Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Istanbul-The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

At the Blue Mosque

A view of the Basilica Cistern
Inside the Hagia Sophia.  You can just barely see a cat on the left side of the picture in front of the spotlight.  There were cats everywhere in Istanbul!!

A view of the Blue Mosque

Playing "Peek-a-Boo"at the Blue Mosque

All ready for Chirstmas church!
There is way too much to write about when it comes to our trip, so I divided my thoughts in to 3 catergories:

The Good:
1.  Our traveling partners.  The Yerrington and Kitsteiner families were so much fun.  All our kids are around the same age and we have very similar parenting styles.  When Angelica and Wendi are around, I truly feel like W has 3 moms watching him.  These friends have become our family here, and I was so glad to be with them on the trip.

2.  The aforementioned Krispy Kreme discovery.  No explanation needed.

3.  The beauty of an ancient city.  The Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the old city walls date back to around the 9th century.  Amazing to see.

4.  A relaxing morning cruise on the Bosphorus-we had the area below the deck pretty much to ourselves.  It was lovely.  Dan was an excellent trip planner.

5.  Christmas morning Mass in a predominantly Muslim city.  It was so cool to gather with fellow Christians to celebrate Jesus' birth.  Afterwords, we heard a Christian musical group playing praise music in the streets.  What a blessing.

The Bad:
1.  Pushing strollers on cobblestone through winding old streets-some with severe inclines.  Hard work.

2.  Tired kids melting down.  Not their fault, but stressful nonetheless.

The Ugly:
1.  Getting ripped off by a cab driver.  He took is for about 80 dollars.  Long story-but it made us (especially Ryan) really angry.  I guess that's big city livin' for ya.

We are glad to be home, but grateful for the opportunity to explore such a historical and unique place.  Where will our next adventure take us??

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Christmas Miracle

We spent the last week in Istanbul with great friends (MUCH more on that later).  On the second day there, we were exhausted from touring a huge city with a 2 year old (MUCH more on that later as well) and just wanted something relaxing and familiar.  No mosques.  No bazaars.  No kebabs.  So while the rest of our group toured the Spice Bazaar-the Stebbins found a shopping mall on Christmas Eve.

As we were walking in, I glanced at the directory to see what there was in the way of food.  We were feeling homesick and weary.  Then my eyes focused on 2 words that I thought I would never see in Turkey.  KRISPY KREME.  I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  I called for Ryan to come look-he was equally astounded.  Much like the Christmas shepherds looking for Baby Jesus, we made haste to find what we were looking for.  And there it was-our little Christmas Miracle in the middle of Istanbul.  Something familiar. Something of home.  We got a dozen and took them back to the hotel to share with our friends.  When they returned and saw the box, their reactions were priceless.  I thought my friend Wendi would cry.  We downed a dozen glazed bad boys quicker then I thought possible.  Smiles and full tummies all around.

Thank you Jesus for all the ways, big and small, that you love us.  Thank you for giving some homesick Americans a fun Christmas blessing that I will never forget.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Road Rules

Yesterday, our Turkish/American ladies group had a gourmet club.  We all brought Italian side dishes and desserts to share, and our lovely host provided the main course.  The event was held at a very nice restaurant in a very cool part of Adana-and I am not being sarcastic.  It was a lovely afternoon with lovely ladies.  Wendi drove us.  It was her first time really going beyond the Alley.  I was the navigator as we followed my neighbor, Seyhun, to the restaurant.

To say that driving here is frightening is a gigantic understatement.  Wendi is a rock star for wanting to try.  At any point in time, you share the road with horse carriages, overloaded fruit trucks about to topple over, stray packs of dogs, and cars filled with more people than I thought possible.  I have even seen a family of 4 riding on a mo-ped together.  Not a joke.  And the youngest was a baby.  But I digress.  Speed limits?  What speed limits?  Lanes, what lanes?  It is truly a madhouse.  To top it off, today I saw something that made all this other stuff look normal.  We were leaving the restaurant and walking down the street to our car.  We stopped to say goodbye to our friends at their car when suddenly a man hurried over to us and motioned for us to move quickly.  Apparently, his friend's big truck was blocked in and he couldn't back up.  What did he do?  He drove his truck UP ON THE SIDEWALK.  The same sidewalk filled with pedestrians.  He drove away right down the sidewalk as people around us barely batted an eye.  I was slack-jawed. 

When we told our Turkish friends about how frightened we are to drive here, they just laughed.  They don't like to drive in America.  They say-"too many rules, I am afraid I am always breaking rules".  Oh, how I miss you, sweet American rules of the road!   

Monday, December 13, 2010

Where are you Christmas?

Celebrating the holiday season in Turkey is an interesting experience.  I think we all take for granted that most of us live in a place where Christmas is celebrated.  December means lights on houses, carols on the radio, nativity scenes, and Christmas trees.  You won't find any of that here.  It is surreal for me to go off base in the middle of December and see no trace of Christmas.  I guess I knew it would be this way, but now I am experiencing it first-hand.

So, we are traveling over Christmas.  To be honest, I am not entirely comfortable with the idea.  We will be in Istanbul at a hotel on Christmas morning.  While I am excited to see what I have heard is an amazing city with our good friends, something will definitely be missing.  So in the week before we leave, I am filling our little home with as much Christmas as I can-yummy cookies, Christmas music, a decorated tree, and lots of stories about Baby Jesus for W.  It may be unorthodox, but our hearts are in the right place-and I think that is all that really matters to our Savior.

