Note: This article was first featured over at Expat Magazine at Expat.com titled “5 Ways to Document Your Expat Adventures.” – You can see all my published works on my portfolio page.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I LOVE talking about expat living. Not a traveling digital nomad, but a ‘we found a county and stayed put’ type of digital expat. Before I moved, I had this jumbled mix of what I loved writing about and I had a hard time narrowing it down to one specific area. But over the last 4 years of living in Turkey, my 2nd time to move abroad, and writing last weeks article about culture shock, I think I have found (one of) my niche!!
Even more than chatting about expat living, I love sharing the ways I have documented our expat adventures. *Spoiler* The most interesting way is through our FunkTravels Podcast and FollowingTheFunks YouTube channel! In the midst of moving, traveling, and adjusting to another culture, documenting our memories can be the one thing that is thrown to the wayside. It also becomes one of the biggest regrets of those when they journey onward to the next phase of life.
Ok, we are ready to move on! Here is the article:
I woke up one morning and had completely forgotten where I was. You know how a really deep, good sleep can disorient you? Something in the room made me think I was in Turkey on a cool fall morning, maybe how the sunlight streamed in through the windows just so or the smell of the crisp morning air coming in through the open window. Of course, I quickly realized that I was no longer living in Turkey, but instead, I was in my bed in the States.
It’s funny to remember that now because currently my husband and I now live in Turkey once again. The smells and sounds of the neighborhoods are ingrained into my memory and I know… this is our lovely Turkey. It is strange how our senses can spark the littlest memories about a place.
Sometimes I get completely transported back to the places I have visited, whether I want it or not, remembering the tiniest details that I didn’t realize I had forgotten – like the taste of butter, removing shoes at the door, or the certain fruity smell of a pipe from a hookah.
Over the last ten years, I’ve spent 5 of those as an expat; both single and married. I love being reminded of the journey and adventures we’ve had this year on our latest expat experience. I know that when we are back in our home country, I will enjoy looking back through the ways that I have documented our time abroad as well as sharing those memories with others.
Here are 5 ways I have used to document the adventures of our up-and-down, never-dull, fun, frustrating, and wonderful expat life.
1. KEEP A SIMPLE JOURNAL:
Keeping a journal has been proven to help people reflect and process change, but it’s mostly just a great place to hold memories. Keep a running list of things you love about the culture and place you live. Write stories of when someone helped you, a kind gesture on the street, or laughs of the neighborhood children after school. Journals are easy to take with you and write in at any time!
2. START A WEBSITE:
This is probably the most popular choice. It can be a digital journal option for you and a great way to include your photos. If you are super tech-savvy, vlogs are growing in popularity. If you enjoy writing as a creative outlet, a website is a great way to share your expat lives with others and find an online community as well.
3. START A PODCAST:
Audio series are a great way to share your stories with others! My husband and I enjoy listening to them together on road trips, while working, or on any lengthy public transportation rides! So when moving to Turkey together this time, we decided to share our expat journey with others via podcast! (Update: Via 50 episodes of our podcast we shared our move from the USA through our 2nd year living in Turkey – so January 2016 to spring of 2018. We now still published blog post like this and have ‘continued’ our podcast via our newer brand of FollowingTheFunks YouTube channel.)
4. CREATE A PHOTO BOOK:
Maybe writing isn’t your thing, but creating a photo timeline of your journey is! Photo books are one of my favorite ways to remember a trip, experience, or even an entire year. There are many websites to help you create beautiful digital photo books of your travels. Or if you enjoy crafty projects, make a photo book from scratch.
5. ORGANIZE AND PRINT THOSE PICTURES:
If possible, just taking time to organize your pictures is a way to document your expat life! Perhaps there isn’t time to do all the other things mentioned above! No problem, do what works for you! And when all else fails, just print those pictures! These days it is so easy to never go out and print photos. So every month gather your favorite photos and print them! Then move the old photos over to a photo album, and hang up your newly printed pictures! (Update: I have just gotten the hang of this and got a ton of photo books done!)
