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    Ulus with Mom

    After checking out the Roman ruins, we began the uphill walk to the castle. The foundations of castle were laid by the Galatians and later completed by the Romans.


    Ankara castle on a hill


    There were lots of shops and restaurants along the way:


    Outdoor seating


    We took Mom to Certioğlu Konağı Kafeterya for lunch. Something feels so authentic about sitting on the floor cushions and eating off of the Anatolian-style copper tables.


    Eating lunch on the floor


    We ordered manti, potato gözleme, and içli köfte. And for dessert? Honey walnut gözleme. Yum.


    Turkish food for lunch


    After lunch, we went up to the castle. It was cold! We had our first snowfall last week. The snow in town didn’t last longer than a day or two, but the mountains in the distance were still snow capped:


    Ankara snowline


    Mom and Leah at the castle


    Castle window


    The view from the castle is one of the best! (Although, we’re also partial to the view from our apartment). We spent the rest of our afternoon shopping. It was a lot of fun showing Mom around Ulus.



    SB14: Split, Croatia

    After Plitvice Lakes National Park, we drove four hours south to Split. We arrived in the late afternoon, got cleaned up, and walked around the harbor.

    Where we ate
    We ate dinner at Restoran Bajamonti. It had great sea food and a blue lobster on display in a tank.

    Where we stayed
    We rented rooms 1 and 3 at Villa Stone Flower. It was much more a bed and breakfast than a hostel. We loved this little place! It was centrally located, had fast Wi-Fi, and was decorated so nice. The owner Ana was super sweet and gave us some options of things to do. The only problem we had was parking our massive van. But the boys found a parking structure not too far away, so it worked out fine.

    The next morning, we grabbed some pastries and walked toward the water.


    Split boardwalk


    Old wall


    Here’s the Croatian National Theatre:


    Croatian National Theatre in Split


    Split, Croatia


    Teal shutters in Split


    We made our way to Diocletian’s Palace, another UNESCO World Heritage site. The Roman emperor Diocletian built it in the fourth century AD as his retirement home. I haven’t seen the show, but the palace is a filming site for the HBO series Game of Thrones.


    Split castle


    The palace was quite large. Homes and businesses were built into the walls. See a 360° tour at this website.


    Corinthian columns


    You can walk around most of the palace for free. We paid a little extra to peek into the cathedral, baptistery, and mausoleum.


    Carved Door




    Flowers growing in a wall


    We didn’t spend much time in Split. We had a four hour drive back to Zagreb and returned to Turkey the following morning.

    It was an awesome spring break trip! I’m always very thankful for our breaks and the opportunities we have to travel. We returned rested, relaxed, and ready to knock out the last quarter of the school year!


    Here’s a recap of the 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


    SB14: Lake Bled, Slovenia

    After our first two days in Zagreb, we picked up a rental van and drove about two hours northwest to Bled, Slovenia. Our first stop was Bled Castle. See it in between the houses up on the cliff?


    City of Bled and Bled Castle


    Sadly, the castle was less than impressive. Part of it had been converted into a museum. The museum didn’t have much worth seeing, and I was disappointed how heavily renovated everything was. The interior didn’t feel authentic at all.


    Bled Castle Courtyard


    But the view? So worth it.


    Bled Castle and mountains


    View from Bled Castle


    If we had extra time, we would have checked out this alpine slide:


    Alpine Slide


    The castle overlooked Lake Bled and Bled Island:


    Bled Island


    Bled Castle and lake


    Small flowers


    After a while at the castle, we drove down to the lake. We rented a rowboat and took it out to the island. (If you visit, give yourself at least 2 hours to row out, explore the island, and row back.)


    On a rowboat


    Lake Bled is a natural lake formed from glaciers. There were a couple of buildings on the island with the main attraction being the church.


    Bled Island


    Row boat on Bled Island


    Mallard ducks




    Bugs and moss


    Though the sanctuary was small, the inside of the church was ornate. There was a rope near the front you could pull to ring the church bell.


    Bled Church


    We really liked the gift shop here. And it was so peaceful to sit outside and enjoy the scenery.


    Bled Church


    After a row back to shore, we headed into the capital of Slovenia Ljubljana for the night!


    » Read about day 1 and 2 in Zagreb here.



    Here’s a recap of the 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


    Eastern Turkey: Doğubayazıt

    After our first night in Van, we traveled 110 miles north to Doğubayazıt. Our goal was to see Ağrı Dağı (Mount Ararat) and visit Ishak Pasha Palace.

