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    Ottoman Bridges and Hagia Sophia Trabzon

    After a cozy night by the wood burning stove, we left our cabin, said goodbye to Ayder, and stopped by three more bridges on the way back to Trabzon. Our flight was supposed to leave that afternoon.




    Cow in the road


    Rize river


    Sunny day and Ottoman bridge




    Turkish cay fields


    Because we were in the mountains, we drove through a lot of tunnels. The Ordu Nefise Akçelik Tunnel is the longest tunnel in Turkey at just over 2.3 miles:


    Rize tunnel


    This bridge wasn’t as old as the Ottoman stone bridges, but the wisteria was so pretty:


    Bridge with wisteria




    Broken bridge path


    David walking on an old bridge


    David and Leah on a wisteria bridge


    This was the Taskemer Köprü. People road zip-lines under its arch!


    Ottoman bridge path


    Girls on a bridge


    Bridge with Turkish flag


    Drying plants


    Back in Trabzon, we made one last stop at Hagia Sophia. One of our friends visited the 13th century church a couple of years ago. We were disappointed to find that it had been converted into a working mosque. Large panels covered the majority of the frescoes.


    Hagia Sophia Trabzon


    Women were not allowed to enter the prayer area:


    Hagia Sophia Trabzon


    A few of the frescoes were still visible. I would have loved to have seen the church without all of the panels.


    Hagia Sophia Trabzon


    Hagia Sophia Trabzon art


    To add to our adventure, we received a text that our flight had been canceled. After walking around Hagia Sophia, we headed to the airport to drop off the car and figure out a new flight. Three other flights had been canceled and there was a mob of people by the Turkish Airlines desk. We finally made it to the front and found out the next flight didn’t leave until the next day, Monday. We didn’t think our boss would appreciate five teachers being out.

    We decided to rent another car and drive the 10.5 back to Ankara. Fortunately, our original flight was early enough that we left Trabzon at a decent time of day and made it to Ankara by midnight. (And even though it added extra time, we ended up saving money from the flight refunds!)

    I will never forget our mountain adventure with our wonderful friends!



    Fırtına River Stone Bridges

    After visiting Sümela Manastırı, we drove through Rize towards Çamlıhemşin and the Fırtına Valley. This Black Sea region is filled with winding roads, lush mountains, and fresh air. Everywhere we looked – even behind buildings in the city – we saw çay field after çay field. (Turkey produces over 6% of the world’s tea!)


    Çaykur sign


    Çay fields


    Rize mountains


    Our goal was to see Ottoman bridges. We weren’t sure how to find them, but it ended up being super easy! We just followed the road along the Fırtına River. The bridges were built in the 18th and 19th centuries, but some may be older. The 1700’s are nothing in comparison to other historical sites in Turkey, but we still got a thrill out of finding the bridges and walking across them. There are around 20 bridges still standing. We stopped at three on our first day and three more on Sunday.

    Every bridge felt like a scene out of Narnia or Lord of the Rings. The bridges had high arches and most of the them didn’t seem to lead to anywhere in particular. It was evident herders still used some of the bridges to take their animals over the river.

    This was the Kadiköy (Özenkit) Köprüsü. The sign said it was built near the end of the 19th century by Ahmet and was repaired in 1999:


    Ottoman bridge


    Ottoman bridge with David and Leah


    Plant growing in bridge


    Bridge path


    Randa in cay plant field


    Girls on a bridge


    Dale on a bridge


    I missed the sign for this bridge… or maybe it didn’t have one:


    Ottoman bridge


    Arching bridge


    Bridge path




    Several of the bridges had mini cemeteries near their bases. We wondered if perhaps the builders were buried close to their bridge?


    Gravestone by bridge


    The third bridge we stopped at was called the Şenyuva Köprüsü and was built in 1696:


    Bridge 3 with steps




    Bridge plants


    Rusted bridge


    Rize mountain house


    The people in the area made their living from rafting tourism, forestry, farming, beekeeping, and herding animals. There were a few roadblocks along the way:


    Goats in road




    Just before dark, we drove to Ayder, a small tourism village within a national park. It was a strange little town set in the middle of the countryside. We did not see any other Westerners – most visitors seemed to be Turks or people from countries east of Turkey. We stayed at Dolunay Guesthouse, which was way overpriced for what it was. However, it had a wood burning stove and an amazing view. (Bring your own towels; they do not have any even for rent.) We ate dinner at Zümrüt Restaurant, which included the most amazing Black Sea cheese fondue called mıhlama. It was SO GOOD!


