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Friday, September 19, 2014

south africa from up high


Cape Town is brisk and cool this time of year, and a chilly afternoon is well spent on one of these precipices watching the waves crash below or damp clouds swirl in above. Afterwards, you could go to this cute eatery on Long Street that has a bajillion types of gourmet burgers (well, just 50!), and finish up the day with a nightcap at this whisky bar. It's located in a beautiful hotel (the hallway to the restroom is lined with a staggering number of bottles and barrels), but the best part is the outdoor seating by the water. In winter, when you arrive, you're situated under heat lamps, handed a cozy blanket, and given a menu that's as thick as the length of your thumb, and has every imaginable whisky in it.

We had a really beautiful day of rain yesterday (we lost power for a half hour or so last night and had to bust out the flashlights, which was tremendously exciting for Aaron). We're going to see some friends and their toddler daughter for brunch tomorrow (we're bringing borek!), and then Josh and I are going to dinner at a mezze restaurant in Beyoglu. The weather in Istanbul is supposed to be in the low 70s, which is the coolest sunny day we've experienced in months. 

capepoint1 flying familyonlionshead tablemountain1 tablemountainvertical1 uslionshead tablemountain3 southafrica

I love doing these Friday posts, by the way. I have a massively unorganized folder filled with photos from the past six or so years on an external drive, and it's a treat to take a moment each week to comb through them and revisit a location here. I know we've been dawdling for the past month or so in southern and central Africa, but we'll move on soon, I promise! Maybe a wander through Petra or a falucca ride down the Nile next Friday? 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

life abroad, no. 1: on making friends

The first months we spent in Istanbul were agonizingly lonely. 

For better or for worse, I've always felt more secure having a large circle of acquaintances. I've always had close friends, and large groups of close friends at different points in my life, but it's also important to me to just know people. Obviously, back in New York, that was plentiful. My friends. Josh's friends. Our friends' significant others. Work friends. And so on. 

I thought I'd land in Istanbul and have 20 close friends immediately because that's kind of what happened to me in Cape Town. By some enormous fluke, I really clicked with nearly everyone I met. I liked my colleagues, I met my future husband, and I made a fantastic group of friends that would, 4 years later, travel from all parts of the world to watch Josh and I get married. This all happened within the first month of my stay in South Africa. 

I sort of thought something similar would happen in Turkey, but I overlooked a few facts. I wasn't unattached, I wasn't working, I didn't speak the local language, and I had a very young baby. All minor obstacles when you're trying to meet new people in a foreign country.

But, the upside is that all expats are kind of in the same crappy boat when they first arrive, and the vast majority end up perfectly fine. Yes, some of them are in better positions to meet people, but—barring some unusual circumstances—everyone starts out with zero friends, or a handful of acquaintances. Not exactly the kind of relationships to make you feel better about a strange new home. Mostly everyone who's moved abroad will tell stories about crippling loneliness when they first arrive: wandering streets alone, awkward coffees with people they're not even sure they like, throats closing up when they think of home. It doesn't always happen right away but often several weeks into your stay, when the shine of a new city has worn off, and it suddenly gets really, inexplicably hard.

Things eventually worked out. I met other mothers, both Turkish and local, through Aaron's playgroup. I met more people through them, and through Josh's work, and after several months, I felt like we had built up a nice circle of friends and acquaintances here.

So . . . what do I wish I'd done differently to make things a little easier? Three things, really.

I would've made more of an effort to establish some contacts before I moved. I would have found a huge amount of information, if only I'd bothered to search: Facebook groups for local moms, organizations for both American women and expat women in general living in Istanbul, playgroups, mom groups, personal blogs, networking events, an expat website with a strong writing community that I could have joined. It would have helped to send out some e-mails and join some groups before the move. But, no, I didn't, because I thought I'd make friends organically. This didn't really happen. Most of the friendships I've made have come about because of those groups designed specifically to let you make them.

I would have been way, way more patient. I remember saying to Josh, two months after we moved to Istanbul (10 days of which were spent visiting family in Beijing), "Why don't I have a best friend here yet?" I'd said it mostly in jest, but a small part of me really did believe it'd be that easy—like, boom, I'd touch down and meet someone awesome in the neighborhood on the first day. It might happen, but it probably won't. When you're not in school, and a little bit older—with responsibilities like a baby, a spouse, a career—you can't throw yourself headlong into new friendships like you did in high school or college. Most of the friends I have now I made years and years ago, so (apart from a work setting, also different) I'd had little experience with making friends later in the game.

