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    Trumpeter Swans on Magness Lake

    While we were in the States over Christmas break, we traveled south to see my mom in Arkansas. She heard about some other northern visitors, and we drove to Heber Springs to check them out.

    Arkansas hosts hundreds of trumpeter swans every winter! The swans migrate from the Midwest to Magness Lake and enjoy the warmer temperatures from November through February. Trumpeter swans are the largest of waterfowl in North America and are the rarest type of swan. Their wingspan can reach up to 10 feet! The first three swans came to the lake in 1992; researchers think they were knocked off course by a storm. Swans mate for life and they teach their young their migration routes. Now, as many as 150 swans can be seen on the lake at a time.

    We stopped by the lake in the afternoon and saw around 25 swans, along with other ducks and geese. If we had stayed a little longer, we might have seen more fly in after their day out hunting. A friend gave us a bag of cracked corn to feed the birds. They were beautiful!

     

    Magness Lake swans

     

    Trumpeter swans on Magness Lake

     

    Magness Lake in Heber Springs

     

    Cracked corn on Magness Lake

     

    Flock of trumpeter swans

     

    Trumpeter swans through brush

     

    Cracked corn

     

    Holding cracked corn

     

    Trumpeter swans swimming

     

    Trumpeter swans

     

    Trumpeter swans

     

    Trumpeter swans

     

    David, Leah, Mom at Magness Lake

     

    To see the swans, take Arkansas 110 east from its intersection with Arkansas 5 and 25 just east of Heber Springs. Go 3.9 miles from the intersection to Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, marked with a white sign. Turn left onto Hays Road. Parking spots are available. The swans are best seen in the mid-afternoon to dusk hours.

    We look forward to visiting the swans over winters to come!

     

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    Suncheon Bay and Yeosu

    David’s school has a working relationship the Korea Foreign Schools Foundation. This group is so very generous and offers cultural trips to teachers twice a year! We were so excited when we found out we made it on the list for the trip over Thanksgiving weekend. It was a quick trip; we left Friday morning and returned Saturday evening. The foundation organized everything – transportation, lodging, and food. It was nice to just be along for the ride!

    We left Seoul on the KTX speed train. Some of our friends clocked the train at the top speed of 184 mph! Even though the snow didn’t stick in Seoul on Thanksgiving, we passed fields and mountains loaded with snow. Just 2.5 hours later, we arrived in Suncheon Bay (순천만).

     

    Snowy trees

     

    After a delicious Korean BBQ lunch, we spent a short 30 minutes at the Suncheon Open Film Set, the largest film site in Korea.  The place consisted of three villages representing the 1950s to the 1970s. I haven’t seen any Korean dramas or movies yet, so I didn’t recognize any of the sets.

     

    Film village

     

    Next, we took the tour bus to Suncheon Bay Ecological Park (순천만자연생태공원). This wetland preserve had the largest reedbed in Korea, mudflats, and plenty of wildlife, including the rare hooded crane. We took a ferry boat ride and hiked around the grounds.

     

    Suncheon ferry ride view

     

    We spotted a couple of otters! You can see the back of one in the middle of this photo:

     

    Otter and birds

     

    The tour guide said reeds like this are used to make a special type of broom that lasts 30 years. Suncheon Bay is a government protected area, so I don’t know if these particular reeds are used or not:

     

    Suncheon Bay reed fields

     

    Boardwalk among reeds

     

    David and Leah in Suncheon

     

    Suncheon Ecological Park view

     

    David in Suncheon Park

     

    The foundation put us up in an incredible hotel in Yeosu (여수) called The MVL (which stands for Most Valuable Life). The rooms had gorgeous views of the bay. We thought one feature was funny… the bathroom had a curtain that opened like a window to the room. The purpose was so you could watch the sun rise and set as you bathe.

     

    MVL hotel

     

    MVL room view

     

    MVL bathroom window

     

    We had dinner and breakfast at the hotel. The buffets were to die for. Soups, Korean food, sushi, seafood, pastries, fruit… We ate so. much. food. Here was the first (of probably three) of my breakfast plates:

     

    MVL breakfast

     

    After checking out of the hotel, we loaded our bags on the bus and then walked to the Yeosu Maritime Cable Cars (여수 해상케이블카). This attraction opened in December 2014. We rode in the special “crystal” cars that had glass bottoms. The views were beautiful as we traveled over the Dadohae Marine National Park and Dolsandaegyo Bridge.

     

    Yeosu Cable Car

     

    Cable car clear floor

     

    Cable car ride

     

    After our cable car rides, we walked to Odongdo Island (오동도). We had less than an hour there. The weather was much warmer in Yeosu and the greenery was beautiful.

     

    Odongdo island

     

    Dragon cave:

     

    Odongdo Island dragon cave

     

    This is called a turtle ship, a Korean warship. The ship was loaded with spikes and cannons. Both cannons and flames were fired from the dragon’s mouth:

     

    Odongdo Island turtle ship

     

    After another huge lunch, we headed to the train station to return to Seoul. We had a wonderful time with our 23 friends! Thank you, KFS Foundation!!!

