Team Krakow’s Latest Trip to Ukraine

I think anyone who knows me even a little knows by now I’m in Krakow with my family for the summer helping where we can with the war effort. We’ve been helping Team Krakow who transports goods into Ukraine, some all the way to the front lines, and we’ve been helping with a local refugee shelter.

As far as anyone knows Team Krakow are the only ones driving supplies all the way into the front lines. Here’s a map of last week’s route. As you can see their final stop was all the way to the red. Stop one Lviv, stop two Vinnytsia, stop three Bratslav, stop four Uman, stop five Dnipro,  stop six Kramatorsk, final stop Bakhmut.

I sat down with my friend Peter a couple days ago to talk about his recent trip to Ukraine and I want to share it with you. We met at a cute cafe opened by Ukranians here in Krakow.

They took three vans and two SUVs. While I’m talking about it, they’re trying to raise funds for a fourth van. $6,000 USD will buy one. You can donate to them directly here, or you can send money to me and tell me exactly who you want me to give it to and how you want it used and I’ll deliver it. I’ll even make you a little video of me delivering the money for you. My Venmo is @TravelTeachRead or here is my GoFundMe. Excluding donated goods these trips are costing $500 USD in fuel alone and they’re doing a transport a week.

They dropped off microscopes to a military hospital in Vinnytsia, then on to an airport where they dropped off:

Medical dressings, Tactical vests





Clothes, and other special equipment all to be delivered to the front lines.

One empty van returned to Krakow.

Vinnytsia is the town that made international headlines recently. It’s the town that was bombed and the three year old little girl was killed while walking with her mother. They met a soldier who was there and saw the whole thing. They said he was a wreck and cried while telling them the story. The location is closed to the public but they were granted special permission to enter.

Next they moved on to Bratslav where there is a forgotten psychiatric hospital. There’s a war going on so no one’s thinking about this place and their needs, but they are dire.


They were supplied with:

Wheel chairs, walkers, medicines (70% of the supplies they were given were medicines), adult diapers, soap, laudry detergent, disinfectants, food, dressings for bed sores, a generator and lamps.

The washing machines at the hopital are broken. Funding has stopped arriving. The place is in a shape of total disarray. Team Krakow has done what they could, but the hospital needs more. Please donate. On their return trip they will stop here again with more supplies.

At this point a second van was empty and returned to Krakow. Everyone else pressed on. Moved forward to Uman and then Dnipro in the east where they delivered:

Hospital beds, wheel chairs, walkers, medications, medical dressing, scissors, surgical supplies, other medical supplies, and one of the SUVs was donated to the military

At this point everyone but one brave soul, the amazing Tomasz, a rockstar in my book, pressed on. He drove to Kramatorsk and then to Bakhmut to get supplies all the way into the front lines. This is 4km from the front lines. He send videos of himself talking and you can hear bombs going off in the background the whole time.

Tomasz delivered:

Tactical vests, optical scopes, an entire pallet of shoes, socks, underwear, medicines, first aid kits,  and turnicates all to the soldiers fighting in the front. At the time of the unload it was too dangerous for him to return. He was told he’d had to stay overnight. Then, when it was time to go the next day he was told to remove all the humanitarian aid signs from the van. He was told as a civillian vehicle he had a better chance of making it out. The Russians are targeting humantarian aid vehicles.

They came back with parts of a rocket. What’s that big piece of metal in the back of your car right next to the baby seat, Peter? Oh just a piece of a rocket.

I’ve been here two weeks now and I’ve had a few people offer to hop on a plane to come help. I gotta tell ya. I’m here. What they need is money. People are offering to get on a plane and fly here to help and when I tell them don’t come in person, send money, they don’t do either. And it’s really sad. The cost of three people flying from the US to Krakow, getting a place to stay, and eating for a month could buy a van for Team Krakow. If you really want to help, send money. Money is what’s needed.

We came because we wanted to help. The international news makes it seem like volunteers are desperately needed and we answered that call. But honestly we do a lot of site seeing. I’m glad I’m here seeing it so I can write about it and tell you what’s going on for real. For real: THEY NEED MONEY. SEND MONEY. Send it to me. I’ll give it straight to them. Send it to them. I don’t care. These are good people doing good work. They deserve your support.



Adventures in Krakow

A couple days ago we went into full tourist mode and went up in a balloon to get an ariel view of the city. It was pretty. Trinidad was afraid.

We also went to the Ethnographic Museum of Krakow. It was cool. The most interesting exhibit to me was the carolers exhibit. They didn’t mention the word syncretism but I know enough about history to know they showed it. They had loads of pictures of carolers from the 1930s-1970s and talked about the history of caroling in Poland.

In winter groups would dress up and go from home to home singing songs. They would dress up in scary costumes. This showed the extreme racism of the region because a lot of the cosumes were people dressed up like “Jews”. I put Jews in quotes because they really looked more like monsters.

Then they had examples of pre-Christian caroling costumes and the history of that too. It was really cool! Then they talked about how when Christianity moved in they took over caroling but called it a Christian tradition, thus syncretism!

In case you don’t know what syncretism is it’s when one religion steals something from another religion then claims it was always theirs. There are more dimensions to it than that, but that’s the basic version.

We had lunch that day at a Tex-Mex restaurant called Los Gorditas. Now, you’re probably thinking the same thing I was: Tex-Mex in Poland?? That’s gonna suck. But we had to give it a try. There’s no Tex-Mex in Almaty so this was the best we were going to get for at least another year. And oh my god! It was good! It was a better burrito than you’ll find in Tennessee. It really was. It was definitely Tex-Mex and not Mexican, but it was good. I’ve lived in both Texas and New Mexico and traveled extensively in Latin America. I know the food well. This was good.