    We were super pumped to be within a mile and a half of Iran. David pointed out every watch tower along the border.


    Van to Dogubayazit


    The drive took over three hours. As we traveled north, we saw a lot more snow. We also ran into fog which made for some scary driving, but David mastered it like a pro.


    Snowy roadside


    We finally got to Doğubayazıt only to run into some political protests in the street. (Don’t worry – nothing violent.) Police were blocking the street we needed, and we circled around for quite a while trying to find a different way to the palace. We ended up stopping just outside of the town to regroup and stretch our legs.


    Our rental car


    Behind us, you can see part of Mount Ararat beneath the fog:


    Group by Ararat


    David wanted to say “I ran near Iran!” so he used his GPS watch and went on a little jog:


    David running


    Since we had driven so far, we went back into town to see if we could get to the palace one more time. Fortunately, a policeman finally let us through! Do you see the palace? It’s directly above the last power pole:


    Driving to Ishak Palace


    Ishak palace


    Ishak Pasha Palace was built in 1685 during the Ottoman period. Entry was 5TL or free with the Müze card.


    Ishak Palace Entryway




    This is the ceiling of the mosque within the palace:


    Ishak Palace ceiling


    The view of the surrounding landscape was incredible:


    Mountain view out window


    Mountain Landscape


    It was International Women’s Day so we took a picture of the girls in the hamam:


    Women's Day


    After a while at the castle, we decided to head back so we wouldn’t have to drive in the dark. We passed through several small towns along the way:


    Turkish town


    Political party flags


    We made a quick stop about 35 miles outside of Van at Muradiye Waterfalls. The Turkish word for waterfall is şelale (sheh-lah-lay) – isn’t that pretty? We walked across the suspension bridge and back, but didn’t stay very long. I’m sure it’s much nicer when everything is green and in bloom.


    Muradiye waterfall


    Muradiye waterfall


    I never thought I would see so much of eastern Turkey. And we still had one more day!

    PS. Did you know there’s Mount Ararat bottled water?


    Mount Ararat water


    » Read about our first day in Van here.
    » Read about our last day at Akdamar Island here.



    Weekend Trip to Bodrum

    We had a 3-day weekend last weekend and took a quick trip to Bodrum, Turkey! Bodrum sits on a gulf that’s part of the Aegean Sea. We left Friday evening after school and flew back Monday.


    Map of Ankara to Bodrum, Turkey


    We rented a house with three of our friends in a neighborhood just outside of Bodrum called Bitez. Our friends discovered the website Airbnb and used it in some of their recent travels. People can list a room or their house on Airbnb. Sometimes the owners are in the house when you’re there, sometimes not. There are places to rent all over the world! We found a house and it ended up being a lot cheaper than staying at a hostel. We loved having a place to ourselves. It had three bedrooms, a little kitchen, and a living room area. We had breakfast on the roof Saturday morning. Here was the view from our bedroom window:


    View from window in Bitez


    And here was our morning breakfast view:


    View of the sea


    We took a dolmuş into the Bodrum city center to check out the town. The weather was gorgeous our first day – sunny and mid-60’s! There was lots to see around the port.


    Bodrum palm trees




    Fish for sale


    We toured around the castle (also known as the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology). It was a beautiful place to explore! We got there a little late in the afternoon, so we had to rush through to see as much as we could before it closed at 4:30. I’ve heard it said the cure for anything is salt water: tears, sweat, or the sea. There’s something so calming about watching and smelling the water!


    Bodrum Castle Museum


    View from Bodrum Castle Museum


    There were different exhibits about underwater excavations and the history of the area.


    David as a statue


    Inside the castle gardens we saw PEACOCKS! I love peacocks. I’ve had a fascination with them every since I was little. My older brother’s high school girlfriend owned peacocks and she would bring me feathers. So pretty!




    Friends in the Bodrum Castle Museum


    After the castle, we snacked on hamsi at one of the restaurants along the water and then headed back to Bitez. (We did a lot of eating and reading over the weekend at the house!)

    While we were walking around, we saw this sign and realized we were in town the same time as the event. Oh goodness, wait till you see the pictures and hear about what we saw:


    Camel Wrestling sign



    Ireland Part 5: Kilkenny and Dublin

    After a night in Cork, we headed back east. We made a stop in Kilkenny and saw the castle. (Photography was not allowed inside.) Much of the Kilkenny Castle had been restored. I don’t watch the show, but our friend said it was very Downton Abbey. The art gallery was especially impressive.


