CatieFunkTravelsChristmasCard

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Funny how a digital Christmas card can be just as delayed to get to you as the real ones. 😉 In fact, you probably wonder what the excuse would be when I don’t actually have to order, address, nor stamp them! BUT we were traveling, and then we didn’t have internet for a few days… then it was Christmas. Yada, yada, yada… do I have any sympathy from you yet?

Anyways, Christmas cards are one of my favorite things. If I don’t get to see you or talk to you often, it’s the one time of year I can send a card and let you know I do care. Thanks to modern technology, free labels from Shutterfly, a Groupon for Zazzle, the cash app, and a very helpful sister, we are still able to uphold that tradition from afar! And I am already thinking next year how we can add our Turkey friends to the tradition and deliver a special set of cards just to them.

Part of our cards is having a small little update on the back side of the card. Unfortunately, I usually have to keep it very short due to space. But here I can embellish a little more, and I hope you enjoy!

Without further ado:

Izmir, Turkey, has been our home for more than a year now and are so thankful to report no repairs needed this year! Finally settled in our home, I, Catie, have even gone through a few ‘cluttered’ drawers and piles (so was stuff others had left or given us) and rid them of unnecessary stuff. I am trying to keep our home somewhat minimal with only the necessary items and decor. When it becomes no longer useful, it is given away or thrown out. But for the most part, our space is comfortable, light, and spacious.

Turkey itself has had an interesting year and continued to renew its state of emergency. There has also been a series of earthquakes over the last year, and that is entirely new for both of us. Lira was down (which is great for us) and is now slowing returning. However, we are thankful for normal lives and new two year visas.

Our church is a huge support to us here, and we have enjoyed serving there (yep! It’s in Turkish!). As well, we have wonderfully welcoming neighbors and a mix of foreign and Turkey friends. It is interesting to learn that misunderstandings happen in both Turkish and English (because words even in English don’t always have the same meaning!). God has been faithful to continually supply new friendships, a cozy home, support, and love every step of the way.

Our friends have been amazing. We attended our first Turkish wedding, learned about a (new-to-us) holiday, and attended the first-ever Izmir Chocolate Festival. As well, we made sure to celebrate our holidays with them as well!

Catie FunkTravels Izmir Turkey Urkmez

So how are we personally?

I am studying language and conquering the grammar and vocabulary little by little. Moving from full-time to no-time work had its struggles, but this fall I feel like I have found my stride. I have loved writing about our experiences with travel, living in Izmir, and expat lives. Photo editing is a beast, but have always loved photography, I am finally learning and enjoying to edit photos. In June, I decided to finally take the leap to pursue a new what I hope to be, a part-time career in travel writing. Needless to say, it has been a year of learning!

Jason continues to learn Turkish and has completed all lessons in the Duolingo App. Part of him language learning inspired him to make an app called Foreign Numbers! He is still working with his U.S. clients via his software consulting business, Tough Space. As well he has taken on a few extra projects here and there. He somehow makes it through more podcasts and books than I can in 3 years! We are thankful his work allows for remote work and flexibility.

We both had some health stuff come up this year (getting old sucks), but thankfully great health care here means we took care of it all without any complications!

2017CatieFunkTravels Inle Lake Myanmar

2017 was our year of travel. Being nearby to lots of interesting places, we decided to take advantage of the easy travel while we can. We started our year in Prague and are ending it with our travels to Germany. In Turkey, we covered Cappadocia in the snow, the popular beach town of Bodrum during the offseason, the hot Adana in cooler months, an annual trip to Ephesus, and the last minute surprise of exploring Antalya. Izmir and the surrounding areas are bursting with places to explore, and even though we don’t own a car, we ventured out to some nearby cities called Urla, Alaçatı, and Pammukale.

Even more fun is traveling with friends! Our biggest trip last summer included traveling SouthEast Asia for a month. With our friends Eric and Ashley (you may remember them from sailing and Prague), we toured the countries of Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Ironically enough, we travel to Bangkok via Romania, where we met up with our other friends Kathryn and Brian and were able to meet their kiddos for the first time!

Since we were already heading to Asia, we decided to combine this travel with our trip back to the states to visit our families in both Louisiana and Iowa. Starting in New Orleans allowed us to not only meet up with friends along the way but also meet one of Jason’s clients in person for the first time as well! The coolest part of our travels was that we can now say we have literally flown around the world!

