Mind = Blown.

Today, I had an epiphany.

I’ve slowly crawled back to social media usage. (Except Facebook. I have no desire to be on Facebook ever again.) I have popped on and off of Snapchat the past couple months, and have now reactivated my Instagram, if for nothing else but to show off my new [PLATINUM BLONDE] hair. I call it my quarter-life-crisis divorcee makeover.

I did this with the knowledge that everyone would roll their eyes and grumble: “This chick made such a big fuss about leaving social media, and now she’s back?! Are you kidding me?”

Well, here’s why.

The only occasions during my life when I’ve completely isolated myself from social media are:

  • Recovering from the worst breakup of my life
  • Being hospitalized during Peace Corps with the impending knowledge that I’d soon be medically separated
  • The months leading up to my divorce

Notice any commonalities?

While I stand by everything I said in my previous posts about the negative effect social media has on people’s lives, it occurred to me that I only want to withdraw socially when I’m depressed and things aren’t going well for me. It makes perfect sense! If I’m not happy with my life, then I don’t want to be inundated with impressions of other people’s happiness. And, I don’t want to post anything because there’s nothing good going on in mine. But if things are going well for me, I don’t mind sharing with others.

I guess, if anything, my desire to withdraw from social media is indicative of my desire to withdraw from regular social interactions on a broader level. Like a litmus test for how prone to depression I am. Now that I’ve returned, you could say, that shows that I’m in a good place–that I’m doing better.

My overly dramatic rejection of social media was an interesting social experiment, at least. But I did miss being able to easily keep in touch with my family and friends. It’s good to be back…and I really like my new hair.

Until my next depressing life event!

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With Every End Comes A Beginning

Hey everyone,

It’s been over a month since I got back from my trip. And in that month, a LOT has happened.

I’m writing to let everyone know that my marriage has ended. Scott and I have divorced.

For once in my life, I really don’t know what to say. Except that things aren’t always mommy-blogger-perfect in real life. (Hence the name of my site.)

This has been an incredibly difficult time for me and Scott. To those who have offered words of encouragement, support, hugs, consolation, and to those who have opened their homes, wallets, and hearts to me: THANK YOU. I am forever thankful for your generosity and warmth and will not soon forget it.

I am also grateful for the past (almost) four years with Scott and the good times we’ve spent together. I’m lucky to have married someone like him, who is willing to forge ahead through this process while being amicable and considerate.

Although I am grieving over this past phase of my life that has ended, I’m excited to usher in another phase that will bring new opportunities. Hopefully I will have lots more to post about soon.

Love,

Kate

Istanbul: Day Eight

I’m extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to Istanbul. However, I’m devastated that I have to go home tomorrow. Like, more upset than is normal for the feeling you get prior to ending vacation. Like, verging on–no, not even verging on, because I’m already there–a deep depression. I realize how lame and melodramatic I sound, but that’s how I feel. I’ve written a whole other blog post about it but will wait to hit “Publish” in case I come to my senses beforehand. 😅

However, for the sake of continuity, AND because I had (another) genuinely awesome day and would love to share it with you, I will suck it up and act chipper for the duration of this blog post so I can tell you about my FOOD TOUR OF EPIC PROPORTIONS.

First of all, HUGE shout-out to Culinary Backstreets, the company who puts on this (and many other) food tour walks. If anyone is interested in checking them out, their website is here. (I did the “Two Markets, Two Continents” walk.) It’s been almost three hours since the tour ended and I’m stuffed fuller than I ever thought possible. We made at least a dozen stops in both Europe and Asia, and I don’t even want to know how many calories I consumed because I don’t care. Below are some of the things I ate, but I didn’t even get photos of everything!

We began on the European side in Karakoy neighborhood, which is next to Galata Tower which I wrote about on Day Four’s post. Our guide, Gonca, started us off with some simit bread–the Istanbul “commuter breakfast,” of course!

We went into a 16th-century marketplace which was built upon the foundations of a Byzantine-era church, and Gonca had us sit and eat as if we were traders in the Ottoman era. Nowadays, it is still filled with merchants, all of them practicing a trade just as their fathers had before them, and their fathers before them, all the way back to antiquity. LOOK AT THAT FLOOR. IT’S THE ORIGINAL FLOOR OF THE CHURCH. Wonder why it’s so shiny and smooth? BECAUSE CENTURIES OF MERCHANTS HAVE WALKED ON IT. I will never get over that aspect of this city. I just want to grab people by their collars and shout, “Look at this friggin’ building!!! Do you know how old it is?! Do you have any idea what used to happened here?!” But I don’t imagine they would appreciate that.