     

    Travel group

     

    • For more information on the Suncheon area, visit www.suncheon.go.kr.
    • For more information on the Yeosu area, visit www.ystour.kr/en/main.jsp.

     

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    Seoul Lantern Festival

    There are special events ALL the time in Seoul. We’ve had a couple busy weeks and the weather has been rainy off and on, but there was a clear night last night so we went to check out the Seoul Lantern Festival!

    The festival started November 5 and is on display until November 22 this year. The lanterns begin at Cheonggyecheon Plaza (청계광장) and go a little over a kilometer down to Supyogyo Bridge. You can see them illuminated from 5 to 11 pm. This is the seventh year Seoul has hosted the lantern festival and the theme is “Illuminated Seoul Tour.”

    These are so much more than paper lanterns! (They’re not paper… or there’s some sort of coating, anyways.) See for yourself:

     

    Rainbow Bridge

     

    Building lanterns

     

    Seoul lantern palace

     

    Child looking at lantern

     

    Can you believe the detail and dimensions of this one?

     

    Lantern detail

     

    Bukchon Hanok Village Sign

     

    Lanterns of Korean children

     

    Fish lanterns

     

    Some people paid to customize floating lanterns. I guess you make a wish and send it down the stream:

     

    Floating lanterns

     

    Floating lanterns pink and orange

     

    David at Seoul Lantern Festival

     

    Hanging lanterns under bridge

     

    Bridge, lanterns, and reflections

     

    Cheonggyecheon stream and lanterns

     

    There were several exit points along the way. We indulged in some street food:

     

    Street food vendor

     

    One of the treats we got was a pancake folded in this paper cup. I got a kick out of the writing on it. “Espresso of Street. When I walk on the street with my coffee, I feel so good and happy. Magical thing! It’s a cup of coffee.” Ha!

     

    Food vendor cup funny saying

     

    Leah under bridge

     

    Lantern man

     

    Animal lanterns

     

    And what lantern festival would be complete without… Mount Rushmore?

     

    Mount Rushmore lantern

     

    These photos weren’t even half of the displays! There were several Korean cartoon characters, a giant make-up display, illuminated bridges, and more. It’s definitely worth checking out! (Plus, it’s free!)

    For more information, check out these websites:
    visitkorea.or.kr
    visitseoul.net

    Which one was your favorite?

     

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    Benedicts in Turkey: Istanbul

    We’ve made it to the final installment of our two-week Turkey tour with David’s family! We had two and a half days in Istanbul and I think we were all happy to be in one spot for more than a couple of hours. We arrived Tuesday afternoon and David and Sam returned the rental car. (I was glad to have it off of our hands. Driving in Istanbul is nuts!)

    We stayed at Antique Hostel in the Sultanahmet area and recommend it. It was in a perfect location and had a yummy breakfast and a great price!

    Istanbul is one of my favorite cities. David and I visited many times while we lived in Turkey. (Check out our previous posts with more travel details here, herehere, here, and here.) It was always a great getaway and change of pace from Ankara. And with $30 flights from Ankara to Istanbul, what could be better? It was a place where we could explore and relax at the same time. We were glad to share our favorite spots with the family and explore a few new places, too.

    Blue Mosque:

     

    Blue mosque

     

    Blue mosque ceiling

     

    Hagia Sofia:

     

    Hagia Sofia ceiling

     

    Hagia Sofia from second floor

     

    View of Blue mosque from Hagia Sofia

     

    There was an awesome open-air bazaar while we were there with a long stretch of vendors from all over Turkey selling handmade goods and food:

     

    Art bazaar in Istanbul

     

    Art Bazaar locksmith

     

    Mom posing with Gaziantep tie sellers

     

    Basilica Cistern and the Medusa head:

     

    Istanbul cisterns

     

    Medusa head

     

    Medusa head and tourists

     

    Grand Bazaar and lunch at the Fes Cafe:

     

    Grand Bazaar Fez Cafe

     

    We were there during Ramazan. After the sun set, all of the Turks came out to the square with their picnics:

     

    Blue mosque during Ramazan

     

    Sultanahmet during Ramazan

     

    Whirling dervish performance

     

    Corn vendor in Istanbul

     

    Stack of Turkish Bakalava

     

    David holding Turkish Coffee Cup

     

    Taksim:

     

    taksimsunset

     

    Taksim Tunel

     

    Fish sandwiches on Galata Bridge:

     

    Galata bridge fish sandwich boat

     

    Galata Tower:

     

    Galata tower

     

    We celebrated our fourth anniversary along with the family’s final send off meal. It was a huge spread of döner, kebap, hummus, prizola, meze, and more. We left stuffed and happy.

     

    Anniversary dinner in Istanbul

     

    After a few fun and shopping filled days, the family’s time in Turkey came to an end. They took the Friday 6:00 am flight. We sent them off on their shuttle bus, went back to bed for a few hours, then left for the airport ourselves to head back to Ankara to pack up our lives and close our time in Turkey.