FunkTravels Eski Foca

We are hoping that next year will mark a few more countries off our list: Iceland, UK, Ireland, Norway, and the Greek Islands(there are some just off the coast of Turkey) just to name a few. Mostly just dreams, but we drop one country for meeting up with friends in other ones in a heartbeat! Then there are always a few surprise trips that come our way instead! Jason will continue his work, and I have a new side project that I am slowly developing to be used in Turkey. We both are still studying Turkish. Our first scheduled trip for next year is to Dubai for Jason and me to run our first race together, a 10k!

While we continue to miss family, we have found a rhythm of communication, and that makes it a lot easier. Our nieces and nephews are learning that Turkey is another country and Turkish is another language. They always impress us with their smarts, new vocabulary, and just general cuteness. 2017 was the first year we have not gained a new niece or nephew, but we do have a new nephew on the way in 2018!

201708 CatieFunk Birthday

And then there are some random things we miss; we always try to find good ‘American’ Chinese and (Tex)Mexican food wherever we travel. Most of the time it is a complete letdown, but our time in the states and Germany provide fixes to our craving every six months. Good pork is hard to come by and super expensive. I miss the freedom of owning a car, the freedom of spontaneity that comes with it, the ease of ordering packages from Amazon,and convenience of being able to find what I want when I want and not having to think several seasons ahead (Thanksgiving decor bought in August while in the states and cupcake decorations bought for Valentines Day while in Germany in December).

But we love the conveniences of restaurant (and grocery from what I hear) delivery. And if we need to buy groceries, we have three within a 200-meter radius! We eat the best eggplant dishes, and the sea view, while I run, is something that would definitely make you jealous. We are literally living on top of the ancient city of Smryna. Even though it takes a little planning, flights to pop in and out of Europe are cheaper than flying from our home state of Iowa to my roots of Louisiana. Not to mention, Jason and I can travel to Istanbul and back for under $50 each.

As we live in Turkey, travel, work, and learn Turkish, I have learned that we just can’t do it all. I want to save AND travel. I want to live in the states AND overseas. I want to work on every project AND only do one! Jason thankfully continues to love and encourage me (as well as keep me grounded)! As I already knew but still have trouble implementing, slow living is the best way to live, and slow travel is the best way to travel. Thankfully we live a lifestyle that allows that, and I hope I can just do a better job of appreciating it.

Special thanks to though of you who follow along on our journey!

I can’t wait to share more with you this year!

 

Jason & Catie

 

PS. – If you have extra Christmas cards, we would LOVE to have you send them our way! We LOVE getting mail. Plus, if you mail from the states, it’s just 3 stamps, stick it in the mailbox, and BOOM, it’s at our place!

P.P.S. – If you don’t already, we have a monthly newsletter that goes out every other podcast! Sign up here!

 

2016CatieFunkTravelsChristmasMarketsEurope Strasbourg France

TRAVEL: 5 Ws for Exploring the European Christmas Markets – Your Questions Answered

European Christmas makes my heart happy, and I am sure everyone else who has ever experienced them before. (Exception for those who don’t like cold weather at all).  Last year we spent our Christmas holidays in Germany and took a little European Christmas Markets tour through Switzerland and France as well. We are no strangers to the ways of market exploration.

2016CatieFunkTravelsChristmasMarketsEurope Germany

So, here are the 5 Ws, the Who, What, When, Where and Why, of exploring the European Christmas Market.

Who should go to the markets?

If you love all things wintery and Christmas (or love a good spiced hot wine), then the markets are for you! Of course, the locals get the most of out their town’s Christmas Market, but because the Christmas markets and villages are all slightly different in how they decorate, visitors find their way to visit a few different markets in other cities and countries if possible!

You should expect there to be one main market area with wooden houses set up just for the month of December. If visiting a larger city, several smaller markets will be set up around popular neighborhoods. The markets will have a festive atmosphere and music, lots of visitors walking around and enjoying the food and wine, and several shops to buy goodies and souvenirs.

What ….

…. should you eat?

The food is one of the best parts of Christmas markets. Try one of the many flavors of sausages and pastries. Most importantly sample the mulled wine or Gulwhein. When you order your first wine at the markets, a deposit is made for the ceramic mugs. When another mug of wine is ordered, the last mug is exchanged for a new one, and you pay only for the refill. When you are ready to leave, return the mug to any vendor that sells wine, and they will refund your deposit.

2016CatieFunkTravelsChristmasMarketsEurope Germany

2016CatieFunkTravelsChristmasMarketsEurope Prague

 

… should you buy?

Every year each market has the new custom made mugs used for serving hot drinks. Instead of returning your mug for its 2 euro deposit, start a small collection of Christmas market mugs! If you are lucky, you can find mugs from previous years. Other than food, we found a small delicate wooden ornament with a detailed snowy village as a tiny, easy to pack souvenir.

