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    First Taste of Beondegi

    So… I ate a bug in Korea. Beondegi to be specific.

    We’ve been in Korea for about six months and we’ve really enjoyed the local food. Eating is one of our favorite pastimes, and we like trying new things. Even when we’re a little skeptical.

    We traveled southeast to Gyeongju the first weekend of February with some friends for Lunar New Year. (More on that soon!) While we were out one day, we walked by street food vendors. One lady was selling beondegi (번데기). I had no intentions of ever eating this food, but… when everyone was trying it, might as well?


    Boiled silkworm larvae


    What is beondegi?
    Beondegi is boiled and seasoned silkworm pupae. (Pupae is the stage between the larva and adult form when the bug is in the chrysalis stage.) Korean people eat beondegi as a snack, though I wouldn’t call it the most loved or popular food of choice. We often see food vendors with a long line of customers, but I never see a line at beondegi pots. According to “Beondegi came to rise as a much needed source of protein during the Korean War because protein was scare, as well as many other macro nutrients.” I think we paid ₩2000 for a small paper cup (about $1.65 USD). It was MORE than enough.

    How did it taste?
    …Not as bad as I thought it would. It was a little bit fishy and nutty to me. Some of our friends thought they tasted similar to boiled peanuts. It was a little crunchy and a little chewy. Thinking about what I was chewing was the worst part.


    Beondegi seller


    Cup of beondegi


    Here’s a video of our first beondegi experience:



    And if I’m ever hankering for more (yeah right), I can always find a can of it at the grocery store:


    Beondegi can




    First Days in Seoul

    Here’s a glance at our first few days in Seoul. (We haven’t taken a lot of photos yet. Most of them have been of food.)

    We flew into Incheon Wednesday afternoon. It’s a beautiful, modern airport. Everything was efficient, clean, and quiet. People systematically got into lines and there was no pushing or shoving. Now, I’ve been told that’s not always the case on the street, but it made clearing customs and retrieving luggage easy. We did have a problem that delayed us a few minutes. The embassy put 25 years on David’s visa rather than 25 months. Officials had to change it in the system before they let us through.

    People from the school met us at arrivals. There was a big group of new teachers who were on our same flight. We kept our overnight bags, put stickers on the rest of our luggage to be delivered to our apartments, and went to Hotel Capital for the night. It was nice to not have to worry about getting unpacked right away.


    Incheon airport


    Luggage truck


    Thursday morning, we did paperwork at the hotel, then they took us to our apartment. We live in a nice two-bedroom apartment. (I’ll write more on that soon.) Three teachers showed us around that afternoon. We took a bus to a mall to shop at a department store called eMart for home supplies.

    Friday, David had his first day of new teacher orientation. He saw his classroom for the first time! This photo looks crowded, but there’s a ton of space behind and to the right of the desks:


    David's classroom


    David had Saturday off. Our friends we met in Turkey (who are Korean) were in country. They were so sweet to drive two hours to visit us! It was a joy to see familiar faces and spend time with them. We walked the Insadong area. We also stopped in front of Gyeongbokgung Palace and visited the (free!) museum of King Sejong, the man who invented the Korean alphabet.


    Gyeongbokgung guard


    King Sejong


    Touring with friends


    Sunday, we attended church Gangnam style (in the Gangnam area) at New Harvest. It was an encouragement to worship with other believers and to meet some new people.

    After church, we walked our neighborhood. Our streets are VERY hilly! We also braved the subway and bus system by ourselves. We made it back to eMart only to find it was closed. Several of the large chain stores are closed two Sundays a month to give mom and pop shops a chance. Fortunately, a store called Modern Home was open, so we were able to grab a few essentials like pillows and coffee mugs. We’re hoping to get to Ikea soon to finish furnishing our apartment.


    Neighborhood view




    What We’ve Eaten

    No need to worry – we will NOT go hungry in this country.

