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    Celebrating the New Year in Istanbul

    On our way back from Christmas in the States, we stopped in Istanbul for three nights. We stayed at Side Hotel & Pension. Especially considering the holiday, Side was fairly affordable. Although the room and the breakfast were simple, the location was perfect. The terrace offered a view of the Bosporus Strait, the Sea of Marmara, Hagia Sophia, and Sultan Ahmet Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque).


    The Blue Mosque at night

    Sultan Ahmet Mosque


    Not too far from our hotel was Topkapı Sarayı. This palace, dating back to the Ottoman Empire, was a home to several sultans over a period of several hundred years. Today it is a museum with rooms and rooms of historic items. The buildings are beautiful inside and outside. We would have liked more time to see the relics and artifacts, but the crowds were unbelievable due to the holiday. On a side note, there was a Chinese exhibit and we got to see four terracotta soldiers and a horse.


    Topkapı Palace Entrance

    Topkapı Palace Entrance


    Topkapı Palace

    Beautiful ceiling artwork in Topkapı Palace.


    We also visited Sultan Ahmet Mosque. It is commonly referred to as the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles that decorate its interior. It was built by Sultan Ahmet I and is a major tourist attraction in Istanbul. Because the mosque is still in operation, Leah was required to cover her head.


    Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque)

    Inside the Blue Mosque


    On New Year’s Eve Day, we walked a few blocks from our hotel to The Grand Bazaar. (The Grand Bazaar was featured in the opening scene of Skyfall, the new James Bond movie.) The Grand Bazaar is said to be the world’s first covered shopping mall with construction dating back to 1455. It has 60 streets, 5,000 shops, and sometimes as many as 400,000 visitors a day. We did a lot of looking, got some coffee, and purchased our 2012 Christmas bulb.


    The Grand Bazaar


    The Grand Bazaar


    For New Year’s Eve, we decided to try the local fish. Many restaurants had all-you-can-eat New Year’s packages that ran €100 or more. After perusing around the Galata Bridge area, we found Odessa Restaurant. We were pleased with our service and the fish was tasty. We found ourselves trying to recall the deboning skills we acquired at the Wisconsin fish boil with my family. Our waiter was hospitable and offered us a complimentary dessert. We were impressed by the affordability. Since Leah doesn’t like to stare at fish heads, they even removed the head off her fish before serving.


    Odessa Restaurant Fish


    After eating, we made our way to Taksim Square. Taksim is where many Turks celebrate the New Year, kind of like Times Square in New York. After walking several blocks shoulder to shoulder with the crowd, we decided being there for a few minutes was enough and headed back near the Galata Bridge.


    Busy streets of Beyoğlu


    Beyoğlu New Year's


    Although the fireworks did not launch from where we thought they would, we watched other fireworks over the Golden Horn set off by some of the local restaurants. There’s no ball drop in Turkey – we had to keep an eye on our watches for the count down!


    Istanbul New Year's Fireworks


    While in Istanbul, we were also able to meet up with some friends. We were happy to fellowship with Mike and Sharon, who recently moved to Turkey. We were also excited to learn Kennie and Lizzy were visiting Istanbul. We met them this summer at training. They are teaching in Kenya and visited Turkey over their Christmas break.

    We enjoyed exploring Istanbul and getting some rest before we headed back to Ankara to resume school.


    A Benedict 2012 Infograph

    Happy New Year’s Day!

    We flew back to Turkey on December 28 to give ourselves some time to get over jetlag before school started. We spent the past few days in Istanbul and came back to Ankara this afternoon.

    We’ll hopefully have a few posts about our Christmas and New Years up soon. For now, here’s an infograph of our 2012! I saw several great year in review designs on Pinterest, and was inspired to design one for ourselves.


    2012 In Review Infograph



    Iyi Bayramlar: Selçuk and Izmir

    I like what one of our friends said about travel in Turkey. Let me try to paraphrase: “Being able to travel here is like a gift from God. He knows we need the breaks from work and makes it easy and cheap for us to get around.”

    In our previous blog post, David talked about day 1 and 2 of our trip in Izmir (Smyrna!) and Ephesus. We spent the first part of day 3 in Selçuk. Selçuk has several ruins, including a Byzantine aquaduct in the center of town. We also walked up to the citadel, though we didn’t pay to go inside. The Basilica of St. John is within the walls.


    Byzantine Aquaduct

    Byzantine Aquaduct


    Selçuk Citadel

    Selçuk Citadel… a castle with palm trees!


