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    Hiking in Kizilcahamam

    Two of our teacher friends told us about Kızılcahamam and we went to check it out. Kızılcahamam is a small town about 50 miles north of where we live. It’s still a part of the Ankara providence, but it is far outside the city and feels like a completely different place.

    Getting there was a breeze! We took a 2TL dolmuş ride from our neighborhood to ANKAmall. Outside the mall, we walked under the overpass, called a number to “reserve” our bus spots, and then paid 7TL for the hour and a half ride into Kızılcahamam. (That’s less than $10 USD round trip!)

    We spent our Saturday hiking in Soğuksu (translation “cold water”) National Park with five of our friends.




    It felt so good to slip away from the city for a little bit.


    Hiking in Kizilcahamam


    The view of the mountains was beautiful. Our weather just started to turn cooler, and it was the perfect day to be outside.


    Kizilcahamam Mountains


    Colorful leaf


    Kizilcahamam view


    Kizilcahamam view


    Hiking in Kizilcahamam


    We saw petrified trees and some vultures (apparently this is part of the tourist attraction for the park?) on our hike. And aside from me falling down a hill and almost breaking our camera (miraculously it didn’t break – and neither did I), it was a perfect day!


    The Black Sea: Çakraz & Amasra

    Friday, August 30 was Victory Day in Turkey, and we had the day off of school. We decided to take advantage of the long weekend and planned a trip north to the Black Sea.


    Ankara to Çakraz


    Five of us rented a car and David braved driving in Turkey. We left around 6 am to avoid as much traffic as possible, and it worked really well. Once we got out of the city it was smooth sailing. The drive was absolutely beautiful with mountains and trees. It took us about four and a half hours to get there.


    David driving


    Our friend helped us make hostel reservations. We called several places, but hardly anyone spoke English and if they did, it was super limited. (Surprisingly, we were asked several times if we spoke German.) We ended up staying at Deniz Motel, which was right on the beach!


    View from our hostel


    Çakraz is a tiny town nestled in a cove between two bluffs. Most of the action is on the “brickwalk” area by the sea. There are several hotels and restaurants and a few bakkals. I don’t think we ran into any English-speaking tourists, though there were a lot of Turks on vacation. It was much more a vacation spot than a tourist spot. We loved relaxing in such a chill atmosphere! Our hostel even had lounge chairs for us to use on the beach.

    There were several gözleme stands by the restaurants. Gözleme is kind of a cross between a crepe and a calzone. There’s different fillings you can order. We love the potato kind. The beef ones are also good – they have finely ground meat with spices and onion. Our favorite is the honey and walnut gözleme. The gözleme only cost 2,50TL and we ordered about 12 between the five of us the first afternoon.


    Gözleme stand


    After some beach time on Friday, we drove twenty minutes over to Amasra to meet up with some friends who had also traveled to the Black Sea for the weekend. We stopped just outside of Amasra for some pictures:


    Outside Amasra


    How’s this for the view next to the parking lot?


    Amasra, Turkey


    Our friend who made our hostel reservations recommended that we eat at Canlı Balık, a popular fish restaurant in Amasra.


    Canli Balik restaurant


    There were 12 of us. We had a super long table right next to the sea.


    Seaside table


    The Black Sea region gets a lot of rain and is well known for its produce. This salad was as tasty as it was beautiful!


    Amasra Salad


    Our table ordered several plates of fish. It was all fried and included hamsi and at least one other type of fish I didn’t get the name of. Hamsi is apparently known as the European anchovy. I avoided the bones and heads, but a several people ate the little fish whole!


    Hamsi fish


    We walked around Amasra for a bit aftewards. Amasra was a hopping little town with plenty of shops, restaurants, and touristy things. They had some really yummy street food – we got mussels, ice cream, and fried spiraled potatoes on a stick. We’re glad we got to check it out and say hello to our friends:


    Group shot


    Back in Çakraz the next morning, we went on a little hike.


    Seaside old dock


    We started on the left of our hostel and climbed around on the rocky bluff.


    Climbing rocks


    The Black Sea


    Then we walked through the town to get to the top of the bluff on the right.


    Overlooking Çakraz


    That night we ate at the restaurant connected to Özmenler Otel. The food and service was even better than at Canlı Balık. Plus, the waiter spoke some English. We ate family style and ordered some delicious meze – calamari, eggplant with a garlic yogurt sauce, a vegetable dish, and a cheese plate. We ordered hamsi again and another fish they recommended. This time, the fish was not fried and it was so good. They also gave us free fish eggrolls and a beautiful fruit plate. The entire meal was less than 35TL (around $17 USD) a person!


    Fruit plate


    Also that evening, we bought some paper lanterns from a street vendor and set them off over the water.


    Lighting a paper lantern


    After the Turkish breakfast provided by our hostel, we drove back to Ankara on Sunday. We loved the Black Sea!

    Staying In Touch While You’re Overseas: Calling & Texting

    Whether you are living overseas, studying abroad, or traveling for an extended period of time, it’s important to stay in touch with family and friends back home. The internet and our many electronic gadgets have made communication amazingly easy compared to how it was even just a few years ago.

