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    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!



    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.



    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!



    Cappadocia Balloons

    Cappadocia is a city about 180 miles southeast of Ankara. We took a quick weekend trip and got up early one morning to see the balloon  launch. There were over 80 balloons in the sky! It was an incredible sight to see over such a unique landscape.


    Cappadocia Hot Air Balloons



    Weekend Trip to Cappadocia

    Over the weekend, we took a quick trip to Cappadocia with five other teachers. Cappadocia is about 180 miles southeast of Ankara. We took a bus after school on Friday, and after grading many papers and a couple of stops along the way, we arrived in Göreme around 11:30 that night.


    Map of Ankara to Cappadocia


    Göreme is a tourist town right outside of Cappadocia. Cappadocia has rich historical and cultural heritage and has been inhabited by the Persians, Hittites, Assyrians, and Greeks. It has a distinct alien-looking landscape created from harsh weather and volcanic activity. The rock formations are referred to as “fairy chimneys.” There are also some underground cities in the region, but we didn’t visit those this trip. Cappadocia is mentioned in Acts 2:6–11 and 1 Peter 1:1–2.


    Goreme Open Air Museum


    We slept in and relaxed at the hostel Saturday morning. After stopping at a coffee shop, a few of us walked around the Open Air Museum. Hundreds of years ago people carved out the rock formations to create living quarters, chapels, and churches. Several of the chapels still had remnants of the frescos that once adorned the walls. One in particular was called the Dark Church. It cost a little extra to go inside, but was so worth it! This cave had the best preserved frescos because it is protected from the light. Many of the faces were defiled, like the rest of the caves. Cameras weren’t allowed in the Dark Church, but you can see pictures online. I need to brush up on my history of the area, but it’s incredible to think how these were some of the very first churches.


    Frescos in Cappadocia Caves


    Frescos in Cappadocia Caves


    Later Saturday, we took a short bus ride to one of the next towns over called Avanos to check out some pottery shops. The craftsmanship was remarkable. The piece pictured below with the hole in the middle is a Hittite wine vase. The server would stick his arm through the middle of the vase, hoist it over his shoulder, and tip it to serve the guests. On the shelf below are hand painted Turkish bowls. Gorgeous!


    Turkish Pottery


    A funny story – we entered one of the many pottery shops and got a full tour from one of the employees. On the second floor, I noticed a sign that said “Hair Museum.” I asked the man what a hair museum was, and he motioned us further back into the store. This section was not lit, and he walked up a set of stairs to another room. “Fear?” he asked as we hesitated to follow him. “Yes,” we told him. He flipped on a switch, and the room came into view. From floor to ceiling were pieces of paper with locks of human hair stapled to them. David stepped up closer, though not into the room. The room extended very far and was filled with pieces of hair and pictures of women. He got pretty creeped out and told us we needed to go. We booked it out of that shop as quickly as we could! I looked it up online after the trip – apparently women donated their hair and the shop made it in the Guinness World Records. It was CREEPY! (Check out an article and photo of the place at Atlas Obscura.)

    The next morning, we woke up at 5:30 to catch the launch of the hot air balloons. What a sight to see! As the sun rose, over 80 balloons came into view and flew over and around us and the strange rock formations.


    Cappadocia Balloons


    Cappadocia Balloons


    Cappadocia Balloons


    Cappadocia Balloons


    Cappadocia Balloons


    It was a fun, relaxing trip with wonderful new friends. We hope to go back again sometime soon!



    1. Continued wisdom: in how we teach and interact with our students, especially those who are learning English.
    2. Our Health: Leah had a slight fever earlier today. She rested, took some vitamins and meds, and it went away.
    3. Time Management: We are still learning how to balance our time at the school and our personal time. There will be many long hours at work this first year, but we also don’t want to wear ourselves out!



    Our 2015

    I’m know I’m a little late on the train to the new-year/year-in-review stuff, but it’s still January, so I say it still counts. It’s fun to take a look at all we’ve done and where we’ve been in the past year. We experienced a great deal of change and transition in the last 12 months. Here’s a glimpse at what we were up to in 2015:


    We traveled back to Turkey after spending the holidays in Michigan. I broke my arm (first broken bone ever!) and had surgery. I spent January and the next several months in recovery and physical therapy.


    Titanium plate, radius bone


    We seriously considered the possibility of moving to Korea and David had a phone interview. We had fun with our students during Spirit Week and I wrapped up the elementary cheerleading season. David and I started a no-poo hair care regimen (stopped using shampoo and conditioner products).


    Elementary cheerleaders


    We officially decided to move to Korea for the 2015–2016 school year. David ran a half marathon in Antalya. We traveled for Spring Break and spent a few days in Paris (1, 2, 3, 4).


