The new snow day?

I woke up a few minutes early on Wednesday morning so that I would have time to wash my hair before school. I turned off the alarm on my phone and the first thing I saw was a text message from my ride to school saying, “I don’t think you are coming to school today as per the director’s email?” I clicked over to my school email and saw the director’s email sent at 11:40 p.m. the night before with the subject line: “URGENT COVID-19 Update.” One teacher in the middle school who works with students in multiple grades had tested positive for Covid and therefore the whole middle school would move to online learning for the next week “out of an abundance of caution.” There would be no classes on Wednesday so teachers could get ready to make the switch.

No school today? It felt like getting that call on a winter’s day that there would be no school due to snow.

It was 6 a.m. and there was no further information, so I went back to bed for two hours. haha. I know that most teachers probably jumped up and got to work, minds racing, but I’m a good sleeper. What can I say?

By the time I got up and finally washed my hair, a team leader meeting had been scheduled for 10 a.m. I had time to run out and grab a coffee before the meeting. We had an hour-long meeting with the team leaders followed by an hour-long meeting with the full MS faculty (both on Zoom, of course) before using the rest of the day to prepare for online learning the next day.

I ate the lunch that I had packed for school, and then started getting my lessons ready to go online. We did distance learning for 13 weeks in the spring, so it was mostly a matter of getting set up. I don’t think any of us expected a closure so soon, so we hadn’t had a chance to really prepare the students (or ourselves) in advance.

After two days of teaching from home, the positives and negatives of distance learning quickly came back to me.

Positives: No commute means I can sleep in and mornings are much more relaxed. I love being able to go to my kitchen to cook or heat up some lunch. Not having to get all of that ready the night before makes the evenings feel so much more relaxed as well. Normally, I get home, make dinner, pack a lunch, and hope to finish a few things around the house and still have time to watch a show before bed. Teaching from home, I just close my laptop and there is so much more time, not only because I don’t have a commute but also because I don’t have to prepare so much for the next day. These last few days I found time to exercise for the first time since we started back at school!

Negatives: Zoom fatigue is REAL and it doesn’t take long at all to set in! The first three classes of the day and I was already getting a headache from looking at my computer screen. But it’s not only classes that are online: every meeting and co-planning session are on Zoom too (and that’s not to mention that grading becomes an online task as well!). And I think it goes without saying that it is so much harder teaching students online. It’s harder to tell if they are engaged, harder to give them opportunities to collaborate with each other, harder to immediately see if they need support.

While it was kind of exciting to get that “snow day” message on Wednesday morning and kind of fun to change things up for a week, I feel a little less overwhelmed knowing that this isn’t the start of distance learning for the rest of the year. It sure seems like this is going to be part of our new normal for the rest of the year though. At a moment’s notice we will be expected to switch from one teaching format to the next. I’m sure that as we are now better prepared, we won’t be given full days off with no classes to get prepared. I’m hoping that if we do go to full distance learning in the future that we will have some sort of rotation schedule where we have a day teaching online and then a day for offline work. As a school, we are still working on what that will look like. Hopefully we figure it out sooner rather than later because the numbers in Hungary continue to rise well beyond anything we saw in the spring.

Two weeks in

Two weeks of the 2020-2021 school year are in the books and our school’s Covid response is constantly changing and evolving. We started the school year with masks required in common spaces, but once students (or teachers) were in a room and settled at their desks, it was ok to remove the masks. If a teacher required a mask in their classroom (for any reason) that was ok too. I personally opted for masks on in the classroom because I have a really small room and wasn’t able to space out my desks to a comfortable distance.

By the end of the first week, cases in Hungary were on the rise. We went from new daily cases in the single digits or teens over the summer to cases in the hundreds by the end of the first week of school. “Out of an abundance of caution,” it was decided that we would all wear masks all of the time at school when indoors. When possible, some teachers would take their classes outside for a mask break or to teach a lesson outdoors (the weather has been lovely lately!). We also heard from the government that all schools would not be shutting down like they did in spring but may on a school-by-school basis if necessary. At an all-school meeting, we got some clarity about this idea that we will be living with this for a while, so the goal is really to do whatever possible to safely keep school open as long and as much as possible. This gave me a new way of thinking about seeing the daily case numbers. As the new daily cases in Hungary continued to rise well about our peak in April (210) to the 200’s, 300’s, and 400’s of new cases per day, the question isn’t how high do the numbers have to get before we close campus again, but what can we do to say open, and when does our school specifically need to close.

