what i learned this summer

This past Monday we started school, which means that, for us, summer is over.  We're also feeling fall in the weather here in Madrid - it's been in the 50's when we wake up and my choice of skirts and dresses everyday so far this week has seemed a bit unwise until late afternoon hits.  As we talk to friends and new coworkers about our summer and relay a similar story each time, I get a chance to think a bit about the past three months - what went well, what didn't, and even, what I learned.  

Overall, the summer was good...parts were fine, parts were terrible, and others were fantastic....there were some serious highs but also some real lows.  So, a few things I learned, mostly about myself - some important and some definitely not.

  •  I am legit scared of cats.  In both Turkey and Greece, stray cats seem to be everywhere.  They have free reign over basically everything, and, especially in Turkey, people are really into them (now, dogs, that's a different story), leaving food and water outside of stores, restaurants, and homes for the critters.  This posed a bit of a problem as we often ate outside, and usually within a few minutes, a cat would appear, sometimes a bit aggressively as they hoped we'd offer them some food off our plates.  I've never been a cat fan, but having them around constantly, especially when trying to eat in peace, really didn't sit well with me.  In fact, as Danny will eagerly tell you, I sometimes made a scene while trying to avoid a cat encounter/attack (in my opinion, that was clearly what was coming next if the animal was allowed to keep up its nonsense).  As this situation between me and the cats continued all summer long, it became obvious after a few rather close confrontations, that I was really scared, and don't deal well with cats, especially feral ones.
  • I can deal with fish - and they're actually pretty cool!  I would list my three main fears as cats, birds, and fish, but in an effort to fully enjoy our time in Greece, I tried to warm up to the idea that in the sea, I have no choice but to share the space with fish.  The waters we swam in were so clear that I could see everything around us, for better or for worse, and I finally had to choose whether I was going to spend all our time on the sand, or face my fear and see if I could survive swimming among (small and supposedly harmless) fish.  I think I really started feeling comfortable when we took a boat ride around the island of Milos that included three stops for us to get out and swim.  It was then that I saw some fish that were actually really beautiful and I realized how much I'd have missed out on if I hadn't jumped out of the boat and borrowed Danny's goggles to see just what was around and below us.  
  • Honey is delicious.  I'm a fan of yogurt with granola and fruit, but when we visited a restaurant in Istanbul that drizzled honey of top of it all, I realized just how much I'd been missing out.  We went back the next week to eat the same concoction because I just couldn't get it out of my mind, so you can imagine how delighted I was to find honey all over the place in Greek cuisine.  If I had to name an underutilized food (in our kitchen, at least) that I am hoping to put to regular use in the near future, hands down, it would be honey...just can't get enough!
  • Maybe I'm not as adaptable as I think I am.  Yikes.  Moving right along past animals and food to things that kind of matter...I was not always my best self in Turkey.  In fact, at many points, I wasn't who I imagine myself to be as a traveler, world citizen, and expat, especially one who has spent almost two years living abroad.  I struggled in Turkey, and really it's mostly because of me.  Yeah, our circumstances were tricky at times, for sure, but if I took a step back, I realized that I was not always flexible and actually kind of judgmental.  I grew weary of Turkish food within a few weeks, and found complaining to be a go-to of mine in many situations.  At many times, I found myself sticking to my own ways and ideas pretty firmly, approaching my time in Turkey not so much as a way to learn about a new culture and people and country, but as a surface level consumer, wanting to see and do and experience...but mostly on my own terms.  When things got challenging, I wanted comfort instead of wanting to see how I could learn and grow from the rough patches.  
  • It's okay to go to Starbucks (or Shake Shack, Caribou Coffee, Caffe Nero, etc)...but keep eating fruits and veggies too.  In relation to the last point, I've never felt such an urge to visit American chain restaurants while abroad before, and I think it's probably largely in part to how I dealt with Turkey.  These places felt, in a bizarre way, like home - the food was familiar, the atmosphere nearly identical to what I can experience in a U.S. location of any given restaurant, and the overall experience was comforting - for a little while at least I didn't feel like I was in Turkey (even though I've never been a regular patron of any of said establishments).  I don't imagine this being a habit we continue whether in Spain or elsewhere, but at this particular time, it was helpful (and free to us, as we could use our meal cards at all of these places).  I felt really guilty the first few times we went to Starbucks, and especially when we ate Shake Shack as one of our final meals in Istanbul, but I'm over that now - those times and places were important as I navigated my way through a tough season.  I should mention that our diet sometimes verged on unhealthy as I almost completely cut Turkish food out in the last few weeks we were in Turkey, and increasingly relied on energy bars and coffee shop grub (i.e. pastries and fruit parfaits) to get me through - I really could've done with some more fresh fruit and veggies thrown in the mix.

Read more about our summer in these posts: Settling into Summer, Istanbul Style, A Day in the Life, Taking Stock, I Feel Like the Luckiest Girl in the World, When I Cried in Starbucks, and Life Lately.  Plus, a few little trips we took from Istanbul: Büyükada and Kilyos.