The next day we went to Energylandia, the amusement park outside Krakow, and she was far more afriad of it. There were some rides she wouldn’t go on. It’s amazing how much kids change. When my kid was younger she was fearless. So fearless, in fact, my husband and I worried about her. She had no fears. Now she’s afraid of everything and we couldn’t even get her to ride some of the roller coasters. She started crying when we tried to talk her into it. Anyway, we spent the whole day there. She sure as hell can’t tell me I never do anything for her. I spent 12 hours at an amusement park.

Something I love about places like this in countries other than the US is they don’t rip you off. Food is reasonably priced inside the park. Souvenirs are reasonably priced. Even the bar inside the park was perfectly reasonably priced. You’re not going to lose a fortune going to the amusement part for the day.

Most people that know me well know I have a thing for dolls. My great-grandmother was a serious collector of dolls. She had a doll house and when I say doll house I mean she bought a house, a real house, and had it moved and dropped off next to her house, she installed shelves in every room of the house, and put her dolls on the shelves.

Her daughter, my grandmother, also collects dolls. I grew up with a great interest in dolls. On my grandmother’s wedding day my grandfather fave her a doll as his wedding gift to her. The doll’s body we made of cloth and has since then deteriorated, but the head still exists. About 15 years ago my grandmother gave it to me. I have that doll’s head tattooed on my arm.

My interest in dolls is with the old and forgotten ones. People always think I link old dolls because they’re scary. That’s not the thing at all. No matter how many times I explain it no one listens to me. They’re not scary. They’re not creepy. That’s not it at all. It’s the forgotten aspect that gets it. This used to be a little girls cherished dolly and now look at it; thrown away, forgotten about, covered in dust. There’s something so sad about it.

I like to honor what the doll once was. The older the better. The doll pulled out of the very back of the attic or the bottom a of a box in the basement that has mold growing all over it. She used to be a little girl’s favorite toy. She used to go everywhere with her. And now she’s forgotten. I might be the last person to ever pay any attention to that little doll again. Once she was beautiful and loved.

Anyway, I’ve gone on too long about that. People think I like them because they’re scary. I don’t find dolls scary in the slightest. I love them.  I’ve tried to explain that for 30 years but no one listens. I just give up and agree with them now. Yep… you’re right… it’s a creepy doll… I love it. It’s true. I love it. But not for the reason they think.

So why did I say all this? We went to eat dinner at a place with antique doll decor!!! And it wasn’t on purpose!!! We had no idea! It’s not in any of the Google reviews. It was simply a place that looked cute from the outside and it’s near our apartment. That’s it. But I loved it!!! I couldn’t stop smiling and I walked throughout the whole place taking pictures!

It’s extremely hot for Poland temps and our friend Anna took us swimming at a lake. We had pizza after.

Yesterday we volunteered at the refugee shelter. I was measuring that had been donated which the refugees will use to make curtains and Brandon and Trinidad built a chest of drawers.

My Russian is really coming in handy! I’m so happy I started studying so intensely. I’ve been studying about 3 hours a day for the past 3 months. I still hardly know anything, I can’t even hold a conversation, but I can do little things like ask “what’s your name” and say “over here” and “over there” and ask “what’s this” or “what’s that” and I can pick up and little phrases here and there. It makes a difference.

Also, at our apartlment there’s a sign that says STRICT CURFEW from 22:00-08:00 and we were like WTF??? We’re grown adults and we’re paying a lot of money for this place. There shouldn’t be a curfew, but then the sign was translated into Russian and I read the Russian and it said QUIET 22:00-08:00. So, I think the English is just a bad translation! I was really proud of myself there.

While we were working a van full of donations arrived. It had been driven all the way from Great Britain. We helped unload and I asked the guys where they were staying for the night and they said they had booked a campsite and would sleep in the van. No. No. No. I was not having that.

Our AirBnB is huge. It’s not fancy but it’s big. I insisted they stay with us. Then they told us they were actually travelling with another two people but they had broken down a while back. No problem for us! The more the merrier! So, last night four awesome Brits stayed with us.

They’ve started their own organization to help with the war effort. They’re raising funds and collecting donations then bringing them all the way from Great Britain to Poland and into western villages of Ukraine. Here’s their website. You can donate to them and follow them. It was wonderfully inspiring to meet others so passionate and eager to help.

Don’t forget if you want to donate to any of the orgs I’ve been helping here you can send me money via Venmo @TravelTeachRead or my GoFundMe. I don’t need any personal funding. Tell me what you want me to do with the money and I’ll do it, or just trust me to spend it how I see fit. So far I’ve been splitting the funds between a shelter for refugees here and sending transports to Ukraine.

Days 3-5 in Krakow

We’re here in Krakow for the summer to help with the the war effort  and to help Ukranian refugees. I saw this protest in support of Ukraine in the big square in Old Town this evening.


We’ve had two really good breakfasts the past two days. My breakfast yesterday made me laugh. The menu said pancake tacos. What the hell is a pancake taco? I had to know so I ordered them. I LOL’d when they were brought to the table. They really do make tacos out of pancakes and they were heavenly. They take a pancake, put a piece of bacon on top, then some scrambled egs, then melted cheese, then tobasco sauce, then fold it up like a taco. 

Yesterday we stopped by Challenging Hope house, the shelter for refugees we had helped out at the other day, to see if they needed any help and they did. My daughter helped organize a classroom, I helped put away a delivery of donations, and my husband built a bunkbed. In addition my daughter and I helped deliver several table and chair sets to rooms. All in all we were there working about 7 hours yesterday.

You can donate to them through their website. You can also send money to me and I promise to give it directly to them if you ask me to. My Venmo is @TravelTeachRead and here is my GoFundMe.

They have it set up dorm style. There are anywhere from 3-10 people sharing a room. Families stay together, but other than that the people didn’t know each other before moving in. The room is about the size of a small hotel room. Of course, the room with ten people is bigger.

