Friday, March 27, 2015

Countdown: 24 days until the Boston Marathon


It's less than a month until the Boston Marathon (24 days to be exact) and I am cramming in the training like a freshman before finals.

WAIT. Calm down. I am going to taper. But there is a plan and that plan involves running another 20-miler this weekend! Woohoo? (Siiiiigh 20 miles all by myself, solo, alone with my thoughts...)

I'm following the same training plan I used for my last marathon (thanks George!), except ahem I may or may not have taken a week off here and there this time around. So yes, I'm behind. Thus, what kind of shape am I in? Who knows. I don't even know! It's been a bit of a roller coaster ride training-wise, so come race day I could run anything from a PR to a 4-hour marathon. 

So here's the plan: 20 this weekend, 16 next weekend, 12 the weekend after that, then marathon time!

The good news is that it is FINALLY spring(ish) here in Boston! Case in point: today I went for a run in the rain. Which might sound unpleasant to some but focus, I said rain, not snow

So what did this month-before-marathon week look like? 
  • Monday: run 6.6 miles
  • Tuesday: tempo workout -- warm up 2 miles, 2x2 miles with 1 mile in between, 2 miles cool down -- 9 miles total
  • Wednesday: yoga!
  • Thursday: run 6.6 miles
  • Friday: tempo run -- warm up 2 miles, 4 mile tempo, cool down 2 miles -- 8 total
  • Saturday: run 4 miles
  • Sunday: 20 mile progression run
So after Sunday, my week total will be 54 miles, which isn't a lot for marathoners, but it's plenty for me!

Anywho, just wanted to give you people of the interwebs an update on my training. Next week I'll write more on how to taper! And also marathon nutrition, because gels and gus and blocs and hydration are important.

(Also, please help me get to my fundraising goals by donating to childhood obesity research!)


Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Worst Run Ever


Sometimes running can be really terrible. We've all been there -- a run that starts bad and gets worse. And worse. And worse. If you're anything like me, such a run makes you question your fitness and training and existence, leading you to regret taking up this insane sport in the first place.

Luckily the truly terrible runs are relatively rare. Unluckily I experienced one recently.


Pause: It sounds like we're going down a deep dark path of intense misery and self-pity...and I'll be honest, we are (briefly). BUT happily this blog has a happy ending. Because though one bad run may feel like the end of all things good, it's not! It's just a bad day! And a week later you can have an awesome run and feel amazing!

So with that happy ending guaranteed, we return to the story.

I was in DC last weekend for school and work. On Saturday I had a brunch reservation for 10:45 at Zengo (aka the morning is time-bound...this fact becomes relevant later), so of course I met SpeedyKate for a long run beforehand.

I was so psyched to be somewhere not under 4 feet of snow! With sidewalks! That I could see! And a balmy temp above zero! As I mentioned in previous posts, I've been having a hard time getting my long runs in (because Boston), so this DC venture seemed like a necessary moment for a 16-miler (because marathon).

I woke up tired that morning, not really feeling like running, but that's never stopped me before. Not questioning my predetermined fate, I pulled on my tights and went out to meet SpeedyKate. We ran down into Rock Creek Park with the plan of surviving running roadside (the bike path was completely caked in ice) until we got to Beach Drive, which is closed to cars on weekends.
I frequently start a run feeling tired, but then as I warm up and get in a rhythm it gets better. I wanted that to be the case on this run. We hit the 4-mile mark and all I wanted to do was turn back, but I thought maybe it would get better. We passed 6-miles and still I felt the same. We got to the end of the road (about 7.5 miles in) and stopped in a bathroom to briefly warm up and eat some sports beans. At this point all I knew was that had to survive the run back.



Our rapid-fire chatter had slowed to a silent stoic slog (on my part at least). I mentally grasped onto each story SpeedyKate told, secretly telling myself that I could walk when she finished talking, but then when she got to the end, telling myself, no you have to keep going. At about mile 12 I couldn't do it anymore though. Kate, I'm sorry, but we have to walk. This has literally never happened before, but whatever, we're friends, and honestly I was too tired to feel ashamed or care. We walked for maybe 100 meters, then the promise of brunch (and the fact that we had to get back in time to get to brunch) got me going again. I hobbled my way to the end of the run, dodging cars, resisting crying, and HATING running with the most burning of burning passion with every step. Never again, never again, never again I chanted to myself as I ran up the last hill. Which is obviously not even a little bit true, but in the moment felt like the only promise that would get me to the finish.

