2012 was a banner year in our household. We traveled across Europe with Chewy and Abby, found out we were having a baby, came back to the United States, bought and remodeled a house (and, yes, I'm going to post pictures at some point soon), and finished out the year by moving in. Patrick started working full time again and I've been interviewing for new jobs, working, and doing a lot of growing:
Me from 10 to 30 weeks pregnant
In fact, that's the reason that things have been so quiet over here: my real life has overtaken all the time I used to spend on my virtual life. But, I'm hoping that will change in 2013. (Though, of course, I'm saying that and we're already halfway in to the month of January.)
So, let's start this new year off right with a photo recap of all that our pups did in Europe. I give you Europe Chewy-and-Abby-style:
Three years! A little over 1,100 days ago, we left our jobs, stuff, and friends and family behind to travel the world. This third year has been one of our favorite years traveling as we've had the opportunity to explore Europe with Chewy and Abby. So, what have we done this year?
Bulgaria: Our one month in Bulgaria was a surprise. We woke in the mornings to the tinkling bells of the shepherds walking up the hills with their flock of sheep and discovered the small attractions in this rural area. As the poorest country in the European, Bulgarians trudge along with cars brought in by the Russians in the mid-1980s or stolen vehicles fenced from Germany and France. Donkey carts are the most common mode of transportation in rural Bulgaria and our landlord told us that "Communism was better here" because, though they had less options of commercial goods, they had more money. "Now, we have cars and electronics from every country in the world but no money to buy those things." And, if you're intrigued by this often forgotten corner of Europe, don't worry: I've got plenty of posts planned.Posts to come.
Thanks for all of the amazing comments and kindness about our news. I'm in Porto, Portugal at the Travel Bloggers Unite conference but I'm slowly responding to all of you. We feel so warm and fuzzy inside that we have such great community surrounding us!
Would we do it the same way? Yes, absolutely. Because there is SO much to see and do in Istanbul, we felt that a month was the perfect amount of time to explore but also have a few days in between where we were working or relaxing. It is possible to do Istanbul in 3 to 4 days, but it's a great city to stop and spend time in. I think a week in Cappadocia is perfect: it's long enough that we got the chance to see everything we wanted to see but short enough that we weren't too tired of paying the high prices. The 3 weeks in Turgutreis was a little long, considering that there aren't a ton of attractions on the Aegean side, but it was perfect for us because we needed some time to relax and do work after a very hectic spring.
Marzipan and desserts from Turkey
Best food: Baklava. We bought baklava every other day in Turkey because (1) it was delicious and (2) we have it on good authority that each piece contains only 90 calories. (The latter logic probably would have worked much better if we were able to limit ourselves to one piece every day. Ahhh, Turkish baklava, how I love thee.)
Worst food:Testi kebab. This dish is a specialty of the Cappadocian region but we found that the ceramic leeched all the flavor out of the vegetables and meat, leaving a bland, nearly inedible dish.
Our favorite part of Turkey: The food, the food, the food, and the food. To put it simply, Turkey has some of the best food in the world at reasonable prices that will suit every single appetite: whether you're a vegetarian, meat-eater, or dessert lover. The colors of its spices punctuate the beauty of its cooking and, so it's no surprise that Turkey's tradition of food is central to its culture and history. Expect to eat and eat well when in this amazing country.
Spoons at the Grand Bazaar
Our least favorite part of Turkey: Lack of dog-friendly accommodations, though we found plenty of cute stray dogs to photograph. Pet-friendly accommodations are primarily limited to the large cities and big tourist areas and, even then, most of the pet-friendly accommodations tend to be in the upper price range (we stayed in the 5-star Hilton Ankara and Dedeman Konya because those were the only two pet-friendly hotels in the entire cities.) Patrick tried to book a hotel room in Pamukkale that was pet-friendly and the one place that he found that claimed to be *pet-friendly* told him that he was welcome to keep our dogs in the car overnight but they could not be brought into the hotel room. We were VERY fortunate that our fabulous landlord in Turgutreis was willing to watch our dogs overnight because, otherwise, we wouldn't have been able to visit Ephesus, Pamukkale, or Aphrodisias.
Best deal: The mosques. Free, beautiful, and worth a visit any time when the call to prayer is not being held, the mosques are one of Turkey's best attractions. We spent a lot of time hopping into smaller mosques and enjoyed the serenity and peace of these gorgeous, open buildings.
Biggest rip off: Gas. Though Turkey borders two of the largest oil producers in the world, the country charges an outrageous 17% tax on fuel, meaning that we were forking out almost $11 USD per gallon of gas. (We were told that Turkey charges this hefty tax on fuel and alcohol because they have a difficult time collecting on income taxes.) We spent over $130 USD to fill up our modest 15 gallon tank and it's no surprise to us that Turkey ranks as the 2nd most expensive gas in the world.
Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia
Best new experience: Without a doubt, hot air ballooningin Cappadocia.Floating in the clouds above the extraterrestrial landscape remains one of the crowning moments of my life.
