Home Sweet Home: Hotlanta

While in The States, we were able to visit Atlanta for Gabe to work three days in his headquarter office.  While Gabe worked, I got to visit many friends and family members during the day.  We were even able to squeeze in a few at night together after he finished up at the office.

Some of our visits in Atlanta.

Even though Gabe had lived there 2 years prior to our move & marriage, and I was familiar with the city through work and visiting with him, we both were overwhelmed with Atlanta traffic this trip.   It was a combination of volume and size of the highways, most being six lanes on each side.   We aren’t used to this so we did experience a little culture shock there as we flew into ATL at rush hour.

Image courtesy of clatl.com

People also drive aggressively.  Sure, it may be attributed to the fact that I don’t drive in Switzerland so driving altogether is new to me when I visit The States.   However, the anger and impatient way in which people drive was something that took getting used to.

Also, why do people in Atlanta cut across parking lots versus driving in the lanes?   I had a lot of sightings of this behavior as we were staying in Perimeter, near Gabe’s office.  It is a shopping mecca with every store imaginable.  I took full advantage, stocking up on our much-needed supplies at Bed, Bath & Beyond, Target, Hobby Lobby, Marshalls & TJMaxx.  And of course, many stops at Yoforia and Starbucks.

But while driving to these suburban shopping centers, I was almost T-boned more than once.  Is this noticeable to anyone or is it that I have been living in the land of rules and now I am more perceptive of “rule-breakers”?

Other than our traffic woes, it was a great stop because we got to see a few friends and family members.  However, as you’ll learn Saturday’s post, our Atlanta stop was Day 26- 28 of travel for me, so I was starting to lose steam.  Sorry, Atlanta….next time I’ll be more peppy!

Au Revoir, ATL!

Home Sweet Home: O. H. I. O.

Gabe is from Ohio, which is where his brother’s wedding was held (our reason for coming home to the US).    He is from the western side, but on the way in from Virginia, we stopped in Columbus to see some of his good college friends.  It was really nice to catch up with this sweet family, see their new house, and enjoy some local cuisine.

After Columbus, we continued driving to Mendon, his hometown.

We were very much busy with the wedding set-up, but had time to visit his grandma along with Gabe’s grandfather.  They are both doing good and we had nice visits, making us wish we were closer.

Gabe & Grandma

We also had the opportunity to witness some beautiful Ohio sunsets on Gabe’s family farm.

Sunset on the Johnson family farm

The night before the wedding, we threw a Ohio State themed rehearsal dinner.  Since D’s family was from Brazil, we wanted to provide a taste of what a family get-together was like in Ohio.  With B being an Ohio State fan, we figured an American football themed soiree would provide a glimpse into typical family & fall parties.

Testing the pork being served for the rehearsal dinner

Everyone dressed in Ohio State’s colors of red/white/grey.  It provided with some fun for the actual rehearsal.

Bridesmaids & bride, decked out in Ohio State colors. None of us went to Ohio State 🙂

Gabe’s parents in their Ohio State red attire

Processional practice in Ohio State digs. I was impressed that everyone from Brazil got into the theme so well!

If I had an award for “Best Dressed” I would give it to this family for their perfect combination of color!

After the rehearsal, we all drove to Gabe’s family farm where we were hosting the rehearsal dinner.  All the foods were typical of Ohio and we jazzed up the house with themed decorations.

Ohio State paper decorations and confetti

Delicious homemade pies made by the aunts

We downloaded this graphic from the internet and printed on label paper for fun wine bottle decorations

Ohio State accents

The crowd flowing through the buffet in the kitchen

The band, dressed in their Ohio State finest.  Notice their Ohio State koozies, a favor from the party.

The Brazilian crowd enjoying the Ohio feast.

It was so good to have some time in O-H-I-O!!!

Home Sweet Home: Virginia

Both Gabe and I got to make it to Appomattox, my hometown, to see friends and family before heading up to B & D’s wedding.  Appomattox is located in Central Virginia.  It is most famous for the fact that the American Civil War ended there in 1865, with Lee’s Surrender.

Image courtesy of robertwilliamsofbrooklyn.blogspot.com

The town is quite small but Gabe is accustomed to small rural towns; actually, where he grew up in Mendon, Ohio is of similar size.   When we first started dating, there was actually an argument / competition who was from the smaller town.  I would argue that my town didn’t have 911 yet (required all roads to have street names vs. road numbers, which hadn’t happened yet) and he would argue that he had zero stoplights in his town.   Appomattox now has about 4-5 stoplights in the County, and the town has since gotten 911.  Mendon still has zero stoplights.  So, I guess he wins.

Image courtesy of epodunk.com

Anyhow, we had a really nice time visiting the family in Appomattox and enjoying Virginia-type stuff.  It was too short, though, and we look forward to more time our next visit.