Those are just a few of the many ways you can document your expat journey! Overall, the main goal is to just do something! It doesn’t have to be perfect (which if I am honest, is very hard for me), but you just have to start!
Now to you:
Have you used any of the ways above to document your story?
How have you documented your expat adventures?
What tips do you have for others who want to start documenting their expat life?
As you arrive in Braşov, you’ll see the town’s name boldly announced in white letters, perched high on the hilltop. Brașov lies in the center of Romania’s Transylvania region in the renowned Carpathian Mountains of Vampire Count Dracula fame. Later, during medieval times, Braşov was occupied by the Saxons, who turned the city into a walled citadel for protection against invaders. Today the city is still surrounded by those same medieval stone walls.
For centuries, the city’s central Romanian location has given it a strong political influence in the region, especially during the Ottoman Empire, while also providing a trading doorway into western Europe. Braşov’s name means “Crown City” in both German and Latin. Its coat of arms bears a crown with oak roots, and can be seen on walls and buildings throughout the city.
Here is your ultimate guide for visiting Brasov, Romania:
History, Architecture, and Culture
Braşov offers a diverse number of gothic, baroque, and renaissance architectural styles. Architecture, crepe stands, and cafes line Braşov’s wide pedestrian-only boulevard. Visitors will find themselves looking up, entranced by the artistic architecture all around them.
The city center is lined with romantic cobblestone roads. The inelegant looking, yet harmonious, Gothic-style Black Church peeks out from behind colorful baroque houses that shield the beautiful Council Square of Piata Sfatului and the former town hall, Casa Sfatului. Here, you can relax at an outdoor cafe while you soak up the ambiance that reflects Braşov’s heart and soul.
Built from 1383 to 1480, the Black Church earned its name after the smoke from a 1689 fire darkened its walls. Although the largest Gothic church in Eastern Europe may not be as striking as some Western European cathedrals, its gothic architecture and the Anatolian Carpets that adorn the walls reflect the crossing point of the cultures and influences from the Ottoman Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary, and the Saxons.
Built in 1559, Ecaterina’s (Catherine’s) Gate, is one of the oldest portals in town. Complete with a drawbridge, and four corner towers, Catherine’s Gate was once the only entrance into the northern part of the fortress.
Catherine’s Gate survived fires in 1689 and 1759 , but an earthquake in 1738 damaged its walls. Closed up and used for storage, the gate was finally restored to its original state between 1971-1973, and is undeniably the city’s most beautiful gate.
Due to repeated raids by the Turks, Braşov’s residents fortified their city in the late 1400s, building thick stone walls with strong bastions, two outer watch towers, and a Citadel. On the opposite side to Braşov’s mountaintop sign, you can visit the striking white tower and newly renovated black tower which is, ironically, also constructed of white stone. In 1599 the Black tower was destroyed by fire from a lightning strike, which blackened its walls, hence its name. Today, this pyramid-shaped glass roof tower is no longer black and houses a museum. Both towers can be toured and provide magical panoramic views over the city.
The free Braşov walking tour is ideal for history lovers. This interesting two-hour tour covers 800 years of the city’s history including Romania under the “Golden Era” of communism. You’ll hear stories about the citadel and Dracula while walking through one of the narrowest streets in Eastern Europe. The tour covers the history of the Black Church, the Council Square, Rope Street, St. Nicholas Church, the Citadel’s Walls, the Schei Quarter, and Ecaterina’s (Catherine’s) Gate.
Offered daily at 18:00, the tour is held in all weather. The guides are personable and used stories and humor to captivate us as she explained the history of Braşov. It meets at the Piata Sfatului, the Town Hall Square, next to the fountains. While the tour is ‘free’, the guides work from tips. We suggest tipping at least €5 per person, which we felt was well worth it.