At the end of the day Friday (at the end of our second week of school), we got our first known case of Covid in our immediate school community, a ninth grader. We were immediately informed that grade nine students would be learning from home next week (as a precaution) and that grade nine teachers would get a Covid test over the weekend.

So far it feels like we are doing everything right to keep our students and teachers safe. We’ll start week three on Monday with masks on, no ninth grade teachers or students in the building, and the question in the back of our heads of whether our grade level might be next.

Today was the first day back to work for teachers. We haven’t all been on campus together since March 13th. I didn’t have that surreal feeling that so many other teachers have had of returning to my room to find it just the way I left it on a Friday afternoon in spring not knowing that I wouldn’t return on Monday since I’ve been up to campus to do various errands during the summer. It was, however, both wonderful and strange to be back together face-to-face with all of our colleagues. The sentiment throughout the day was how lucky we are to be able to start our school year together on campus with our students. We also celebrated the fact that all of our teachers (both returning and new) were able to make it into Hungary as we know that has not been the case for many schools around the world. We have a few teachers still working from home as they finish up their mandatory quarantine, but all of us will be ready to welcome our students into our classrooms on August 25th.

While we celebrate our good fortune now, we know that this situation may not (probably won’t?) last for the duration of the school year. Without sharing our full plans for our COVID response (which is still being finalized and isn’t ready to share yet), we are currently in a “Phase 2” with Phase 1 being a pre-Covid world and Phase 5 being full distance learning for staff and students. I feel fortunate to be working at a school that has a plan in place that is safe for students and staff and that is flexible in case we need to change things along the way. One of the benefits of working at an international school abroad has always been the independence to do what we think is right for students and our school community without having to get tangled up in district, state, or federal bureaucracy.

Here’s hoping for a great 2020-2021 school year, whatever may come.

When I first started at my new school in Budapest in 2014, I remember meeting the teacher across the hall from me who was starting her seventh year and I thought that was incredible. Seven years at the same school! In the international school world, teachers tend to move on much more quickly than that, and staying as little as two to three years is very common.

Well, time flies, and here I am starting my seventh year in Budapest. I always say that I’m willing to try living just about anywhere for two years (the general initial contract for international schools), and I can always move on if I don’t like it. I never would have thought I’d land in a place for so long. Indeed my third year, I started thinking that maybe I’d do a “soft search” and if my dream job in a dream location came up, I’d snap it up before I had a chance to worry about having any big regrets about leaving. But then by the time job search time came in the fall, I knew I couldn’t leave. I think I had this “plan” of the soft search for two or three years before I finally gave in and admitted I wasn’t going anywhere. Now I’ve committed to a new apartment (my third in Budapest) for two years, so it looks like year eight will be happening as well.

And so, in less than a week, year seven begins (for teachers anyway). We’ve been extremely lucky here in Hungary that our Covid-19 numbers have been very low (only 1-25 cases per day since the end of May), so we are able to open our school relatively normally (temperature checks at the door, but no masks or social distancing). I believe all of our new teachers have arrived as well (including our new school director!). Who knows how the year will play out and whether we will have to go to distance learning again (we did 13 weeks in the spring), but my 16th year teaching is sure to be an interesting one either way.

This week I bring you Sarah who left my school last year after nine years in Budapest to move with her family to Lima. It was so fun to interview her and get a glimpse into her new life in Peru. She is definitely missed here in Budapest!

Where are you now and what are you currently teaching?

We live in Lima, Peru. I’m here with my family: My husband is the Middle School principal at our school and my two daughters are in grades 8 and 10.

My current job is “Research Skills and Technology Integration Teacher” but next year I’ll be the Director of Library Services. I’m a long-time middle school English teacher and most recently a librarian. I love my current position which gives me lots of flexibility to work with teachers in planning research tasks, but I’m also looking forward to being back with the books in the library next year.

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Student club “Sign-Up Day” on the quad at Colegio Roosevelt in Peru

Is this your first international post or is this one in a string of many international posts for you?

This is the fourth place I have lived with my family. My husband and I started in Beirut, then moved to San Salvador, El Salvador, and then to Budapest.

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Aphrodites Rock, Cyprus

What made you decide to teach internationally?

When we were first married, we went to a party and met a couple who were living in Jordan. They had lived in Rio de Janiero and had a summer house in Vermont. Their life sounded so exotic – we wanted to give it a try. As teachers, being able to travel extensively wasn’t something we thought was within our reach.

