46 days. 17 flights. 6 countries. Old friends. New friends. Desert night. Beaches. Sunshine. Dancing. Wedding. Calamari. Rosé. Champagne. Rakı. Baptism. And so much more.

From Greece I headed back to Turkey, then Romania and Germany. Here is Part #3 of this summer’s adventures:

Stop #8 – Country #4: Turkey. Return to Ankara. Not initially planned, but a welcome addition. I was invited to attend a friend’s traditional Turkish henna night and wedding. How could I say no to that? One of my favourite things about traveling is experiencing first hand, with locals, a new culture. I’ll admit it was a little surreal going from dancing in gay bars with drag shows one night to dancing traditional Turkish folk dances the next – but also totally wonderful. This isn’t the kind of thing you can really plan – it just happens. The more diverse your friends, the more diverse your life experiences.

Beautiful back yard lighting help set the festive mood.

Beautiful back yard lighting helped set the festive mood.

Henna_candles

At one point during the henna evening, we (the bridesmaids, decked out in flower crowns) guided the bride down to the dance floor, lighting the way with candles. This is where the henna ceremony happened.

 

The bride in beautiful traditional dress for the henna ceremony.

The beautiful bride in traditional dress for the henna ceremony.

11259947_903561119725549_1380797400_o

Getting ready for the henna, which is placed in the palm of the hand.

12022153_903561126392215_1769949834_o

We even had a Turkish gypsy band playing. They were amazing!

Our entertainment for the evening was a Turkish gypsy band. They were amazing! And in true gypsy form…we got a call before the evening started to  let us know that they were at the police station and would be a little late. Apparently they were on the bus on their way to us when they got into a fight with the driver. Somehow a window was broken and they found themselves at the police station. I’m not sure how accurate that is…but it makes for a great story! In the end, they arrived at the perfect time and were great. Everyone was up and dancing.

I have never seen anyone move their hips like the band's singer...not even a belly dancer...

Dancing with the bride-to-be and the band’s singer. I have never seen anyone move their hips like that…not even a belly dancer…

The crowd in the backyard - largely women to begin with as the men were out front having tea and talking. Eventually though, pretty much everyone made out to the back yard dance floor.

The crowd in the backyard – largely women to begin with as the men were out front having tea and talking. Eventually though, pretty much everyone made it out to the back yard dance floor.

In true Turkish hospitality, I was welcomed into my friend’s family home with wide open arms, smiles and warmth. It is a privilege to see how families live and how they celebrate big life events. To be included in so much of it and given such important roles was an honour. I loved every second of it.

With the bride's brother. Not sure why I'm covering my face...likely should have been covering my cleavage.

With the bride’s brother. Not sure why I’m covering my face…likely should have been covering my cleavage.

The day after the henna night there was an afternoon cocktail wedding, followed by a traditional Turkish meal with close family and friends. I have to say that we are talking about two amazing people who have found each other, and we were here to celebrate them as they officially start their lives together.

Tuty and Okan 2

Tuty and Okan.

Tuty and Okan 4

Tuty and Okan

Beautiful.

12019124_903555816392746_1806006032_o

The couple as they enter the wedding ceremony – different than the custom in my country, where the groom is waiting for the bride to enter. I liked seeing them enter together.

Tuty asked me to be her witness - which I was more than happy to do. I had no idea it meant that I would be at the front of the hall during the entire ceremony (which luckily is much shorter than a Catholic wedding). I'm used to the witnesses going up when it is time to sign, and only then. Here I also had to respond to a question (I'm assuming it was whether or not I would support them in their life together). Luckily I know how to say yes in Turkish, so "evet" it was!

Tuty asked me to be her witness – which I was more than happy to do. I had no idea it meant that I would be at the front of the hall during the entire ceremony (which luckily is much shorter than a Catholic wedding). I’m used to the witnesses going up when it is time to sign, and only then. I also had to respond to a question, which I’m assuming was whether or not I would support them in their life together. Luckily I know how to say yes in Turkish, so “evet” it was!

12006752_903555819726079_1534376663_o

And they are married!

12019318_903564783058516_338733507_o

12015418_903564779725183_343291053_o

And they have a great sense of humour.

After a 90-minute reprieve it was time for rakı night with friends. I could go on and on and write in a lot more detail about every little tradition I experienced during those two days, but maybe I’ll leave that for a future post on cultural traditions.

IMG_4133

Rakı night at Bekri.

IMG_4134

şerefe!

To top it all off, their family and friends made sure I (the only non-Turkish person there) always had someone to talk to and was having fun – seems they were worried I would get bored. Not a chance! Too much to see, soak in, and experience. I now have new friends in Ankara and know I will spend time with them when I go back. In fact I look forward to doing so. This is another upside to travel – you get to create social circles in different cities and countries. How blessed I am.