    Ayder clouds


    Ayder cabin


    More on our day trip to Georgia and a few more bridges soon!



    Florence, Italy

    Spring Break Day 6 & 7: Florence
    We said goodbye to Venice in the morning, hopped on a train, and pulled into Florence around noon.

    We were supposed to stay at an AirBnB spot, but unfortunately the owner overbooked. The man was kind and found us a difference place to stay and covered the cost difference. He even met us at the train station and walked us to the other B&B. We stayed at Belfiore40. It was okay… not nearly as clean and private as the AirBnB place looked, but it worked fine for a night. The owner was nice and it included a basic continental breakfast.

    After we dropped our bags, per the AirBnB guy’s recommendation, we headed to Mercato Centrale. The man was a food writer. He told us he’d recently rated Sud Pizzeria as the best pizza in Florence. Who were we to argue with that? Mercato Centrale is an incredible place. The main floor is a huge farmers market and there are the most amazing artisan restaurants upstairs.

    We hung around Mercato Centrale and its free wi-fi for a while, then walked to Galleria dell’Accademia. Our friends recommended that we pre-purchased our tickets online, which we did. You should, too. The line was super long. Overall, we thought the Academia was a bit dull, aside from the David statue. But seeing the David is one of those once in a lifetime sort of things, so, when in Florence! We also saw the Duomo Baptistry and the Ponte Vecchio bridge (built in 996!).

    The next day we visited the Duomo. The church is massive! The outside is ornate and just stunning. We were super bummed the dome was under renovations, but we were able to visit the cathedral. (We decided against walking up the tower. At least, my feet did.) Florence is a beautiful city. We spent the rest of the day walking around, taking in a panorama view of the city from the Piazzale Michelangelo lookout point, and then more time in Mercato Centrale.

    If I could change one thing about our time in Florence, we would have bypassed the less than impressive restaurant our first night and spent more time in Mercato Centrale. We went back for a progressive final meal. Per a recommendation from another friend, we got a panino bollito sandwich with salsa verde from Nerbone in the lower level. Oh so good. After that, we went upstairs and got a meat and cheese plate, fresh pasta, and tiramisu. Mmm. Florence, I will forever remember you for your food.

    Enjoy the photos!


    Venice water


    Mercato Centrale


    Sud pizza


    Sud pizza makers


    David with pizza


    David statue


    David statue


    Florence street




    Duomo cathedral frescos


    Duomo Cathedral


    Duomo tower


    Duomo baptistry ceiling




    Nerbone sandwhich


    Cheese and meat plate


    David with tiramisu


    Florence view


    View of Florence


    Florence sidewalk art


    Leah in Florence


    Next up – our final stop: Rome!



    Venice on David’s Birthday

    Spring Break Day Five: Venice – David’s Birthday!
    David is one lucky April Fool and gets to celebrate his birthday all around the world. Last year, we were in Slovenia and Croatia on his birthday. This year, it was Venice!


    David's birthday


    We had our traditional birthday coffee to start the morning, this year with tiramisu! We found a great little restaurant on a canal and soaked up the sunshine as the gondolas rowed by.

    Speaking of gondolas, there’s an official city rate of €80 for a gondola ride. We didn’t have enough to pay for that, but fortunately I came across a great tip! I follow an author on Instagram and saw her post about a €2 gondola ferry. Now, it quite literally takes you from one side of the canal to the other and lasts all of about 60 seconds… BUT! For €2? That, we can do.

    We spent David’s birthday walking around the island and browsing the cute little markets and shops. We had the most amazing pasta for lunch at a hole-in-the-wall joint.

    After lunch, we visited Saint Mark’s Basilica. (Free admission!) Photos weren’t allowed inside the sanctuary, but it was incredible! I spent just as much time looking at the floor as I did everything else. The tiling inside of the church is remarkable. There are so many colors and patterns and designs. (Just Google Image search it!) You can get a glimpse of it from the photos I took just outside the sanctuary.

