

Famous for its massive dome, Hagia Sophia is the epitome of
Byzantine architecture. 

It was the world's largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years. 

Beautiful murals were covered when Hagia Sophia was a mosque but are being uncovered.

We spent the evening surrounded by the wonderful fragrances of the Spice Market, where I tasted Turkish Delight and purchased some spices to liven up my cooking back in the UK.  

Oh my, if I'm going to sum up my trip to Turkey in one blog, I need to start leaving out some of the details or none of you will stay with me to the end!  Well, the next day we headed off to the Gallipoli Penninsula where we stopped to see the some of the monuments at ANZAC cove. 

Next stop:  Troy.  From the ferry we could see the Trojan horse from the Brad Pitt movie, Troy,  that was given to the city, despite the fact that the movie was not filmed here.  Rather than stay in the modern city, we headed to the ruins of ancient Troy.  The lost city of Homer's Iliad was discovered in 1863 and excavations have revealed nine ancient cities built one on top of the other dating back to 3000 B.C.
Can you see the Trojan Horse greeting us as we
arrived on the ferry?

Layers of Ancient Troy

To get to our next stop on the  tour of the ancient world we took gondolas way up into the mountains to find Pergamon, famous in antiquity for it's library.  This library was a rival to the great library in Alexandria, so the Egyptians cut off the supply of papyrus used to make books in hopes that scholars would not leave Egypt to study here instead.   This led the to the invention of parchment made of calfskin.  The library held 200,000 volumes, which Mark Anthony gave to Cleopatra as a wedding present.  Pergamon also was known for it's awesome hillside amphitheater, one of the steepest in the ancient world.  
At the Temple of Trajan
The Amphitheater at Pergamon

I think my very favorite part of my trip to Turkey was visiting Ephesus.  I grew up reading Paul's letter to the Ephesians so it was really amazing to visit this place.  

Mosaic floors
I can hardly believe I am here!
Lovely view of Ephesus

I just had to take this photo of the Roman toilets!

Catherine and me at the Roman Library of Celsus

Odeon Theater that the UK theater chain is named after

Snake symbol showing that this was a medical facility

I love folk art, so I was really excited to see how Turkish rugs and pottery are made.  

After the demonstration, I even got a chance to throw a pot myself!

Another interesting place we visited was Pamukkle, known locally as the Cotton Castles.  This area was formed when warm calcium-rich mineral water cascaded over the cliff edge forming travertine pools.  It looks like a snow scene, but the water is nice and warm.  
Calcium Formations

Come on in, the water is warm!
Now, normally I would NEVER post a photo of me in a
swimming suit, but I'll probably never swim among
Roman ruins again, so here it goes!

There has been a thermal spa here since the early 2nd century when this was known as the ancient city of Hierapolis.   The theater was  built in 129 when Emperor Hadrian visited the city.   

The theater at Hierapolis
Many reliefs and statues, depicting mythological figures, have been excavated from the site.
They are amazingly well preserved!

Continuing onward, we made a brief pause at an caravan stop on the silk road.   This was a safe place for merchants to rest and  stable their camels and other animals.   We couldn't stay long because we had to get up early in the morning for a big adventure!
Sultanhani Caravanserai

When I was first asked if I would like to go hot air ballooning I declined, as I get queasy just riding on rides at Disneyland, but then I thought of the advice I was given at our Fulbright training, that this should be our year of "yes" so I decided to go for it.  We had to get up at 5:00 in the morning so we could be in the air in time to see the sunrise over Cappadocia.
It was interesting to see the balloons being filled with hot air.

Amazing views of Cappadocia

The ride was so smooth, I wasn't queasy at all!

These formations are called "Fairy Chimneys".  It was believed
that fairies lived underground, so these had to be their chimneys.

After toasting to our safe landing, we went off to see what really was below the surface of Cappadocia.   We learned that it wasn't really fairies after all, but humans that lived under the ground.  Early inhabitants of Cappadocia opened the cavities in the rocks to escape animals and hard winter weather.  They enlarged the caves and connected them with tunnels, creating underground cities.  Later these cities were used by Christians escaping persecution from Roman soldiers.
There are lots of windows between the rooms....

...and the rooms are quite spacious.

If early Cappadocians were no taller
than I am, walking through the underground
city tunnels isn't much of a problem.
Back on the surface, we explored more of Cappadocia on foot.  

This is a view of Pigeon Valley.  Thousands of pigeon holes have been
dug into the hillside as pigeons have been used as food in
the region for centuries and their droppings are used for fertilizer.
On the left is a tree covered with "evil eyes" which are prevalent
all over Turkey to ward off evil.  
Goereme Open Air Museum is filled with rock-cut churches from the  10th,
11th and 12th centuries.
The frescoes in the churches retain much of their color.
The best ones were in a church where we were not allowed to photograph.
Is this a home for Hobbits?  No, this is Zelve, home to Christians during the Persian and Arab invasions.  
Cappadocia's first seminaries to train priests were located here. 
Cute Camel Rider

Alright, this has been a very long blog, so I'm going to reward you for sticking with me this far by stopping here, despite the fact that I took 1072 photos on my trip to Turkey.  If I had told you that at the beginning, I know you would have run away in fear.  I thought a nice place to end would be with the whirling dervishes.  Dervishes are Sufi ascetics who have taken a vow of poverty.  Their whirling represents the mystical journey of spiritual ascent through mind and love to "Perfect".  Turning towards the truth, the dervish grows through love, deserts his ego, finds truth, and arrives at "Perfect" ablet to love and be of service to the whole of creation.  Rumi, the founder of the whirling dervishes, wrote of them;

Water that's poured inside will sink the boat
While water underneath keeps it afloat.
Driving wealth from his heart to keep it pure
King Solomon preferred the title 'Poor':
That sealed jar in the stormy sea out there
Floats on the waves because it's full of air,
When you've the air of dervishood inside
You'll float above the world and there abide...
Still Shot of Whirling Dervishes

I guess the Grateful Dead had it right: 
"When in doubt, twirl."