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Our house in El Salvador, on the property of our school, Escuela Americana

What’s challenging about teaching at a new school in a new country?

We just moved to Lima a few months ago, so this is fresh for me. One of the things I have found tricky at each new school is how little people seem to ask me about my previous “home.” Also, each school has its own culture, so I try not to refer back to how things worked in the last school and keep it positive and focused on learning how things work (for better or worse!) at the new school.

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Our apartment in Lima this Christmas

How is teaching internationally different from teaching in your home country?

It’s been so long since I have taught in the US, I can’t comment on this with any authority. I will just say that one of the things I love about the international schools is that we are all together teaching each other’s children, watching them grow and learn, and doing things socially all together.

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With my elementary kiddos in the library in Budapest

What’s it like living in Lima? What’s your favorite thing about being an expat there? What is challenging?

Lima isn’t an easy city because it doesn’t have good public transportation and we got very used to that in Budapest. Also, the traffic is pretty terrible. But, it does have cheap taxis, so it’s easy to get around that way. There’s a ton to do and the restaurant culture here is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. Food is like a religion here. There are lots of very expensive places and also tons of mid-range and cheap places, and they are all equally delicious. The expensive ones offer more drama, more innovative dishes, and gorgeous ambiance. But the cheap ones have good fresh food and a fun local beat.

My husband and my daughters go surfing on Sundays. There are classes you can pick up from the shore. Evidently, it’s good surfing for beginners as well as advanced surfers.

Parts of Lima are dangerous, but our neighborhood is very safe. We live in San Isidro which is next to Miraflores (kind of the “Miami” of Lima). Our area has lots of embassies as well as shops and restaurants. Miraflores is right on the water with more bars and tons of restaurants. We can run or bike down the Malecon, a swath of paved paths that hug the coast. It’s beautiful with many different parks and sports machines along the way.

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Playa Sunzal, a favorite beach in El Salvador

How easy/difficult is it to meet locals and integrate with the local culture?

In general, I find it quite difficult to get out of the expat bubble because I’m not the most outgoing person. I love the bonding and relationships built among the faculty at the school, so I tend to keep to that group. However, the times when we have been included in activities outside of the school bubble are some of the best memories of our times overseas.

The places I have connected best with “locals” have been in the schools that had more local teachers. No surprise there! In Beirut, we had the most invitations to do things outside of the expat bubble and that made our time there very special. Our housekeeper invited us to her house for a Palestinian meal of roast chicken and homemade french fries in her unfinished “rooftop” apartment. It was one of the most magical nights ~ she was quite a storyteller. A Lebanese teacher friend brought us to her mother’s house along a river in the mountains where we joined in the family’s typical Sunday lunch: an absolute feast of kofta, fattoush, soft pita bread, honey pastries….oh man, I can still see her unmolding a plate of stuffed grape leaves.

In Budapest, we were invited to an annual New Year’s Eve party at the home of a British guy married to a Hungarian woman. The highlight was cramming ourselves into their classic old apartment packed with interesting people we’d never met – and the moment when they marched out a suckling pig, raised their glasses, and sang “God Save the Queen” and the Hungarian National anthem back to back.

So, I’d say that the best way to get out of the expat bubble has been to push myself out of my comfort zone.

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Croatia

How do you spend your holidays? How often do you visit home?

We go home at least once a year and more often we go twice. We want our children to have a strong connection to the US and to their extended family. Luckily, both sides of the family live in New England, so we can easily see everyone during the Christmas and summer holidays. We spend lots of time bopping around but we feel it’s important to see our family in their own homes. We own a small cabin in Vermont and we spend a couple of weeks there each summer, too.

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Our cabin in Vermont

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When you are looking for a new job, what do you personally look for in a school and country? Has that changed from when you first started teaching?

Our priorities have changed as we’ve added children to the mix and as our positions have changed. My husband is a principal, so more and more we are looking for dynamic directors and schools interested in innovation and technology. Our children are teenagers so at our newest school we were also looking for a school size that would provide plenty of extra-curricular and sports opportunities. And, of course, being in an interesting location is still very important. That said, I firmly believe that EVERY place has its bonuses – in some places it’s just harder to see what those are.

How do you know when it’s time to leave?