    We also took the elevator up to the top of Saint Mark’s Campanil for a great view of Venice.

    It was a relaxing day and such a beautiful place to wander!


    Venice canal


    Gondola Ferry


    Leah on a gondola


    Venice gondola ferry


    David holding Del Moro Pasta


    Gondola going under a bridge


    David with a Davide apron


    Leah on Venice bridge


    St. Mark's Basilica


    St. Mark's Basilica floor


    St. Mark's Basilica tiles


    St. Mark's Basilica Ceiling


    View from St Mark's Campanile


    View from St Mark's Campanile


    View from St Mark's Campanile


    Leah and David by a Venice canal


    Where We Ate
    • Ristorante Florida for breakfast. Good coffee and free Wi-Fi.
    • Dal Moro’s Pasta for lunch. Man, this place was so good. They make everything fresh on the spot. David got a red sauce on his pasta and I had pesto. They give it to you in Chinese take-out boxes with a ton of parm sprinkled on top. They also tell you to eat it quickly because it’s best fresh and the taste changes. (And they were right! There was so much we could barely finish, and by the time we reached the bottom of our boxes, the consistency of the pasta had changed.)
    • Ristorante Santo Stefano for a fantastic birthday dinner. David ordered a really great steak and I had one of the menu dinners with the fish.

    Venice Tips:
    1. Avoid all piddles in the street. (There are a ton of dogs in Venice.)
    2. Save money by finding the €2 Traghesso Santo Sofia gondola ferry.
    3. This is an everywhere tip, but buy bottled water from the grocery store. Instead of paying €3 or more, buy the 1 liter bottles for as little as €0,65!



    Paris: Notre Dame, Lock Bridge, and More!

    Spring Break Day Three: Our last day in Paris
    We packed in the sights again on our last day. Fortunately, the skies were clear! It made a HUGE difference in getting around town.

    First stop: Notre Dame during the morning this time. I was a little skeptical about seeing it again. When we saw Notre Dame our first night, we walked right in the doors. This time there was a long line out front. However, the line moved really quickly, and it was so worth seeing the stained glass windows during the day time. They were stunning.


    Notre Dame


    Notre Dame gargoyles


    Notre Dame Entry


    Notre Dame chandeliers and windows


    Notre Dame window


    Notre Dame stained glass


    Notre Dame candles


    Even though it was on our list of things to see, we didn’t realize the lock bridge was right behind Notre Dame! We ran into it on accident. We did not leave our own lock. We contemplated writing on someone else’s lock, but it just didn’t feel right. Oh well! We ran into a wedding shoot while we were there.


    Lock bridge with Notre Dame in back


    Lock Bridge in Paris


    Paris lock bridge


    Wedding at lock bridge


    After that, we hopped on the metro to see the Eiffel again:


    Us with the Eiffel Tower


    Next, we took the metro to see the Moulin Rouge. It was in a sketchy part of town. We got off the metro, took a photo, then got back on the metro. We went back across town to get some dinner.


    Moulin Rouge


    We ate an incredible cheese fondue and followed it up with crème brûlée. And since we had never had them before, we stopped in a shop for some macaroons. (Chocolate was our favorite. It was like a brownie!)




    We had hoped to find a cheap river cruise to take us back over by the Eiffel, but none were to be had.


    Paris river at night


    So it was back on the metro to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. Did you know it twinkles on the hour? That was a fun surprise.


    Eiffel Tower at night


    Eiffel Tower twinkling


    Looking back on the day, I still can’t believe how much we saw. We really made the most of our time in the City of Light!

    We left France early the next morning for Italy. Next up – Venice!



    Istanbul Marathon 2014

    After a day of exploring the sites, we stopped by the Istanbul Marathon Expo Center to pick up our race packets. There was a fancy countdown on the outside of the building:


    Istanbul Marathon Expo Center


    David outside the expo center


    Inside were lots of athletic vendors, a pasta station, and an art exhibit of student work. Their drawings and interpretation of the marathon were impressive!


    Istanbul Marathon art


    Runners with their numbers


    We woke up early on Sunday morning for the race. Our group of friends were the FIRST people on the shuttle buses out of the Sultanahmet area. We were proud of ourselves for that.