We ate breakfast (or what we in the States would consider to be “brunch”) at a restaurant owned by an Armenian-Turkish family tucked away on the same mercantile street. They served a variety of cheeses, veggies, breads, and jams to us. There was also a dish called menemen, which is a delicious mixture of eggs, peppers, and tomatoes. However, the best thing by far was the kaymak, or “water buffalo clotted cream.” (At the very top of my plate, covered in honey.) It sounds disgusting, but the best way I can describe it is a softer, creamier version of cream cheese. It is absolutely decadent!

Next we picked up some baklava. There were entire rolls of kaymak in the store too. 🤤

In the same neighborhood, we stopped by a beautiful deli laden with meats, cheeses, jams, pickled vegetables, and olives.

After finishing with the European side, we crossed to Asia on the ferry. All week I have been telling Turkish people that I’m going to Kadikoy for a food tour, and their eyes lit up with excitement. It obviously has the reputation of being the best district for eating here in Istanbul.

We tried meze (tapas) first, some of which I liked and some I didn’t. That white stuff with the peppers in the middle was INCREDIBLY spicy! The red stuff next to it was spicy too, but not overwhelmingly so, and was probably my second favorite bite behind the kaymak. Gonca recommended that I mix it with the greenish-white stuff on the top left to make it nice and creamy on top of my bread, and it was divine.

We went to Gonca’s “Olive Guy” next. I absolutely hate olives due to traumatic experiences I had with my host family in Peace Corps, but I could not say no to this little man. I actually found an olive that I liked! They are from Ismir, which is on the Aegean coast of Turkey.

The Olive Guy seemed to take a liking to me for some reason and kept trying to take my hat off. (Maybe he’s a Caps fan? LOL) We took a photo together, and then he gave me hugs and cheek kisses, which is my favorite Mediterranean greeting. Gonca was quick to explain that this behavior was “not harassment,” but she doesn’t know that I am used to these kinds of greetings from living in Ottoman-occupied Albania.

The remainder of the afternoon we spent tasting specialty dried fruits, nuts, and produce in the “Fish Market” of Kadikoy, visiting a coffeehouse where Gonca explained how to make Turkish coffee and the traditions surrounding it (again, something I’m all too familiar with), we visited a street donut vendor, then stopped by a shop that makes exclusively creative recipes of menemen.

Members of the Turkish army (obligatory service of one year for all males) come to the menemen restaurant as dictated by tradition, and the soldiers write notes and paste them on the walls here.

Later on we had lahmajoun and pide, both variations of Turkish pizzas at a Kurdish family’s restaurant, with the former having meat and the latter only cheese. You eat the lahmajoun by sprinkling it with lemon juice and parsley, then rolling it up into a little tube. UHHH, YUM!

We finished up the day by trying kokorec, which is lamb intestines wrapped around animal fat and entrails stuffed inside. Yyyyeah…it was not my favorite, I have to admit.

Finally, we ended with dessert, including coconut-and-lemon ice cream (dondurma).

I keep trekking around Istanbul thinking that I’ve found the most beautiful neighborhood, but then I quickly discover that I’m wrong, and there’s an even more beautiful part of the city in store for me!

I am DEFINITELY COMING BACK TO TURKEY. Normally I’m opposed to visiting the same place more than once because of limited funds and vacation time, but there is so much to see here and I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. Talking to Gonca and other travelers in my group helped me realize that I need to make a second trip, preferably sometime soon.

At least, that’s what I’m telling myself in order to be able to get on that plane tomorrow.

Istanbul: Day Seven

I just typed the words “Day Seven” into the title of this blog post. I only have eight full days in Istanbul on this trip. That means the day after tomorrow, I have to leave.

Or do I? Seriously, someone remind me why I supposedly have to go home.

Ugh. 😭

I guess I should focus on what I’m happy about first. I had a GREAT day today–and I know I keep saying this–probably my best so far. The Beşiktaş neighborhood is my favorite of all the places I’ve been in Istanbul. It’s less crowded/touristy than Sultanahmet and quieter than Beyoğlu. It has this genuine charm and old-world romance that I’ve only seen in the likes of Budapest or Florence. I’m glad I took the time to stay here.