Strada Sforii, also known as “Rope” and “Skinny” Street, is claimed to be Eastern Europe’s narrowest street. It’s one of Braşov’s most interesting tourist attractions and was originally used as an access route by firefighters. Found between Cerbului Street and Poarta Schei Street, this 13th-century alleyway is 53 inches at its widest point and just 44 inches at its most narrow point. Most visitors miss Strada Sforii, and never get to explore its narrow, winding path. Look for the tiny sign marking the entrance to the street.
Just outside Braşov, towering mountains clad with thick forest cover the countryside. One of our favorite tourist activities in Braşov was riding the gondola to the top of Mount Tampa. For 17 lei/ person (€3.7) you can purchase a round trip ticket, that offers marvelous views of the city. If you like hiking, 10 lei (€2) will get you a one-way ticket in either direction. Make sure you stop to admire the view of downtown Braşov. The Black Church and square can easily be spotted from above.
Braşov is a unique location. Even with its small-town, quiet feel in the middle of the mountains, restaurants and activities are plentiful. Braşov offers much to explore within, and around, the city. The nearby city of Bran is home to Bran Castle, a.k.a. the famous Dracula’s Castle! A quick 30-minute drive from Braşov, the castle is easy to find.
While Bran Castle is best known as Count Dracula’s castle, this wood and stone fortress had an essential role in protecting the Hungarian king from Ottoman and Tartar invasions. Built in 1378, the castle served both protective and commercial purposes. In 1836, Bran became the official border and in 1920, the Braşov Town council donated Bran Castle to Queen Maria of Great Romania, who lived there with the royal family until 1947. Since then, the Castle has been converted into a museum.
Castle tickets are 30 lei (€8) per adult. The uphill walk to the castle takes 10 minutes. While the attraction is kid-friendly, the castle itself with its many stairs and turns is not stroller friendly. Lined with local shopping goods and souvenirs, and plenty of places to eat along the way, the village of Bran also offers tempting strolls along the street.
The 14th-century Rasnov Fortress, on a rocky hilltop in the Carpathian Mountains, 650 ft above the town of Rasnov, was recently restored. It’s a quick day trip from Braşov’s historic center. For decades, this perfectly positioned citadel provided refuge for inhabitants of the area.
For 12 lei adult admission fee (€2.5), you get access to the maze-like inner rooms of the fortifications, a museum, a school, hundred-year-old stone houses, a skeleton buried beneath a glass floor, a few so-called secret passages, and sweeping views of the countryside.
For Festival Goers
Braşov offers many festivals throughout the year. The Beer Festival, Etnovember, and the Junii Feast, are a few that are well worth scheduling your travels to Romania around.
The Beer Festival in Braşov is a smaller version of Oktoberfest, held in the fall. You can enjoy the beers and ales from several local beer companies in the dozens of tents. Taste Romanian grilled sausages (called mici) and other traditional foods, while enjoying local and national bands and artists.
A cross between the words ‘ethnic’ and ‘November’, the intercultural festival ‘Etnovember’ reflects both the cultural traditions of the communities present. Since 1998, all ethnic groups from Braşov, Romanian, Hungarian, Jewish, Gypsy, German and Greek communities gather to celebrate their diversity and support friendship, tolerance, respect, and understanding. The three-day festival offers a wide range of art forms including dance, music, painting, photography, and design. If you want to see the heart of the Romanian people, visit Braşov during this time.
The Junii Braşovului festival (‘The Feast of the Youth’) is an ancient tradition dating back to 1728, celebrating the start of spring, the renewing of nature, and the beginning of new life. On the first Sunday after Easter, or the new year of the ancestors of the Romanians, the seven “Junii” (young men) groups from the Schei, the old district of Braşov, ride on horses from the mountains and ride around Braşov. Dressed in unique costumes, they carry mace batons, scepters, and flags, parading in front of the St. Nicholas church. In true Romanian spirit, where traditions live on, with dancing, games, and barbecuing, the festival has multiplied and an occasion to be marked on all Braşovians’ calendars.
