I am lucky. Period. That’s it, end of story. I fell off the lucky tree and hit every branch on the way down. Why? Let me provide some perspective. From 17-25 I was an ocean lifeguard. Not at a family beach or little cove (nothing against that), but a place where we put our lives on the line at times. Of course, we rewarded ourselves in the evenings and enjoyed our own little fan clubs. These were some of the best summers of my life and I still talk about them to this day: the people, the adventures, the randomness of it all. However, starting on June 8th and ending on August 7th, I got to experience one for the books…and it’s not even over yet! Regardless of when one considers the mark of the end of summer, I will never forget this one. Here’s the first half of why:
On June 8th, I departed site for a trip to Turkey with my family (mom, dad, brother, aunt). I had heard from others that: “Istanbul is my favorite city in the world!” “That is my #1 place to visit!” “Turkey is awesome, I had so much fun there!” … the list goes on. After hearing that my expectations were very high. Upon returning, I am happy to report that my expectations were met and then some. Wow, my hat is off to the country! Not only is it beautiful, but the people we encountered we very friendly and interested in sharing their culture with others – granted we also heard the occassional “let me spend your money”.
I could type for hours about what we saw, where we went, etc. However, I’d rather bullet highlights of the trip and let pictures do more of the talking than my words.
Here’s a quick recap:
- Saw my family for the first time since I left the United States in March 2011. Punctuated by a short converstion my brother and I had while enjoying beers on the terrace of our hotel in Istanbul on our final evening together: Me: “It’s been really good seeing you, man. Glad we got to do this.” Graham: “Yeah, it has. We should consider doing it again in another year and a half…that’s about a good enough break, right?”
- We spent three days and four nights on a gulet in the Meditteranean sea. Stopping for opportunities to jump off, swim in the turqouise blue water, dive down and explore the bottom, as well as exploring ruins in diferent coastal communities
- Ate like kings/queens three meals a day (best melon I’ve ever tasted)…while discovering I have a thing for yogurt-based salads
- Learned about and saw what real Whirling Dervishes do
- Saw the ruins of Ephesus. When it became apparent that only a small percentage of the area had been excavated, mind = blown
- Go inside the Blue Mosque
- Visit the Topkapi Palace
- Make a quick run through the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul…over 3,000 shops…insane
- Buy some Turkish Delight at the Spice Bazaar
- Take a boat tour of the Bosphorous River
- Visit the cave churches and a cave hotel in the ancient region of Anatolia, Cappodoccia (could also do a Google search for Amazon fighters from this region, but that was left off the tour)
- Stayed in a cave hotel…talk about natural climate control
- We were treated to a traditional homemade meal of soup, grape leaves, bread, baklava by one of our drivers’ beautiful family
- Sampled a plethora of Turkish tea
- Watched how Turkish carpets are made
- Witnessed amazingly detailed hand-crafted pottery being made by overskilled artisans
- Rekindled my appreciation of dark hair/skinned/eyed women (they are rare in Ukraine)
I am almost certainly leaving some things off of that list and apologize. However, based on what I have described and linked to, I’ll make the assumption that my point has been made. Upon leaving Turkey, my parents accompanied me to Ukraine for a quick stop/tour. We were hosting the Euro 2012 Championships and Kiev being one of the main cities, housing was at a premium. Luckily we pulled a smart move and rented an apartment which happened to be right next to Independence Square and the main Fan Zone of the championship. Instead of getting into a lengthy explanation of the doubts some had about Ukraine being a host country, let me just say this: everything negative turned out to be false and I couldn’t be happier! Ukrainians went out of their way to be accomodating and I think now realize how increased tourism would really benefit their country (there is much to see and do here…hopefully future posts will be able to show some of that).
Prior to their arrival, I made it a point to remind my parents that while in Ukraine, borscht would be consumed. This was non negotiable. Now, nothing beats a home-made version of this tasty first dish (it is not a soup…it is borscht), yet we had to settle for a restaurant version. After a quick discussion with our cab driver about a few restaurants, we settled on one I had been to before and brought mom and dad along to sample something I have grown to love. Dad was very opposed to this, however, as he constantly reminded me that, “I don’t like beets.” What is great about this dish, it doesn’t taste like beets at all. Rather, they are simply added for coloring. Served with a side of garlic pampushky and topped off with a spoonful of sour cream mom and dad both became believers in the deliciousness that is traditional Ukrainian borscht.
I showed them what I could/knew about while we were there but thankfully mom had a friend from home whose younger brother has lived in the city for 20 years. He was able to provide a much more detailed tour with some historical notes as well. Some of the stuff I had never heard about but was glad Brian was able to show us around. I can now play a much better version of tour guide should anyone want to swing through Ukraine.
We wrapped up their trip here with a couple of hours sitting and chatting with some other volunteers we in Shevchenko park, Niki and Nora. I was glad that my parents were able to meet them. Not just because they are cool people, but because the only things my parents know about Ukraine are things I tell them – only from my perspective. Hearing about it from others definitely brings more to the table and helps make it more real.
When mom and dad left, it marked the end of a great mid-service vacation. It was exactly what I think we all needed (parents and myself). I was happy to show them around my host country, albeit very briefly, but was also able to show off some language skills and expose them to what parts of life here is like. Little did I know that this was really just the start, because then came the rest of the summer and some high points in my service so far…
For next week’s post (yes, going to make the honest attempt to go once a week): Camp HEAL, Odessa, ABC Camp and video slide shows.