    We were thrilled to share Turkey with David’s family. These two weeks were also a farewell tour for David and me. I never could have imagined how deeply I would fall in love with this country… how quickly the people and culture would work their way into my heart. Turkey challenged and grew and changed me for the better, and I count my time there as one of God’s greatest gifts in my life. I pray we’ll be able to go back again one day! Until then, I’ll look forward to that next glass of çay.

    Teşekkür ederim, Türkiye. Türkiyem çok seviyorum.

     

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    Sixth Grade Retreat in Daecheon

    Every year the school has a Week Without Walls where middle school students spend time learning outside the classroom. A friend asked if I’d be willing to help during the sixth grade trip.

    We traveled three hours south to a small retreat center on Daecheon Beach (대천) in the coast city of Boryeong. It was a short trip; we were gone three days and two nights. The place where we stayed was beautiful with fall colors and a porch that overlooked the Yellow Sea.

    My friend Ji and I were the cooks. The menu was simple, but I had never put together quantities like that before! We served around 80 people. I have a whole new appreciation for cooks and caterers. We made around 180 sandwiches, 300+ pancakes, and hard boiled 180 eggs in two batches.

    We spent most of our time in the kitchen, but were able to slip away twice to explore the beach. One afternoon we finished the sandwiches early and spent a couple of hours in a coffee shop a short walk away. We had the place to ourselves for a while!

    It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed myself. I always love time near the water.

     

    Fall trees

     

    Cabin room

     

    Room door view

     

    Retreat porch

     

    Beach view from porch

     

    Hard boiling 90 eggs

     

    Sandwiches

     

    Daecheon beach

     

    Daecheon coast

     

    Mussels on rocks

     

    Blue and orange starfish

     

    Rocks on the beach

     

    Rocks

     

    Wavy rocks

     

    Ji on the rocks

     

    People feeding seagulls

     

    Empty coffee shop

     

    Week without walls session

     

    We laughed at this sign on the trip back to Seoul… merge right, I guess?

     

    Merge right sign?

     

    I can’t find website information on the retreat center itself. We stayed in the group area that had the kitchen, 14 bunk rooms, and an auditorium. They also have small cabins available for rent. Our time there was the latest in the season they had ever stayed open and they had to do special work on the heaters before we arrived. If I find out the name, I’ll update the post.

     

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    Benedicts in Turkey: Troy and Çanakkale

    After spending the night in Bergama, we drove 3.5 hours north to Troia and the ruins of Troy. (Did you know Troy is in Turkey? I thought it was in Greece!) For a time it was believed the city mentioned in Homer’s Iliad was fictional, but a British man discovered the ruins in 1863.

    It was raining that morning, so it was rather miserable to be outside. We sat inside of the “replica” Trojan horse for a while to avoid the rain. Had we had a tour guide and if the weather had been clear, I might have enjoyed this stop more. We hurried through the site and I didn’t read many signs.

     

    Troy fake horse

     

    Theater:

     

    Ruins of Troy theater

     

    Ruins of Troy

     

    This area was significant because it showed four layers of civilization:

     

    Ruins of Troy layers

     

    The view from Hisarlık across the plain of Ilium to the Aegean Sea:

     

    Ruins of Troy

     

    After Troy, we took a ferry boat across the straights to the European side of Turkey. The car ferry cost only 30TL! I was impressed by that. We saved a significant amount of travel time by taking the ferry. (We were on our way to Istanbul.)

     

    Map of Troy to Çanakkale to Gallipoli

     

    It was nearing dark and the weather was still rainy. David really wanted to see the site of the Battle of Gallipoli (aka the Battle of Çanakkale). We drove along the water in Gallipoli Peninsula Historical National Park to the Çanakkale Martyrs’ Memorial.

    The battle took place April 1915 – January 2016. The Ottoman victory was a defining moment for the country. Eight years later, the Republic of Turkey was established.

    The Water Diviner movie starring Russell Crowe came out last year and gives an interesting perspective of and shortly after the war. I recently finished reading Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières. The novel is another great period piece.

     

    Çanakkale Martyrs' Memorial

     

    Çanakkale Martyrs' Memorial

     

    Çanakkale Martyrs' Memorial

     

    Çanakkale Martyrs' Memorial statue

     

    Çanakkale Martyrs' Memorial freize

     

    Çanakkale Martyrs' Memorial freize

     

    The memorial structure stands 41.7 meters tall. Here’s Ben standing at the base of it for scale:

     

    Çanakkale Martyrs' Memorial scale

     

    Çanakkale Martyrs' Memorial ceiling view

     

    Çanakkale Martyrs' Memorial sculpture

     

    It was sobering to see the graves and names of fallen soldiers. It is estimated over 100,000 men died during the Gallipoli Campaign including Turkish, British, French, New Zealander, and Australian soldiers.

     

    Çanakkale Martyrs' Memorial graves

     

    Çanakkale Martyrs' Memorial graves

     

    Turkish flag sunset

     

    After the sun set, we made our way to Gallipoli Konukevi. We were very impressed by this guesthouse! The small apartments were modern and spacious. Their breakfast was wonderful as well.

     

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