From Bucharest to Braşov, stop about 1 hour outside of Braşov in a little railroad town of Posada for supper and take a break from the car. Enjoy a traditional Romanian dish such as cabbage rolls or smoked sausages with a side of cornmeal with salty cheese and sour cream at the restaurant called Cernica.
In Braşov, grab a pastry from one of the many window stalls and find a table in the middle of the boulevard on the main street of Strada Republicii. For a wonderful brunch experience, choose from sweet or savory crepes at the laid-back La Republique. Lunch or dinner at the stylish but still kid-friendly pizzeria, Trattoria Pocol. For an afternoon snack, the adorable bakery near the Black Church, La Vatra Ardealului, will wake you up with their strong cappuccinos and delightful tiramisu, cakes, or chocolate truffles.
Who Visits Braşov?
Often overlooked on the regular European tourist trail, Romania remains an eminently worthy travel destination in its own right. Romania is a country for those who’ve seen all the major European cities and want to get away from the overcrowded tourist hot spots. It offers plenty of tourist attractions without the craziness of tourist groups, lines, and prices.
The rich history and sights in Romania’s soon-to-be major tourist destination of Braşov in the Transylvania region make a perfect week-long getaway. Three days are sufficient to explore all that Braşov has to offer, but if you want to see more of Transylvania, you can easily add a few more nights.
How to Get There
With Romania’s 20 million people nicely spread over 240,000 square kilometers, the country is perfect for a road trip meets city type of adventure. Serviced by most major airlines, Bucharest airport makes an easy starting point. Sibiu International Airport or Aeroportul Braşov-Ghimbav airports near Braşov are closer options to consider.
After landing, rent a car, purchase a sim card with data, and head north for your 2.5-hour drive to Braşov. Romanian roads are easy to navigate and sim cards help with GPS directions, and finding restaurants.
During the return from Braşov to Bucharest, explore the well-maintained Peles Castle, and eat lunch in the nearby city of Sinaia which provided a cozy half-way stop.
Because flexibility is important for travel, rent a car via your favorite car rental website. Most car rental companies provide a free shuttle from the airport to their company only 5 minutes away from the airport. If driving in another country is not your cup of tea, taxis, buses, and even trains between cities are easy to use and inexpensive as well.
Where to Stay
Hotels are easy and plentiful to find. Below are a couple of hotels to consider for your time in Romania:
Kronhaus Bed and Breakfast in Braşov
Conacul Ambient in Cristian
Rem’s Pension in Rasnov
Conacul Bratescu in Bran
If your group is large or you are traveling with children consider opting for a more family style lodging through private apartment rental.
When to Go
For sunshine and warmer weather, the summer months are generally drier and good for walks, but don’t be surprised if you are caught in a rainstorm or two in June. Fall time creates an autumn color tour for travelers as the trees and ground are splashed with orange, yellow, and red leaves. While winter weather can be inclement, holiday time in Romania invites guests to celebrate with locals still wearing traditional clothes while caroling, admire traditionally decorated wooden houses, and enjoy homemade sausages.
Most shops and hotels will take credit cards but many restaurants, bars and smaller shops and outlets will only accept cash.
Most people speak English, but a translation app is handy for rural areas that don’t have English menus.
Purchase sim cards with 3G data for 40 lei (€8.5).
Download a maps app to help you navigate the city.
Take comfortable shoes. The best way to see all the cozy nooks in Braşov is by walking or cycling.
Pack for all weathers as even the summer weather can be unpredictable.
Currency: Leu ( plural Lei — pronunciation “lay” — abbreviations: Lei or RON )
Quick Note: Being in Kalkan the last couple of weeks has made me reminisce about our FIRST sailing trip we took our FIRST week living in Turkey (September 2016). We actually stayed on the sailboat in this little Kalkan town’s marina! What a fun opportunity to be here again with Sofia and our friends seeing some of some places FOUR years later! I hope you enjoy reminiscing with me!