Food is delivered daily.

One person has an adorable Yorkie that really needs a haircut. I took a break to play with her.

We’re also working with Team Krakow who sends shipments of supplies across the border into Ukraine.

We took today off. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work in my life from animal shelters to rape crisis to adult literacy and more and I know burnout comes quick and easy if you don’t pace yourself. We’ll work 4-5 days a week and take the others off. We did a lot of walking around the city today.

I had a ridiculously touristy drink. Apple juice, Polish vodka, and cinnamon.  And if it looks huge, that’s not angling, it was huge. I was peeing all afternoon because of that damn thing.

We also found this cute coffee shop and decided coffee just isn’t Krakow’s thing. We’ve been here a week and have yet to have even one coffee we thought was any good. I’m a coffe snob, there’s no doubt, but I can slum it. I don’t even drink coffee everyday, that’s why when I do drink coffee I want it to be good coffee. We just *cannot* find a good coffee here. We’ve been to “the best” coffee places in town and the coffee is no good. So we’ve decided Krakow simply is not where you go for good coffee. That’s okay. Istanbul is not where you go for good beer either. Anway, as I was saying, we found this really cute coffee shop. It’s all set up for knitters.

Something really cool happened. My phone rang. That never happens. It was our friend Jorge! Jorge was a Couchsurfer we hosted years ago when we lived in China and we became good friends with. He lives in Prague, he read we’re in Krakow for a month and he’s coming to see us! He’ll be here on Friday! We visited him in Prague a few years ago and he’s already supposed to visit us in Almaty in a few months.

I’m so excited about that! Some of our other good friends we’ve met through traveling live here in Krakow so they’ll get to meet each other! We met them while standing in line at a national park in China. They just happened to speak English and we speak English so we started talking, and that was that, here we are 9 years later best of friends.

If anyone else is reading this: we’re in Krakow until August 18th! Come on over! We’d love to see you! But I’m going to put you to work. I’ll drag you to a shelter or a warehouse with me.

Picture of last night’s dinner an dthe kid waiting for dinner. We had baos.

And tonight’s dinner. We had Indian. Their menu was set up like no Indian menu I had ever seen before and I loved it. They had 12 different styles of sauces to choose from and they told you the ingredients of each. You picked your sauce then picked your meat. It was great! We love Indian food in my family. We eat a lot of it.

Volunteering for the War Effort in Poland

My husband, teen daughter, and I have dedicated our summer to helping out in Poland. We showed up not really knowing what we were going to do. I had tried for the past 3 months to connect with NGOs or even private citizens to see what was needed but had very little luck.

We really showed up in Krakow three days ago mostly blind. It’s been a whirlind since then! A friend of ours lives here in Krakow and he knew where a refugee shelter was so we wandered in it to ask a few questions and wound up working all day.

We were also put in touch with Team Krakow.

They are a very small group, one couple, in fact, of private citizens organizing weekly shipments over the border into Ukraine. Their driver is amazing. He is doing a very risky job. He’s driving way into Ukraine, some weeks all the way to the front lines to deliver much needed supplies to the Ukrainians remaining in country. The circled area is where he is now. The red is the front lines.

They have medical supplies, military supplies, diapers, clothing, food, and more.

All products sent are donations. They come in from all over the world and sometimes they evey have cute children’s drawings like this one to accompany them.

In order to maximize space they need to open every package, take everything out of its original box, then re-pack it into as tight a space as possible. That’s what we did yesterday. We spend our day helping out at the warehouse.


They have also facilitated evacuations of people wanting to leave Ukraine. They told us a story about how their driver brought out a 73 year olf woman and her 93 year old mother recently who had been living in a basement for the past three months.

We have decided there is plenty of work for us to do right here in Krakow for the next month so we have decided to settle here. I booked an AirBnB for a month and this is where we’ll be.

If you’d like to help, especially if you’re one of those people that’s changed your profile pic to the Ukrainian flag, well, here’s your chance. I have a GoFundMe set up or you can send money direct to my Venmo @TravelTeachRead. None of the money is for my personal use. I don’t need your money. I will give every penny of it to help where I see fit. I am here. I am on the ground.

I’ll give you an example of how money is needed: those transports? The shipments of goods to villagers in Ukraine? The gas alone costs $500 USD per trip and they’re sending a load per week. Or, the army needs Celox bandages and those are $35 a pop and one time use.

It’s not all doom and gloom and work. We have to keep our minds fit also. Here’s dinner and even ice cream after. I don’t allow sweets often so this was a big deal.


First 18 Hours in Poland

We specifically came to Poland to help with refugees and the war effort. My husband and I feel passionately that this is a very important time in history and we want to know we did what we could to help.

I’m seeing with my own eyes and I will report what is needed. I hope you’ll donate. I have a GoFundMe set up and/or you can donate to my Venmo @TravelTeachRead. I don’t need your money. I promise every penny will go to help. So far it’s bought some tools and a dolly.

Before we had even been on the ground five hours we were already meeting with a private transport group. This is a seriously dedicated small group of people that’s taking supplies over the border into Ukraine and all the way to the frontlines of the fighting.

What do they need most?  Celox! Hemostatics! Powders and bandages. This is it! This is how you can help. Go to Amazon and buy Celox Rapid Ribbon and send it this way. Or if you’re not the Amazon type you can get something almost as good at your neighborhood Walmart. This is what you’re looking for:

We met with the couple for about three hours talking all about what they’ve been doing and how we can help them. They get as many donations as they can from anywhere and everywhere, unpack them from how they were shipped, re-arrange them into new boxes so everything can fit better, cram as many supplies as they can into a truck, and then off the driver goes.

We arranged to meet them at their warehouse in two days to help pack the next load.

The next morning, this morning, we woke up, had a nice breakfast at Gossip Cafe, then thought we’d walk over to a shelter for refugees we had been put in touch with.