 

2016CatieFunkTravelsChristmasMarketsEurope Germany

… else should you do?

Our sole purpose of these visits was to see different Christmas markets in Europe. It made deciding what to do and how to spend our time easy. However, every city has their historical museums, churches, and other touristy activities if you tire of wine and food. Take time to explore outside the Christmas atmosphere to learn more about the culture and city.

… should you bring?

Cash! Most markets work off of Euros, and it is interchangeable in most EU countries. In Germany, they much prefer to take cash and don’t always offer a payment option for cards!

Dress warmly. The temps can be chilling around that time of year even if the sun is out in full force. Make sure to check the temperatures and dress warmly. We were so thankful that friends of ours brought little hand warmers to share with us!

When should you go?

Most markets start the first week of advent, and some as early as November 26. Perhaps they are trying to catch some of the Americans on their Thanksgiving breaks, but you will never see me complaining about that! Some markets end before Christmas day while other take a break on the 24th -26th and reopen again for New Year travelers. Each town has a website for the markets giving more details about when they start and finish.  

Otherwise, go early in the day to avoid the afternoon and evening crowds! It gets very busy!

2016CatieFunkTravelsChristmasMarketsEurope Basel Switzerland

Where should you stay?

Hotels in the town center come with a high price. Consider using a private rental such as Airbnb instead. The rental usually comes with all you need and often a kitchen for those who enjoy cooking and coffee in the morning.

Everyone has their own favorite Christmas Markets, and you will have no issues finding scores of suggestions about what markets to visit. Our first markets took us to Basel in Switzerland (listen here), Strasbourg in France (listen here), and several in Germany (listen here).

 

Now it’s your turn: 

Have you been to the Christmas Markets? If so, which ones?

What did you love about them?

What suggestions would you add?

 

Like it? Pin it!

 

FunkTravels-5-tips-for-exploring-the-European-Christmas-Markets
Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir Pies

HOLIDAYS: How do expats celebrate Thanksgiving abroad? Glad you asked!

Thanksgiving celebrations in another country are NOT for the FAINT OF HEART. After celebrating 5 Thanksgiving in a foreign country, I have learned to be resourceful!

Last Thanksgiving we totally escaped up to Istanbul and celebrated with American friends. Don’t worry, I was not excluded from my share of the cooking, or eating, for that matter. In fact, I may have done MORE cooking because we were staying with the host of the Thanksgiving dinner.

This year, however, we decided to brave the holiday ourselves. Not alone though. We invited 30 of our friends and neighbors into our little apartment to celebrate the day with us!  Instead of the traditional Thursday celebrations, we waited until Friday night hoping it would be easier for guests to come.

This is what our actual Thanksgiving day dinner looked like… eating out and watching a movie at the nearby mall.

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

And unlike almost all events in my life, I actually started early with the planning, menus, recipes, and activities for kids. I was very impressed with myself, and if you know me well, you would be too.

Turkey and all the stuffings: 

While the list looks ambitious, (and it was) we did NOT cook all that was on this list. ‘A’ was to assign out, the boxes were some I were to do… but of course, nothing happened like that. Almost everyone did bring something, but the Americans were the only ones I assigned a traditional Thanksgiving item too.

Jason was responsible for the turkey and gravy. I made a veggie tray and cheese tray for appetizers. My main course dishes were sweet potato casserole, corn casserole, and roasted veggies (which just collected juice from the turkey while it cooked).

We spent our weekly ‘Turkish’ cooking class prepping for the Thanksgiving party instead. I could not have made it through that week without my helpers that day! They cut up veggies, boiled sweet potatoes, made pie filling, and a list of other things I can’t remember right now. I had great ambitions to make green bean casserole, but unless you have those handy french onions or just a lot of time to fry your own… it just didn’t make the cut!

Our hardest prep work went into making the pie crusts. Yes, we made them from SCRATCH because Y’ALL, we can not get ready made pie crust here. It is just NOT A THING and it has yet to reach here. If you have ever made homemade pie crust, every stinking recipe calls for shortening, and well, yet again, it is not here in Turkey. Yet, somehow our brave American friends ordered a massive box of it from the local METRO (think SAM’S Club or COSCO) and they shared some with us!

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Going to the store looks a little different here… I usually only buy what I can carry. If I know I am going to the weekly market or will buy a lot, then I bring my handy Pazar arabası or market car (no, I did not forget the ‘t’. The actual translation is ‘car.’)