Sailing along the coast of Turkey may have been one of the best vacations my husband, Jason, and I have ever taken. With our ‘want to see every site’ wife married to the ‘one city is enough’ husband, we finally found a travel mode that suited both of our needs.
As we neared the marina, I was excited and had a fear of the unknown simultaneously. Jason summed it up thus, “This could either be a really great idea or a terrible one.” Although I agreed, I leaned more towards the optimistic side, and somehow knew this was a perfect way for us to celebrate his birthday.
Our small flotilla consisted of 3 yachts. Two narrow eight passenger premier yachts, that leaned into the wind when sailing, were equipped with double cabins. The cabins had bunk or double beds and at least two communal bathrooms.
The larger, spacious catamaran held eight passengers. The private quarters had a double bed and bathroom. Each yacht had a large kitchen, a communal lounge, and spacious decks for sunbathing.
Our week started with the rules, an overview of sailing protocols, and a review of our itinerary. Since we were all adults, our skippers sped through the details knowing we were anxious to get on the water and experience what sailing was all about.
Our yacht left the marina and quietly slipped out into the quiet sea leaving the hustle and bustle of city life behind. Soon, after our group soaked in the first sites and experiences of our new adventure in the Mediterranean, we all quickly became like old friends reuniting back together, instead of strangers. There’s truth in the saying that experiences together with others will bring people, known and unknown, closer together.
Our soft-spoken and likeable skipper proved to be a skilled teacher. With the choppy water, sailing wasn’t always a viable option, so the majority of the time we had to use the engines.
I quickly abandoned my dream of being silently driven by the wind, and settled for a book and the sun on our first day.
We all rapidly adapted to sea life. Our anchoring and docking skills shined as we assisted the skipper with the more menial sailing tasks. In unison, our group worked to tie the ropes which releases and retrieves the sail to push us one way or the other. We soon realizing how much there is to learn about wind and sailing. But the skipper still made sure we all had a chance to ‘take the helm.’
Our days on the boat were surprisingly serene. With nowhere to go, you’re forced to enjoy the water, sun, and the passing coastline. We noted the change from forest to bush to the rocks that descended straight into the sea. Other boats sailed by further off, respecting the unspoken rules of sailing on the open seas.
In the mornings we dipped into the chilly water, cooled from the sunless nights. Our breakfast was self-serve and minimal. Halfway through the day our skipper, who also served as our chef, would surprise us with some creative lunch that we would enjoy in between our midday sea explorations. Personal snacks and drinks were welcome on board. We always ended up in a marina in the late afternoon and we ate dinner on dry land. No matter how much we consumed during the day, everyone was starving again by the time we landed at the marina.
Our days went like this. Each day we sailed from one coastal town to the next, the evenings free for exploring the nearest cities by the marinas. The stopovers in the coastal villages allowed us time to browse the many bazaars and markets.
One evening we moored in a secluded cove accessible only by the sailors. Snorkeling in this secluded bay revealed waters packed with sea life and the ever popular sea turtles. This location has gained traction over the years and is now popular enough to boast a large open-air covered restaurant.
This little oasis along the miles of uninhabited rocky coastline provides solid ground for wobbling first-time sailors to enjoy hearty Turkish casserole dishes, the local ‘catch of the day,’ and even wild hog hunted in the forest. After cruising all say, our dinner followed the Turkish customs, starting after sunset and visiting well into the night, with live music wafting from the background.
Our group never lacked things to do when we docked at the thriving Turkish fishing villages. Lazier options include strolling on the pristine beaches or partaking of amenities like the hammam—a traditional Turkish bath. Alternatively, we could opt to simply sit at a local bar and enjoy the golden sunset, cocktail in hand.