When we walked in and didn’t really know what to say or ask but said we wanted to volunteer and OMG they put us to work! We were not dressed for it and hadn’t really planned to stay at that moment, but instead we stayed 6 hours. There is so much to do! My husband built a cabinet. My teen daughter entertained children by calling bingo numbers and I went to the hardware store to buy some tools.

The refugees do have their basic needs met. They have food and a bed to sleep in, but there are many more needs. I could still be there working now. They need a lot.

We noticed they were hauling furniture up four flights of stairs with no dolly and my husband suggested I go buy one. That turned into a bit of a fiasco, it turns out they’re not so easy to find here in Krakow, but I found one at a supply warehouse online and it will be delivered in two days! I got this one. It’s especially made for use on stairs.

Apparently there are five shelters for refugees in Krakow alone. I plan to visit all five of them. I will give updates.




Day Four in Istanbul

Day four was more of a chill out day for us. We had been going hard for three days in a row. We had already seen everything on our must see list and more and our list had been pretty long from the beginning. We’re history teachers and we’re in Istanbul. We decided to mostly relax for the day. It’s a holiday. We knew most places would be closed. I wanted to explore the empty streets to get photos. The husband had some other stuff he wanted to do. We split up for most of the day.

Today is the Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha and I was trying to ask the guy at the front desk of our hotel about any local traditions for the holiday but his English is poor and my Turkish is nonexistent so he didn’t understand what I was trying to ask. He thought I was trying to ask for suggestions of places to see in Istanbul. He kept saying you should go here and I would respond already been there, then he’d say you should go here, and I’d say already been there, then he’d say oh! you should go here! and I’d say already seen it. Then he asked how long have you been here???? And I said three days.

His eyes got really wide and he said THREE DAYS????? You’ve seen everything!!! You’ve seen more of Istanbul than me! And I’ve lived here ten years. He said most tourists come here, take one picture of the Hagia Sophia, spend the rest of the time shopping and drinking, then leave.

Yeah. That ain’t me.

But today was for chillin’.

The streets were mostly empty. When we were traveling in Uzbekistan at this time last year there were goats tied up outside almost every door just waiting to be slaughtered for the evening celebrations. I didn’t see any of that here. I’m assuming Istanbul must have ordinances against that type of thing. We have to protect the eyes of the precious tourists.

I saw these two buidlings with signs over their doors stating their opeing dates from the 1600’s!


So what’s this holiday all about anyway? I’m glad you asked. I love teaching religion, it is my favorite topic of study after all. This one’s a three-fer! The story is in all three Abrahamic religions but only one considers it a holiday and it’s the most major holiday at that. There are two official holidays in Islam Eid al Adha, this one, and Eid al Fitr. Non-Muslims tend to think the other Eid is the bigger holiday but they’ve got it the wrong way around. Eid al Adha is the HUGE holiday and Eid al Fitr is the smaller one. The reason they think that is because well, first, they can’t be bothered to take the time to ask or look it up and because Eid al Fitr is the celebration to end Ramadan they just assume it’s the biggest holiday of the year because they know close to nothing about Islam only that Ramadan is a thing and there’s a holiday after Ramadan so that must be the biggest holiday, right?

So, let’s move on the the true big holiday of Islam: Eid al Adha. It’s the celebration of the day Abraham almost killed his kid! Because everyone knows that’s totally a reason we should have a family celebration. So in case you don’t remember/never learned the weird ass religious story of Abraham and Isaac here’s your refresher: So the story goes approximately 4,000 years ago there lived a very devout man named Abraham. He had a son named Isaac. One day Abraham’s god told him to kill his son as a sacrifice to him, and instead of what any good father should say which is fuck you! No way! Abraham said totally yeah okay I’ll murder my kid. So he took his kid up to the ceremonial mountain and right before he was about to kill his own child a magical angel stops him and is like LOL! Just kidding!!!! ha ha ha! God  was kidding! You don’t really have to kill your kid! It was all a test. He just wanted to see if you’d really do it. But you really do have to kill a goat. Now kill a goat for your god. Kill a goat Abraham. Do it.

So this is supposed to be some kind of motivational story about faith or something. Bizarre. I mean what kind of a dick must this god be? When I look at my daughter and think about anyone suggesting I kill her even as a prank I simply get engraged. There’s no way in hell I’d kill my daughter and for anyone to suggest it is fucked up. And for someone to suggest it as.. what??? A joke? A dare? A prank? A test? I just wanted to see if you’d really do it or not? I wasn’t really gonna make you kill your daughter. That’s fucked up. It’s sick. What kind of god takes pleasure in convincing a man to almost murder his own child?

Not even when she’s rolling her eyes at me

Yeah. Well. This is a cute motivational scripture story about potential child murder for two of the Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Judaism, that’s supposed to I dunno… I guess…inspire one to love their god more or something…and the Reason for the Season for the third of the religion’s biggest holiday of the year.

I am absolutely fascinated by the study of religion. Truly, I am, but how anyone can still believe this stuff in the modern age is almost beyond my comprehension.

To celebrate Eid al Adha there is much candy eaten, lots of gift giving to children, money given to women, and  the slaughtering of many goats. Many, many goats are slaughtered. In some regions if the world it’s tradition to dip your hands in the goat’s blood and then put your handprint on the outside of your house as a symbol of good luck for the following year. Did I mention all the slaughtered goats? There’s a lot of meat eaten on this holiday and Islamic law states the fortunate must share with the needy on Eid al Adha.

Oh! And while we’re on the topic that phrase Eid Mubarrak you hear a lot? It means something like Happy Holidays! Happy Eid! You can say it to your Muslim friends. I bet they tell you Merry Christmas and don’t worry about it. You can try to bend a little for them too. I promise no thunderbolts will strike you down for saying Eid Mubarrak.

