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    Benedicts in Turkey: Çıralı

    After David’s family booked their plane tickets, we knew we had to squeeze in some beach time. We wanted to avoid the hustle and bustle of Antalya, and our friends told us about their favorite beach town.

    It was David’s and my first time in Çıralı! It’s a tiny Lycian village on the Mediterranean with just over two miles of beachfront. It took us over eight hours to get there from Göreme. For the last few miles, we exited the main highway and drove on dirt roads. It was just before dark by the time we arrived.


    Çıralı sunset


    We stayed at İkiz Pansiyon in two of their bungalows. It was a great spot just a short walk from the beach. We were there an evening, a day, and a morning and ate at their İkiz Restaurant on the beach for our meals. (Breakfast was included at the Pansiyon.)

    The next morning, we put on our swimsuits and walked down to the beach. At the far end of the beach in the river valley sits the ancient ruins of Olympos. (Entrance was 5TL or free with the Müzekart.) Olympos is dated to the 4th century during the Hellenistic period.


    Sign for Olympos


    It amazes me how accessible ruins are in Turkey. You can walk up to and around and on top of most of them!


    Olympos mosaics


    Olympos river


    Olympos gate


    Çıralı Beach rocks


    We explored for about two hours and could have stayed for many more, but we had lots more ruins ahead of us and it was time for the beach. We dodged a storm or two, but had a few hours of clear skies for swimming!

    Our stay at İkiz included free beach chairs! We bought some goggles and the boys had fun checking out the fish – even a few tropical ones!


    Beach chairs at Çıralı


    Çıralı beach


    Swimming at Çıralı


    Swimming at Çıralı


    This man speared an octopus!


    Speared octopus


    Multicolored flower


    At Ikiz Restaurant for dinner


    Our last stop of the day was a surprise for the family. We didn’t tell them we were going to see Mount Chimaera (aka Yanartaş) and its eternal flames. After dinner, we headed north. We asked a few people for directions and kept walking and walking. And walking.

    After an hour, we finally made it! (It’d be better to take a car or bus there from the beach, especially at night. Once you get to the base of the mountain, you also have to hike two miles up a very steep incline with lots of stairs. And then back down and a long way back to town.) We paid the entrance fee and rented a flashlight. It was pitch black dark outside aside from a few glowing spots on the mountain.

    Yanartaş produces eternal flames. There are vents in the rock where a mixture of gas – mostly methane – escapes. The fires burn constantly and do not need ignition. They date back thousands of years; Pliny the Elder (AD 29 — AD 79) mentioned the phenomenon in his writings. Sailors used the flames to navigate their ships.


    Leah at Chimaera Mountain


    Even though we were all tired by the time we got to the mountain, it was well worth the hike. Can you believe how bizarre it is? They looked like a bunch of logless campfires. The boys had fun kicking dirt at some of the smaller ones. They put a couple of the flames out, but I think they come back. Otherwise… way to ruin a national treasure, kids. It was a bummer we didn’t have marshmallows for s’mores. (Muslim country = no pork products).


    Chimaera flames


    Chimaera flames


    See the big dipper?


    Night sky at Chimaera


    Coming down the mountain was a little easier than walking up it. David jogged back to the hotel and brought the car to us. He is one good man.

    After breakfast the next morning, we were off to see one of the Seven Churches of Revelation and another crazy Turkish landscape!



    Benedicts in Turkey: Cappadocia

    After our brief stop at Tuz Gölü, we headed onward to Cappadocia. (We visited Cappadocia several times while we lived in Turkey. It was a five hour drive from Ankara, which made it an easy getaway.) It’s a unique place with a bizarre landscape! There’s lots to see and eat and little shops to browse.

    We had about a day and a half in Göreme. We stayed again at Vineyard Cave Hotel and can’t recommend it enough! Mom, Dad, Sam, and Ben had one of the completely underground cave rooms, and David and I were in another. The owner and his son could not be more hospitable. They have one of the best Turkish breakfasts! I’ll dream of Turkish breakfast and wish for salted roasted apricot seeds for the rest of my life.

