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    Benedicts in Turkey: Çıralı

    After David’s family booked their plane tickets, we knew we had to squeeze in some beach time. We wanted to avoid the hustle and bustle of Antalya, and our friends told us about their favorite beach town.

    It was David’s and my first time in Çıralı! It’s a tiny Lycian village on the Mediterranean with just over two miles of beachfront. It took us over eight hours to get there from Göreme. For the last few miles, we exited the main highway and drove on dirt roads. It was just before dark by the time we arrived.


    Çıralı sunset


    We stayed at İkiz Pansiyon in two of their bungalows. It was a great spot just a short walk from the beach. We were there an evening, a day, and a morning and ate at their İkiz Restaurant on the beach for our meals. (Breakfast was included at the Pansiyon.)

    The next morning, we put on our swimsuits and walked down to the beach. At the far end of the beach in the river valley sits the ancient ruins of Olympos. (Entrance was 5TL or free with the Müzekart.) Olympos is dated to the 4th century during the Hellenistic period.


    Sign for Olympos


    It amazes me how accessible ruins are in Turkey. You can walk up to and around and on top of most of them!


    Olympos mosaics


    Olympos river


    Olympos gate


    Çıralı Beach rocks


    We explored for about two hours and could have stayed for many more, but we had lots more ruins ahead of us and it was time for the beach. We dodged a storm or two, but had a few hours of clear skies for swimming!

    Our stay at İkiz included free beach chairs! We bought some goggles and the boys had fun checking out the fish – even a few tropical ones!


    Beach chairs at Çıralı


    Çıralı beach


    Swimming at Çıralı


    Swimming at Çıralı


    This man speared an octopus!


    Speared octopus


    Multicolored flower


    At Ikiz Restaurant for dinner


    Our last stop of the day was a surprise for the family. We didn’t tell them we were going to see Mount Chimaera (aka Yanartaş) and its eternal flames. After dinner, we headed north. We asked a few people for directions and kept walking and walking. And walking.

    After an hour, we finally made it! (It’d be better to take a car or bus there from the beach, especially at night. Once you get to the base of the mountain, you also have to hike two miles up a very steep incline with lots of stairs. And then back down and a long way back to town.) We paid the entrance fee and rented a flashlight. It was pitch black dark outside aside from a few glowing spots on the mountain.

    Yanartaş produces eternal flames. There are vents in the rock where a mixture of gas – mostly methane – escapes. The fires burn constantly and do not need ignition. They date back thousands of years; Pliny the Elder (AD 29 — AD 79) mentioned the phenomenon in his writings. Sailors used the flames to navigate their ships.


    Leah at Chimaera Mountain


    Even though we were all tired by the time we got to the mountain, it was well worth the hike. Can you believe how bizarre it is? They looked like a bunch of logless campfires. The boys had fun kicking dirt at some of the smaller ones. They put a couple of the flames out, but I think they come back. Otherwise… way to ruin a national treasure, kids. It was a bummer we didn’t have marshmallows for s’mores. (Muslim country = no pork products).


    Chimaera flames


    Chimaera flames


    See the big dipper?


    Night sky at Chimaera


    Coming down the mountain was a little easier than walking up it. David jogged back to the hotel and brought the car to us. He is one good man.

    After breakfast the next morning, we were off to see one of the Seven Churches of Revelation and another crazy Turkish landscape!



    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!



    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!



    Benedicts in Turkey: Ankara

    Even though the family drove from Istanbul to Ankara and got into the apartment around 3:00 am, they were troopers and woke up for church the next (same?) morning. It was the last Sunday David led worship. It was an emotional service. We were excited to introduce our family to our Turkey family, but we also had another round of goodbyes. The service included three baptisms, which was a joy to celebrate!


    David playing guitar at church


    After church, we had lunch at Arjantin Kebap, one of our favorites. It was the family’s first taste of Turkish food and çay.