    The weather was warmer than what we’d been having in Ankara. It was a beautiful place to walk with palm trees, mountains, and beautiful flowers still in bloom.


    Selçuk city and landscape


    As we explored, we came across a Turkish rug store. There was a lady weaving outside the door, and we stopped to watch. One of the store employees greeted us (in English!) and brought us in for a rug presentation. They unrolled maybe 30 rugs, talking about the different materials and patterns. Since none of us had any intentions of buying a rug, we were a little nervous and didn’t want to offend the man. I think business was slow that day and he was just being kind. The store also served us yummy apple tea.


    Turkish rug weaving


    The man told us silk on silk is the most durable rug structure and the rug outside Topkapı Palace in Istanbul is silk on silk. It was really neat to see how they “harvest” the strands of silk. A machine pulls the silk from cocoons.


    Machine that harvests strands of silk


    Once we had explored all we wanted to in Selçuk, we took a dolmuş ride to Kuşadası, another coastal town about 20 km away. Kuşadası translates to “Bird Island.”

    Kuşadası was very much a tourist area. It was fun to walk around and look in the shops. Further down the shore, there was a Venetian/Byzantine castle on an island.


    Kuşadası castle


    After walking around the castle, David and I took an hour ferry ride back and forth around the harbor. It only cost 10 TL, which is less than $6 USD! The wind was blowing, the sun was shining, and it was very relaxing.


    Kuşadası Boat Ride

    {Photo taken by our friend Dale.}


    The next morning, we took a train back to Izmir. The train was extremely packed because of everyone traveling home from the holiday. There was the cutest 6th grade Turkish girl with her dad and younger brother. One of our friends speaks Turkish, and she laughed as she heard the girl’s dad urge her on to practice her English with us. The girl had a big smile and asked us our names, how old we were, where we were from, and if we were studying or teaching.

    We stayed at the same hotel in Izmir again, and after dropping off our bags, we explored some more ruins. Izmir also has a citadel called Kadifekale Castle. There wasn’t much to see within the castle, but the view was nice. The Aegean coast was on one side and the city was on the other. We also walked down to the Agora. They had it blocked off for some renovations and excavation, but we saw it through the gate.

    For the last evening of our vacation, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset.


    Izmir sunset

    {Photo by our friend Dale.}


    There were many vendors on the pier selling corn, oysters, chestnuts, and seeds. We wanted to try the oysters mussels. I almost backed out last minute because I was afraid they were raw, but they ended up being cooked. The oysters mussels were stuffed with rice and the vendor squeezed fresh lemon juice on top. David also got me a rose! Did I get a keeper or what?




    We ate a delicious dinner at Mandolin Cafe and said goodnight and goodbye to Izmir.

    It was a long 9-hour bus ride back to Ankara the next day, but so worth the trip!


    » Read about day 1 & 2 here.



    Library of Ephesus

    Over the Kurban Bayram holiday, we traveled with two of our colleagues and friends to Izmir and Ephesus.

    It was so cool to walk around the ancient ruins. The library was built in 117 A.D. Paul visited Ephesus; you can read about it in Acts 19.




    Iyi Bayramlar: Day 1 & 2 in Izmir and Ephesus

    Last week, we had a few days off of school for Kurban Bayramı. Kurban Bayramı is an Islamic holiday celebrated in Turkey. According to, “The Feast of the Sacrifice commemorates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to show his faithfulness to Allah. You can find essentially the same story in the Old Testament where Abraham was willing to kill his son Isaac, until an angels stops him.”

    Since our school is located in Turkey, we are closed during both Christian holidays and the Islamic holidays recognized by the Turkish government. It was a five day weekend, and we decided to travel to some historical and Biblical sites with two friends and colleagues.


    Map of Ankara to Izmir


    We left Ankara Thursday morning by Pamukkale bus and headed to Izmir. The bus was fairly comfortable and had internet and built in entertainment, similar to a lot of airplanes. After a long 9 hour ride, we finally made it to our hostel. The first thing we wanted to do was see the water. We walked a few blocks and came upon the coast of the Aegean Sea. The sun was falling towards the horizon and we were greeted by a beautiful sunset.


    Izmir sunset on the water


    As the sun dipped lower, we took a ferry to Karşıyaka, another part of the city, for dinner. It looked like a promising spot to find some grub, however, many of the businesses and restaurants were closed for the holiday. We found a quick bite to eat at a doner restaurant.