    After we dropped our bags, we went to the Göreme Open Air Museum. (A UNESCO site, 20TL or free with the Müze Kart.) Cappadocia is the best place for boys. It has ALL the rocks to climb.


    Open Air Museum, boys climbing


    Turkish Poppies


    Mom and Dad in the Open Air Museum


    Sam climbing rocks


    We had dinner that night at Old Cappadocia Restaurant at the recommendation of a friend. They include free bread and are a lot more wallet friendly than some of the other restaurants in Göreme. David ordered testi kebap where they cook the stew in a pot and break it open to serve it:


    Testi Kebap


    The next morning, our host Hasan Bey took us on a private tour! He has wonderful childhood stories and a rich knowledge of the region.

    This is one of the few cave churches with a pulpit:


    Cappadocia cave pulpit


    He also took us to Beyzade Kuruyemis & Lokum for Turkish delight and dried goods (salted roasted apricot seeds!!!), Özler Onyx for jewelry shopping (zultanite is exclusive to Turkey), and then to the Love Valley:


    Cappadocia rocks


    Love Valley


    This was our rental car for the trip – a Fiat Freemont. It served us well, even though the six of us were quite cozy inside with our luggage. It had a half-sized trunk:


    Rental Car


    Hasan Bey had to cut the tour a little short because his son got engaged! He went back to prepare for a party and we went onwards to Avanos to look at the pottery shops. The boys got to try their hand at the wheel:


    Boys at the pottery wheel in Avanos


    Hittite wine decanters


    We had lunch at Mado along the river:


    Avanos river, mosque, gondola


    Turkish tablecloth pattern


    Our last stop of the day was Kaymaklı Underground City, another UNESCO World Heritage site. Entrance cost 20TL or was free with the Müze Kart. We hired a tour guide for 50TL. He was the same guide we used when we visited with Mom in November!


    Kaymaklı tunnel


    Kaymaklı Underground City


    On our last morning, we woke up at the crack of dawn to catch the hot air balloon launch. Even though I’d watched it many times before, it never loses its magic:


    Goreme sunrise balloon launch


    After a quick nap and another hearty breakfast, we packed up the car again and drove south to the coast! Next up: Çıralı!



    Benedicts in Turkey: Ankara

    Even though the family drove from Istanbul to Ankara and got into the apartment around 3:00 am, they were troopers and woke up for church the next (same?) morning. It was the last Sunday David led worship. It was an emotional service. We were excited to introduce our family to our Turkey family, but we also had another round of goodbyes. The service included three baptisms, which was a joy to celebrate!


    David playing guitar at church


    After church, we had lunch at Arjantin Kebap, one of our favorites. It was the family’s first taste of Turkish food and çay.


    Lunch at Arjantin Kebap


    After lunch, we showed them our local pazar. We picked up a few goodies, though not a lot since we had a two-week trip ahead of us. They got a kick out of the vacuum accessories for sale.


    Balgat Pazar vegetables


    Pazar vacuum parts


    They napped that afternoon, the boys played sports at the school, and we spent the evening with some friends. We had showed them around the farm in Michigan two summers ago, so it was fun for the families to connect on the other side of the globe. During sports, someone made the comment: “The Benedict boys are a lot like the Puckett boys!” We enjoyed an evening of fellowship and the guys played a few dangerous rounds of sting pong. I’ll spare you the photos.


    Benedicts and Pucketts


    The next day, we put everyone on a dolumuş and took them to Ulus. Our friend Rex came with us. We showed them the Temple of Augustus, had manti and gözleme at Certioğlu Konağı Kafeterya, and walked up to the castle. We finished our time in Ulus with shopping at Yöre for pottery. David left us early to get the rental car, picked us up and took us back to the apartment.


    Ride in a dolmus


    Ulus street markets


    Lunch in Ulus




    Mom waving on the Ankara Castle


    Benedicts in the Ulus Castle


    Boys overlooking Ankara


    Rooftops in Ulus, Ankara


    Ulus metal workers


    It was fun for us to see Turkey through our family’s eyes. For Dad, Sam, and Ben, it was their first time over the Pacific and it was Ben’s first time out of the country.