Below are a few photos of our stay:

Nana (my mom) and I went to visit my niece and nephew for a school lunch in Lynchburg.  I only took photos with my niece as my nephew is 10 and this might not be cool to have your aunt documenting her visiting you at school.

Waiting for Gabe’s flight, Mom and I had lunch with friends and then visited Veritas winery in Charlottesville. A great way to kill time 🙂

Nephew B came to visit and we had a typical day at Nana & Papa’s: hunting for golf balls in the backyard.  Papa may have tossed 10 out before we went outside, but we did find two legit ones.

B having fun visiting Burke’s tavern and the sheep

My friend C and her husband brought adorable A over to play. She was ready for the first Hokie game in her VT attire!

Visiting the family in Lynchburg  to watch some great backyard action with nephew C and Zoey.

Home Sweet Home: Charlotte

While we were in the States for the wedding, I was able to visit Charlotte, the city in which I lived after college (up until Switzerland) as my first stop.  Sadly, Gabe’s vacation is a bit limited, so he couldn’t join for this part.

I landed in the Queen City after a succession of three flights and nineteen hours of travel.  My bags miraculously made it, which surprised me greatly because my connections in Paris and JFK involved lots of running.   So, thanks, Delta.

Driving around the first few days in the States is a typically a combination of good / sad at the same time.   First off, I love driving.  I really miss it when in Geneva, since I don’t how to drive our manual car.  Especially on hills.  I crank the radio really loud and enjoy singing loudly to the English Top-40 songs that play…it’s good to actually know the words and have a change from the same 5 English songs they play on repeat in Geneva.

Other highlights are visiting my friends and hitting the favorite spots.  And doing hot yoga as much as I can to try to burn out of it before I go back to Switzerland.

However, as I am driving around, passing parts of Charlotte make me tear up.    Passing R’s old apartment, my eyes welled remembering all the good times we had as single girls in the city and all our post-work neighborhood walks.    Driving to work to meet coworkers is another source of nostalgia since I worked for the same company for ten years.   “Camping” in my old house, which is now completely empty is another emotional spot .

A stormy night in the Queen City

Since Charlotte was my first city on the trip back to the US, I wanted to share my odd list of things I noticed with “foreigner eyes” back in my old home:

–       Charlotte = Blond + colorful.  The first 4 hours of my first day in Charlotte included a hot yoga class and a sermon at my old church.  Everyone dressed brightly in both places.   And there were astonishing amounts of blond people.   In Geneva, most everyone dresses in black and dark grey.  Occasionally, if they are feeling wild, it can go navy.  And skin and hair colors are of full range, since 50% of the city is made up of foreigners including pretty much every nationality.   I never really noticed this prior….but it was a really overwhelming observation on my first day back.

–       Customer service.  Readers of this blog know that I have my challenges with customer service in Switzerland.  You never ever sub / delete anything from a dish on a menu, or else they would just suggest you order something else.     When I dined with friends  in Charlotte, a few times, they made substitutions or changes.  One friend someone sent something back.  I shrunk back in my chair, awaiting a backlash….but, the waiters could not have been more accommodating.    After our time in Europe, it has become odd to me how much American servers check on their tables or come around for refills.  Since this is not something I am used to anymore, I have this odd paranoia surrounding overly nice servers like they are going to do something crazy any moment.  Weird, I know…..it’s just that I have been reverse-conditioned for Southern hospitality.

–       Related, but customization.  I frequented a few frozen yogurt stores in Charlotte.  I am a huge fan of fro-yo, but even since we left a year and a half ago, there is a crazy proliferation of the little joints….I counted 7 more storefronts than I’d seen.    And all of them allow you to make your own….so you fill the yogurt, and add your toppings, and weigh it, then pay.       Similar to this, in enjoying meals with friends at Bad Daddy’s and going to new Dilworth addition, Crisp, I was able to re-experience the  “build your own burger” and “make your own salad” concepts.  This was familiar before our move, but after living in Geneva for a year and a half, it was unfathomable to me….customers can have it however they want.  This is definitely not part of our Swiss vocabulary.

–       Speed of life.  Everyone is in a rush in the US, running around, jamming things in.  This type of hurried lifestyle is one of my least favorite characteristics about myself that I know I need to improve and I am trying to work on.  It is easier to work on Switzerland where fewer people behave in this manner, so it becomes more normal to take things slow.   However, I noticed myself picking up the pace in the US during my short time and becoming more “efficient” to keep up.   It reminds me that I’ll have to figure out how to bring back the Swiss calmness and lessons learned on relaxing when we move back home permanently.