A very hot shower and 4-hour brunch later (no joke, DC knows how to brunch) I felt like a human again. Turns out I was getting sick and didn't really realize it, which explains at least part of the terribleness of that morning.

Post-run, looking and feeling like humans again.

I took most of the following week easy/off, doing yoga, resting up, and trying to feel like a real person again.

Then, yesterday, I went out for a long run with the Tufts Marathon Team. It was a sunshiny warm(ish) morning and I ran a slow but successful 20 miles. It was great! I felt fine! I'm not out of shape, and may even be in better shape than I thought!  

Post-20-miler happy/tired!

So the moral of this story is that bad runs happen. To beginner runners, experienced super-good runners, and all the people in between. But at the end of the day, even the worst run ever is still a run to be grateful for. And a week (or even a day) after the most terrible of the terrible can be fun and full of energy and restore your faith in yourself and the sport. 


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Marathon Training in a Series of Snowstorms


Monday marked 2-months-till-Boston (and also, coincidentally, my 28th birthday!), which means that this marathon is no longer a concept of the distant future but a very real and very imminent issue that must be addressed now now. But addressing it means training, and training in Boston this February is at best not easy, and at worst not possible.


Let me set the stage for this tragic comedy of meteorological error. You may have heard a little bit about Boston's multi-record-breaking winter this year? (Ok good. Documenting the atrocity is part of the healing process.) Right now, as we speak, there are 4-6 feet of snow lining every sidewalk. But "sidewalk" may be too generous of a term -- narrow ice rink? Crunchy packed snow and ice that may at one point have been a sidewalk? Snow bank that has not been cleared once this year? -- thus running, if pursued as an outside activity (which it should be!), must be done almost exclusively on the roads.


The problem isn't so much that it has snowed a lot. It's that it has snowed a TON, in rapid succession, and been so Arctic-ly cold that not one single flake has melted.  

So what's a marathon-hopeful to do? IMPROVISE!

First off, I am taking a very flexible approach to days off and scheduling. For example, if it snows a ton and everything is shut down (including the gym), then looks like I'm doing abs in my living room! If it's relatively warm on a Wednesday -- get in a long run!

The next part is that I am getting very friendly with the treadmill. Now, just between us, I do not like the treadmill. One might even say I hate it. But I am fostering a temporary truce with this torturous contraption for the time being. I'm not quite up to doing a truly long run on the 'mill, but I do have some long run-ish workouts that keep me mildly entertained. This gem for example that adds up to 13 miles in total: warm up 3 miles, 4x1 mile with 1 mile recovery, cool down 3 miles.

Third is that when I do run outside, I remember that it's cold and that therefore I will not be running as fast (because science). Knowing this keeps me from getting upset or frustrated or unrealistically feeling out of shape.

Finally, I am SO looking forward to spring! Which at this point I would define as above-freezing temperatures. You guys, it's going to be amazing!



If you're interested in more details on my workouts, you can check my workout log page. Also, if you would like to support me in my marathon endeavor please donate here. Meanwhile I'll be on the treadmill...


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

I'm running the Boston Marathon!


Oh that's right. You may have thought that I completely fell off of the running bandwagon due to the complete lack of running blog posts recently, but it's not true! I've been running a lot! And not just running, marathon training!


Alright let's back up a bit. Last year I'd qualified for Boston, registered, and was training, well on my way to what I hoped would be a PR. But then disaster struck (of course). I got injured about a month out and was unable to race. Instead I spent my Marathon Monday on the sideline.

So this year, my last year living in Boston, I was determined to do it again and this time make it to the start (and finish!) line. The glitch, however, is that my BQ (Boston Qualifier) time I'd run in DC in March 2013 expired. If enthusiasm and willpower were the entry criteria I'd be in, but sadly such is not the case. So I looked to alternative options and found the perfect solution...


Tufts University (where I am in grad school) has an organized Marathon Team that runs for a different Tufts-related cause every year. This year all the money raised is going to the Friedman School of Nutrition to fund health research on childhood obesity. I can support that! And I can also support training for the marathon with a great group of friends. And, of course, I can fully completely 100% entirely support running the Boston Marathon! (And if you would like to support me, I would very very greatly and forever appreciate any donation. Thank you I love you!)