    At the race start


    They had updated race start area with landscaping. You can see some of it behind the chestnut man’s head:


    Man roasting chestnuts


    Seven teachers ran: two in the marathon, four in the 15k, and one in the 10k. Mom and I walked the 10k. Here are their shoe chips:


    Runners with their shoes and chips


    Istanbul 10k Start


    It was drizzly all day, but it was still amazing to walk across the Bosporus Bridge:


    Bosphorus Bridge


    Bosphorus Bridge


    There were a ridiculous number of participants this year. This photo is looking back at the Bosporus Bridge. Even at our slow place, the bridge still had a long trail of people:


    View of Bosphorus Bridge


    The Istanbul Marathon is the only intercontinental race. You start in Asia and end in Europe!


    Welcome to Europe sign


    Leah and mom at welcome to Europe sign


    The walk is a great way to take in the city:


    Rainbow stairs in Istanbul


    We made it back to Sultanahmet just in time to watch David finish his second marathon. Check out those calves!


    David finishing his second marathon


    David cut over 25 minutes from his time from last year! He finished in 4:02:04. I am so proud of him and all of the hard work, time, and training he put in to run 26.2 MILES!


    Marathon finisher!


    After the race, we flew back to Ankara and Mom flew to Izmir for a Seven Churches of Revelation tour. It was a great weekend!



    SB14: Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

    After Krk, we left the coast and headed to Plitvice Lakes National Park. The park was my favorite part of our trip! Plitvice is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The drive there was beautiful with mountains and forests, but the road was crazy with a lot of switchbacks.

    Entrance to the park was 110HRK, which is about $20. (Price conversions were tricky this trip… with a lot of initial sticker shock!)

    My professional guestimation is that we saw 16,939 waterfalls.


    Plitvice Waterfalls


    We walked along footbridges that weaved in and out and over and around the waterfalls. We scored big being there during off-season. We heard that during peak season it can be so crowded that you’re shoulder to shoulder with people the entire walk.


    Plitvice footbridge



    Purple flowers


    Wood pile


    We took a ferry across one of the lakes. We had a funny culture shock moment on our return ride. In Turkey, we’ve learned to be aggressive in lines. Our ferry was packed. Some people had to stand in the aisles. We sat on the benches at the very front. As we pulled up to the dock, we immediately stood up so we could be the first ones off the boat. And we looked like idiots. Everyone very methodically and in true Western style exited the boat row by row. People didn’t even stand up until it was their turn. Shame on us.


    David on the ferry boat


    Plitvice Waterfalls


    Everywhere we looked… waterfalls and more waterfalls!


    Plitvice Waterfalls


    Plitvice Waterfalls


    Plitvice Waterfalls


    On our way out of the park, we made one last stop.


    Plitvice Waterfalls


    Here’s our travel group:


    Our travel group


    The water came over the footbridges in some spots:


    Chacos and water


    So much so, we had to walk across bridges on the footbridges. As David said in his Vine video… “walking on water!”


    Footbridge bridge


    It was an awesome last waterfall to see!


    Jumping by a waterfall


    David and a big waterfall


    Where we stayed
    We stayed at Hotel Bellevue. We chose this one over Hotel Plitvice because it was cheaper. It was very basic and fairly clean, so it worked for a night. The hotel was a 10 minute walk from park entrance #2. It was nice that we didn’t have to worry about parking.

    Where we ate
    There were no towns or villages by the park, and our only option was the restaurant in Hotel Plitvice. After we dropped off our bags, we walked across the street for dinner. We had a really weird Grand Budapest Hotel moment. There was a grand dining room with white tablecloths and napkins, but only a handful of the tables were being used. The meal was average. The breakfast the next morning at Hotel Bellevue was awesome. It was just what we needed before our hike in the park! We stocked up on snacks and fruit before we got there, so we had plenty of munchies for our hike.


    Here’s a recap of our trip:
    » Day 1 & 2: Zagreb, Croatia
    » Day 3: Bled, Slovenia
    » Day 4: Ljubjlana, Slovenia
    » Day 4: Škocjan Caves Park, Slovenia
    » Day 5: Krk, Croatia
    » Day 6: Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
    » Day 7: Split, Croatia