    • We had our first meal at KKanbu Chicken. We ate some delicious chicken that came with pickled onions.
    • On Thursday, our tour guides took us out to Craftworks.
    • A Thai restaurant.
    • Another fried chicken place. We laughed at their menu. The land of Korea – where technology flows like milk and honey and discarded iPads are recycled into restaurant menus. (They put paper under the screen.)
    • Our friends treated us to our first Korean BBQ! You grill the meat yourself.
    • Patbingsu… Our friends also introduced us to shaved ice topped with red bean paste. It sounds weird, but it was good! The bean paste tasted a little bit like peanut butter. The texture of the ice was different than American snow cones. They also ordered a coffee style version that had granola and ice cream over it.
    • New York Brick Oven Pizza. Made delicious because there is pork in this country. Amen.
    • Boba (bubble) tea! We love the tapioca balls.
    • On The Border mexican. There are a lot of international restaurants in our district!


    Friend Korean chicken


    iPad menu


    Korean BBQ




    Bubble tea


    Other First Impressions

    • Holy humidity. Thank goodness for air conditioning and dehumidifiers. Granted, we moved to Korea during the rainy season. We looked it up, and apparently a normal humidity level is 40. Our dehumidifier read our rooms at 81!
    • There are a lot of churches.
    • Even more than churches, there are a ridiculous number of restaurants.
    • Groceries and home supplies are expensive. ($5 for a bottle of hand soap!?)
    • Clothing is super expensive. (A pair of mens pants at H&M in Turkey cost 30TL, which was about $11. Here, they are ₩50,000, which is around $43!)
    • Recycle all the things! Recycling is required and huge here. We could have upwards of 5 trash bags: paper, plastic, glass, food waste, and trash.

    I think I will explore some on my own today. Pray I don’t get lost!



    Florence, Italy

    Spring Break Day 6 & 7: Florence
    We said goodbye to Venice in the morning, hopped on a train, and pulled into Florence around noon.

    We were supposed to stay at an AirBnB spot, but unfortunately the owner overbooked. The man was kind and found us a difference place to stay and covered the cost difference. He even met us at the train station and walked us to the other B&B. We stayed at Belfiore40. It was okay… not nearly as clean and private as the AirBnB place looked, but it worked fine for a night. The owner was nice and it included a basic continental breakfast.

    After we dropped our bags, per the AirBnB guy’s recommendation, we headed to Mercato Centrale. The man was a food writer. He told us he’d recently rated Sud Pizzeria as the best pizza in Florence. Who were we to argue with that? Mercato Centrale is an incredible place. The main floor is a huge farmers market and there are the most amazing artisan restaurants upstairs.

    We hung around Mercato Centrale and its free wi-fi for a while, then walked to Galleria dell’Accademia. Our friends recommended that we pre-purchased our tickets online, which we did. You should, too. The line was super long. Overall, we thought the Academia was a bit dull, aside from the David statue. But seeing the David is one of those once in a lifetime sort of things, so, when in Florence! We also saw the Duomo Baptistry and the Ponte Vecchio bridge (built in 996!).

    The next day we visited the Duomo. The church is massive! The outside is ornate and just stunning. We were super bummed the dome was under renovations, but we were able to visit the cathedral. (We decided against walking up the tower. At least, my feet did.) Florence is a beautiful city. We spent the rest of the day walking around, taking in a panorama view of the city from the Piazzale Michelangelo lookout point, and then more time in Mercato Centrale.

    If I could change one thing about our time in Florence, we would have bypassed the less than impressive restaurant our first night and spent more time in Mercato Centrale. We went back for a progressive final meal. Per a recommendation from another friend, we got a panino bollito sandwich with salsa verde from Nerbone in the lower level. Oh so good. After that, we went upstairs and got a meat and cheese plate, fresh pasta, and tiramisu. Mmm. Florence, I will forever remember you for your food.

    Enjoy the photos!


    Venice water


    Mercato Centrale


    Sud pizza


    Sud pizza makers


    David with pizza


    David statue


    David statue


    Florence street




    Duomo cathedral frescos


    Duomo Cathedral


    Duomo tower


    Duomo baptistry ceiling




    Nerbone sandwhich


    Cheese and meat plate


    David with tiramisu


    Florence view


    View of Florence


    Florence sidewalk art


    Leah in Florence


    Next up – our final stop: Rome!



    Ulus with Mom

    After checking out the Roman ruins, we began the uphill walk to the castle. The foundations of castle were laid by the Galatians and later completed by the Romans.


    Ankara castle on a hill


    There were lots of shops and restaurants along the way:


    Outdoor seating


    We took Mom to Certioğlu Konağı Kafeterya for lunch. Something feels so authentic about sitting on the floor cushions and eating off of the Anatolian-style copper tables.