    Kilkenny Castle entrance


    Kilkenny Castle


    There was a beautiful rose garden in back:



    Kilkenny Rose Garden




    After touring through the castle, we grabbed a quick lunch at the farmers market then headed back to Dublin. We had two nights left of our trip. We didn’t do much the first night, and we all had different places in Dublin we wanted to see on Friday.

    Friday ended up being our only rain day, which made it perfect for checking out museums. David and I tried to go to the National Decorative Arts and History museum, but we found out we were on the wrong side of town. We stopped into the National Museum of Archeology instead. Entrance was free, which was great. We saw artifacts from 7000BC and learned about the bog areas of Ireland. They had several petrified bodies that were found in the bogs – creepy!


    Dublin Archeology Musem


    After the museum, we met up with our friends at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. St. Patrick’s was rebuilt in the early thirteenth century:


    St. Patrick Cathedral


    It was huge and incredible and beautiful. There was so much to see inside.


    St. Patrick Cathedral stained glass


    Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, is buried there:


    Jonathan Swift grave


    We stayed  to hear the Choral Evensong and I’m so glad we did. The voices and acoustics were just beautiful. It was a nice time to sit and pray and praise God.

    The cathedral is a magnificent work of architecture and I can’t imagine the time and labor that was required to build it. It’s interesting how these beautiful structures were created to be houses of God. And while I think workmanship and reverence can please God, what a joy it is to know that He cannot be housed by anything created by man! Church is not a structure, but the people. He is anywhere that two or three gather and his Spirit is with His people.

    So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” –2 Corinthians 4:18




    We had one more night in Dublin and returned to Ankara the next day. We had such a wonderful time in Ireland and are so thankful for the opportunities we have to travel!


    » Ireland Part 1: Dublin
    » Ireland Part 2: Driving in the Countryside
    » Ireland Part 3: The Cliffs of Moher
    » Ireland Part 4: Blarney Castle


    Ireland Part 4: Blarney Castle

    After a night in Galway, we drove south to Cork to visit the Blarney Castle. We were blown away by the beauty of the castle’s grounds.


    Blarney Castle stream


    Blarney Castle grounds


    Blarney Castle grounds


    The castle was originally built around the year 1210 and was later rebuilt by Cormac MacCarthy in 1446.


    Blarney Castle


    Blarney Castle grounds


    People have been visiting the castle for hundreds of years! Check out this graffiti from 1899 and 1897. I was amazed at how beautifully these serif letters were carved into stone:


    Old graffiti


    We followed a steep and narrow staircase to get to the top:


    Blarney Castle stairs


    Inside the Blarney Castle


    It’s said that if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you gain the gift of eloquence (aka the gift of gab). There were signs around the castle that told about the history and legends of the place.


    All blarney


    I had no idea what it took to kiss the Blarney Stone. Once we got to the top, there was a man who offered to help us. For someone short like me, I really needed the help! You have to lie on your back, hold onto the supports, and bend over backwards to reach the stone. I can’t imagine trying to do it without the metal supports! They used to just hold people by their ankles. (Apparently there was a Sherlock movie where someone tried to kiss the stone and fell to their death.) We joined the ranks of people like Winston Churchill who have kissed the stone! Did you know that kissing the Blarney Stone is on the Discovery Travel Channel’s lists of 99 things to do before you die?


    David kissing the Blarney Stone


    Leah kissing the Blarney Stone


    The view from the top of the castle was incredible:


    Top of the Blarney Castle view


    View from the Blarney Castle


    After the castle, we enjoyed walking around the rest of the property and the beautiful gardens. There were some really unique trees:


    Large tree with low branches


    There were a few fall colors:


    Leah next to fall leaves


    The Rock Close garden had some peculiar points of interest. It was a little creepy at times!




    Brittany walking up the wishing steps


    We were at Blarney Castle for several hours and could have stayed even longer, but it started to get dark.


    Blarney Castle at night


    We didn’t pay close attention to the signs of how long the place was open. (Afterwards, we found out admission closed at 6pm or dusk.) By the time we made it out to our car, we were the only ones in the parking lot and everything was locked up. We were worried because they had put up the guard rail at the entrance and we thought our car might be trapped there for the night. Fortunately, we found a back entrance!

    We headed into Cork for the night (a crazy place to drive), then worked our way back to Dublin the next day.


    » Ireland Part 1: Dublin
    » Ireland Part 2: Driving in the Countryside
    » Ireland Part 3: The Cliffs of Moher
    » Ireland Part 5: Kilkenny and Dublin