    Izmir Ferry Ride


    Karşıyaka, Turkey


    After taking the ferry back, we finished off the night by drinking coffee in a cafe next to the water. It was a very peaceful and relaxing night. Our hostel, Hotel Baylan, was very accommodating and affordable with a delicious breakfast buffet.


    Izmir Park

    Izmir is a coastal city. We had perfect weather, and it looked like Florida with all of the palm trees. This photo was taken by our friend Dale! Well, by her camera’s timer.


    In the morning, we left Izmir via train for Selçuk. This small town lays about 2 km from the ancient city of Ephesus. Our hostel, Attila’s Getaway, was only 3 km from Izmir. Breakfast and dinner were relatively expensive, so we found more affordable options in Selçuk. Although it was a bit more rugged than our first hotel, we enjoyed our stay.

    After checking in, we took a taxi to Ephesus. Visiting Ephesus is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. As we walked around the ruins of the city, I was overwhelmed to be standing next to such amazing pieces of history.


    Hercules Gate


    At the Efes ruins


    On the ancient toilets in Ephesus

    On the ancient toilets! I may or may not have slipped past a rope for this picture…


    We walked through the ruins taking pictures for a couple hours. We saw the library and the theatre believed to be mentioned in Acts 19. One of the most amazing exhibits was the Terrace Houses. This excavation site featured several houses with beautiful artwork. There were mosaics and frescoes still surprisingly visible upon the walls, ceilings, and floors of these houses.


    Library at Ephesus

    In front of the Library at Ephesus


     The Great Theatre of Ephesus

    We sang Amazing Grace in the Great Theatre of Ephesus. The acoustics are so perfect that the person in the very back row can easily hear.


    Ephesus Terrace House

    Inside the Ephesus Terrace House exhibit. There was beautiful and intricate tile work!


    We grabbed dinner and coffee in Selçuk before heading back to the hostel, where we played games on the patio. The first two days of our break were amazing, and they were just the beginning!

    » Read about day 3 & 4 here.


    Exploring Ulus

    Last Saturday David, another teacher, and I took a dolmuş  to explore Ulus, an old neighborhood of Ankara. Ulus is about 5 miles from our neighborhood. We were on the hunt for an electronics store, Turkish puzzle rings, antique stores (I really want an Ottoman Empire skeleton key), and a Turkish pottery store. We didn’t have a lot of luck finding those things, but explored other areas! It was a perfect, sunny day to be walking around the city.

    Ulus is an older, more traditional area of Ankara. We walked around the busy market streets, got some lunch, and decided to walk up to the castle.


    The streets of Ulus, Turkey


    After we passed through the busy market streets, we made it to a quieter set of shops. There were some antique shops, though I didn’t find the skeleton key I wanted. We found two puzzle rings, but the sizes were too small. I did, however, have one great find! Over the past couple of years, I’ve collected letterpress and printing press letters. On our way out of one shop, I found a container that had several piece of of sheet music plates. There were several different sizes and I grabbed one of the smaller ones. I asked the store owner how much it cost. He replied it was 10 Turkish Lira and rattled off a price for the larger pieces. Now, I love to barter. It’s been difficult to barter here because I haven’t learned all of the numbers yet. I thought that 10 was too much and asked him if he would take 5. He shrugged and said ok. We just covered typography in the graphic design class I’m teaching, so I thought it was fun to show the students the printing press plate. It’s a bit difficult to read, but the song has something to do with water.


    Turkish Sheet Music Printing Plate


    There was road construction and we had to take a few detours to make it up to the castle. We walked a lot of cobblestone and gravel streets. I liked the look of the bricks in this building. It’s ironic to see these old, old buildings with satellite dishes.


    Old Turkish building with a satellite dish


    Before making it all the way to the top of the hill, we passed a pazar market. I love the bright colors of the different grains, spices, dried fruit and veggies. I got a half a kilo of dried cranberries. Yum!


    Market in Ulus


    We finally made it to the top! The citadel overlooks almost all of Ankara. We were amazed it was free to enter! According to “The foundations of this structure were laid by Galatians and eventually completed by the Romans.” It was fun and scary to walk the ledges and walls of the castle. There were limited steps and no hand rails or guards.


    Ulus Castle in Ankara, Turkey


    Ulus Citadel in Ankara, Turkey


    What a view of Ankara!


    View from the Ulus Castle in Ankara, Turkey


    View from inside the Ulus castle


    A lot of the city is this gray-brown color. I think the texture of the rooftops are interesting.


    Roofs of Ulus


    This was the first time we went someplace where we didn’t have someone as our guide. We plan to go back to Ulus sometime with friends who can show us where certain shops are located.