The morning of my stay at the Super Fancy Hotel, I went to the executive lounge for breakfast (have I told you I’m a Hilton Honors Gold member? NBD) but the attendant told me there was a “bigger” breakfast next door because it’s Sunday. Curious, I went to the neighboring restaurant. Yeah, “bigger” might describe it; but I would use words like “gluttonous” or “Mediterranean diabetes.” The buffet had about eight different stations, each with a different theme. There was traditional Turkish fare, cheeses and charcuterie, fruits, Middle Eastern dips and salads, cereals, fresh-baked breads and pastries, omelettes, fresh juices, and a HONEY STATION. Yes, you heard me correctly, a honey station. They got samples of various types of honey from around Anatolia and served it with a combination of bread, fruit, and nuts. There was even an entire honeycomb that you could break a piece off of. It was an experience, and being so overwhelmed I did not think to take photos until later, but I still probably wouldn’t have because there were a bunch of cool rich people around me and I would have looked like even more of a dumb tourist than I already do.

Anyway, thank you to Hilton for hooking me up (will they send me money for writing this? Is that how blog monetization works?) with the great room and breakfast. Now I am sweaty and carrying a backpack between hostels again.

After breakfast I went to Dolmabahçe Palace. This is where the sultans moved in the 19th century, and where Ataturk died. (If you don’t know who Ataturk is, please look him up. He’s basically the reason the modern state of Turkey exists today.) It’s absolutely stunning; way more beautiful than Topkapı, which is not an unpopular opinion.

The pictures above are of the palace grounds. Photos are not permitted inside the palace or the harem. At first I was disappointed to hear this, but I did appreciate not having to stop and wait for people to constantly take photos of their family members, or have others take photos of themselves to put on the ‘Gram. The palace hallways are roped off and are very narrow since you aren’t allowed to touch anything, so getting through it would be a nightmare if you were behind eight guys with their kajillion-dollar cameras trying to get just the right shadow on the prince’s turban. Also, sometimes it’s nice to just experience something instead of feeling constantly compelled to take photos.

Next I walked along the Bosporus to Ortaköy. This beautiful, charming area quickly won me over. I enjoyed the view of the quaint, Baroque-era Ortaköy mosque from the shoreline, then popped inside for a look.

Next I perused the Sunday street market, which has some souvenirs (bleh) but also some handmade artisanal items. Not a single person shouted, “Hello, lady! Come into my carpet shop!” at me, so I would highly recommend visitors come here instead of the bazaars in Sultanahmet!

I found this darling little shop that sold prints of old maps (!!!) of the Bosporus, vintage Istanbul travel ads, and popular Arabic calligraphy. Finally I found a little piece of this place to take home with me that isn’t tacky and/or actually made in Taiwan. The shop owner also sold old books and a fat kitty cat. He is my favorite person.

The sun came out (it’s been raining), and I found a cafe by the shore and just drank çay for about two hours, watching the tourists and locals stroll by with their families and pets. It might have been the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen, period.

Tomorrow is the Food Tour of Epic Proportions. As for the day after…I’m just going to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Istanbul: Day Six

I’ve now been traveling for one week, and this is the point on any trip when I start to get tired and miss sleeping in my own bed. My Istanbul adventure, of course, is no exception. According to my FitBit, I have walked 140, 423 steps–about 60 miles–so far this week! It also claims that I’ve climbed maybe a few dozen stairs, but that is damn near impossible, because there are stairs ALL OVER THE PLACE here. My calves and glutes are killing me! I better come back home looking like J.Lo.

I’ve also discovered that in addition to being delicious, Turkish food wreaks absolute havoc on my stomach. Everything I’ve eaten here has been really good, but Turks use so much oil and salt in their dishes and I’ve never been sure exactly which type of meat I’ve been eating as I’ve gobbled various fare from the local street carts. I’ve been having uncontrollable heartburn that the pharmacy’s antacid tablets have only been a minor deterrent against. Luckily, all variations of bread that I’ve tried here are phenomenal, so I’ve been subsisting mostly on simit and other plain, carb-based goodness for the past 48 hours because I can’t stomach the thought of more oily borek or the tender mystery meats soaking in red sauce under the heat lamps at the lokantasi. *sigh*

Today I woke up late in Beyoglu and enjoyed a simple Turkish breakfast at my hostel. Like other Mediterranean countries, breakfast is indistinguishable from any other meal. There’s usually a salad with cucumber, tomato, and cheese and olives on the side along with fruit and bread. Of course I did not eat the olives, because they are the devil.