    Lunch at Arjantin Kebap


    After lunch, we showed them our local pazar. We picked up a few goodies, though not a lot since we had a two-week trip ahead of us. They got a kick out of the vacuum accessories for sale.


    Balgat Pazar vegetables


    Pazar vacuum parts


    They napped that afternoon, the boys played sports at the school, and we spent the evening with some friends. We had showed them around the farm in Michigan two summers ago, so it was fun for the families to connect on the other side of the globe. During sports, someone made the comment: “The Benedict boys are a lot like the Puckett boys!” We enjoyed an evening of fellowship and the guys played a few dangerous rounds of sting pong. I’ll spare you the photos.


    Benedicts and Pucketts


    The next day, we put everyone on a dolumuş and took them to Ulus. Our friend Rex came with us. We showed them the Temple of Augustus, had manti and gözleme at Certioğlu Konağı Kafeterya, and walked up to the castle. We finished our time in Ulus with shopping at Yöre for pottery. David left us early to get the rental car, picked us up and took us back to the apartment.


    Ride in a dolmus


    Ulus street markets


    Lunch in Ulus




    Mom waving on the Ankara Castle


    Benedicts in the Ulus Castle


    Boys overlooking Ankara


    Rooftops in Ulus, Ankara


    Ulus metal workers


    It was fun for us to see Turkey through our family’s eyes. For Dad, Sam, and Ben, it was their first time over the Pacific and it was Ben’s first time out of the country.

    That evening, we packed up as much as we could before our drive to Göreme (Cappadocia) in the morning!



    Travel Turkey in Two Weeks

    David’s dad, mom, and two youngest brothers arrived a few days after we finished school in June. We had two weeks with them to travel Turkey. David grew up taking long family vacations across the States; this time it was our turn to plan the trip itinerary. We knew they wanted to see as much as humanly possible, and we crammed in a LOT into those 14 days!


    Turkey is an amazing place to explore. We lived there for three years and loved it. This is the two week itinerary we used to show our family around the country.


    We originally wanted them to fly into Ankara’s airport, but because of prices they flew into the Istanbul airport (IST). We purchased Pegasus tickets for $30 each from SAW to ESB (which saved them over $1600!) and David went with two friends to help them make the airport transfer. Unfortunately, a bag was lost/late, and they missed the Pegasus flight. They ended up renting a car and drove six hours from Istanbul to Ankara. I felt so bad; they had been traveling for over 30 hours by the time they got to our apartment. (And I felt even worse because our two friends took a night bus back because the car wasn’t big enough for them all!)

    This post is a little dry. There will be lots of pictures to come, but I wanted to share it as a travel resource. Dad kept saying it was a once in a lifetime trip! If you’re looking to experience Turkey, this is a FULL schedule. It was tiring but so worth it. Also worth noting: we wouldn’t have seen half of this had we not rented a car.

    If you travel to Turkey, you could probably bypass Ankara and spend more time on the southern coast, Black Sea, or check out the east (we loved Rize and Van). Ankara was home for us, so we wanted to show our family.

    Click this link for a Google Map I made with our points of interest highlighted.


    Our two week route in Turkey


    Day 1
    Arrived in Turkey
    Drove from Istanbul to Ankara

    Day 2: Ankara
    Church in Ankara
    Lunch at Arjantin Kebap
    Shopped at the local pazar

    Day 3: Ankara
    Ulus (the castle, Temple of Augustus, shopped at Yöre for pottery)
    Lunch at Certioğlu Konağı Kafeterya for manti and gözleme
    Picked up the rental car

    Day 4: Cappadocia
    Drove to Göreme
    Stopped at Tuz Gölü (Salt Lake) along the way
    Stayed at the Vineyard Cave Hotel
    Open Air Museum

    Day 5: Cappadocia
    Cave churches
    Love Valley
    Özler Onyx for onyx and zultanite
    Kaymaklı Underground City
    Avanos pottery shops

    Day 6: Travel Day
    Sunrise hot air balloon launch in Göreme
    Long drive day south to the coast
    Stayed at İkiz Pansiyon

