I started learning French in 9th grade. My teacher became my step-mom (but that’s a story for another post). Ever since then, I really wanted to visit France. I got my first chance during the summer of 2001. I went to Europe with Deena (aforementioned step-mom), my friends Katrina, Kenton, Tai and a group of high school exchange students. Katrina and I went as chaperones for the students’ week in Paris and we brought Kenton and Tai along for the ride. We spent a few days in Paris, then went to Switzerland and Italy then back to the south of France. It was a fun, educational and beautiful trip. We were kids on our own on a huge, confusing continent with not much money.
Luckily, I got to return to France this past summer with Jesse. We had more money, and we were a lot more grown up, so we pretty much had a dream vacation. We spent3 weeks travelling all over France. We started in Paris, went down to the Riviera, up to Provence, over to the Alps and ended up in Burgundy.
We spent a lot of time eating during our trip. We ate some of the best meals of our lives. Jesse drank a lot of wine (I had to abstain since I was 4 months pregnant). It was really amazing.
One thing I love about France is how they have so many different things to enjoy. In three weeks, we were in one of the greatest cities, going to museums, swimming in a beautiful sea, walking through sun baked alleys, standing on a snow covered mountain and looking at lots of big, old things.
I have many beautiful memories of going to the art museum on the Oregon campus. I really appreciate that my parents introduced us to art and museums at a very young age. In my memory (which is probably a little bit exaggerated) we went to the museum alll the tiiime. And I loved it. It felt like an amazing sort of playground.
My favorite things about the museum were the courtyard, the doll collection and the Asian thrones and other furniture.
We went to Istanbul after we went to London during Peace Corps. It was basically just a 36 hour layover, and it was the best layover in my life! We got to the Stone Hotel in the snow after dark. I couldn’t believe our view of endless minarets – some modern and some ancient – and the Sea of Marmara.
The Harem in Topkapi Palace
The next morning we woke up to a blanket of snow that was still falling. I have to admit that whenever I pictured Istanbul or Turkey, I always saw fruit trees and sunshine. I think we were lucky to see Istanbul in a different light.
There is so much history in Istanbul. You can really sense the transition from West to East in the city. It was neat to be in London (west) one day, Istanbul (transition) the next and back in rural Azerbaijan (east) the next.
Aya Sofya is really evidence of this bridge. It was built as the largest church in Christianity, converted to a Mosque (by covering the Biblical mosaics and adding minarets) and is now a museum. It is huge and breathtaking.
Besides the Starbucks, we also bought a hookah and some hand painted tiles. I could have spent an eternity and a fortune in the Grand Bazaar. The shop keepers were always surprised and delighted when we would speak Azeri (which is somewhat close to Turkish) and say things like InshAllah.
Istanbul was a wonderfully beautiful city. I would love to spend more time there exploring the culture, history, architecture and food.
Old Tower in Barda
During our training for Peace Corps in Azerbaijan, we got to visit PCVs who were already working out at sites around the country. It was our first taste of what it would be like to be PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) instead of just PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees). We got to go stay with some kick-ass PCVs in Barda. They were so welcoming, encouraging and hospitable to us lowly PCTs.
Although it was hot, humid, full of mosquitoes (some of which were possibly carrying malaria) and not the most glamorous site, I was smitten. I think I was mostly smitten with the idea of being on our own, doing actual work and freedom. We went back to Barda a few times while we were in Azerbaijan (it was one of our closest neighboring towns) mostly because it had good people.
Barda is a very interesting town because it’s very close to Nagorno-Karabakh. Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan that has been occupied by Armenia since 1991. When it was taken over, many Azeris were forced out of their homes and displaced throughout Azerbaijan. Many IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) live in Barda in IDP camps. IDP camps are usually old schools, old train cars, breaking down buildings and sometimes still even temporary housing. The government provides this for its people. This is obviously a very unfortunate situation that seems to have no real end in sight.
Photo of IDP child in Barda by Rena Effendi
While I was doing some research on Barda and IDPs, I came across this Azeri photographer’s website. Rena Effendi has created some beautifully striking photos of Azerbaijan and its people. If you want to take some time to see some amazing photos of Azerbaijani people and culture, check out her galleries.
London from the London Eye
Jesse and I got to go to London over New Years while we were in Peace Corps. London was amazing. It had running water, traffic laws, crosswalks, people who spoke English, people who lined up for things. We had such a great time! It was such a great break from our lives as Peace Corps volunteers. I loved walking down a street and not being stared at.
We went to a movie, some musicals, museums, churches, parades and more! We ate some incredible food and walked a LOT. I would love to live in London someday, or at least go back for an extended vacation.