While walking around taking pictures of the empty streets I ran into the same guy three times and he kept trying to talk to me. The last time he said “I am not danger.” Here’s a little lesson for those of you less traveled: if someone feels the need to introduce themselves as “not danger” it’s probably best to stay away from them. I know I made a big deal in my last post about how much I despise teaching Stranger Danger! and I encourage my child to talk to strangers but there’s a big difference in talking to random strangers in the coffee shop and talking to the random guy you’re pretty sure is following you on the empty streets of the city. Yeah. Don’t be dumb. Don’t do that. If someone introduces themselves as “I am not danger” walk the other way.

I had a salad in a restaurant that looked nice for lunch.

I ran into a guy for a second time who liked chatting with me about my tattoos. I have lots of them and they’re not very common in Turkiye. He has vicious scarring all over his right hand. If I had to guess I’d say a grease fire, but I ddin’t ask. He told me he plans to get the scarring covered with tattoos. I asked him when he’s going to do it then he told me he plans to try to make it to Italy but if they catch him on the way they’ll send him back to Afghanistan and in Afghanistan they’ll chop his hand off if he has tattoos on it so he has to wait until he’s safely in Italy to do it. I wished him luck and he was on his way. This was one of those cool stories about talking to strangers. Well…maybe not cool… but what a different world I live in. Here I am a woman, in a tank top, covered in tattoos, talking to a man that’s not my family, while on vacation in a foreign country about how he’s about to to illegally migrate to Italy and he can’t get his scars covered because if he does when he’s deported to Afghanistan they’ll chop his hand off. I love traveling.

In the evening we went for a stroll and found a hidden rooftop bar. If they were to bill it as a speakeasy it would probably become really popular since it’s nearly impossible to find, but as it is I’m not sure how well it will survive. The views were nice though and the manager was from Cameroon so he was thrilled to meet a couple who had lived in Benin recently.

Day 5: FOOD POISONING. I woke up feeling nausueous during the night of Day 4. Then the diarrhea and vomitting began. I didn’t get out of bed except to run to the toilet for 24+ hours.

It wasn’t as bad as I’ve had in the past. There was the time in Chiapas, Mexico when I literally slept on the bathroom floor in our hostel for a week. Then, of course, we lived in China for three years where I had to carry charcoal pills with me at all times. I had food poisoning there about every other week.

I’m actually typing this on day 6 and feeling 95% recovered. I’m sure it was the salad. Never eat healthy while on vacation. Lesson learned.

Istanbul Day Three- the Walls of Constantinople and More


We woke up to the news of Shinzo Abe being shot dead. First the Georgia Guidestones were blown up yesterday then Abe was assassinated with a homemade gun today. The gods are really trying to put a damper on this news junky’s vacation. I refuse to be deterred. I will continue to enjoy Istanbul.

We started the morning as always with breakfast.

Then it was time to hit the road! We went walking along the beach for about an hour looking at ruins and taking photos along the way.

Our first major stop was this big column signifying the defeat of the Goths! This is the oldest known monument from the Roman era still surviving intact.

Then we went to the Aqueduct of Valens. Human engineering never ceases to amaze me! These aqueducts were begun in th early 300’s and completed during the reign of emperor Valens. Valens was the emperor killed at the Battle of Adrianople. He wasn’t a big fan of religious bickering and he wanted the Nicene Christians and all the other types of Christians to just get along. What the heck does that mean?

You probably don’t even know you’re a Nicene Christian.  I find many religious people know little about what they claim to believe. Here, let me help you. Are you Christian? Do you believe in the Holy Trinity? All that 3 in 1 stuff? Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one? Okay well that’s Nicene Christianity and it definitely was not the only type of Chritianity way back then, it just happened to become the popular belief system like how a particular style of music becomes popular or a style of clothing becomes popular and it’s pretty much the only fashionable one today. Very few Christian sects are nontrinitarian today. Back then though, it was just another sect and they would all bicker and fight all the time. Emperor Valen hated it and wanted everyone to get along.

Next we went to the Church of Saint Mary of the Mongols. It’s the only remaining Eastern Orthodox church in Istanbul that has never been converted into a mosque and it’s been a continuous church since the 7th century! It’s not open to the public and it’s got big walls around it so this is the best you get. We knew we weren’t going to get to see it but we wanted to go anyway. Don’t be fooled by the huge brick building in the distance, that’s a university. The only part of the church you can see is the little steeple.

All her life I have encouraged my daughter to talk to strangers. I detest the idea of Stranger Danger! Talking to strangers is how you make the best friends. Once, in London, I struck up a random conversation with a stranger in a coffee shop and it turned out she was a security guard at Tate Modern Art Museum and she offered us free friends and family passes to the special exhibits for the day. I mention this because talking to strangers worked out for us again today.

A guy on the street asked us where we were from and instead of blowing him off and walking on we stopped to chat. It turned out he he’s  American, and a high level priest in the  Eastern Orthodox Church! He was recently transferred here from his parish in the States and now has an office job working for the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople!  He told us the history of the area and about some other places we might want to see.

We were standing directly in front of the old nunnery. We wouldn’t have known that. 

We walked over to the Patriarch to see it next. This is basically the Vatican of the Eastern Orthodox Church. They’d probably get mad at me for saying it like that ya know…schism and all… but I’m trying to speak in laymen’s terms.

Some scenes from the Greek part of town. This is definitely the “cooler” “hipper” part of town. Or at least trying to be. There were far fewer people annoying us on the sidewalk to try to get us to come in their cafe and there were far more people who looked as if they had smoked one too many doobies over the years. I recommend getting a room in this part of town 🙂

Next we walked to the Bulgarian St. Stephen’s Church. It’s famous only because the whole thing is made of steel. Here you can see the screws holding it together.

