Tennis in Turkey

Hard to believe June is almost here! With one month left of school, the days are flying by. I spent last weekend in Istanbul with my tennis team. The boys and girls traveled together this year and the tournament was a really fun affair for all.

The last time I was in Turkey was nearly ten years ago when my brother was studying abroad. We traveled from Budapest to Istanbul and I was totally taken with the city – the muezzin call, the delicious street eats, spice markets, and my first Turkish bath. It was a totally radical experience at a time when I had only just begun traveling.

Turkey has some of the most delicious food in the world. Seen here – simit, a Turkish bagel of sorts, with olive tapenade twisted into the dough.

Due to the terrible events at Ataturk airport in June of 2016, our Turkish sister school hasn’t been able to host any events for the past two years. Coupled with that incident and the coup attempt just one month later, the Turks have been through a lot. As a testament to the strength of the people, their hospitality and warmth remains firmly intact.

A new dish to me – kebabi. Cubes of bread, meat, cheese, and yogurt make up this mouth-watering entrée.

I felt very safe throughout my time in Turkey, opting not to head downtown to the touristy area near the Blue Mosque but to stay in the suburb near the tennis facility. On our second night in country, we enjoyed a coaches’ dinner on Lake Büyükçekmece, just above the Marmara Sea. The views from our 5th floor perch were gorgeous as the late evening sunlight gave way to the periwinkle night. As tangerine lights flickered on across the bay, we enjoyed a gourmet feast of eggplant puree, yogurt, fresh cheeses, and a whole sea bass for each of us.

Eggplant with yogurt and sauce in the background. I can’t even recall the foreground dish but it was all delightful.
Our spot above the sea.

After dinner, I had the chance to walk down by the docks and enjoy the breezy evening. As darkness fell, the local people poured out their homes, coming to the park to break their Ramadan fast and enjoy the cool night after a hot, hungry day.

Back at the tournament, the girls faced singles and doubles players representing schools from Warsaw, Budapest, Zagreb (Croatia), and Istanbul. It would be curious to sometime poll the players for their actual countries of origin. On our 12 person roster alone we had players from Russia, Israel, Germany, India, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Another mini version of the UN, it’s awesome to see these kids mix and mingle, displaying sportsmanship despite (sometimes) not sharing a common language. Gives me hope.

Penguins watch a gripping match

The club facilities were amazing and featured the clay court stadium which hosts the annual Istanbul Cup. Pictures of Serena Williams and Roger Federer lined the entrance tunnel, much to our delight.

Clay courts – these kids are blessed!!

In the end, the girls placed 2nd for the second year in a row. The boys took third with some stiff competition from Istanbul and Warsaw. We brought back some hard-fought hardware and the kids represented Moscow well.

Two years with these ladies – they will be missed!
Sasha showing off her medal.
Ana humoring her coach 😉

Always on to the next, I’m nearly done organizing the annual Grade 6 trip to Suzdal, Russia, which takes place in two weeks. Only just today I secured my World Cup Fan ID so I’m officially headed to Kaliningrad at the end of June to see Spain take on Morocco! Exciting times for Russia which is rolling out its red carpet to welcome visitors. Until next time!

Despite a taxing season, the team rallied in the end and made us proud.

 

Skye

When I last left you, we were headed west, beyond Fort Cameron to the coast where a multitude of little islands and inlets create Scotland’s western shoreline.

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Incoming! at the Port of Mallaig

From the Port of Mallaig, we hopped a quick ferry across the Sound of Sleat. It was a chilly crossing on the upper deck but the mountainous shorelines were too pretty to view from inside.

Arriving in Armadale, we wove our way up the coast, stopping at roadside stands and enjoying the views of the idyllic countryside, sheep and all. We made our way about an hour north to Portree, another port town. On my brother’s advice, we chose to make Portree our home base on the Isle of Skye as it’s the most populated and there’s actually something to do there past 6pm.

Katie overlooking Portree harbor
My new scarf, purchased locally due to the chill in the air – the color matching the blue-grey sky.
Mussels at Sea Breezes Restaurant – highly recommended but always make a reservation!

The next morning, on the advice of our innkeeper, we set off to complete the northern loop of the island, the forefinger on the map below, if you will. Her one warning to us – you must have nerve to drive the loop. We deemed ourselves up to the challenge.

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The loop turned out to be a 3+ hour adventure drive, with many single lanes (remember – driving on the left!) and incredible ocean vistas. We opted to stop numerous times along the way, enjoying the ragged cliffs and enjoying a picnic lunch. Excitingly, scientists have recently discovered dinosaur tracks along this stretch of land. Though we saw no evidence, it is possible to imagine jurassic beasts roaming this epic landscape.

Nesting grounds for seabirds – I’m told these were bunting

As we only had one full day on Skye, we next opted to drive about 45 minutes southwest of Portree to view the Glen Brittle Fairy Pools. One thing to note on Skye – you cannot rely solely on GPS as you quickly become rural and signal disappears.

 

The Fairy Pools proved the perfect chance to stretch our legs and hike the fairly easy 1.5km path into the falls themselves.

Rust colored markings on the rock face accented the falls against the rich chocolate-brown earth.

The surrounding mountains reminded me of the Colorado Rockies.

With the olive-toasted grass not yet in bloom, the purple heather mountains looked as soft as velvet against the moody April sky.

After another self-made pub crawl, this time through Portree, we awoke the next morning to warm temperatures and beautiful sunshine. We opted to head south to Armadale Harbor and get in line for the ferry. With shops and restaurants harborside, there was plenty to do despite a departure delay for our ferry.

Incredible day on the water and an easy ride back to the Port of Mallaig.

From Mallaig, we drove back to Fort Cameron, this time opting to stay the night and explore what the area had to offer. We toured the Ben Nevis Whiskey Brewery, guided by a local Cameron (my dad’s family’s heritage). We learned about the use of the fresh mountain waters found above town and sampled a 30-year-old vintage.

Katie opted for the full flight.

Fort Cameron seemed pretty built up and a bit touristy but the loch across from our hotel was lovely at sunset.

 

Our final day provided the only steady rain of the trip for which we felt lucky as April in Scotland is not known for beautiful weather. We drove out of the Highlands through the Glencoe region, which I’d love to return to someday. More beautiful roadside vistas enhanced by epic cloud cover made the drive worth it.

Just south of Glencoe – the lake’s silver shimmer was more spectacular than the photo lets on.

Stopping at Stirling Castle, the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots, we thoroughly enjoyed our digital tour of the newly renovated halls. I was delighted to find that Stirling was the original home of the famed Unicorn tapestries, a focus of study in my college Art History courses.

The Castle commissioned the painstakingly accurate recreation of the original tapestries, numbering seven panels in total.
Coats of Arms in gorgeous stained glass in the massive dining hall.
Epic battles played out at Stirling, with the Castle changing hands multiple times throughout the ages. One such battle included the famed William Wallace and a monument to him stands on the hill across the valley, visible from the Castle walls.

Back in Edinburgh, we were joined by a good friend of mine from Medfield. She hopped a train up from Newcastle and we throughly enjoyed our final, foggy night in Edinburgh.

Though I was sad to say goodbye to Scotland, I look forward to returning and continuing to explore. It’s a truly gorgeous place with many hidden gems left to discover.