    That evening, we packed up as much as we could before our drive to Göreme (Cappadocia) in the morning!



    Travel Turkey in Two Weeks

    David’s dad, mom, and two youngest brothers arrived a few days after we finished school in June. We had two weeks with them to travel Turkey. David grew up taking long family vacations across the States; this time it was our turn to plan the trip itinerary. We knew they wanted to see as much as humanly possible, and we crammed in a LOT into those 14 days!


    Turkey is an amazing place to explore. We lived there for three years and loved it. This is the two week itinerary we used to show our family around the country.


    We originally wanted them to fly into Ankara’s airport, but because of prices they flew into the Istanbul airport (IST). We purchased Pegasus tickets for $30 each from SAW to ESB (which saved them over $1600!) and David went with two friends to help them make the airport transfer. Unfortunately, a bag was lost/late, and they missed the Pegasus flight. They ended up renting a car and drove six hours from Istanbul to Ankara. I felt so bad; they had been traveling for over 30 hours by the time they got to our apartment. (And I felt even worse because our two friends took a night bus back because the car wasn’t big enough for them all!)

    This post is a little dry. There will be lots of pictures to come, but I wanted to share it as a travel resource. Dad kept saying it was a once in a lifetime trip! If you’re looking to experience Turkey, this is a FULL schedule. It was tiring but so worth it. Also worth noting: we wouldn’t have seen half of this had we not rented a car.

    If you travel to Turkey, you could probably bypass Ankara and spend more time on the southern coast, Black Sea, or check out the east (we loved Rize and Van). Ankara was home for us, so we wanted to show our family.

    Click this link for a Google Map I made with our points of interest highlighted.


    Our two week route in Turkey


    Day 1
    Arrived in Turkey
    Drove from Istanbul to Ankara

    Day 2: Ankara
    Church in Ankara
    Lunch at Arjantin Kebap
    Shopped at the local pazar

    Day 3: Ankara
    Ulus (the castle, Temple of Augustus, shopped at Yöre for pottery)
    Lunch at Certioğlu Konağı Kafeterya for manti and gözleme
    Picked up the rental car

    Day 4: Cappadocia
    Drove to Göreme
    Stopped at Tuz Gölü (Salt Lake) along the way
    Stayed at the Vineyard Cave Hotel
    Open Air Museum

    Day 5: Cappadocia
    Cave churches
    Love Valley
    Özler Onyx for onyx and zultanite
    Kaymaklı Underground City
    Avanos pottery shops

    Day 6: Travel Day
    Sunrise hot air balloon launch in Göreme
    Long drive day south to the coast
    Stayed at İkiz Pansiyon

    Day 7: Çıralı
    Ruins of Olympus (Lycia)
    Beach Time
    Evening walk to the flames of Chimera (Yanartaş)

    Day 8: Travel Day to Denizli
    Ruins of Laodicea
    Walked up the limestone hill and soaked in the hot springs of Pamukkale
    Ruins of Hierapolis
    Stayed at Sergent Hotel in Kuşadası

    Day 9: More Churches of Revelation
    Ruins of Ephesus
    Ruins of Pergamon
    Stayed at the Efsane Hotel in Bergama

    Day 10: Travel North
    Ruins of Troy
    Çanakkale War Memorial
    Crossed the Marmara on a ferry
    Stayed the night at Gallipoli Konukevi

    Day 11: Istanbul
    Drove to Istanbul and returned the car
    Blue Mosque
    Stayed at Antique Hostel

    Day 12: Istanbul
    Hagia Sophia
    Grand Bazaar (Lunch at the Fes Cafe – love their avocado sandwich!)
    Taksim (Shake Shack and Charly Temmel)

    Day 13: Istanbul
    Basilica Cisterns
    Galata Bridge for fish sandwiches
    Spice Bazaar
    Galata Tower area

    Day 14: Fly Home!
    The B’s had a 6:00 am flight out of Istanbul. They took an airport shuttle at 3:00 am the night before. David and I went back to bed for a bit and headed to the other airport to catch our flight back to Ankara in the early afternoon.