–       Doing errands is easy in the US.   I know where things are and what type of stores have them.  I don’t have to research where, the address, and bus schedules.  I just hop in the car and go.   The best is that I can keep purchases and future supplies in the car versus schlepping them around all day.  And, I can go in my gym clothes which is a huge no-no in Geneva.

–       Cost.  When a few of my lunches added up to $7  – $10 USD, I gleefully forked over the cash.  These lunch meals would have been 25 -40 CHF in Geneva.  This is why I have only eaten lunch out in Geneva five times in 15 months.  It felt nice to eat out and not feel like I was going to bankrupt us doing so.

–  I still am afraid someone is going to steal my purse.  I never used to be afraid of this in the States, but living in Europe, its a constant worry….after all, most of my friends have caught a hand in their zipped purses at some point or another and a few others have had purses or wallets stolen.   I caught myself looping my leg through the straps while in church and realized I can likely adjust my behavior while home and relax just a little bit.

Thanks for a great visit, everyone!

A cross section of some of the fun visits I had in Charlotte

Gratitude Friday: Our new family member!

This Gratitude Friday, I am excited to announce that we have a new family member!  Gabe’s brother, B, just got married last weekend so his lovely bride, D, is officially one of the fam.

As far as in-law families go, I really lucked out with mine.   And we feel very blessed to have D joining the Johnson clan.  She is energetic & colorful, and adds a lot of fun anytime we are all together.  We love learning about her Brazilian heritage, hearing her stories, and enjoying her delicious cooking.  Most importantly, she is the perfect partner for B.

So, we are so very happy for them and for our good fortune at having her for a sister-in-law.

Here are a few snapshots from their nuptials, which took place in Rockford, Ohio last weekend.  Many of D’s Brazilian family and friends joined us so it was a really wonderful celebration of love and joy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Eating in Istanbul

While in Istanbul, we were excited about the mezes (small plates) and eating fresh seafood.

Our first night, Gabe selected a restaurant in old town with a view of the Sea of Marmara.  We enjoyed a cold meze plate to start, and for mains, Gabe had lamb shish and me a fish shish.   The mezes were so-so but the shish was delish.  The setting was really serene.

Teras
Ahırkapı Sokak Cankurtaran
Hotel Armada

The second night, we went to a fish place.  We ordered a salted sea bass to share, and were wowed by the presentation.  The staff was exceptionally great and we really enjoyed sitting out in the street, watching a typical evening in Istanbul’s old city.

Salted sea bass

The fish coming out of its salted carcass

These little guys were wowed too.   Notice the pairs of eyes on either side of me.   I am constantly entertained by the cat beggars in Greece and Turkey’s coastal cities.

Fish House
Alemdar Mah. Prof. K. Ismail Gurkan Cad. No:14  
Sultanahmet, 34122 Istanbul, Turkey 

For lunches & snacks, we filled our tummies with street food and shish.

Fish sandwich from Eminou

Bread rings….Image courtesy of instanbuleats.com

Note to readers:   We know we didn’t venture out of Sultanahmet (old city) which we heard is crucial for seeing the true Istanbul culinary scene.  However, for our 48 hour stay, we figured it was easiest to stick within walking distance vs. figure out the tram system or take a taxi.  We loved our “first taste” and hope to come again to Turkey for a more authentic sense!

From Europe to Asia & Back: Cruising the Bosphorus

On Sunday, after the Blue Mosque, we headed down to Eminou port and caught a Bosphorus tour.  There are countless tour operations, and even more guys in the street trying to lure you in chanting “Bosphorus Tour….Bosphourus Tour…..Bosphorus Tour”.

However, we had read about one particular company that offered a service of hopping on and off on opposite coastlines.    This was really appealing to us, since the Bosphorus strait is the separation between Europe and Asia.  We thought it would be neat to have lunch in Asia.   For reference, this company has three departures a day – 10:35, 12:00 and 1:35.

Also a tip for European travelers, make sure your watch is set to the appropriate time zone.  We bought tickets thinking our boat left in 30 minutes.  However, we were on Swiss time.  An hour and a half wait. Oops.

We had a snack (bread ring for me, fish sandwich for Gabe) on the bridge, waiting to set sail.

It was a really nice way to spend the afternoon. Since hoards of crowds were out, happily dining in the daylight after Ramadan, the peacefulness of the boat was a plus.

Pulling out of Istanbul

Dolmabahçe Palace

 

Khedive Palace

Rumeli & Anatolian Fortresses beside Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge

Bosphorus Cruise – near Yenikoy

Bosphorus Cruise – Yoros Castle

The Black Sea

Bosphorus Cruise – Rumeli Kavagi

 

After a two hour ride, we docked in  Anadolu Kavagi and selected a restaurant based on the smell of the delicious fish we saw grilling on the side of the building.