So where are we today? Well, like I said, I've been running. Running in the cold. Running in the snow. Running (or slip-sliding) on the goshdarn-awful slush and ice. And when I just can't (69 inches in the last 30 days), running on an indoor track or treadmill.

My longest run so far is 14 miles (I blame the weather!), and my workouts have been a bit intermittent. But THE MARATHON is looming -- in 68 days as my page dutifully reminds me -- so it's time to get motivated!

I will be blogging regularly throughout this training experience about workouts, marathoning, staying motivated, injury prevention (rule #1: make it to the start line), and very likely some epic post-long run brunches if I'm lucky.

Thank you, as always, for following, reading, and supporting me in my slightly insane sporting endeavors!




Thursday, January 8, 2015

Roasted Garlic, Carmelized Onion, Butternut Squash, and Eggplant Soup


Long-time readers may recall that my friends and I dubbed 2013 The Year to Be Brave. That year we left our comfortable bubble of fun times in DC and set off to start grad schools and new jobs and have crazy experiences literally all over the world. Last year, 2014, we titled The Year to Be Awesome. Why? Because once we'd been brave in arriving at and settling into new places, new routines, and made new friends, it was time to excel at the things we'd expended so much bravery to do.

Photo Credit: Jon White
And here we are again, facing the start of a new year. Grad school -- so long and yet so short! -- is almost over, and what happens next is anyone's guess. But since this whole little self-designed horoscope started two years ago, we've all done a lot and learned a lot and grown a lot. And so I christen year 2015 The Year to Be Confident. Because this is the year that we remember that we are competent professionals, capable adults, and all-around well-adapted individuals who can handle whatever 2015 has coming at us.

This leads me to my New Year's resolutions. One is to cook (real food, not desserts) following actual recipes. See, I cook almost every night. And I do like the food I make. But it's all variations on a theme (oh hey bowl-o-dinner), and there are a lot of great recipes out there and cooking techniques that I don't even know I don't know! So my goal is to cook at least four real recipes from real cookbooks. This sounds modest, but last year my total recipe following count was one. Just one.

But that one, from Jerusalem cookbook, was pretty freaking good and I learned a new (to me) technique: burnt eggplant. It sounds like the worst but it is the best -- basically, the eggplant skin is burnt and the insides are roasted (but not dried out) and delicious. And it goes great in soup!

The following recipe is does not count towards my resolution because I made it up. But it's delicious and a great way to start off a very cold January. All the components are slow-cooked and sweet-savory and deeelicious. They're pureed with an immersion blender, but then you add barley and beans for something to chew on and some fresh garnishes on top to brighten things up. I served this at a dinner party with bread and salad and everyone said they loved it. It's completely vegetarian (and easily could be vegan) and also completely satisfying.

Roasted Garlic, Carmelized Onion, Butternut Squash, and Eggplant Soup

Serves 8
Ingredients:
  • 1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 3 medium-sized yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 4-6 cups vegetable broth (or bouillon cubes)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup Trader Joe's 10-minute barley (or any kind, I just like the speed of the quick-cooking kind)
  • 1 large can (24 oz) white beans or chick peas, drained

Garnishes:
  • fresh basil, julienned
  • plain yogurt (or sour cream or crème fraiche)
  • grated cheese (sharp cheddar or mozzarella)

Directions:
  1. For the roasted garlic: Cut the top off the head of garlic, drizzle with olive oil, and wrap in tin foil. Roast in a 350 degrees oven for at least an hour (I started the garlic, roasted it for an hour, then left it in the oven while the eggplant broiled).
  2. For the burnt eggplant: Line a pan with tin foil. Stab the eggplant all around with a fork (so it doesn't explode). With the broiler on high, broil the eggplant for 15 minutes per side, about one hour total, until the skin is burnt and the eggplant looks deflated. Remove from the oven to cool before you touch it.
  3. For the carmelized onions: In a medium-sized saucepan, brown the butter over medium heat until it smells delicious (pay attention so it doesn't burn!). Add the onions, stir, and turn the heat to low. Cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and sweet.
  4. For the squash: Once the other components are on their way, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a soup pot. Add cubed butternut squash and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Add broth to cover the squash, bring it to a boil, then turn it to a simmer. Simmer until squash is tender, about 15-20 minutes.
  5. Barley: Cook barley according to instructions.
  6. Assembly: Add spices to squash and broth. Scrape insides out of the eggplant skin and add to the pot. Squeeze roasted garlic out of its husk and add to the pot. Add in carmelized onions. Use an immersion blender, if necessary adding more water or broth. Add beans and barley and cook for 5-10 more minutes.
  7. Serve topped with a spoonful of yogurt, a sprinkling of basil, and cheese as desired.




Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cake of the Week: Sweet Potato Cake with Molasses Buttercream


Fall is here! As of about a week ago a shockingly beautiful and balmy autumn came to an abrupt end and we are currently in the midst of a nor'easter, as the New Englanders say. The wind is blowing, the rain is falling, and my bike ride to and from school (and everywhere else I go) has become decidedly damply disagreeable.


We are also in the midst of our own personal nor'easter here at the Fletcher School. By that I mean, we're mid-semester and gusts of oh-jeez-it's-time-to-start-that are howling, the constant drip-drop of doodle polls (to schedule all the group meetings) are dampening our mood,  and every now and then a torrent of class to meeting to study group to job application to class to office hours pours on our heads, soaking our spirits and squelching our self-confidence.

But just like how in a real storm people are nicer, in this storm of work we are lucky to have each other! Friends tutor friends, hugs and high-fives are the norm, and every time someone says I don't think I'm going to make it, someone else says Yes you will!



This week was particularly bad for a few of my friends. There were some big scary mid-terms going on and by Wednesday afternoon everyone looked a mix of dazed and relieved and tired. So what did we do? Celebrate of course. And what did I bring? Cake well duh.


This recipe is all things fall -- slow roasted super-sweet sweet potatoes, spicy spices, and a molasses buttercream that I thought might be too much, but is really just right. The cake itself is very light, thanks to the beaten egg whites, and really does taste like sweet potatoes, not like wannabe pumpkin. And the frosting. Oh the frosting. I love molasses, so obviously this was great.


Sweet Potato Layer Cake with Molasses Buttercream

Adapted from Love and Olive Oil

For Cake:
  • 1 large sweet potatoes (about 1/2 lb)
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
For Frosting:
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar 
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup milk or cream, more or less as needed
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prick sweet potato in a few spots with a fork, then place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour, or until the potato is very soft and beginning to caramelize. Remove from oven and cool slightly.
  2. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 9-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper or a square of foil; butter and flour parchment/foil.
  3. When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel of the skins and remove any blemishes. Pulse in a food processor until smooth. Measure out 1 cup of puree (discard or reserve the rest for another use).
  4. In a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Set aside.
  5. In a large metal mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Gradually beat in /4 cup of sugar, increase speed to high, and beat until the egg whites form moderately stiff peaks.
  6. In another large mixing bowl, combine sweet potato, butter, vanilla, and remaining 2 cups sugar. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. With the mixer on low speed, add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed by 1/2 of the milk. Repeat with another 1/3 dry ingredients, remaining milk, and finally remaining dry ingredients, mixing until just incorporated.
  7. Using a large rubber spatula, fold 1/4 of egg whites into the batter to lighten it. Add the remaining egg white and continue to fold just until incorporated; be sure not to overmix the batter.
  8. Divide batter among prepared cake pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks and cool completely, at least 1 hour.
  9. For the frosting: in a large mixing bowl, beat butter on medium-high speed until smooth and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add molasses and beat until incorporated. Depending on the temperature and consistency of your frosting at this point, add milk or cream, 1 tablespoon at a time as needed, then continue beating until frosting is light and fluffy.
  10. Assembly: place one layer, flat side down, on a cake stand or serving platter. Spread on a layer of buttercream. Position second layer on top. Repeat with another layer of buttercream, and then position final cake layer, flat side up.
  11. Cover the entire cake with a thin layer of buttercream. This "crumb coat" will make frosting the cake easier. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes to allow this crumb coat to set.
  12. Remove cake from refrigerator and frost with remaining buttercream. I garnished the top with chopped almonds and cinnamon, just because.



Monday, October 6, 2014

Cake of the Week: Boston Cream Pie


Well here I am back again, for my sixth (and final!) academic year in Boston. Though this city is small, it is somehow big city famous for a number of things, most notably cold, colleges, clam chowder, the Charles, cannoli, and Boston Cream Pie. 