    Photos from the trip to come soon!



    Cappadocia with Mom

    We took Mom to Göreme for her last weekend in Turkey!

    Where we stayed
    When we planned our travels to the Cappadocia region, we knew we wanted to stay in a cave hotel. Some of our friends highly recommended Vineyard Cave Hotel. We loved it! We stayed in Room #5, which was completely cave except for a very small window by the door. The room was large with two queen size beds, a flat screen TV, fridge, and a seating area. It also had a massive bathroom complete with a hammam-style water basin. Even though it was a cave (originally a stable), there was electricity and great Wi-Fi. 🙂






    After we dropped off our bags, we visited the Göreme Open Air Museum. (A UNESCO site, 20TL or free with the Müze Kart.) Cappadocia rocks:










    Our host Hasan Bey took us on a personal tour for a couple of hours Saturday morning:




    He showed us one of the few rock churches in the area with a pulpit:




    I love seeing the frescoes. Many of the caves were used as churches and monasteries, and there are lots of frescos of crosses and Biblical scenes. This was the first time I had seen drawings of pomegranate trees. At first glance, I thought they were Christmas trees:




    We also visited Özler Onyx and watched a man carve an egg:




    After looking around the store, Mom asked if she could buy the egg we watched being carved and polished. Instead, the store worker gave her one as a gift. Turkish hospitality cannot be beat!




    Next, we walked around the edge of Love Valley. Can you guess how it earned that name?






    Our last stop on Saturday was Kaymaklı Underground City, another UNESCO World Heritage site. Entrance costs 20TL or is free with the Müze Kart. We hired a tour guide for 50TL. I strongly recommend hiring a guide. While there are a few signs indicating rooms, there are no written explanations of what you’re seeing.




    There are 36 excavated cities in the area, but our guide estimated there are closer to 100. Kaymaklı is the widest one open to visitors. We walked and crawled through four levels of the city. We saw animal quarters, living quarters, storage areas, churches, millstone doors, and the kitchen. People lived in the caves for up to six months hiding from their enemies.




    We woke up early Sunday morning to watch the sunrise and hot air balloon launch:






    We had a fantastic time! It was the perfect finale to Mom’s travels in Turkey. I’m so glad she was able to visit. (She returned safely to the States on Thursday!)




    Where we ate
    Pumpkin Restaurant: The Pumpkin Restaurant raised their price since the last time I visited. They offer a set four-course menu each night for 40TL. It was so delicious! Definitely one of my favorite places to eat at in Turkey.
    Kale Terrasse Restaurant: Kale Terrasse was moderately priced and the food was decent.  Mom and I shared a testi kebap – a meat and vegetable dish slow cooked in a sealed clay pot. They break the pot open when they bring it to your table.



    Ihlara Valley & Picnicking with Turks

    Some of my friends hiked the Ihlara Valley several years ago, and we decided to check it out on our girls weekend. (Ihlara is about 50 miles southwest of Göreme.)

    We asked the hostel owner how best to get there. He said there were too many of us to hitchhike and public transportation would require too many transfers. He said we could go with a tour group, but we didn’t want to see the other parts of the tours. We ended up hiring a mini-bus. There were 7 of us, and it cost 38TL each (about $18 USD). It worked our perfectly. The driver dropped us off at the entrance and picked us up about 5 hours later at the end of the trail.

    Ihlara Valley has four entrance points. We decided to hike the entire 16 km. Entrance to the valley cost 5TL (or was free with the Müzekart).




    For whatever reason, I thought we were going to a crater-type area that would be very flat and desert-like. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It didn’t look or feel like we were in the Cappadocia region!




    The canyon was absolutely gorgeous. The Melendiz Stream ran along the trail:












    There were a couple of rock churches along the way. Two were right next to each other. I wonder how that worked way back then… Was it like parts of America where there’s a church on every corner? It’s always cool to see the frescoes:




    Very few people hiked the first section. As we got closer to the middle of the valley, the trails became crowded. There were several restaurants near the entrances. The tour groups and Turks didn’t go very far, though. By the time we got to entrance three, we had the trails to ourselves again.