Worst new experience: Getting conned. We managed to go almost 2 1/2 years without falling for a single scam or getting ripped off, but Patrick's first day in Turkey brought him face to face (and on the losing end) of Istanbul's con artists. Here's his story in his words:
I was running late to reach Akila and her mother for a Context tour. I went straight for a taxi from the ferry drop-off, hopped in, and told him to drop me off at the Galata Bridge. (Ed. note: Ummm, Patrick, really? You didn't negotiate the price before you got in? First sign of trouble impending.) He pulled over to drop me off and asked for 95 lira (about $50 USD). That sounded high but it was my first day in Istanbul and I didn't know the exchange rate and I was running late anyway. I gave him a brand new 100 lira bill, just taken out of the ATM, and opened the door of the taxi to get out. The taxi driver looked carefully at the bill and said, "No good." "Why?" I asked. "This is a fake," he said, and when I protested that I had just gotten it out of the ATM, he TORE THE BILL IN HALF. I sat there for a moment completely confused while he told me it was no good and asked me for another. I shook my head and jumped out of the car and he sped away.
(Ed. note: The cab ride should have cost about 40 lira, maximum. Watch out for Istanbuli taxi drivers especially in the tourist areas. We've heard from multiple people about being conned by them. On Patrick's return taxi ride, because he was never able to find us for the tour, he was fairly certain that the taxi driver was trying to notify his friends to come and rob him, but Patrick jumped out at the ferry stop before the taxi was able to keep going. Luckily, there are excellent public transportation options, including the tram, the ferries, and the dolmuses (share taxis). The dolmuses, in particular, are probably Turkey's best value because most dolmus rides cost 3 lira (about $1.50) and they will drop you off anywhere on the route if you ask them to stop. The only bad thing about dolmuses is that they will not leave until they fill up (the word dolma means "to fill up") so you might wait a little while before leaving. We ended up using the tram and dolmuses the rest of the time we were in Istanbul.
Most little girls at around five years old set out their plastic doll children and play house. The girls tussle over who will have the coveted position of "mommy" and that mommy will drive the doll around in a discarded stroller or feed the baby with a bottle. I never was one of those girls. Maybe my mom remembers differently, but I don't remember ever lining up my dolls for diaper changes, feedings, or nap times. I played teacher and school with my dolls and occasionally interviewed them for my "stories," and, in one particularly harrowing incident, I decided to be a hairdresser, to the demise of my doll's golden curls.
I never saw all that much fun in being a mother and, as time went on, the girls became women and everyone else around me started talking about having kids and taking that next step. In the eleven years of our marriage, if we had a dollar for every time a family member, friend, or random stranger has asked us when we're going to have kids, we could have funded our whole round the world trip on that money alone. You see, it's expected: first comes love, then comes marriage, and then comes the baby in the baby carriage. That's what people do. Me, on the other hand, well, I would shrug my shoulders and ignore the expectations.
There were lots of reasons I didn't want to have kids but, essentially, it boiled down to one thing: I didn't think that the world was a good enough place to bring a child. Having a child is hard, what with the nine months of pregnancy, followed by grueling labor and delivery, the sleep-deprived first months, and a lifetime in which you are responsible for another human being. Why should we go through all that work and lose our freedom and independence to bring a child into a world where rapes, murders, and thefts are commonplace? As an attorney, I did a lot of pro bono work and represented indigent children whose parents didn't know how to provide, while the kids' primary ambition was to achieve the age of sixteen and quit school. I watched an eleven year old boy walk out of a courtroom in handcuffs and shackles, while his mother cried beside me, though the child's truancy was largely due to her own neglect, and I thought to myself, "Is this it? Is this what it means to be a mother?"
Now, of course, the decision to have children is one made by two people and Patrick wanted kids, largely because he believed procreation to be a necessary and important human function in order to continue the species and pass on our gene pool. After spending summers in India, I never felt that the human race was in much danger of extinction and I never thought so importantly of my own genes that I felt the human race needed them to carry on. The truth is that, at thirty, when my biological clock was supposed to be "tick, tick, ticking" --- as Marisa Tomei so eloquently put it --- I hadn't felt a single tick.
So, we left the United States for our round-the-world trip, childless by choice and happy. I remember Patrick saying a few weeks before we left, "You know, I didn't agree with you at 22 when you weren't sure if you wanted to have kids, but looking back at it now, I'm so glad that we haven't, because we wouldn't be able to travel like this if we had children." We had Chewy and Abby --- our canine kids --- and they filled all of our maternal and paternal instincts, without the problems that human children would have occasioned.
And, then, something happened. This is the point where the biological clock should have started up . . . but it didn't. No, what happened instead was more subtle and beautiful than anything I had ever expected before we started traveling the world.
I discovered that the world is a good place and there are good people here.
Yes, I could have discovered that same fact in the United States because there are very good people in my own country, but, in the U.S., I don't NEED people. I understand my own country, its intricacies, and its fallibilities. But, when abroad, we were reliant on the kindness of strangers because we knew nothing. And, though people could have conned, cheated, and hassled us, instead, there was the:
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