A funny thing happened inside. The man cleaning the floors stopped me to ask me if my grandfather was Irish. I mean, I don’t speak Turkish but I’m pretty sure that’s what he asked me. It’s what it sounded like. All my life I’ve been reminded of how Irish I look. Random people will just stop me on the street and say “You’re Irish” or ask “Are you Irish?” or when we were actually in Ireland a few years ago people kept asking me directions. My ancestry really is Irish but this is a thing that really, really happens to me a *lot* and some random guy cleaning the floors in the Bulgarian Iron Church of Istanbul was so curious be stopped me to ask me if I was Irish.

Next we went to a famous Eastern Orthodox Monastery with a famous fountain where some famous song was written but honestly I got distracted by this cat. So, this is what you get.

After that monastery we were off to another one! This one was really cool though. The floor was lined with old gravestones. It also had a magical fountain at it. Erected by, get this, Emperor Justinian in the year 559 CE!!!!

The story goes he was out hunting and saw some old ladies standing around a well. He asked hey..whazzup? They said it was miraculous healing water and he ordered a beauticul church to be built on the spot from the left over materials from the Hagia Sophia.

The building I saw is not the original building, several have been destroyed and rebuilt over the years, but the natural spring is still there and there’s still a church  and active monastery in the location.

Okay. Now we were off to see the Walls of Constantinople. We sat and had Turkish coffee right by the walls that protected Byzantium from invaders all the way up until 1453.

We tried to go to Mehmed II’s dungeon fortress turned museum but it’s closed for the holiday 🙁 I’ll talk about the holiday tomorrow. So we had another coffee.

Our day was finally closing and we chose to take a taxi home seeing as we had reached nearly 20,000 steps, it was hot, and we were tired. And this hearse was in front of us for some of the way.

And dinner. Tastes just like anyone’s grandma’s stew from anywhere aroudn the world. It’s one of the things I love so much about traveling: seeing how little different we are and how much we’re really the same.





Istanbul Day Two- Hagia Sophia and More

We woke up and had breakfast then went straight to stand in line at the Hagia Sophia. It was a good idea. By the time we had been there 20 minutes the line was crazy long. They open the door to the public at 10AM, I highly recommend you get there by 9AM and wait. It’s worth it. We stood outside for 2.5 hours waiting to get in Auschwitz a few years ago, waiting an hour for the Hagia Sophia was nothing. It’s worth it to be on of the first people in the building and get pictures with fewer people.

Here’s the video I’ll use to embarrass my kid when she’s an adult.


I tried to get as many pictures of crosses as I could. They have the murals of Mary holding the baby Jesus and mural of Joseph covered up with sheets but I at least took pics of that.

There’s a big sign at the front doors talking about the  conquering of Constantinople in 1453 and the conversion of the cathedral into a mosque.

I’m no religious person. I wish it was still a museum, there were cats running around inside,  and I could have gone upstairs to see the rune graffitti, but as a history teacher it was really cool to see this place!

Next, we went to the Sultan’s Palace. We didn’t realize how big the place was. If you like history plan to spend several hours there. We arrived around 11:30 and didn’t leave until close to 16:00.

They’ve turned the property into several museums. We learned about the history of coffee in Turkiye, we saw the history of weapons in Turkiye, we saw the kitchens, we learned that the kitchen had it’s own not one but two prayer rooms, we saw the harem, we saw that the harem had its own elite group of African eunichs brought in from Central Africa, we saw beautiful gardens, a huge library, beautiful views of the sea, and more.

Oh! And I saw two men very obviously check out my husband. I only mention that since in my last post I mentioned a guy giving me his number.

After that we went to a rooftop Indian restaurant. I was a bit disappointed. We asked for spicy. We even explained we had lived in China for three years, we knew what real spicy food was, and we wanted our food spicy. My food was as sweet as candy. It was tasty. My mom probably would have liked it. I ate it. But… it wasn’t what I wanted. The views were gorgeous though and the restuarant sits overlooking the Stone of Million, the Byzantine zero mile marker.

Next we went to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum and it was really cool! They have an entire section dedicated to sarcophaguses! I have been fascinated with cemeteries all my life and spent many a hour strolling through them, picnicking, and taking photos. I like to read the inscriptions to see what people had to say. One of my favorite cemeteries is one I visited in Las Vegas.

The museum had the tombstones translated. Some of them were adorable and some of them were tragic. One was for a beloved pet dog! I also saw some absolutely gorgeous gold jewelry shaped in teh face of dogs in the museum, proving we humans have loved our dogs for a long, long time.

It was about the time I was looking at ancient Roman coins when a friend in the States sent me a message telling me the Georgia Guidestones had been destroyed. Domestic terrorism is becoming a bigger and bigger threat in the US. I have no doubt whatsoever this was the work of some right wing terrorist nutjob. The Guidestones have always been a topic in conspiracy groups, but as of late they have been making the rounds again and then! Bam! Someone blows them up.

I’m glad my husband and I have always been fans of off the beaten path tourist attractions. The Georgia Guidestones were one of our first day trips together wayyyyy back when we first met.

Funny sidenote, I showed the picture to my teen daughter and she asked who are those people in front of the stones? I said that’s your mom and dad! She has no memory of her dad with longer hair, he shaves it now and has for years, or me without several tattoos. I had to zoom in really close so she coudl see our faces and she said “Oh yeah, you guys look cute”.

After the archaeology museum the kid was dying for a shower and we had just enough time to get back to the hotel for that before needing to be at our next destination. If you know anything about us you know we’re not normally the type of tourists that go for preplanned tours or big shows. We travel all summer every summer and avoid all that canned BS but one particular theater looked appealing. The husband said we should go see their shows so we bough tickets.  I’m so glad we did.