I’m not sure! We’ve left each place for different reasons and it’s always been kind of a “gut” feeling, although it’s something we certainly discussed over and over. In Beirut, we left after three years because we wanted to see if the overseas life was really for us or if it was just Beirut that we loved. In El Salvador, we left after five years because my husband was ready for a principalship. In Budapest, we left after nine years because…um… I guess we left because we wanted our children to experience a new place and we were ready for a change. It was heartbreaking to leave there, but it has been fun to experience a big move together and a new culture.

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Our first year in Budapest at the Folk Art festival in Castle Hill

What tips or advice would you give to others thinking about making the leap to a career in international teaching?

Definitely go for it! Once you take the leap, don’t look back. When you go home, focus on your friends and family and what’s been happening with them. Don’t try to fill them in on all of your travels – it will probably be too much for them to fully engage in.

 

 

After a long hiatus, I am back with some great International Educator interviews lined up for you. First up is Emily who has been teaching third grade at Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS) in Indonesia for the last year and a half. I really connected with Emily’s story and her strong attachment to her first overseas teaching post.

Is this your first international post or is this one in a string of many international posts for you?

My first international post was in Nairobi, Kenya. I thought I’d go on a two-year adventure and then head home. But like many of us, I was hooked. I worked at the International School of Kenya (ISK) for five years prior to moving to Indonesia a year and a half ago.

Ubud Bali

What made you decide to teach internationally?

When I sought my first post, I was simply eager to see more of the world, and I thought Kenya would be a good place to start. Now that I have been abroad for over six years, I am more aware of the many benefits to living and teaching internationally.

(Almost) private beach, Lombok

What’s challenging about teaching at a new school in a new country?

No matter where in the world you are, teaching at a new school is always a little manic at first because you have to figure out the curriculum, get a pulse on the school ethos, and learn a whole bunch of acronyms. JIS is no exception. It’s a large, high-energy school with hundreds of faculty and a lot going on every day.

When you move to a new country, you are also busy with visas or other paperwork, settling your new home, and making friends. You might find yourself stumbling through the language, figuring out how to get from point A to point B, wondering what exactly this is that you’re eating, finding out what precious products you can or can’t get in-country, wondering why the locals are laughing at you this time, and trying not to fall into a pothole while looking at everything around you. These transition times can be overwhelming, but they are part of the experience we are choosing and I relish them.

Borobudur Temple, Java

How is teaching internationally different from teaching in your home country?

The curriculum, professionalism, facilities, and students are all aspects of international teaching that I appreciate. The two international schools that I know well are similar to certain independent schools in the United States. There is freedom that comes with not having to adhere to public school regulations, and I also find there is a “positive pressure” to be the best professional you can be. Many teachers at international schools have made a conscious decision to be there and want to make the most of their time, so I think that translates into minimal complacency or professional stagnation. Both JIS and ISK are well-resourced schools, situated on big campuses with great facilities, and powered by a huge team of support staff. Generally speaking, I have found my students to be very open-minded, adaptable, and worldly – but not pompous. With educated, well-travelled parents, it is no wonder that so many students are inquisitive and motivated learners. What’s more, I think some international students maintain a sense of innocence longer than they might in the States. This was especially apparent in Kenya, where we were less inundated with Western culture. 

Morning hike, Flores

What’s it like living in Jakarta? What’s your favorite thing about being an expat there? What is challenging?

On the one hand, Jakarta is hot, hazy, and gritty. So one challenge for me is not having the temperate climate and blue skies of Nairobi. The other side of life in Jakarta, however, is very polished: air-conditioned shopping malls, an endless variety of bars and restaurants, inexpensive spas around every corner, and comfortable housing options. It’s all very easy compared to Kenya, which isn’t to say I felt that it was hard to live there either. Everyone always cites “traffic” as the worst thing about Jakarta – and it is really horrendous – but it sort of just becomes a fact of life and you have to adapt (or spend a whole lot of time being frustrated). Taxis or motorbikes are cheap and easy to hire, making getting around totally possible. If you go the wrong direction at the wrong time of day, however, good luck!

How easy/difficult is it to meet locals and integrate with the local culture?

It hasn’t felt very easy for me to meet locals outside of work. I’ve learned a bit about the culture, but I am certainly not integrated. I need to push myself to go beyond my school community. I hope I’ll have more to say on this subject after being here a bit longer.

Lake Naivasha, Kenya

What is a myth about your adopted country?

This isn’t quite a myth, but many international visitors (especially those who fly directly in and out of Bali) only see a small sliver of what Indonesia has on offer. The vast number of islands, cultures, languages; the contrast between rice paddies, coral reefs, volcanoes, and skyscrapers; the tension between tradition and modernity; the juxtaposition of an omnipresent call to prayer and a debauched nightlife……  In short, there is much more to Indonesia than the Bali of Eat, Pray, Love.