They said a fresh fish would take 15 minutes, no problem with the timing.   So, we had some mezes to bide the time.  However, after about 30 minutes, we were getting nervous having time to eat and catching our return boat.   It all went a little downhill from there, but let’s just leave it at I got a whole fish in a aluminum tin “to go”.

Entertaining, but it made for a fun rest of the trip home, trying to eat this with the toothpicks I swiped from the restaurant.

Basilica Cistern

The day before our departure, I mentioned to some Geneva friends that we were going to be traveling to Istanbul for a quick weekend getaway.  J, my friend from South Africa, enthusiastically recommended the underground cisterns that are somewhat underneath or nearby Hagia Sophia.

The Basilica Cistern was built in the 6th Century during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, so it is the same age as Hagia Sophia.   It was originally under a Basilica that no longer stands. It is said that 7000 slaves worked to build the site.

The purpose was to provide water for the Great Palace.  It even continued to provide the water source for Topkapi Palace after the Ottaman takeover in 1453.

The ceiling is supported by 336 marble columns. Historians believe many are ‘recycled’ from older buildings all over the Ottoman Empire.   The water-tight wall is 4 meters / 13 feet wide.   The cistern was filled with water from Belgrade Forest and was transported via aqueducts.   It can store 100,000 tons of water!

There was such a peaceful feeling in the cistern.   I delighted in the fact that there were huge fish still swimming around.   I also enjoyed the two mysterious Medusa head columns – one on its side and one upside down.

Gabe said it looked familiar when we walked through.   And, for good reason….this enchanting underground site was featured in James Bond From Russia with Love and The International.

There was not a lot about this site in our guidebooks, so I really appreciated the unique recommendation.

The Blue Mosque

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is most commonly called “The Blue Mosque” because of the 20,000 handmade blue-colored tiles that decorate the interior of its dome.

It was built by Sultan Ahmed from 1609-1616 so is around 400 years old.    The mosque dominates the skyline of Sultanmet.  One of my books said that if Sultan Ahmed could see how many hotels advertise “Blue Mosque” views, then he would be pleased.  His intention was to build a structure more magnificent than Hagia Sophia.

Tourists are allowed to go in, as long as it is not a worship time.  We visited Sunday between their worship services, which occur five times daily.

They have scarfs and skirts to borrow if you aren’t dressed in accordance to the requirements for the mosque which require modest attire and no shoes.  I’d dressed in a longer dress that covered my knees and had cap sleeves, based on my typical preparation for Italy.  I also brought a scarf for a head wrap, hearing from friends that they are required.   However, both Gabe and I had to borrow Velcro “skirts” to make sure our legs were covered.

The tile/dome was quite beautiful.  However, I think Hagia Sophia was more impressive to me based on the fact it was built 1000 years before.   The fact it was the first dome of its kind still wows me.

It happened to be the last night of Ramadan when we were in Istanbul.  We thought Istanbul was busy before, but as night fell on Saturday indicating the end of the 30 day period of daytime fasting, the city came alive.   Since 99% of the Turkish population is Muslim, literally everyone was out and about.

The light sign on Blue Mosque reads, “Say Goodbye to Ramadan”

Hagia Sophia

From our hotel room at Burckin, we had a lovely view of Hagia Sophia, standing out in the Sultanmet skyline.

Hagia Sophia at night, from our room

View of Hagia Sophia at breakfast

 

Hagia Sophia, meaning Divine Wisdom, has a very interesting past.   Three churches have held the name on the very same spot.   The Hagia Sophia that stands today was finished in the year 537, during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian.  It is the oldest church in the world, and was also the largest church in the world for 1000 years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520.

It was a Christian church for most of its existence, but in the 1453 Fall of Constantinople (Istanbul was previous named for Constantine), it was converted to a mosque by Sultan Mehmed II.

Turkey’s first president, Ataturk, secularized it and converted the Istanbul gem to a museum, re-opening it in 1935, as it was a treasure for both Muslims and Christians based on its rich historical past.

What is most striking to me is the dome.   This amazing feat in Byzantine style is said to have changed the history of architecture.  I had flashbacks to 6th grade when we all had to attempt to build a dome in model-size.  Our teacher had given us this exercise to show us how difficult it is to construct this type of structure.  I can’t imagine the talent and skill it took back in the 6th Century.   1000 skilled tradesman and 10,000 workers were needed to complete Hagia Sophia.

And….it was magnificent to walk beneath it.

We had the opportunity to walk up a winding ramp to the top to get a different angle.

Hagia Sophia falls at the toop of my impressive religious structures list we have seen.  Others making the list are:

  • The Duomo of Florence
  • The Duomo of Milan
  • The Duomo of Siena
  • Lyon’s Basilica
  • The Emerald Buddha & surrounding temples at Grand Palace, Bangkok
  • Notre Dame in Paris

Impressed with Hagia Sophia