    Eating lunch on the floor


    We ordered manti, potato gözleme, and içli köfte. And for dessert? Honey walnut gözleme. Yum.


    Turkish food for lunch


    After lunch, we went up to the castle. It was cold! We had our first snowfall last week. The snow in town didn’t last longer than a day or two, but the mountains in the distance were still snow capped:


    Ankara snowline


    Mom and Leah at the castle


    Castle window


    The view from the castle is one of the best! (Although, we’re also partial to the view from our apartment). We spent the rest of our afternoon shopping. It was a lot of fun showing Mom around Ulus.



    Bacon, Anyone?

    I stole this pic from a friend. A group of us went to a grocery store a ways from where we usually shop and he found bacon! Anyone want six strips of bacon for 100TL? (That’s around $45 USD!)


    Bacon in Turkey


    It’s the strangest thing to want the products you suddenly can’t get any more. We rarely bought bacon and Oreos in the States. But now? They’re a special treat we ration and savor. Fortunately, our students with commissary access keep us stocked. What better present could a teacher in Turkey get than bacon?!



    Daytrip to Beypazari

    Yesterday, four of my friends and I visited Beypazarı to do some Christmas shopping. Beypazarı is about 60 miles northwest of Ankara. We took a dolmuş to ANKAmall and then caught the Beypazarı bus under the overpass.

    The little town was so cute! I loved the white and brown houses and cobblestone streets:


    Beypazarı streets


    One of the things Beypazarı is known for is its carrots. We saw several carrot juice stands. I didn’t try any, but I love the carrots in Turkey – they’re a lot sweeter than the carrots in the States.


    Beypazarı carrot juice


    By the time we finally got there we were super hungry, so we grabbed a quick lunch. We had a little room to ourselves. It felt so good to get in from the cold!


    Lunch in Beypazarı


    I ordered tarhana soup to warm up and a speciality of Beypazari called güveci. Güveci is lamb mixed with rice, some veggies, and spices.


    Guveji lunch


    While we ate our lunch, it started snowing outside. It was the first snow we had seen this winter! It started snowing lightly, but then the flakes got bigger and bigger and the snow came down faster and faster.


    Exploring Beypazarı with friends


    I think it was one of the first snows of the season in Beypazarı. Kids came out to play and throw snowballs and all of the Turkish shopkeepers were in a good mood. It was so beautiful and kind of magical! We didn’t get much snow in Turkey last year. I felt like I was home in Michigan crunching along in the snow.


    Leah in the snow in Beypazarı


    Aside from checking out shops and stopping for some çay and baklava, we didn’t explore a lot since it was so cold. I’d love to go back when it’s warmer out! There were a lot of empty street stands that I’m sure are overflowing with beautiful produce in the warmer months.


    Carrots in Beypazarı


    A few travel notes if you’re in Anakra: the Beypazari bus comes on the hour near ANKAmall. The ride one way costs 9TL and it took a little over an hour and a half to get there.



    We had the day off of school on Thursday for Thanksgiving. It is difficult being so far away from family during holidays, but we are so thankful for the family of friends we have here.

    Two of our friends hosted Friendsgiving at their apartment. Brittany is super talented and crafty and put together the prettiest place settings and tablescape:


    Place setting




    We divvied up different dishes and brought everything together for an incredible feast. Our menu was different from what David and I typically have for Thanksgiving, but was filled with some of the best food. We had a cheese plate and veggies for appetizers:




    Brittany also made a frame where we could write what we were thankful for. Can you tell which ones the boys wrote?


    Thankful for frame


    Yes, there is turkey in Turkey. Whole turkeys aren’t super popular or easily available where we’re at, but we were able to snag one last minute. Our friend Bo was in charge of the turkey. His wife got him an awesome hat. Here’s the turkey man with turkey in Turkey:


    Turkey man


    We had so much food! We’re still eating the leftovers. David and I were in charge of green bean casserole (made from scratch – thanks Alton Brown!), roasted veggies, and Nanny noodles. (We called my paternal grandmother Nanny. She was German and we always have her noodles during the holidays. They’re supposed to be tiny egg noodles. I couldn’t find egg noodles thin enough, but it worked out!)


    Thanksgiving spread


    We hope you had a great Thanksgiving, too!


    Friends at Friendsgiving