Taj Mahal, India

How do you spend your holidays? How often do you visit home?

I maximize my time off school. I’ve explored seven countries in the last year alone – most recently, India – and might reach my 50th before I leave Asia. When I travel, I like a balance of tourism/culture, relaxation, and the outdoors. I’m less balanced when it comes to food and drink – the more, the better! Sometimes I like to be planned and pampered, but I am usually happy with spontaneous and simple.

“Home” is a complicated word for me these days. I go back to the East Coast of the US most summers for a couple of weeks, and I’m lucky to have family and friends who are happy to visit. I’m not sure what it will mean to “settle down” one day.

When you are looking for a new job, what do you personally look for in a school and country? Has that changed from when you first started teaching?

I have worked at a total of four schools, and each experience has been valuable to me one way or another. Each has also been bigger than the last. Though I’ve enjoyed the opportunities that come with working at a very large school, I also appreciate the intimacy of smaller schools. I thrive when I feel like an integral part of the community with a hand in the school’s vision for the future.

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The rare sight of blue sky in Jakarta, taken from a rooftop in my neighborhood. You can see part of the central Jakarta skyline on the far right.

How do you go about making a new place your own? (That is, both your new accommodation and your new country.)

This takes time – about two years for me if Kenya is an indication. I have a small, but cozy and modern apartment here in Jakarta. I’ve filled it with some of my favorite photographs and craft pieces from my travels – as well as a very comfortable couch and some beautiful local teak wood furniture. I created the illusion of some outdoor space by covering my small balcony with potted plants and Astroturf (which is surprisingly effective). As comfy as it is, I would consider moving within Jakarta to be closer to a more interesting neighborhood or to have a square of real live grass! As for feeling like a new country is your own, I find this always takes leaving for a while and then returning. I remember returning to Nairobi for my third year after a summer in the US and bursting into tears with relief when I stepped out of the airport because the feel, the smell, and the noises just seemed to say, “Welcome home!”

 Pacu Jawi (Cow Races), Sumatra

How do you know when it’s time to leave?

While the going is still good. I would rather be sad to go than desperate to get out. When I left Kenya, I knew it was time for a change of pace professionally, and I wanted to explore Asia, but I miss it every day. I think this is a good problem to have.

What has been your favorite teaching position/location thus far? Is there anywhere you are hoping to land a position in the future?

Kenya will always have a special place in my heart as my first international post. I loved the school and grew immensely as a teacher during my time there. I fell in love the pace of life and the good vibes of Nairobi. And so much of the country is simply stunning. I went on countless safaris, became quite familiar with the white sands of the coast, and camped at a lake just outside the city at least once a month. The verdict is still out on my next move, but I adore Japan and also hope to explore Latin America one day.

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Masai Mara, Kenya

What tips or advice would you give to others thinking about making the leap to a career in international teaching?

It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

 


Find the full series of Interviews with International Educators here.


If you are an international educator and you would like to be featured on The Present Perfect, contact me at thepresentperfectblog {at} gmail {dot} com.

Like most others in the international teaching world, I got into teaching abroad because I love adventure, change, and experiencing new things. I live for the excitement of starting over in a new place. There are the months of anticipation and preparation before arrival. To learn more about your new host country you may study the language, read up on the history, or check out a few films. There’s also learning about your new school, new role, and new colleagues. When you finally arrive in-country the real fun begins: exploring the city from a tourist perspective, discovering the little cultural quirks, learning where to shop and where to eat, setting up a new home, making new friends, and of course the professional challenges that await. There’s never a dull moment when you take a new job in a new country (on perhaps a new continent). I’m only one year in here in Budapest and already I anticipate the excitement of what it would be like to start over in Asia or South America.

BUT, as exciting as the first year is, there really is something to be said about the second year. The second year is almost as exciting as the first, but in a completely different way.

Instead of house hunting and multiple trips to IKEA to stock up on the essentials, I came back from summer vacation this year to a familiar home. There was cleaning and organizing and even a few more decorative items purchased. (Only ONE trip to IKEA this August.)

Instead of trying to navigate the Hungarian supermarket and all of its oddities, this year I made a trip to the fancy import store to stock up on some essentials and then filled in the gaps at the local grocery store. Healthy eating plan was in effect from day one back from vacation.