Until a couple weeks ago, however, I had never tried the city's signature dessert! (Except in undergrad dining hall, which is obviously not a great example of anything.) So for our innagural Wednesday dinner party of the semester, RoommateRachel made clam chowder and I experimented with pastry cream and made what I must say was a de-freaking-licious Boston Cream Pie, following the classic Omni Parker House Recipe. 



Let's talk about this "pie" for a bit, as it is confusing. First things first, Boston Cream Pie is not a pie at all. It is a two-layer sponge cake filled with pastry cream and covered in chocolate ganache. It originated at what was then the Parker House in downtown Boston in 1856. And here's a fun fact: the Boston Cream Pie has been distinguished as Massachusetts’ official state dessert over Toll House Cookies and the Fig Newton. That's some pretty stiff competition!


This recipe constituted a few firsts for me: my first sponge cake, and my first pastry cream. Both turned out excellent. The sponge cake is shockingly simple and really delicious -- just some eggs and flour and sugar. And the pastry cream, OH THE PASTRY CREAM. That is all.


Some notes about the recipe: since I have to work with the pans I have, instead of making the cake in a 10-inch pan (who has that??), I did two layers in 9-inch pans. Also, the original recipe made about twice as much pastry cream than was needed. The recipe below is adapted to be what you should do. The original recipe I adapted from is here.

Boston Cream Pie

Sponge Cake:
  • 7 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
Pastry Cream:
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon dark rum (or vanilla)
Chocolate Ganache:
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds for garnish
Directions:
  1. For the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. Separate egg yolks and whites in large bowls. Add ½ of the sugar to each bowl. Beat the whites until stiff peaks form, and beat the yolks until they look light in color. 
  3. Fold the whites into the yolk mixture. Gradually fold in flour with a spatula. Fold in the butter. Pour this mixture into two 9-inch round greased cake pans. 
  4. Bake  for about 20 minutes, or until spongy and golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool fully.
  5. For the pastry cream: In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the butter, milk, and light cream to a boil. 
  6. While this mixture is cooking, combine the sugar, cornstarch and eggs in a bowl and whip thoroughly. 
  7. When the cream, milk, butter mixture reaches the boiling point, slowly whisk in the egg mixture and cook to boiling. Boil for one minute. 
  8. Pour into a bowl and cover the surface with plastic wrap. Chill overnight if possible. When chilled, whisk in 1 tsp. dark rum or vanilla. 
  9. For the ganache: once cake and pastry cream are completely cool, immediately before assembling the cake, heat cream in the microwave until it's very hot but not boiling. Add in chocolate chips and let sit for one minute. Stir until smooth.
  10. Assembly: This one's pretty straight-forward. Spread pastry cream in a thick layer on top of the first cake. Top with the second cake. Spread ganache over the top and sprinkle the top and sides with slivered almonds. The cake will look messy. It's supposed to. And trust me, no one will care. 



Thursday, October 2, 2014

The State of Mollie: October 2014

Well it's official, I have finally succeeded in overloading myself. Just one month in the second year of grad school is craaaaazy and I am a wee bit overwhelmed. I feel like I have been doing many things, everything, all the things all the time, which explains my month-long internet absence. But I miss blogging (aka writing for fun), so here I am back again!


To be clear, for the most part all the things are mostly good things that I am interested in and want to do. So, other than busy, what is the State of Mollie?

Well on the school front (I will keep this brief so as not to bore you), second year woohoo! I am taking four very interesting classes this semester -- internal wars, gender in conflict, corruption in post-conflict peacebuilding, and big data for strategic decision-making. Basically, if it has "conflict" in the title I'm there. I'm also auditing a French class three days a week just for funsies. I'm also working as a research assistant for one of my professors, and also as a writing tutor (making the monies, like ya do), and also as an editor of this journal. I also have a thesis to write and a job to find...gah enough stop pressuring me!

Apple crisp with homemade cinnamon ice cream!


But the great thing about second year is that you come back and already have friends, and therefore can really hit the ground running on the social front. I've been trying my best not to say no to any social invitations, which at some point will become unsustainable but for now is quite fun. Back-to-school has also meant back to weekly Wednesday Dinners, and ooooh I have some recipes to share with you! Boston cream pie. Apple tart with pastry cream. Apple crisp and homemade cinnamon ice cream. More on that later...