Later that evening, I had a sweet friend take me to METRO to pick up our special ordered turkey. The people of METRO are my heros! I had given up on a whole turkey after asking several big stores, but METRO came through with a special order for us last minute. In Turkey, the stores do not start getting them in until the end of December to be used for New Year celebrations.

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Our kilos of shortening: I stored the stuff on the left for later, and the right we used for the pie crust.

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

P.S. – It also makes great turkey pot pie crust with leftover turkey!

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Pre-cooked! I never got an after picture! While we make our own pureed pumpkin, an Australian friend of ours picked up 2 canned of Libby’s canned pumpkin on a recent trip to Ireland for her American friends living in Turkey! Crazy, huh?

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Jason did an AMAZING job with the turkey! I was so impressed. Everyone raved about the gravy he made from the turkey broth.

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Having a 68 cm wide fridge means we had to be very creative with our storage!

 

Decor

Because of all the prep work, the day of our Thanksgiving party was actually calm and somewhat relaxed. I mixed up a few casseroles and my neighbors cooked them for me since our oven had the turkey cooking.  Jason and I worked together to rearrange our furniture and prepare a kid area in one of the back rooms.

I love decorating for the seasons, and thanks to the internet and a printer, I already had prints hung up for the season.  And thanks to $10 and a Dollar Tree in America, I decided to get plates, napkins, tablecloths, and a few other fallish items. The Dollar Store is one of the things I miss most here!

To seat 30 people, we had to be a little creative with our seating arrangement. And while it wasn’t ideal, everybody was great sports about it!

 

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Thanks LB for letting me borrow the banner!

Guests

Our guests were amazing. With over 7 different countries and a mix of English and Turkish, I was a little anxious to see how it would turn out. Our friends were warm and open to one another and I was very thankful to see conversation flowing freely between groups of people.

Due to the amount of food (people are so generous), we had 2 rounds of eating just like any good Thanksgiving. After Jason made a short speech and prayed over the food, I explained how it works (buffet style complete with Thanksgiving decor paper plates). Everyone enjoyed the first round of ‘savory’ foods and then we pulled out the sweets!

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Finished turkey. We also had some extra turkey breast cooked for extra meat.

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

 

 

Overall, our first time hosting Thanksgiving was a huge success. Yes, it was work, but we LOVED sharing this experience with our friends. Thanks to all our friends who came and made this a special time we will ALWAYS remember!

For a verbal account of our Thanksgiving party, listen into Episode042!

Episode042: When you host your first adult Thanksgiving

 

Your turn!

How was your Thanksgiving?

How do you celebrate?

If you are an expat, what do you like to make? What is easy or difficult to find in your country?

 

Here are a couple a pics from the day after!

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

I spent some time on my winter cross-stitch with tv and coffee. Yes, that would be leftover pie on the table.

Not pictured: me in my jammies

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Leftover dishes that need to be returned! Poor Woody has a tendency to get left behind.

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah

CULTURE: Our first Turkish wedding part 3 ‘Nikah ve Parti’ or wedding ceremony and party

Kina Gecesi and Gelin Alma are unique traditions for Turkish weddings. I not-so secretly wish we had the Gelin Alma ‘Fetching of the Bride’ tradition in the states! But alas, I am married and don’t really want to repeat any of that!  Moving on to part 3 of our Turkish wedding series, we finally arrive at the actual marriage signing ceremony, also know as Nikah in Turkish, and the after party!

After the morning dancing and bride pick up, the bride and groom prepare for the wedding near/at the groom’s home, each in their own way as needed (meaning that the bride takes significantly more time to have her makeup and hair done).  Then together the couple departs to take wedding pictures.

Since I was asked to be a witness in the wedding, I readied myself as well and was, needless to say, very on time for a not so on time cultural wedding. Turkish time tends to have more fluidity to it. I traveled with the photographer, his wife, and the other witnesses to watch them take pictures before heading to the wedding location.

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah
My handsome groom

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah

The Nikah or marriage agreement in Turkish weddings have 2 to 4 witnesses. Our friends had two witnesses each: two for the bride and two for the groom. I had never seen or attended a Turkish wedding before so I was slightly nervous. They told me what to do and even though it sounded easy, I was worried I would miss my part because it was all in Turkish!