More active activities found us sloshing through the river and healing mud of a nearby gorge or hiking through world-famous UNESCO sites. Another day, we explored a ‘ghost town,’ deserted since 1927, where we meandered through thousands of dilapidated stone homes.
Sailing is like a road trip on the water. Instead of stopping off at a park or a truck stop, you can do activities such as snorkeling and paddle boards, while cooling off from the summer heat, or if we felt energetic, taking a hike.
Championship yachtsman, K. Adlard Coles once said, “Our voyage had commenced, and at last we were away, gliding through the clean water, past the reeds. Care was lifted from our shoulders, for we were free from advice, pessimism, officialism, heat and hot air.” Sailing on the Turkish Coast lifts the cares and burdens from your life and takes you far away from what worries you.
As Ratty states in the book Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not.
And from our experience at sea, I couldn’t agree more.
Now to you:
Have you been sailing before?
If so, where did you go?
Have you sailed in Turkey?
What was your experience like?
I’m so curious to know! Let me know in the comments below!
NOMADasaurus featured my article titled Beginner’s Guide To Backpacking In Cyprus. The article covers the highlights of our time in Cyprus and what cities and sites you should see. The article covers sites in and near Paphos and the navigating the divided capital of Nicosia. There is an in-depth guide for the country info and all the where to stay, eat, and when to go!
NOMADasaurus is Australia’s biggest adventure travel blog. Travel writers and photographers Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem aim “to inspire people to seek out new adventures and meaningful travel experiences.”
Cyprus wins major historical points. By legend, this 9,250 km island is the birthplace of the ancient Greek goddess of love Aphrodite. However, the modern enmity between its Greek and Turkish inhabitants rivals ancient Greek mythology with its continued reconciliation efforts today.
In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus twice and after the 2nd invasion, both parties established the ceasefire which is known as the Green Line.
Both sides effectively partitioned the United Nations troops patrolled this “Green Line” dividing the two parts: the northern third inhabited by Turkish Cypriots and the southern two-thirds by Greek Cypriots.
Both Turkish and Greek people were moved hastily to their matching nationality’s side and until 2008, the border remained closed due to the Turkish occupation of the north side of the island.
Neither the United States nor any country, other than Turkey, recognizes the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”.
Sprinkled with castles, churches, monasteries, mosaics, white-sand beaches along the blue seas, Cyprus is also a land for romantics.
Lale Magazine featured my article titled Snowy Weekend in Cappadocia in their January/February 2018. The article covers a romantic weekend getaway to the snowy land of Cappadocia. The curved canyons of speckled volcanic rock jutting 2 to 3 stories into the chilled winter air were dusted with the recent fluffy snowfall!
The expat magazine, Lale Magazine, is produced by the IWI, International Women of Istanbul. The bi-monthly magazine is shipped to over 600 private home, as well as all advertisers and sponsors. The readers are comprised mostly of Turkish nationals married to foreigners, but also foreigners living in Istanbul. It is full of helpful information about local schools, exhibits for art and workshops, and experiences with IWI groups. There aren’t a lot of English print magazines in Turkey, so this is a fun magazine to have available!
Here is the start of the article:
While most tourists prefer to visit Cappadocia, in central Turkey, in the warmer summer temperatures, our winter travels there proved much more rewarding. Snow covers the usual brown facade and dresses the rocks in white, giving the area a beautiful, wintery glow.
The area prides itself on its carpet-weaving, wines, and the distinctive red pottery of Avanos. The snow and colder weather didn’t stop store owners or their warm rooms from inviting customers into their galleries.
Tour agencies in the region offer four tour routes labeled Green, Red, Blue, and Purple. To best explore Cappadocia you can choose a self-guided, well-traveled tour using a map in a rental car, or via a tour company. Private day guides are always available and cost less during the offseason. Your guided tour may or may not include the entrance tickets and lunch, so be sure to clarify this before agreeing on a price. Take the Green and Red Tours for the more popular sites or, the less-traveled, Blue and Purple Tours if you have been before.