Instead of spending those pre-school weeks trying to figure out the city and set up house, I spent the end of summer getting back into good routines and getting organized for the return to work.

Instead of spending a lot of energy meeting new people and building social contacts it was catching up with friends.

Instead of trying to figure out the curriculum and how the school runs and what exactly I was supposed to be teaching, I hit the ground running and the first weeks back were all about putting things into place to have an awesome second year.

Yes, the wanderlust will always be there lurking in the background, but I have to say, the start of the second year is a pretty great place to be.

48 Hours in Florence

The tag line of the New York Times’ classic travel feature “36 Hours In . . .” is “what to do when you’ve 36 hours to get to know a city.” This is a similar feature, except this is about what I do when I have just 48 hours to revisit a city that I know and love. It may not be exactly NYT worthy*, but to me, this is a perfect way to spend two days in Florence.

THURSDAY

1. Wine Bar Lunch | 1 p.m.

Coquinarius has long been my favorite little lunch spot in Florence, discovered when studying abroad in Florence for the first time in 2000, not long after it first opened. Technically an enoteca, the menu has all of the meat and cheese plates and crostini that you would expect of a wine bar. It also has plenty of creative pasta dishes and piatti unici (single plate meals) that you won’t find at your typical Florentine restaurant.

2. Trendy Coffee | 3 p.m.

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When you step inside Ditta Artigianale you might think that you’ve somehow been transported through time and space to Brooklyn with the white subway tiled interior and chalk boards advertising cold brew coffee and french toast. (The full bar behind the La Marzocco is a hint you’re still in Italy.) Since I can get great espresso and cappuccino all over Florence, I decided to go with something a little different: Espresso Tonic. The Espresso Tonic is a newish fad among trendy coffee bars. I liked this Italian version with just a splash of tonic water more than other versions I’ve tried.

3. Classic Aperitivo | 7:15 p.m.

With a little time to kill before meeting my friend for dinner I decided to stop by Gilli for a little aperitivo. My aunt introduced me to this Florentine institution in Piazza della Repubblica on my very first trip to Italy in 1997. Whenever I am in Florence I always make it a point to have a prosecco at the bar. Perfect for people watching and perfect for getting a little snack to tide you over before dinner.

4. Cross Over to the Oltrarno | 8:00 p.m.

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I met my good friend Janú in Piazza della Repubblica and we took a walk over the Ponte Vecchio stopping briefly to listen the the street musicians on the bridge and soak up the lively atmosphere of a summer night in Florence. Then we continued on to Piazza Santo Spirito where I left my heart so many years ago. Although I have lived in various neighborhoods in Florence over the years, the Oltrarno will always be “my Florence.” Oltrarno can be translated as “the other side of the Arno.” Less touristy and more neighborhood-y, it has a local feel that you don’t get on the other side of the river. Janú and I grabbed two Aperol Spritz from a bar in the piazza and sat on the steps of Santo Spirito catching up, listening to the impromptu guitar playing of young locals, and people watching with his dog Lila by our side.

5. Dinner at an Old Favorite | 9:30 p.m.

Borgo Antico in Piazza Santo Spirito is a restaurant that I always come back to, and not only because I worked there one summer back in college. The food is delicious and the atmosphere is always lively, especially if you get a table in the piazza.

6. The Best Gelato in Town | 11:00 p.m.

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Everyone has their own personal favorite in Florence, but I still think the gelato at Gelateria dei Neri is the best in town. I recommend trying the riso (rice) flavor, a white gelato with chewy grains of rice throughout. I can never find it outside of Florence so I always make sure to get it while I’m in the city. I like to pair it with something decadent like chocolate or coffee.

FRIDAY

7. Get in a Good Workout | 8:30 a.m.

What’s that they say about good intentions? Well, I had the best of intentions when I planned on checking out a CrossFit Box while in Florence. I looked up a couple of options online and settled on CrossFit Iris because of the class schedule and location. What I didn’t do was call in advance to let them know I was coming. Unfortunately when I got there they were closed for holidays or something. Sad face.

8. Consolation Breakfast | 9:30 a.m.

Since my morning workout was a fail I thought I should at least go for a healthy breakfast. I grabbed a nice window seat at Ditta Artigianale and had a cold brew coffee and yogurt with fresh fruit and granola.