Kyle visited from Azerbaijan, so of course we went to a brewery.

On the weekend report front (oh dear oh my so much too much to report!), last weekend a big group of school friends went to New Hampshire to rock climb and hang in the beautiful White Mountains. We climbed at Rumney and it was awesome!


Speaking of New Hampshire, a couple weeks ago a different group of school friends -- 24 total -- did the Reach the Beach Relay Race and it was awesome! We started Friday morning at Cannon Mountain, and 207 miles and many many hours (approximately 29) later were at Hampton Beach. I ran 19 miles total, at an average of just under 7-minute pace. Considering the MOUNTAINS I ran at approximately 6pm and 3am, I'm pretty pleased with that.



Which brings me to running. In the wake of that most fun relay, we all got excited about running (obviously I am always excited about running) and signed up for the Baystate Half Marathon on October 19th! So I've been "training" -- doing some long runs, a couple workouts, ya know the usual. I've never done a half marathon before, so I'm pretty excited.

In addition to running, I renewed my rock gym membership and have been going to climb and stretch it all out with yoga a couple times a week. Clearly my "so busy" involves more extracirriculars than perhaps it should...but what can I say? I love fun activities.



In conclusion, the State of Mollie as of October 2014 is strong.






Saturday, September 6, 2014

Travels in Turkey: Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia


Cappadocia is an adventure out of Dr. Seus's imagination.


Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You're off to great places!
You're off and away!
...
You'll be on your way up!
You'll be seeing great sights!
You'll join the high-fliers
who soar to high heights!

After a night on the bus from Fethiye, I looked out the window into the 7 am sunlight. The hilly dry Northern California coast-like landscape had transformed to a sweeping vista of even hillier even dryer Central Valley-like golden hills (clearly someone is homesick and has CA on the brain). As we descended into the Goreme Valley however, things took a turn for the weird. The hills were suddenly interspersed with giant sandstone pillars, and the washes off the giant mesa above the town reached their fingers into the landscape.


Shepherded off the bus we were immediately put into a car and two minutes later were at out hostel, which was literally built into the rocks. Morning glories and bougainvillea and roses are everywhere you go (which would explain all the rose flavored turkish delight and perfumes and soaps here). And stone of course -- everything is made of stone. After a delicious breakfast (bread, roasted eggplant spears, and big slices of fresh feta = yummm), our tour van picked us up for the day.


I'm not an organized tour person (at all), but in the case of Cappadocia it seemed like the best way to go. The sights are spread out far, so besides renting a car, there's really no other way to do it.

We started the day at a tower of cave churches built into cliffs. The area was inhabited by ancient Christians who were being persecuted by the Romans (or whomever else was invading at that point), so they built they homes and places of worship where no one could find them.


If you know me at all, or have been a Eat Run Read-er for a while, you know how much I love scrambling over rocks. Climbing into high up caves, clambering to ledges, and peering over edges -- i.e., the entire Cappadocia region -- is my jam.


Next stop was the Ihlara Valley, which is a deep canyon also full of ancient churches. We did a little (4k) hike along the bottom and had lunch along the stream at the end and it was lovely.



Third (and final major) stop that day was an underground city. It was HUGE -- a series of eight floors of caves and caverns and hallways and rooms. And there are many many more caves of this city that you can't go into, or haven't yet been excavated! On the bright side, it was nice to be underground and out of the hot sun. On the less bright side (literally), I am not a huge fan of caves so the underground city was fine but not my fave. Once you've seen one in a series of caves, you've pretty much seen them all...


And I have to share this part -- that night our hostel room was in a cave. As in, Kathryn and I climbed up a very scary ladder drilled into the rock and found two nice mattresses on the floor of a spacious well-lit cave, pleasantly separate from our hostel-mates.


Alright so the next morning was the BIG EVENT that everyone does: a sunrise hot air balloon ride. We were picked up at 4:30 am and shuttled to an office waiting area where blurry-eyed tourists sat quietly (I repeat: 4:30 am) awaiting whatever came next. They soon put us back into vans by balloon pilot. In the pre-dawn light we drove on a dirt road through the rock pillars and hills but then eventually realized that many of what we thought were hills were actually hot air balloons, slowly slowly inflating like giant elephants waking up.