We saw Sufi whirling dervishes and a dance show. There were no cameras allowed for the dervishes, also no clapping. They told us it was because this was a religious ceremony and cameras and clapping would be inappropriate. I was wondering the whole time if I was really watching true Sufis or if these were just performers. Either way it was neat.

I’ve read quite a bit about whirling dervishes in the past. I know they get themselves high as fuck with all the spinning they do. I guess maybe if someone started as “just an actor” they’re probably  thinking they’re one with god after doing that night after night. It was really cool to watch. I didn’t realize they would spin for so long.

They also had live musicians. They were all good but the two vocalists were amazing. I could listen to them sing all night. My husband and I had a conversation about how easy it is to understand how the Sufis are seen as a cult in Islam. It was all very New Age like one with everything blah blah blah… and one could easily fall into a trancelike state listening to the music. Okay. I’ll stop going on about how cool it was.

Oh wait. When it was all over I saw two of five of the spinning men kiss their robes before putting them back on over their fancy spinning white clothes. I’m going with those two are true believers and the other three are paid actors/dancers. It was cool either way.

After the spinning guys there was a dance performance. My favorite was the Dark Sufi. That’s what I’m calling him. I have no idea what his real name is. oh. my. god. It was amazing. To be honest dance has never been my favorite artform, but I loved this. Besides the fact that the actual dancer humself was super sexy, everything about the choreography was amazing.

I’m sure the juxtapositioning of we had just seen the “pure” Sufis whirl and now we were seeing this guy dressed in all black do it had a great effect on my mind. That’s the whole point, right? But it was more. They way he moved his body. His jerks. Everything about the whirling dervishes was gentle, smooth, and sweet, they made light flowing transitions, while this guy was up there writhing and jolting and spinning with intensity in the stage. His passion screamed to me.


Now it’s almost ten o’clock at night. We had left the hotel at 8:45AM and had been going non-stop all day. But who’s hungry and grumpy? My teen daughter. So we stopped for dinner.

We got back to the hotel at close to eleven and went straight to bed.




Istanbul Day One

The internet service is so poor in my hotel here in Istanbul this post has taken me a total of 6 hours to make. I keep getting kicked offline and then the pics won’t upload. Anyway, I’m trying. This is 3 days old now.

We arrived late in the afternoon and were tired. We didn’t do much. We took a short walk around town where a candy vendor gave me his number. It’s nice to know I still got it at 44 but kinda weird when I was in the shop with my husband. We had a good laugh about it. Well, I think we did. I did.


Then we ate dinner at the place where the guy didn’t harrass us and beg us to in and sit down. Turkiye is my 48th country to visit. I have two major pet peeves when traveling: taxi drivers harassing me at the airport/train station/bus station and restaurant workers harassing me on the sidewalk. Coming up to me and annoying me while I’m walking by is a sure way to lose my busisness.  He was going to let us walk right on by in peace, so we walked in and sat down. It was delicious. I had Iskander.

After, the husband had to buy his yearly straw hat. He had become so attached to last year’s hat I was terrified he was going to bring it with him so before leaving for this trip I dug it out of the closet and threw it in the trash. Those things are not made for two years in a row of the kind fo traveling we do.

That was it. It was bed time.

This morning! I cannot believe I forgot to bring head coverings with me for my daughter and I but I did. I didn’t want to get ripped off by the tourist vendors on the street so we found an LC Waikiki, similar to Ross Dress for Less, and went to the second floor, LCW Modest, the floor for Muslim women (or my grandma) and bought a couple cheap ones there.

We headed to the Hagia Sophia, but as I feared the line was really long. We decided to do what we did for Machu Picchu and line up early tomorrow so we’re some of the only people there. We began the hike up the mountain in Peru about a decade ago at 4:30 in the morning so we could be up there right at the sunrise. There was almost no one there. It was awesome.

We did go see the Blue Mosque. It was beautiful. It’s recently been under construction and a lot of the rafting is still in place which took away a bit from the beauty, but it was still nice. We spent last summer traveling Uzbekistan and this was close in its level of beauty.

One thing that struck me outside was all the proselytizing. There was a lot of it. I felt like I was back in the American South all but instead of covert to Christianity now! Praise Jesus! It was convert to Islam now! Praise the Prophet! In all my worldly travels I’ve haven’t encountered much Islamic proselytizing. It’s here outside the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque.

We saw the Hippodrome of Constantinople!!! First built by Septimius Severus in the 3rd century CE then made bigger and fancier by Constantine I in the next century. It was used for charriot racing. It was also used for such things as public executions. If you know anything about me you know I’m interested in the macabre parts of history so I was happy to stand on the ground. It didn’t go out of fashion until the Fourth Crusade.

Time out- history lesson- the Fourth Crusade is the most embarrassing one for the Roman (Catholic) Christian Church. Let me tell you why. The Muslims were invading Christian, Byzantine, Eastern Roman, land and those Christians asked for help from the Western Roman (Catholic) Christians. The Western pope called for a crusade, he send Western Christians to help Eastern Christians fight off the Muslims. But instead…. What happened was….

In the west people were really poor, rememeber… Fall of the Roman Empire and all that stuff you learned long, long ago? Well they were poor, living in huts, wearing rags, and they got to Constantinople which was rich, rich, rich, and the Western Christians ransacked Eastern Christian churches!!! They also raped and pillaged their way all through Constantinople.

So, Western Christians were sent to help their Eastern Christian brothers and sisters fight off the Muslims but instead they ransacked, raped, and pillaged Contantinople.

There’s far more to it than that, but that’s your middle school version of the Fourth Crusade in case you’ve forgotten it.

Back to my day in Istanbul.

We saw signs for a mosaic museum. I like mosiacs. I said let’s go there and wow am I glad I did! It was 60 lira for entrance to an amazing museum with ancient Roman mosiacs. I could have stayed there for hours but I have a great picture of my teen daughter doing what she does best: looking bored all around the world. I really do hope she grows to appreciate all the places she’s been one day.

