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    Ulus, Ankara Castle

    This past Saturday we took a dolmuş into the old neighborhood in Ankara called Ulus. We walked up cobble stone roads to see the ruins of the citadel. 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’s the highest point in the area, and it was fun and scary to walk the ledges and walls of the castle. There were limited steps and no hand rails or guards. What a view of Ankara!


    Castle Climbing in Ulus, Ankara


    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 First 30 Hours in Ankara

    After about 18 hours of travel, we arrived in Ankara yesterday at 3:30 pm (Turkey time). The three flights went very well; there were no long delays and all of our luggage made it to our destination. It was quite the experience for me as I had never before flown overseas. I think Leah got a kick out of me looking at our GPS location and how excited I was about flying over various places. This trip was our first time riding in a plane together!


    In-flight GPS


    Upon arrival, our director picked us up from the airport to take us to our new home. Immediately we noticed how the people of Ankara are packed in tight. The city is filled with high-rise buildings, and most people live in apartments. The “packed-in” feeling is also evident in their driving. There were several times when drivers filled the road five cars wide in a three lane area. Our director said the philosophy of driving in Turkey is “find a place that’s empty and fill it.” The Turks have a much smaller driving “bubble” than Americans, and it is not uncommon to be within centimeters of the car beside you.


    Ankara from the plane


    Our apartment is much bigger than we expected — even larger than the house we rented in Virginia. We have two balconies, a full kitchen, and were provided with plenty of modern furniture. Last night we sat out on the balcony and took in the noise of the city and the cool breeze. Some new sounds are the Islamic call to prayer and the packs of wild dogs that roam the forest next to our building.


    Ankara at night


    Last night, I thought I’d give Turkish grocery shopping a whirl. It turned out to be a bigger whirl than I had predicted. Leah stayed in the apartment because we were having issues with our keys and lock (which is now fixed). My first challenge was trying to order baklava; I realized I didn’t know how to say the quantity or number of pieces I wanted. I had two teenagers behind the counter laughing as we tried to overcome the language barrier. After getting about five times the baklava I wanted, I decided to try something where I could choose my own quantities. As I was selecting produce, I noticed a gentleman trying to tell me something. After many hand motions, I found that unlike Walmart or Meijer, this guy had to weigh the produce before I checked out. My last communication challenge came at the register. I didn’t realize it was bag your own food until my stuff started piling together with someone else’s. This bagging strategy makes sense — it’s my food, so if I want it in bags, why should someone else put it there? Eventually, I made it home and made our first meal in Turkey.


    Our first meal in Turkey


    Today, we went on a tour of our school and neighborhood and did some small scale shopping. On the tour, we ate at our first Turkish restaurant. Each meal comes with complimentary salad, a salsa type dip, pita bread, fried vegetables, and hot tea. For my entree, I chose Döner Kebap. This delicious dish consisted of fried strips of beef served over a pita with a spiced grain (similar to couscous).


    Eating out for the first time in Turkey


    We are enjoying our new home Ankara. The people are friendly, the food is good, and jet lag has not hit us much yet. We have a lot of language yet to learn in order to function well on our own. Until then, the few phrases we know in Turkish will be most important: “My Turkish is not very good” and “I don’t understand.”


    Vacationing with the Benedicts: Wisconsin and Pure Michigan

    My side of the family planned a summer vacation starting in the Wisconsin Dells. However, we had a day to burn before meeting up with them and decided to pay a visit to Leah’s cousin in Chicago. We had a lot of fun staying with Kendra and meeting her boyfriend, David. While in Chicago, we enjoyed Lincoln Park Zoo (which is free – we highly recommend it) and a delicious Mexican restaurant.


    Visiting Leah's cousin in Chicago


    Leah and I were a little ahead of the rest of the family. We were commissioned to locate a restaurant and found a Denny’s down the road. However, after realizing Wisconsin is home of Culver’s, Mom and Dad asked us to find one. One of the most common phrases on the vacation was, “There’s a Culver’s – how much you want to bet Mom and Dad stop?”

    Once we had our first Culver’s fix, we continued to the Wisconsin Dells. The Dells are sandstone rock formations that surround the Wisconsin River. We got a close-up view on a Wild Thing jet boat ride. We enjoyed getting whipped around as the boat captain thrashed us into 360 degree turns and plunged the nose of the boat into the water.


    Benedicts before the jet boat ride


    There are over 20 different water parks in the Dells area. We went to Noah’s Ark, who claims to be America’s largest waterpark. My favorite attraction was the Scorpion’s Tail. At the top of the tower, I stepped into a capsule. As the glass closed around me, a voice counted down toward zero (I felt like I was about to join the Hunger Games). When the countdown got to zero, the floor dropped out from beneath me and I plummeted ten stories before doing a loop and reaching the end of the slide 400 feet later. It was the most intense water slide I’ve ever experienced, and it couldn’t have taken more than 7 seconds.