Friday, December 10, 2010


In reflecting on our recent trip, I am amazed at just how much we managed to see and do with a 2 year old in tow.  Truthfully, it wasn't easy.  As any parent knows, this is a tough age.  Add to that the fact that W is an EXTREMELY active boy, and you have a recipe for a very difficult vacation.  Air travel is frustrating, long drives wear on your nerves, and sightseeing is often cut short by tantrums or sleepiness. 

People often ask me if it worth the trouble.  We have 2 choices while we are living abroad-stay put (easier on everybody), or get out and see all the wonderful things that are so close (definitely harder).  We choose the latter.  In fact, it's an easy choice.  I am finding that the memories we are making as a family far outweigh the temporary hardships of traveling with a toddler.  We are going to Istanbul in a couple of weeks with 2 other families with young kids.  It will be chaotic and crazy-for sure.  It will also be another incredible place we experience as a family-one who is growing closer with each passing day in Turkey.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Germany-Part 3 (Subtitle: Auburn meets Germany)

Today was devoted to seeing one thing-the Neuschwanstein Castle.  It was built by King Ludwig of Bavaria as one of his royal residences.  He died early however, and it was never fully furnished.  In fact, only about 1/3 of the rooms are complete.  This is the castle that Walt Disney used as the model for Cinderella's castle at the Magic Kingdom.

The drive up was fairly short, but the weather wasn't good.  It was drizzling and very foggy-not to mention cold.  We arrived in the village beneath the castle and it was so foggy we couldn't even see it.  Sitting across form Neuschwanstein is King Ludwig's boyhood home, another castle who's name escapes me at the moment.  this one was barely visible.  We bought our tickets and enjoyed a cup of hot cocoa in the village inn.  Then we had a LONG wait to get in a horse-drawn carriage to ride to the castle.  It is walkable, but it is about a 40 minute uphill hike, and in this weather, that idea wasn't tempting.  The horses dropped us off about a 10 minute hike below the castle.  We had a little wait before our tour started, so we decided to grab a bite to eat a the German cafe' situated nearby.

This is where the coolest moment of the day happened.  As we were eating, the folks at the next table saw Ryan's shirt (orange Auburn) and jumped out of their seats.  They live in Auburn.  They used to live in Wetumpka (where my parents now live).  They were just over touring.  Could this world be any smaller?  The only 2 English-speaking people in this restaurant, and we had that much in common.  Amazing.

Anyhoo, we toured the castle and took the horses back down.  I know I have said this before, but I can't really describe the beauty of Germany.  I think the snow even accentuates it.  It is just good for the soul to see things like this every once in a while.  I will never forget it.

Neuschwanstein Castle

View of Ludwig's boyhood home from inside Neuschwanstein

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Germany Trip-Part 2 (Subtitle: The Hills Are Alive!)

Today was spent exploring the land of the Von Trapps-Austria.  We drove on a mountain road about 45 minutes from our resort to the town of Innsbruck.  This town has hosted the Winter Olympics twice.  The drive was breathtaking-it left me wondering if folks who call this place home ever get tired of the views outside their windows. I can't imagine living here for any amount of time and ever getting used to it's beauty.  Again, words fail me when I try to adequately describe it.

Innsbruck was the essence of charming old world Europe.  We went to the old town Christmas market.  The narrow cobblestone alleys were lined with booths and merchants selling their wares.  There was everything from handmade wooden toys to Christmas ornaments and decorations to clothing and food.  I actually saw chesnuts roasting on an open fire!!  The air was thick with the scents of mulled wine and apple cider.  We purchased a few small souvenirs and some drinks to warm us up.  One of my favorite moments was when the clock struck 12:00 and church bells from near and far began to chime the hour.  What a perfect memory.

We then ventured to a nearby town to tour the Swavorski crystal museum.  It was, um....interesting.  Let's just leave it at that.  It had nothing to do with crystal and felt like a bad LSD trip.  But, at least we can say we went-and I got some gorgeous earrings out of the deal.

I can see why Austria caused the Von Trapps to break into song.....it is inspiring and unique and absolutely stunning.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Germany Trip-Part 1

Well, we made it.  After a long flight and an even longer drive, we arrived at Edelweiss Lodge and Resort about 1 a.m. last night.  Our good friend Luke, who is stationed here, lent us his car and GPS for the 4 hour drive.  It was a little nerve-racking when we first set off from the airport-Ryan driving and me trying to navigate him in a foreign country.  We finally got the hang of it though, and the drive was smooth until the very end.  The GPS led us down a small gravel back road and told us we had reached our destination.  Obviously not.  So there we were, in Austria, in the middle of the night, in 15 degree weather, lost.  But here we are, safe and sound.

I wish our drive could have been in daylight so we could see this place more clearly.  We did see a couple of castles perched up on peaks that were lit, but other than that, it really looked like we were driving anywhere back home-except with LOTS of snow.

This morning's first light brought us our first glimpse of our surroundings.  Oh. My. Goodness.  I don't think I have the words to describe the beauty of this place.  Rugged peaks and snow covered evergreens everywhere.  Crisp air that takes your breath away and gives you rosy cheeks.  A little German town that I swear is a Dickens Village come to life. 

W is still getting used to the snow.  His biggest thrill?  Seeing the "Mere Flag" (American Flag) a couple of different times.  We plan on exploring Austria tomorrow (we are right on the border and drove through it a little last night) and touring Neuswanstein Castle on Monday.  This is the "Disney Castle" that served as the model for the one in the Magic Kingdom.

I wish my parents and sister were here.  This is just the kind of place and experience that you want to share with your whole family.  Maybe we can get 'em all here before we leave......

Stay tuned..........