I would have made more of an effort to make plans with people I didn't seem to have a lot in common with. When you first move abroad, you meet a ton of people that you just don't really click with—I don't mean terrible people you dislike upon first meeting, but just people you don't seem to share any similarities with. You know. You have a coffee or dinner with them, and the conversation is like bouncing a ball against a brick wall; there are tons of awkward pauses and you end up talking a lot about your job, or the weather. You feel like you're having dinner with your boss. Before we moved abroad, I had a particularly bad habit of not making an effort when that happened—I just figured, well, I have a lot of friends I already feel like I don't see enough. Well. In Istanbul, I didn't. Some people take longer to get to know, and, honestly, knowing more people isn't ever going to be a detriment. What if you meet someone through them? (And, to be frank, some of my best friends were people I didn't initially think I had anything in common with—that little fact always gets forgotten after years of friendship—so you never know.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

aaron at rumelihisari

Aaron's been to Rumelihisari before, but we took a long, long walk to the fortress a few Fridays ago. It's probably my favorite spot in the city. Sometimes, it's easy to forget how breathtaking the views are by the Bosphorus, particularly when the skies and water are a clear blue. 

We parked ourselves by a bench, and Aaron ran around the grass and trees with no pants on. (It's still warm enough that he's in just his diaper most days at home, and I have a bad habit of forgetting to put some shorts on him when we leave, particularly if he's in a onesie and we're in a hurry.)

He took a tumble on a shallow hill and, before I could stop him, rolled down the hill. I thought he'd start crying, but he laughed. Who knows with this one.

Can you see his farmer's tan in the photo above? I swear we use sunscreen, loads of it. He's never burned, and we do spend most of the day outside, but I always feel sheepish about it whenever he's brought to the pediatrician. 

We tried to take selfies, but it's hard when you have to sneeze.

We stopped for one last gorgeous shot of these towers....

And Aaron, completely worn out, cuddled up close to my chest and fell asleep the entire way home. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

fall at catbird

Last fall, when Josh was on a business trip to Istanbul and Aaron was just several weeks old, I hired a babysitter during a particularly frantic afternoon just to take the subway to Catbird and wander around the store for an hour (this was after I fell asleep getting my nails done and faceplanted onto a startled manicurist). I'm really missing the store (and shopping back home in general) this fall. I'm jealous of all your Instagrams of the (relatively) crisp weather in London and New York! Istanbul is still hot as balls during the day. There's really no other way to put it. But if we were still in Brooklyn this fall and I were shopping some stress away, I'd choose...

(1) a mustachioed bar of soap with a charming name that smells of tobacco and cedarwood; 

(2) a cheeky flask engraved with a matching quip from Dorothy Parker to fill and sneak into Prospect Park on a lazy Sunday; 

(3) a witchy ring to pair with thin gold bands and a stack of hammered bangles; 

(4) a cardamom-clove syrup to mix up fragrant and earthy cocktails (with which to fill the aforementioned flask); 

(5) a smoky perfume with a mysterious name to make you smell like roses, scented oils, and incense; 

(6) a gold flecked, creamy eyeshadow to dust onto your eyelids;

(7) a rustic candle to make your apartment smell like wood smoke and leather. 

streets of budapest

{a peek into a cafe on Andrassy}

{a church on Vaci Utca}

{a blue van on our way to dinner}

{a stately balcony on a pale yellow building}

{aaron, escaping}

{tourists, looking}

{tiny plants}

{locally made shoulder bags at a street fair}

{a stand filled with colorful hats}


{winged feet on Vaci Utca}

{early morning Sunday clean up crews}

{morning traffic}

{the Buda side}

{terrifying advertising}

{an unimpressed dog}


{pest, from buda}

{to buda, from pest}

{entertaining eating crowds}

{someone's ride}

{and again}

{outside buda castle}

Monday, September 15, 2014

i'm on twitter!

{some pretty flowers downstairs}

I have 2 followers, extreme confusion as to how it works, and zero clues as to who to follow. (Any funny ones? I remember liking KimJongNumberUn and YourAwayMessage from a while back.) You can find me @dianemzhang, if you're there, too.