    One night, we attended the Tommy Bartlett Show. The show consisted of aqua athletes performing breath-taking stunts on boats, skis, and wake-boards. There was also a stage show that featured acrobats, jugglers, and comedians. Other than a comedian crossing the line of acceptable family humor, I recommend taking a family to this show; it was suspenseful and filled with humor.

    After a few days, we packed up two tents and a thirty-foot trailer to travel onward. Joe and Brittany had to head home early, but we were glad to have had time with all of the immediate Benedict’s.

    Several Culver’s stops and hours of driving later, we settled down in Door County. Door County is a peninsula on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan. We did a lot of shopping and were amused by Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant, where goats live on it’s grass roof. We swam at a few beaches and enjoyed riding the car ferry to explore Washington Island.


    Goats on a roof in Door County


    One of the highlights and musts of Door County was the Pelletier’s Fish Boil. Fish boils originated in Door County and are unique to that area. A fish boil takes place outside over a fire. A cook fills a giant pot with water and adds potatoes and onions, and fish are added later. As everything is cooked, the fish oil rises above the water. The cook then pours fuel on the flames below the pot, causing a giant flame to ignite the fish oil. I was standing so close that I almost singed my eyebrows! The result is a delicious meal. We enjoyed the fresh-caught (same day) white fish and potatoes. The food was delicious, but the service was so-so.


    Door County Fish Boil


    Next, we made our way into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We passed through Escanaba (in the sunlight) and floated across the springs of Kitch Iti Kipi. I was excited to show Leah the springs since it was a place I visited as a child.

    We settled near Lake Superior in Tahquamenon Falls State Park. We enjoyed viewing the falls and wading in the river. We also spent some time at the Michigan Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. We walked the beach and learned about the many shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, including the Edmund Fitzgerald. It’s crazy how a freshwater lake can stir up such wild sea-like storms.


    Whitefish Point


    While in the Tahquamenon area, we also visited Oswald’s Bear Ranch . This ranch has 29 live roaming bears. We were able to get up close and personal, and Benny fed the bears apples. We were hoping to pet the bears, but due to a new federal law, we missed the opportunity by just a few weeks.


    Oswald Bear Ranch


    We were so blessed to be able to join my family on this trip. Mom and Dad were so generous and found the most interesting places to visit. I spent lots of time bonding with my brothers, and we had many interesting game nights. The campfire food and morning breakfasts were fun to make together, and we faced the challenge of sorting individual marshmallows out of a big bag of them melted together. Leah and I left a few days early to prepare for more Northern Michigan with Leah’s family. I had the privilege of driving Leah on her first trek across the Mackinac Bridge!


    Pre-Field Training in Mississippi

    It’s been a busy couple of weeks and several thousand miles since we left Michigan in June!

    After our first anniversary celebration in Tennessee, we traveled to Oxford, Mississippi. One of my dearest friends from college and her husband live there, and it was just an hour from where our training took place. Noelani and Devon spoiled us with wonderful hospitality and delicious food. It was so fun catching up with them and seeing where they lived.


    Playing games at the Newburns


    After relaxing in Oxford for a few days, we drove north to Southaven, Mississippi for Pre-Field Orientation (PFO).

    PFO was a two-week long program that took place in a local school/church. David and I were two of over 130 participants preparing to teach in one of 21 schools in 16 different countries. PFO helped prepare us for our lives as expat teachers through lectures and activities centering around personality tests, Third Culture Kids, and what we might expect in our transition. Learning about Third Culture Kids fascinated me most.

    What’s a Third Culture Kid?
    A Third Culture Kid is an individual who, having spent a significant part of the developmental years in a culture other than the parents’ culture, develops a sense of relationship to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Elements from each culture are incorporated into the life experience, but the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar experience.

    A variety of students including children of embassy officials, children of international businessmen and women, military children, and other international children attend the school in Turkey. TCKs are a different kind of student and people with ever-changing host countries, friendships, and independence.

    We spent most of our time at PFO in this lecture hall. Training consisted of a LOT of acronyms. This was the PAC. (I don’t even know what that stood for!)


     The lecture hall


    The participants of PFO not only learned a lot, but we also ate a lot. PFO was southern hospitality at its finest! Every morning, we attended a lecture, then we’d break for snacks. Another lecture, then lunch. Another lecture, then another break for snacks. Another lecture, and dinner. An amazing team of volunteers prepared the food. Every single meal was absolutely delicious!

    During PFO, we met some of the former, current, and new teachers at our school in Ankara. Southaven is right on the border of Mississippi and Tennessee, and our director treated us to dinner in Memphis. It was David’s first time to eat at the Rendezvous.  The Rendezvous is famous for its dry rub barbecue ribs. Yum!


    Rendezvous ribs

    Oasis Ankara at Rendezvous


    David and I were blessed to stay with an amazing host family! They were so personable, hospitable, and kind to us. One of the sisters will also be teaching at an Oasis school (not pictured below). Below is a picture of us before the international dress up night.


    Our Host Family


    We also spent quality time getting to know the people in our small group. We were placed with 4 other couples who are each at a different school.


    Our PFO Small Group


    David and I were so glad we were able to attend PFO, and are more excited than ever to teach in Turkey!