After the mosiac museum we had lunch at a sidewalk cafe. Nothing special. I just had a salad.

Next we went to a cistern we had read about that was in the basement of Nakkas Rugs, a carpet shop. We were afraid it would just be a tourist trap but it wasn’t so bad. As we were beginning to walk down to see the cistern my eyes began to water terribly so I had to back out. I have terrible allergies. Not sure what it was but something bothered me. The same thing happened to me at the bug pit in Uzbekistan last year.

While my husband and daughter were seeing the cistern a guy who worked at the shop began talking to me. I told him we were teachers and instantly everything about him changed. He told me all about Ataturk and how he taught the Turkish people there is no more valuable profession than a teacher and all teachers should be respected. When I told him I teach about Ataturk in my classes he got a big smile on his face.

When my husband and daughter returned my husband noticed a small figurine of a rottweiler in a case and pointed it out to me. I love rottweilers. They’re the best breed of dog on Earth. the guy said you like rottweilers! You must come upstairs and see something! Don’t worry, you don’t have to buy it. We went upstairs and what did they have hanging on the wall but an absolutely gorgeous silk rug of a rottweiler. I almost teared up. I’m sure that rug is $3,000 or more. I can’t afford it, but if I could I’d buy it.

Before we left he told us they had a rooftop patio with beautiful views and we were welcome to go up there. He even sent us Turkish coffee. No pressure at all. He didn’t even follow us. We just sat on the patio, enjoyed the view, drank or coffee, relaxed, and took some photos.

Now we took the elevator down and thought we were really leaving when a guy asked us to walk through the jewelry store on our way out. I almost laughed out loud and I said I’m sorry, I know I can’t afford anything in there, we were just leaving. He said it’s okay, you can have a look. Oh what the heck. We went in. And I’m so glad we did!

He asked me about my necklace. Why was I wearing it? What did it mean? Since buying this necklace back in December I have worn it many, many times and not one person has ever asked me about it. My husband, this Turkish jeweler, and myself ended up having a fantastic conversation about world politics! While I do teach about the French revolution in my world history class and wear this necklace when I do, it means far more to me.

We talked all about corruption, and taxes, and fascists, and I think we’d make great friends!

But I was right about the jewelry. One piece I liked was $1300 USD and one was $1600. That’s a bit out of my teacher’s budget. My guillotine necklace cost me less than $20 with shipping.

Next we went to another cistern which was a ripoff. I don’t recommend it. It was more expensive than the mosiac museum with nothing really to see. I very seldom discourage people to see history, only when I feel it’s a tourist trap rip-off. That’s what this is. When you can see others just as cool for less or even free why pay so much? It’s a trap! If you really must see it, then here are my pics. It’s pretty inside but not worth the entrance fee.

Last thing place of the day: Islamic Museum of the History of Science. The most interesting I learned was about the Javanese map. An Islamic map from the 15th century showing the Americas, specifically the Brazillian coast. I have a picture of it but I’ve been waiting forever for it to upload and we’re ready to go out exploring for the day and I give up. If you’re interested in seeing it you can write me and ask.

The museum was mostly reproductions of all the amazing scientific and mathematical advancements from the Islamic world over the ages. They had astrolabes galore and they had two big sections dedicated to Ulugh Beg and we saw his observatory in Samarkand last year!


Adventures in Aktau

I know the formatting on this entry is terrible. The internet connetion at our hotel is awful. This is the best I can do for now. 

Stop one of our 2022 summer advertures was Aktau, Kazakhstan. We flew Scat Airlines to get here and their name was befitting. There were drunks puking in the bathroom and vaping on the plane. It’s all part of the adventure though right?

We stayed in the Renassaince Hotel in town. It’s the older part of town. All the newer development has moved to a different area but we wouldn’t have known that while booking. The service was so-so but we weren’t expecting much since we cut our summer travels two weeks short two weeks due to how awful customer service was in western Kazakhstan last year, and we weren’t anywhere near this far west.

We were only here two days. Yesterday and today, tomorrow we leave for Istanbul bright and early. I’ll tell you about yesterday last. First, today!

We went on a private tour to see the Valley of Balls. I’ve been dying to see this place since before even moving to Kazakhstan. I was really bummed when we cut our trip short last year, but it was a mutual decision. This year we flew directly here. A 3 hour flight was much more tolerable than a 50+ hour drive with the ever looming fear of running out of gas.

What’s the Valley of Balls? Good question. It’s a valley full of huge ball shaped rocks. No one is sure what caused them. I’ve read several different geology websites about them and no one knows the answer. Here are some of my pictures.

They ranged in all sizes from tiny to gigantic

There are even still shells proving this used to be the bottom of the ocean. They were all over the place up there.

Along the way we stopped to see some other cool things too. We saw an old Mosque complete with a caravanserai for traveling visitors. Apparently it used to be strictly off limits to tourists but some famous imam from some holy place came to visit and inscribed on the wall it was no longer haram for vistitors to come there.

Honestly, the most interesting part to my about this place was one the tradtions our tour guide told us about. He said the Muslims in this region have a tradition where the burn the fat of a goat outside the door of the mosque then before they go in the mosque they “rub the fire” on their bodies and it cleanses their minds.

The tradition predates Islam and you see religious syncreticism from the traditional Tengri religion, maybe even mixed in with some Zoroastrianism which I know was practiced in the region. On an interesitng note, we learned in our travels through Uzbekistan last year no one likes talking about Zoroastrianism. It’s dare I say taboo? We were very interested in its history in the region and tried to engage many people in conversation about it last year but every one clammed up immediately. But, our tour guide had no problem mentioning the connection to Tengri traditions. Here’s a little academic page I found with some extra information.

There was a caravanseria outside the mosque for pilgrims.