We watched others and our own inflate, and then were told to climb in. The take-off (and the entire ride actually) was completely smooth and gentle. Our balloon rose to join those a few minutes ahead of us, and watched others take off below us. The sight was surreal: a slow moving invasion of tourists, all neatly contained in large baskets of 20 and propelled slowly slowly 500 feet above the ground by giant colorful balloons.


The ride in total was 45 minutes. Our pilot took us up and down with the air currents, flying over pumpkin vines and pistachio trees and phallic pillars (you know you're thinking the same thing). 


We saw the sun rise over the mesa, getting a complete view of Goreme, and finally touching down in a vineyard. I could not be happier -- what a magical way to spend a morning!


And since that started so early, we still had a full day ahead of us. Day 2 was the "red tour," which is mostly sights close to Goreme. It was a lot of ok get into the van, ok now get out, ok now back in....but I can't get over how cool the high caves and rock formations are!


My favorites were the open air museum...


...and wherever this was (Imagination Valley maybe?)...


...and this last stop because I very definitely climbed up everything. Kathryn is a great travel buddy because she fully supports, encourages, and often documents any and all antics. 


In conclusion, Cappadocia was amazing, and hot air ballooning might be the coolest thing I've ever done, and this blog post is way too long, and we did even more things than I told you about here, but basically you should just go and see for yourself. 

Next stop: Istanbul!




Monday, September 1, 2014

Travels in Turkey: Beach Time in Fethiye


After a summer of fun (and also a lot of work) in DC, my adventure itch started itching, the travel bug bit, that overwhelming urge to visit all the places took effect, and the wide world called — To Turkey it said!

My good friend Kathryn had already planned her trip, so the logistics were already taken care of. Just a bit of time online booking and I was ready to go.


After a very loooong travel experience, and a run-in with the WORST TRAFFIC IN THE WORLD (if you happen to do what I did: fly into Attaturk International, then take a bus across the city to get on a domestic flight out of Sabiha Gökçen, know that it takes 3-4 hours to get across the city), I arrived in Fethiye around midnight. I could regale you further with the struggles of multiple-mode of transportation international travel, but let's take a moment for perspective: I sat on many chairs in the sky, most of this experience involved A/C, people brought me food, and I traveled half-way around the world in just 36 hours. Technology is amazing guys, never forget it.


So anywho, I was thrilled to see Kathryn, who had been working in Geneva all summer and weekend tripping all around Europe (oh the life). I crashed pretty hard immediately upon arrival, but was all kinds of ready to go the next morning.


I awoke to a beautiful view of the harbor and a very Turkish breakfast of crusty bread, hunks of feta, some other white cheddar-ish cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, and hard-boiled eggs. There's nothing like a breakfast view, and our hostel (Fethiye Guesthouse, highly recommend) definitely had that.


We took our first day easy at the beach. Blue Lagoon is the famous one, so we hopped on a mini-bus and were soon there, marveling at what a great blue color the water was! The day was hot and the water was just cool enough to be refreshing so we spent it all there. Perfection.


That evening we meandered around town, obtaining the requisite baklava.


The next day was our "sporty" day and we started it (after beautiful breakfast of course) with a short hike up to the cave tombs above the city. If you know me at all, you know that any day I can scramble up some rocks is a good day. So into the tombs we went.


Continuing with our activity, we decided to hike up the mountain above town along the Lycian Way. We didn't go far enough to see any epic views, but it was a nice (and very sweaty) adventure nonetheless.

"It is dangerous to climb on the rock and forbidden." Whoops. 

The day ended with a beach sunset (we are on the most romantic Turkish vacay ever), and the BEST dinner of the whole trip. Seriously, if you find yourself in Fethiye, go to Mozaik Bahce.

Lamb Kebabs
Mezze Platter.

On our last day in Fethiye we took a boat from the Blue Lagoon to Butterfly Valley. We "hiked" up to see the canyon waterfall (it was less than a half-mile), then hung out on that beach for a while.

Butterfly Valley

We'd booked paragliding along the coast for that afternoon, which would have been AMAZING, but tragically it was too windy and our trip was canceled. So instead we got smoothies and enjoyed our last couple hours on the beach.



That night, armed with snacks and comfy clothes, we boarded an overnight bus to Cappadocia. Turkey to be continued...