At rakı night post wedding with the new bride and groom and their friends.

At rakı night post wedding with the new bride and groom and their friends.

Stop #9 – Country #4: Turkey. Çeşme. Another first. And again, it won’t be the last. I’d heard about Çeşme for a few years from friends and hadn’t managed to make it there yet. It was long overdue. I met up with a friend when I got there, and was lucky enough to have her show me her little piece of paradise, at the Paparazzi Beach Club on Ayayorgi Bay.

Dinner seaside.

Dinner seaside.

My hostess.

My hostess.

I then spent a few days on my own – enjoying the warm sun and cool, clear water. As I didn’t rent a car, the best way to get around to the different areas was the dolmuş. A dolmuş is part of the Turkish public transit system, and is a mini-bus/van. You enter through a door in the middle of the mini-bus, and then tell the driver where you are going. Your fare is based on how far you are traveling. If it is busy and you can’t get to the driver, you hand your money to people in front of you who give it to the driver. If you have change coming your way, people hand it back to you. Heading to the Fly-Inn beach club was my first dolmuş experience. Easy peasy. It’s an awesome service. Although it was a reminder that I really need to advance my Turkish…not enough words in my vocabulary and putting a real sentence together…well, not quite happening yet. Something to work on.

Cesme_Fly_Inn Beach

Fly-Inn beach club. I loved the cliffs and the clear blue water. Refreshing! This particular beach was recommended by another friend who lives close by – local recommendations are always the best.

Cesme_Fly-Inn Beach 2

Fly-Inn beach club. Another beautiful sunny day by (and in) the water.

The village of Alaçati is particularly pretty, and a few hours of strolling through the streets before hitting another beach provided me with more delightful discoveries – quaint outdoor spaces, beautiful streets, outdoor cafés and more.

Cesme_Alacat 1

Alaçati.

Cesme_Alacati 2

Alacati. I stopped for a cold lemonade and a bite to eat here. It was lovely – and delicious.

Cesme_Alacati 3

Alacati. I loved the little streets and all the flowers.

Cesme_Alacati 4

Alacati. Filled with quaint restaurants with outdoor seating areas.

Cesme_Alacati 5

Alacati.

Cesme_Alacati 6

Alacati.

Cesme_Alacati 7

Not a bad view from my  hotel room either.

Cesme_White Boutique Hotel room

This is the first time I’ve had a hotel room that opened up directly into the pool.

I’ll be back…as soon as I can. There is a lot more to explore and experience here, including a very active night life! And besides, I love the sound of the sea hitting the shore, the sunshine and the water.

Çeşme Marina.

Çeşme Marina.

 

Stop #10 – Country #6: Romania. Baptism in Bucharest. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my brother and his wife have a beautiful 6-month old little girl. She is one smiley, happy baby, and it was her baptism. I was lucky enough to have been to Romania last summer for their wedding, and it was a treat to return. The Hotel Rembrandt in the old city is the perfect place to stay, and it felt good to find myself at “our” table at Van Gogh upon arrival.

Back at Café Van Gogh. This was my family's meeting spot last summer when we were in Bucharest for the wedding.

Back at Café Van Gogh. This was my family’s meeting spot last summer when we were in Bucharest for the wedding.

The baptism itself was lovely, as was discovering new spots in this city with family and friends. Having just spent 18 months living in a post-communism country, I saw similarities in Bucharest. There is a certain architecture that is common to communism, and an overall ‘feeling’. I like Bucharest – even since last year there are more cafés, renovated old buildings and “cool” neighbourhoods. It’s nice to see the city grow and develop.

Bucharest 2

Bucharest. Loved walking through the different neighbourhoods.

Bucharest 4

Bucharest. Beautiful old buildings refurbished to live a new life.

Bucharest 5

Bucharest. Lovely.

Bucharest 6

Bucharest. Given house prices…it is tempting to purchase this one and bring it back to its original splendour!

Bucharest_sunset

Bucharest. Beautiful sunset as we walk through the old city to dinner.

Bucharest 7

Once the baptism festivities were concluded, it was time to head back to Germany with my brother and his family. Back to where this 46-day journey began. Hard to believe it is over and I would honestly love to do it all over again. But I guess it is time for a new adventure.

Meanwhile, I’ll say it one more time….I am a very, very, lucky girl. What an array of experiences and memories.

Thank you universe. I am eternally grateful.

Happiness. With family and friends at Café Van Gogh, Bucharest.

Happiness. With family and friends at Café Van Gogh, Bucharest.

 

PS: Thanks again to my friends at RASK Travel for their assistance with some of the arrangements. You guys are amazing!