    It looked like we lost our way a couple of times on the last stretch. It weaved in and out of farms. These ladies waved and said hello. They were hard at work!




    We ran across a shepherd a little further down. He was excited to meet us and offered to take our photo.




    This is what he took:




    Carved into the canyon walls were rock houses from the Byzantine period. Wikipedia says: Due the valley’s plentiful supply of water and hidden places, here was the first settlement of the first Christians escaping from Roman soldiers. In the Ihlara Valley there are hundreds of old churches in the volcanic rock caves.






    Near the end of our hike, we passed a family of Turks picnicking by the water. The little boy with the yellow ball motioned to us and said, “Come!” The Turks also motioned and said, “Gel!”




    And so we did. They had a feast of a picnic set out. After we finished eating, they packed everything up, so I think this was all their leftovers:




    The family was so sweet. The boy and one other man spoke some English. Between that and the Turkish we know, we had a grand time. They took lots of photos with us and we enjoyed the mid-hike snack and çay. Turkish hospitality is the greatest. This was one of my favorite Turkish cultural experiences:






    The trail ended at Selime Monastery. We explored it for a little while, but were all tired. Our driver picked us up and we went back to Göreme. I loved Ihlara! I definitely want to bring David back here sometime.


    Girls Weekend in Cappadocia

    I love Cappadocia. It’s a 5-hour bus ride from Ankara and our go-to getaway for long weekends. Even though it’s kind of touristy, it’s a relaxed place. We always stay at the same hostel in Göreme and have a routine when we visit. Coffee, shopping, eating, sightseeing, repeat. Two of my friends are moving back to the States, and we had a last hoo-rah trip with them in the middle of May.

    One of our favorite coffee stops is Cafe Şafak (and our second favorite is Mydonose Cafe):


    Cafe Şafak


    Cafe Şafak coffee


    We took a minibus to Avanos for some pottery shopping:


    Avanos pottery shop


    Avanos pottery


    The first time we visited Avanos, we found the Chez Galip Hair Museum and were so freaked out we ran away. After researching it online, I found out they weren’t actually going to murder me and keep my hair. A friend and I went in for a closer look.


    Hair Museum Avanos


    The man wouldn’t let me take a photo in the room. (But Google has lots of photos!) It was a lot bigger than I thought it’d be. So, so creepy! It’s the largest collection of human hair. Women donate a lock and write their contact info on a note card. The museum started in 1979 and is in the Guinness Book of World Records. Here’s just a peek of what’s inside:


    Hair Museum Avanos


    You know when you come across those amazing little restaurants or shops that just make your trip? One of the best surprises on our trip was the Pumpkin Art Gallery Restaurant. (Check out their Facebook page here.) It was opened in September of 2013 by a man who had worked as a chef in Istanbul for 15 years. He and his wife are originally from the Cappadocia area and wanted to move back.


    Pumpkin Restaurant in Göreme


    Every day the owner goes to the pazar and creates a set menu based on what’s available and in season. The food was the absolute best I’ve had in Turkey. For 35TL (about $18 USD), we enjoyed an amazing four course meal (soup, meze salad, beef and noodle entree, and baklava dessert). This little restaurant was Turkish hospitality at its finest. They were so sweet and even gave us little gifts — Turkish coin pouches a key chains.

    One of my friends is gluten free. She uses a card that explains her dietary needs in Turkish, but bread is such a staple in Turkish food that a lot of times her meals come out wrong. That was NOT the case here. The owner altered every course perfectly. He also helped us celebrate her birthday and they gave us an amazing cake.

    I cannot say enough about how wonderful this place is. It’s our new favorite restaurant in Göreme:


    Pumpkin Restaurant in Göreme


    A couple of us got up early to watch the hot air balloon launch. Since sunrise is a lot earlier now, it was tough waking up. But this is worth it every time:


    Göreme balloons


    Göreme balloons


    Göreme balloons


    Turkish hot air balloon


    We also hiked Ihlara Valley on our trip. I’ll share more about that soon!