I trammed it/walked the rest of the way from my hostel in Beyoglu to my Super Fancy Hotel in Besiktas, widely considered by many to be the best neighborhood in Istanbul. The walk along the Bosporus was quite nice; I had read that the straight was somewhat polluted, but I didn’t see any evidence of that. In fact the water is a clear, light blue and I could see dozens of LITTLE BITTY JELLYFISH everywhere! I got a pic, but they’re pretty hard to see.

I walked past Dolmabache Palace, which I will visit tomorrow, since I was carrying my pack and didn’t want to drag it through the museum with me. This is where the sultans moved because for some reason Topkapi Palace (which I featured in Day One) got old. Those guys had it made.

I arrived at my Super Fancy Hotel very sweaty, as I have been pretty much all week. (Seriously. My clothes are nasty.) I don’t know if you guys know this, but it’s kind of a big deal; I’m a Hilton Honors Gold member,* so they hooked me up with an executive suite. The view is…okay. I guess I can get used to it. 😉

*Literally the only cool/exclusive thing about me.

I think this is the first time I’ve ever stayed in a five-star hotel. Anyway, it’s pretty great, and I definitely picked the perfect time during the trip to stay here! Hostels are great but they are not, of course, always super rich amenities-wise. Looking forward to catching up on some sleep, relaxing by the pool, and hopefully finding something to eat that doesn’t destroy my insides.

Tomorrow I’ll visit Dolmabache, the famous Ortakoy mosque, the eclectic Ortakoy street market, and Mackas Park, which I’ve been told is the best park in Istanbul.

Istanbul: Day Five

An American, an Iranian couple, and a Macedonian-born Turk get onto a boat and all complain about their respective government representatives.

That’s not an intro to a joke. That is literally what happened to me this morning.

After making the decision to brave the cruddy weather and take the ferry to the Prince’s Islands, I sat down next to a window and was shortly joined by the Iranian couple, who were very sweet. The Persian woman, translated into English by her boyfriend, told me that I look just like a Turkish woman but she could tell I was foreign because of my backpack (Albania all over again!). Thanks to my friend Alex who got me the super foreign-looking backpack.

Next, we were joined by the Macedonian man. In an awful mix of Turkish, English, and Farsi, we introduced ourselves to each other. The Persian guy, Emir, stated that he was from Iran but made sure to emphasize that he didn’t approve of his government. I, who get curious questions about Trump quite often when I’m abroad, made sure to do the same. And then Mr. Macedonia went off about Erdogan. It was pretty funny; although we could barely understand one another, we were all laughing. At that moment I had the cheesiest sentiment: if the four of us can all get along, why can’t our governments, man? *takes a puff from a joint and passes it to the next person in the circle*

Obviously, world politics are more complicated than that, I just thought it was cute.

I got off the ferry at Buyukada Island, which in Turkish literally means “the big island.” Of the seven Prince’s Islands (four of which are inhabited), it is–you guessed it–the biggest. These islands are where they used to exile emperors who had been dethroned, and sometimes blinded. (OUCH. Seriously, though; Roman politics were Game of Thrones-level vicious.) I have to say, being exiled here wouldn’t be all that bad–assuming I still had my eyes, of course. It’s pretty beautiful.

As if by magic, the minute we docked at the pier, the clouds parted and the sun came out! I got lunch and then rented a bike, which is a popular thing to do. I had every intention of riding around the entire island, but the rental bikes are not exactly Tour de France-level equipment, and the roads on Buyukada are steep just as they are on the mainland. After my third time being forced to walk my bike up a hill, sweating profusely, I decided that maybe I should stick to the more leisurely flat streets with the pretty houses on them instead of battling the slopes.

Cars are forbidden on the island; the only vehicles I saw were garbage trucks and police. Everyone else walks, bikes, or rides the many horse-drawn carriages. It’s really peaceful and pretty, and offers some epic views of the other islands as well as the Asian side of the city. Also, they have gelato there. Do I need to say any more?