    David and I spend about 10 months out of the year teaching in Turkey and the other 2 in the States. Apart from Facebook, email, and our blog, Google Voice is one of our favorite resources for keeping in touch with our family and friends back home.


    Staying in touch when you're overseas


    Calling and Texting: Google Voice and Talkatone

    If you have an iPod (or any iOS or Android device) and an internet connection, your iPod can be used as a cell phone for calling and texting:

    1. Create a Gmail account if you don’t already have one.
    2. Set up Google Voice. I did this on my computer, but you can probably do it through the app. (I got to choose the area code of my Google Voice number!) Note: I believe this must be done in the States before you travel.
    3. Install the free Google Voice app on your iPod. 
    4. Install the free Talkatone app on your iPod. During the set up, you’ll link it to your Google Voice account.

    And that’s it! Your Google Voice number + the Talkatone app + Wi–Fi = an iPod that can call and text for FREE! (Note: You will want to use headphones if you are in public. Otherwise, you’ll be walking around on speakerphone.)

    I use Talkatone on my Barnes and Noble Nook to text. (I can also make calls with the Nook, but I prefer to use my computer for calls.) David has a 5th generation iPod and often times, we’ll make our calls from that.

    Google does have international calling rates, but since we set our Google Voice numbers as U.S. numbers, we can call any U.S. number (or Canada) for FREE!

    We can also send and receive calls on our computers when we have our Gmail email accounts open:


    Calling while on your Gmail


    What is also great about Google Voice is that it allows you to set up call forwarding. When we were home over a break, we purchased a T-Mobile prepaid phone. We can only use that phone and number when we are in the States. However, we give everyone our Google Voice number because we set it up to forward both calls and texts to our T-Mobile phone. When we travel back to Turkey, we change the Google Voice settings so calls and texts do not forward and we don’t get charged by T-Mobile. (The only “problem” with this is when we call or text back, it shows our T-Mobile number rather than the Google Voice number.)

    Do you use Google Voice or another free calling/texting service?



    Picking Michigan Blueberries

    While we were camping in South Haven, we stopped at DeGrandchamp Farms to pick blueberries! DeGrandchamp had a great you-pick area. They charged $1.75 a pound. After we got our buckets, we headed to the blueberry bushes. I think this was my first time picking blueberries – at least that I can remember!


    Degrandchamp blueberry you-pick


    Blueberry Farm


    Aren’t these berries just beautiful?


    Michigan blueberries


    Ben picking blueberries


    Fallen blueberries


    Blueberries on the bush


    Holding blueberries{shirt}


    Ripening blueberries


    Sam and David picking blueberries


    Our buckets of picked blueberries


    Bucket of blueberries


    DeGrandchamp also has a cute country store with lots of blueberry and cranberry products.

    We picked about 20 pounds of blueberries! We enjoyed snacking on them and made blueberry pancakes the next morning. Yum!



    South Haven, Michigan at Sunset

    We spent 5 days camping last week in Van Buren State Park in South Haven, Michigan with David’s family. South Haven is on the coast of Lake Michigan.


    Southwest Michigan map


    David’s family used their fifth wheel camper, but we had our own private camping suite. The Christmas after we got married, David’s parents gave us camping supplies including a huge 8-person Coleman tent. They also gave us a queen air mattress that takes up about half of the tent. It’s a great set up!

    The first day was really overcast. When we went to check out the water, it was hard to find the horizon! We had some rain the next two days, but it made for good sleeping weather in the morning.


    Foggy day at Lake Michigan


    We spent our days biking, looking at shops in the downtown area, and swimming at the beach. David’s dad had to work during the day, but joined us in the evenings. After we made campfire and RVQ dinners, we’d head into town for ice cream. We ate twice at Captain Nemo’s for their delicious Sherman’s Finest ice cream! (We weren’t as impressed with Kilwins… it was good, but really overpriced.)

    One evening we walked down the South Haven pier to catch the sunset.


    South Haven, Michigan


    South Haven, Michigan


    South Haven, Michigan lighthouse


    We are so spoiled by Michigan beaches! Unsalted and so beautiful!


    Lake Michigan with ducks


    Family on the pier


    We watched the sailboats come into the dock for the night:


    South Haven, Michigan sunset


    South Haven, Michigan Sailboat


    Pure Michigan:


    South Haven, Michigan Sunset



    Detroit Tigers Game

    My dad lives in Georgia but was visiting Michigan for vacation. He invited us to the July 26 Detroit Tigers game. They played the Philadelphia Phillies. David, Mary, Patrick, and I visited with Dad and his family and then headed to Comerica Park.


    Outside Comerica Park


    Outside Comerica Park


    Comerica Park is across the road from Ford Field:


    Ford Field


    We arrived early and got a free fan towel.


    Field at Comerica Park


    The weather was beautiful and it was a sold-out stadium.


    Detroit Tigers vs Philadelphia Phillies


    Pure Michigan:


    Comerica Park at night


    Detroit Tigers July 26, 2013


    Tigers won, 2–1! We had a great time catching up with everyone, especially Dad, my brother Matt, and his wife Anna.


    Family at Detroit Tigers game