9. A Palace and the City | 11:45 a.m.

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I always like to try to do at least one new thing each time I visit Florence. All around the city I had been seeing advertisements for the exhibition Un Palazzo e La Città and I knew it was time for me to finally check out the Ferragamo MuseumThe museum is housed on the bottom level of the Palazzo Spini Feroni below the Salvatore Ferragamo flagship store.  Once inside the museum there is a small permanent exhibition about Ferragamo and his shoes, but the majority of the museum was dedicated to the history of the palace and its role in the history of the city of Florence. The temporary exhibition has everything from paintings, to historic documents, to a video installation documenting 24 hours in the life of the palazzo. The exhibition is on until April 3, 2016, but even if you can’t make it to Florence, you can still watch the video here.

10. Casual Lunch | 1:00 p.m.

It might seem like an unlikely place for lunch, but tucked inside the Feltrinelli bookstore in Piazza della Repubblica is a restaurant called RED (Read Eat Dream — I love that!). The food is delicious and I think the casual atmosphere makes for a great place for a solo lunch. Don’t be fooled however, even though you are eating in the middle of a book store, it’s still a proper restaurant. As I was waiting for my meal to arrive I heard one Italian customer ask if he should order at the counter and pay first. The waiter responded, “Chi paga prima mangia pesce marcio,” which is a proverb, I discovered, that means “Those who pay first eat rotten fish.”

11. Relax with a View | 2:00 p.m.

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There’s no better way to beat the afternoon heat in Florence than by heading to the Boboli Gardens to relax in the shade while admiring the view. I came prepared with a little blanket and a good book and stayed well over two hours. If you’re up for it you can wander the extensive grounds and even take a peek inside the newly reopened Kaffeehaus.

12. Art History Revisited | 4:45 p.m.

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Heading back towards the Ponte Vecchio from the Boboli Gardens I decided to pop into Santa Felicità to have a look at Pontormo’s Deposition (1525-28) which I hadn’t seen in ages. I must say I sometimes have a little nostalgia for my study abroad years in Florence, and I can clearly remember the rainy day my art history class crowded around the corner chapel to look at the painting that graced the cover of our Baroque and Mannerism text-book. I gladly paid the 1€ to light up the Capponi Chapel for a few minutes and then had a look around the rest of the church which has plenty of other artwork to admire.

13. Wine Break | 5:30 p.m.

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From the Ponte Vecchio it’s a nice walk along the Arno to the neighborhood of San Niccolò. This area has become a lot more crowded and trendy in recent years and there are plenty of bars, restaurants, and enotecas to choose from, but I’m still partial to Fuori Porta which, as the name implies, you’ll find just outside the gate to the old city walls. A glass of wine and a meat and cheese plate is the perfect thing to keep you going until dinner.

14. A View of Florence | 6:30 p.m.

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Most people trek all the way up to Piazzale Michelangelo to get a great view of Florence. In the evening you can get the same view with less trekking by climbing to the top of the Torre di San Niccolò. The price is around 3€ and a guided tour is included.

15. Eccolo qua! | 8:30 p.m.

For my final meal in Florence, my friend Lorenzo took me for dinner at Obicà Mozzarella Bar on Via de’ Tornabuoni. This was a new treat for me as it wasn’t around when I lived in Florence. While the restaurant itself is stunning and a worthy setting for a five-star restaurant, the menu is casual and based around the star ingredient: Mozzarella di Bufala di Campana.

SATURDAY

16. One Last Coffee | 9:00 a.m.

As is becoming a new tradition for my visits to Florence, I made a quick stop in Piazza della Repubblica to have breakfast with my friend Janù before heading to the station to catch my train. We had a cappuccino and cornetto at the historic Caffè Paszkowski before saying our goodbyes.

So long, Florence, until we meet again.


*I take it back, this is totally New York Times worthy.

Branching Out in Venice

I think Venice is one of those cities that for most people is a once-in-a-lifetime sort of place. Unlike Paris or Florence, I never hear of someone falling in love with the city and returning over and over again. Venice has a very romantic, fantasy appeal to it, so that maybe once you’ve experienced it you don’t really need to go back anymore. Or maybe it’s the throngs of tourists in the summer that fill the streets and give it that theme park atmosphere that makes one visit enough. Been there, done that.

Luckily, for a variety of reasons, I have had the chance to go back to Venice again and again (at least 7 times?) and I am so glad that I have. It is time that is needed to really escape the crowds and get to know Venice.