    Day 7: Çıralı
    Ruins of Olympus (Lycia)
    Beach Time
    Evening walk to the flames of Chimera (Yanartaş)

    Day 8: Travel Day to Denizli
    Ruins of Laodicea
    Walked up the limestone hill and soaked in the hot springs of Pamukkale
    Ruins of Hierapolis
    Stayed at Sergent Hotel in Kuşadası

    Day 9: More Churches of Revelation
    Ruins of Ephesus
    Ruins of Pergamon
    Stayed at the Efsane Hotel in Bergama

    Day 10: Travel North
    Ruins of Troy
    Çanakkale War Memorial
    Crossed the Marmara on a ferry
    Stayed the night at Gallipoli Konukevi

    Day 11: Istanbul
    Drove to Istanbul and returned the car
    Blue Mosque
    Stayed at Antique Hostel

    Day 12: Istanbul
    Hagia Sophia
    Grand Bazaar (Lunch at the Fes Cafe – love their avocado sandwich!)
    Taksim (Shake Shack and Charly Temmel)

    Day 13: Istanbul
    Basilica Cisterns
    Galata Bridge for fish sandwiches
    Spice Bazaar
    Galata Tower area

    Day 14: Fly Home!
    The B’s had a 6:00 am flight out of Istanbul. They took an airport shuttle at 3:00 am the night before. David and I went back to bed for a bit and headed to the other airport to catch our flight back to Ankara in the early afternoon.


    Photos from the trip to come soon!



    Senior Trip: Kalkan and Boat Tour

    Now that I have some time, I’ll be mixing in a few retrospective posts. (Our last few months in Turkey were crazy full and there’s so much we haven’t shared about yet!)

    I was a senior class sponsor last year. During the June exam days, we drove south to the coast for a 5-day trip. The senior class was tiny with only six graduates and only five were able to go on the trip. There were benefits to having such small group – we all fit in the other sponsor’s van!




    I feel like Turkey is one of the world’s best kept vacation secrets with over 7000 km of coastline falling along the Black Sea, Mediterranean, and Aegean. And it’s all stunning.

    We traveled to Kalkan and spent two nights at Villa Derin. This rental was so wonderful! And very modern. It had four bedrooms, a private pool, and an incredible view. We used the kitchen for several meals and ate out on the porch. We drove to the town of Kalkan once and some of us took a ferry across the bay the other evening.


    Villa Derin


    Villa Derin wall




    Kalkan view


    Seniors in Kalkan


    Kalkan street


    Beautiful orange flowers


    Kalkan steps


    Kalkan beach


    We spent one morning at Patara Beach. (Use the Müze Card for a discount!) I don’t have any photos from there because I didn’t bring my camera, but this beach was one of the nicest I’ve ever been to. There were some ancient ruins there as well, but we spent our time on the beach. It wasn’t crowded and we couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. Some of the kids rented an umbrella and some lounge chairs.


    Kalkan at night


    For the last three days of the trip, we rented a boat out of Kaş called Dilara. The boat followed along the coast. We stopped in bays to swim and anchored in other bays for the night. The boat had lounging mats on the top deck and some of the kids slept there at night. The scenery was ridiculously beautiful. We played cards and dominoes, kayaked, read, napped, and relaxed. The captain and his wife were very hospitable and the food they made was oh so good. One of the girls said, “I feel like on this trip I’m either eating or sleeping.”


    Sitting on the boat deck


    Turkish boat rental with flag


    Boat deck at morning


    Senior drawing


    Dinner on the boat


    Turkish breakfast spread


    Leah swimming


    Senior trip


    The trip was a special time of bonding for the seniors. It was also bittersweet because by the end of the trip, we all wished it could have happened at the beginning of the year. I’m thankful for the time I got to spend with these students. They are talented with bright futures ahead of them! The trip was a breath of fresh air before the end of the year craziness, graduation, and the goodbyes we all faced.