Tonight I hung out around Beyoglu and Taksim Square a little more and am in bed fairly early considering that the rest of this part of the city tends to party hardy (or is it hearty?) into the wee hours of the morning.

Tomorrow is my Stay at A Fancy Hotel and Do Nothing day, and honestly, I really need it at this point. Between jet lag, thin walls and loud streets at my hostels, and walking approximately 12 miles per day, I’m pretty beat. So don’t wait on the edge of your seat for tomorrow’s post, if I do one at all. But things will pick up on Sunday with the Besiktas district and Monday with the Turkish food tour of epic proportions!

Istanbul: Day Four

I started the day by having chocolate baklava leftovers for breakfast (because YOLO), and then proceeded to get lost for the first time in this city. 😅 Already four days in, I guess that’s actually pretty good.

I checked out of my Sultanahmet hostel and asked the guy at reception–an incredibly nice man from Tanzania (remember when I said how diverse this city was?)–how to get across the Golden Horn to Beyoglu district. He gave me instructions to the Sirkeci station, which is where I would catch the tram to my next destination. Just down the street I saw a sign that said “Sirkeci,” so I followed it into a small terminal with an elevator which I rode 9 floors down. However, I couldn’t find the name of the stop I was supposed to get off at anywhere, so I asked some workers for help. They were really nice and did their best to give me instructions in Turkish which, of course, I do not speak. So a woman who overheard us came up and translated for me. Turns out, I went to the Sirkeci subway station, not the tram station, and she told me how to get where I was supposed to be. This is one of my favorite things about traveling; the stress of being in a new place and not speaking the language is quickly alleviated by kind locals.

I eventually found the correct station–which was not nine stories underground–bought my Istanbulkart (the equivalent of a Metro card), and used trial and error to figure out how to load money onto it. The public transportation here–once you figure it out if you’re a dumb American like me–is really convenient and ingenious. (Dad, you would love it!) I rode the tram across the Golden Horn and dropped off my bags at my next hostel, on a quaint street filled with art studios and coffee shops.

The Beyoglu district is so cool! It’s the more modern area of the city, and what in my opinion seems to be the “heart” of the city, as opposed to the Old City (Sultanahmet) which is more of a historic/tourist area. My first stop was the main historical site (of course), Galata Tower. You may have seen it in some of my previous photos; that’s only because it’s an incredibly beautiful structure and I’m obsessed with it. The tower was built by the Genoese settlement across from Constantinople. Mehmet the Conqueror secured it in 1453 before moving on to take the city. It’s been destroyed in earthquakes and burnt down subsequent times, but the city had made an effort to restore it each time, so even though very little of it is original it’s been restored to look just like the first construction.

Climbing up to the top of the tower was breathtaking. Most of the skyscrapers in Istanbul metro area are built far to the north of Beyoglu or on the Asian side, so the views are spectacular and you can see all around for miles.

Next I hung out on the Galata Bridge, which is not far. There are dozens of fishermen trying their luck to catch the minnows swimming underneath. Those are probably what go into my balik ekmek.

I crossed the bridge back into Sultanahmet to visit the Spice Market, which I had forgotten to go to earlier in the week. Same as the Grand Bazaar, it consisted mostly of people hassling me to come into their shops. Not really my jam. For some reason I’ve been stressing out about what to do about souvenirs this week, knowing that my friends and family may appreciate having a memento from my trip, but also knowing that most souvenirs are garbage and that I should probably just enjoy myself and avoid the markets if I don’t like them.

Taking the tram back to Beyoglu, I visited Istaklal street, which is a huge boulevard where no cars are allowed–only a bright red tram–and is dedicated to shopping. I got a beautiful maxi dress at one of the shops and wore it to dinner at a Thai restaurant, which was delicious. 🙂

Last but not least I stopped by Taksim Square, which is known for public events (and protests, more recently) as well as bars and clubs.

As Day Four is winding down I’m looking at the rest of my itinerary with somewhat of a feeling of panic; I can’t believe I only have four days left! It’s kind of alarming. Anyway, tomorrow I was supposed to take the ferry out to the Prince’s Islands which I was really looking forward to, but there’s thunderstorms on the forecast. I may just stick around Beyoglu and do more shopping and bump the ferry trip to Saturday, but we’ll see.