It is mostly because of my friend Sophia, who has been working summers in Venice, that I have gotten to spend two extended trips in the city also known as La Serenissima. The last time I visited was on a week-long trip from Beirut. As I wrote in that blog post, I had no goal other than to eat, drink, and speak Italian. And I am happy to say that I accomplished that mission. This time, I had a little bit of a different goal (which was obviously in addition to eating, drinking, and speaking Italian). With another week to spend in Venice, I really wanted to try to get off the beaten path a bit to see some things that I had never seen in Venice before. (In fact that was kind of the entire goal for this summer in Italy. More posts to come!) I decided on Burano and Treviso as my areas of exploration to tackle.

Burano

I knew absolutely nothing about Burano. In fact, I didn’t even know it existed until a few months ago when a colleague of mine was mentioning this island near Venice and we all said, oh MURano? No, BURano. She showed us a couple of photos on her phone and I decided then and there to visit on my next trip.

Burano is about an hour-long Vaporetto ride from Venice. It’s the same line you would take to visit Murano, only quite a bit further. Not being a fan of Murano glass I had never even thought to visit that island either (which probably explains why I had never heard of Burano). Burano is exquisitely colorful and also quite touristy. Most people just make a day trip there from Venice and all the restaurants and shops exist capitalize on this. Still, it’s a beautiful island to take pictures of and the boat ride itself is enjoyable enough to warrant the trip.

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Treviso

Treviso is another city in the Veneto that I really didn’t know anything about. On my last trip to Venice (a weekend day-trip in May) I saw a regional train headed there and I Googled some images of the city on my phone to see what it was all about. It looked quite charming so I thought to add it to the itinerary for this summer. Unlike Burano, Treviso is not an island in the Venetian Lagoon, but on the mainland, about a 30-40 minute train ride from the city of Venice. Though it’s not an island, I did still find some lovely canals throughout the city.

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Venice

And for good measure, here are a few shots from Venice.

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As far as getting off the beaten path in Venice (and I hope Sophia won’t mind my giving away her secrets), here are two places I can recommend for eating and drinking:

Bacarando | Corte del’Orso

Tucked away just far enough from the main tourist artery to not be noticeable (yet still quite close to the Rialto Bridge), this is a great bar to make cicchetti and Spritz your evening meal. On their website you can find this location (as well as others) and a musical program.

Al Vecio Marangon | Ca’ Cento Pietre

A tiny osteria not far from the Accademia serving typical Venetian dishes. Order the cicchetti misti plate to share and sample the baccalá along with other regional specialties.

In terms of neighborhoods, I passed through the Campo dei Gesuiti one day on a long walk and was shocked to find not only no tourists, but shops selling everyday household items rather than tourist goods. The Chiesa dei Gesuiti there is also quite lovely. I highly recommend passing through this area to get a moment of peace from the summer crowds.

Throwback Thursday

. . . to that time in March when I went to Istanbul for the weekend but never got around to editing my photos. Yeah, I’m a little behind in the photo department this year. I actually went on a weekend trip last month and deliberately left my camera at home because I didn’t want to have to deal with yet MORE pictures to edit.

And now in less than 36 hours I will be on a plane to start my summer holidays, so naturally my top priority (right along with packing) is to get caught up on some photos.

These are a few highlights from the long weekend in Istanbul. I actually went with about nine of my colleagues from the EAL department for a training at the NESA Conference. It was great that there was a lot of free time to explore Istanbul built into the conference and even better that I had already been once so I could just enjoy the city without feeling like I had to see all the sights.

One thing we did make time for was shopping! One of the benefits of a short trip is that you don’t have to worry about carrying your purchases around from city to city so you feel like you can buy EVERYTHING that you want. And we did. I had some encouragement from my super shopper friends, Heather and Jen. I came home with dried fruit, apple tea, a hamam towel, a queen sized blanket, a bowl, a framed tile, and undoubtably something else that I’m not thinking of at the moment. At one point I was even inspired to buy a carpet whereas normally I don’t even glance inside a carpet shop! I didn’t end up getting the carpet, but seeing the picture now makes me kind of wish that I had! Oh well, at least now when I go back I have an idea of the style that I like.

We stayed at a great place called Miel Suites  which is in an area near Taksim Square that I hadn’t explored before. It was a really cute neighborhood with lots of antiques shops and cafes.

Another new area I got to explore was the fish market near the Galata Bridge; I don’t think I knew about it my first time in the city. On our last day we had a fantastic lunch there with a great view of the city.

I would definitely say that Istanbul is still one of my favorite cities in the world.

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