In the states, the ceremony can be done in a billion different ways, but in Turkey it’s pretty straightforward and the Nikah takes all of 5 minutes. The bride says ‘Evet (Yes)!’ The groom says ‘Evet (Yes)!’ And then all the witnesses are asked if they agree to the marriage and we say ‘Evet (Yes)!’ Then everyone takes turns to sign their signature in their pre-designated spot in a large government book to record the wedding ceremony. Next, the government official will hand the marriage booklet over to the newly married couple. If you ever see pictures of a Turkish wedding, you will see the couple proudly holding up the red marriage booklet!

So that is exactly what happened! After everyone arrived to the wedding (a good 1.5 hours ‘late’), the bride and groom were presented walking together down a very long red carpet with perfectly timed pyrotechnics. The witnesses were called up to join the ceremony (which I actually understood). Everything went well and everyone did their part by saying ‘Yes!’

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah

The couple celebrated with their first dance together followed by more dancing with friends and family, needless to say, there is a lot of dancing through it all. My favorite dances are the circle dances where everyone joins hands and does a type of line dance! The usual cutting of cake came later and everyone enjoyed a slice of ice cream cake.

While all that seems normal to us, the next and generally last part of the wedding starts. After the cake, everyone lines up to congratulate the couple on their marriage and pin their gift to a ribbon draped around their necks. Instead of gifts from a registry like we have in the states, Turks give money or gold coins (which are worth different amounts). Most guests tend to leave after this but a smaller group of family and friends will stay to dance well into the night.

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah

FunkTravels Turkish Wedding Nikah

 

And don’t forget to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of the Turkish Wedding Series! Read here for more articles about Turkish culture and holidays. Lastly, for an audio version of the wedding, listen in to Episode034: When you dance the night away!

For Turkish readers:

Have you attended this event before?

Did you have a typical Turkish wedding? What was something that was different at your wedding?

Non-Turkish readers:

What do you think about these traditions?

What traditions have you observed at a wedding of another culture?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CULTURE: Our first Turkish wedding part 2 ‘Gelin Alma’ or Fetching of the Bride

People in America think weddings are a lot of work, and probably that their way is the best way to get married. Yes, yes, I will agree that there is a lot of planning for the American wedding, but it’s only one event!  But here in Turkey the weddings have way more too them.  I mean, I am writing a 3 part series about our first Turkish wedding!

I wrote about how the Turkish wedding starts with the Kına Gecesi or Henna night. But now I will move on the the actual day of the wedding. The morning of the wedding day, we met the groom for a Turkish wedding tradition that I had not heard about before, the Gelin Alma or Fetching of the Bride.

The morning of the wedding the groom goes to receive his bride from her family so that they can start preparing for the wedding. This is mostly for family and close friends. We were honored to be invited. For this particular ‘Gelin Alma,’ the groom’s family hired a drummer and, along with his band, he played music outside the groom’s house. After a while, we all packed up in the car and caravanned over to the bride’s house, honking horns and having our emergency lights on. Upon arriving, the dancing  started up again to let her family know we have arrived (because the car horns didn’t do enough…).

Eventually, the groom and his immediate family (mom, dad, and sister) went to get his bride. It tends to be a very emotional moment for the bride’s family, and it was, of course, true for this bride and her family as well. For many Turkish women, they do not move out of their family home until they are married.  To make the moment lighter, the brother of the bride will joke with the groom about why he is here and pretend to not let him into the house! But eventually the groom gets his bride. The bride’s brother also places a red ribbon around his sister waist as a symbol of the ‘Maidenhood belt’ and bride.

 

Everyone cheered as the groom exited the building with his bride (still crying!) and the dancing started up again (yes, on the street in the middle of a neighborhood). The bride’s tears were ones of sadness but also happiness! It made me tear up as well! I remember how excited I was to marry Jason, but also knowing it could be difficult too!

After sufficient celebration, no more tears are seen and only happiness is left. Everyone is ready for the wedding celebration! The groom gathers his bride’s items for the day and their honeymoon and are now ready to prepare for the wedding.

I LOVED this tradition. It was such a beautiful way to start off the day of celebration! It allows for a time of grieving, of leaving your childhood home and family, and a time to start the celebration and excitement of marrying your groom! In America, there is a tradition (not always followed now) that the bride and groom will not see each other until they are fully ‘wedding’ ready. Everyone thinks that first sight is the most important. But I loved when the groom goes to take his bride to prepare for their wedding together.

Don’t forget to read Part 1 of the wedding series! For a sneak peek into the rest of the wedding, listen to Episode034: When you dance the night away!

For Turkish readers:

Have you attended this event before?

Did you have a ‘Gelin Alma’ at your wedding?

Non-Turkish readers:

What do you think about this tradition?

What traditions have you observed at a wedding of another culture?