    Us with the Eiffel Tower


    We spent the rest of our Spring Break exploring Italy: Venice, Florence, and Rome. Back in Turkey, I started taking language lessons from a sweet Korean mom.


    Leah and David by a Venice canal


    We took an incredible trip to Northeastern Turkey with friends and saw Ottoman bridges. We also spent a few hours in the country of Georgia! May was a busy time as the end of the school year came to a close.


    Ottoman bridge


    June was a fun, crazy, and emotional month. I traveled to the southern coast with the senior class and spent time in Kalkan and on a boat cruise. We said far too many goodbyes – to our students, our church, our community, our friends (that became family), and the country we came to love so dearly. David’s parents and two of his brothers came to visit and we toured them all around Turkey (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). We celebrated our fourth anniversary.


    At Ikiz Restaurant for dinner


    After we packed all that we could into seven suitcases, we flew to the States for three weeks. We visited Michigan and Arkansas and got to see my mom’s new house for the first time! We arrived in Korea July 22. David began training and orientations at the school.


    Gyeongbokgung guard


    David’s first day of school was August 10. I said goodbye to my 19-year-old cat named Blue. David started assistant coaching the high school cross country team.


    David's classroom


    I started taking Korean language classes. We experienced our first Korean jjimjilbang (bathhouse). We took our first trip outside of Seoul to Sokcho and climbed Ulsanbawi.


    Celebrating making it to the top of Ulsanbawi


    David’s cross country coaching season ended. A friend from David’s hometown (who currently teaches in Japan) came to visit. We continued to adjust to school and life in Korea. David started an online grad school class.


    Eating bingsu with a friend.


    I volunteered on a school retreat in Daecheon and made over 300 pancakes. I also started an online portraits shop. We traveled with a school group to Suncheon Bay and Yeosu.


    Travel group


    David finished his first semester teaching in Korea! He also wrapped up his grad school class. We flew to the States for our three week Christmas break.


    Christmas 2015 with Grandma and Grandpa


    What a year it has been! Through it all, Lord has been steadfast and gracious. It’s encouraging to look back and consider all the ways He guided, directed, and provided. I look forward to all that 2016 holds!


    Check out our other year end posts here:
    » 2014 Year in Review
    » 2012 Year Infograph



    Benedicts in Turkey: Tuz Gölü

    Have you ever seen a pink lake?

    After two days in Ankara, we stuffed people and bags into the rental car and headed southeast towards Cappadocia. Along the way, we stopped at Tuz Gölü.

    The name literally translates to Salt Lake. It’s Turkey’s second largest lake (after Lake Van) and provides over 60% of the country’s salt. It classifies as a mesosaline lake at around 33% salinity. It is also an endorheic lake, which means it’s a closed basin with no outlet other than evaporation. (The Dead Sea is another example of a endorheic salt lake. Yes, I had to Google all of that.)

    I’ve passed by this lake many times and was excited to finally see it! We wanted to stop when my mom visited us in November, but it was the wrong time of the year; the weather was cold and the lake was incredibly muddy. From what I see online, the summer months are better.




    There is free parking at the site and a museum we did not visit. Instead, we walked past the shops to the free (ücretsiz) “beach” entrance. (Be wary of the vendors. They will try to get you with their cream samples.)

    We had a gorgeous blue sky day. I couldn’t get over how PINK the lake was! Seeing the reflection of the clouds in the tinted waters was so very cool.


    Pink Tuz Golu in Turkey




    There was no sand at this beach – just salt crystals and salt balls. It hurt a little to walk on:


    Salt at Tuz Golu


    Salt deposit ball


    Ball of salt




    Salt deposits on a chair


    Turks are big believers in herbal medicine and natural treatments. We saw many people scrubbing their skin and bathing in the mineral water. See the man is sitting in the clear blue spot? There was a natural spring in that area of the lake:


    Turkish man bathing in the salt lake


    David’s family visited Great Salt Lake in Utah years ago. Dad said Tuz Gölü was much cleaner and nicer because it was bug-free. We didn’t swim, but waded a bit. The sandbar (saltbar?) went out a ways. Our legs needed a good rinse afterwards.


    Benedicts in the salt lake


    David and Leah at Tuz Golu


    David and Sam in Tuz Golu




    Chacos: David. Dress shoes: Turks.


    Shoes at Tuz Golu


    Man wading in the Turkey salt lake




    If you’re ever traveling from Ankara to Cappadocia, stop by Tuz Gölü! I can’t find an address, but the free entrance is along E90 on the northeast side of the lake. You can’t miss the sign (the first photo in this post). We didn’t see any, but maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of the flamingos that hang out there!