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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!



    Sümela Monastery

    Though our blog may appear otherwise, I promise our life is more than travel excursions! Things have been crazy here as we prepare to close the school year and our time in Turkey. I’ll try to share some of that soon, but our travel photos are a lot more fun and I want to write about these memories before I forget the details.


    Sumela Monastery


    We had a long weekend the first weekend in May. David and I traveled with three friends to the northeast region of Turkey on the Black Sea. (The area is called Pontus in the Bible and is mentioned in Acts 2:9 and 1 Peter 1:1.) It was an incredible weekend away in the mountains. We love to explore cities when we travel, but there is something so refreshing and special about the countryside, especially in Turkey.

    We left Ankara after school on Thursday and stayed the night in Trabzon at Anıl Hotel. Another thing I love about Turkey: there is always someone looking out for you. We booked two rooms for the five of us. When we arrived, there was some confusion about sleeping arrangements. They apologized not having the correct room configurations. After some back and forth in our limited Turkish and their limited English, I realized the hotel man was trying to put the four girls together and David in another room (which would have been fine if a 4-person room was available). I told him David and I were married, and all was made right. It was sweet of him to consider our virtue.


    Trabzon at night


    Even though Trabzon has over 1.2 million people, it was not a super modern city. We didn’t spend much time there. After breakfast at the hotel, we drove to 30 miles south to Sümela Monastery. The drive along the Altındere valley was gorgeous. We loved all of the green and the mountains!

    The Greek Orthodox monastery was first built into the cliffside in 386 AD. The hike up the mountain was just over a half a mile long with a rise of 820 feet. Whew! Entrance cost 15TL or was free with the Müze Kart. Only a small portion of the monastery was open to the public. The views were incredible and the Rock Church frescos (dating back to the 1300’s!) were amazingly well preserved. After exploring the monastery and hiking all the way back down, we drove up a winding road to a lookout point.


    Black Sea mountains


    Purple flower


    Steep walking path


    Sumela Monastery


    Sumela Monastery stairs


    Sumela Monastery


    Clay roof


    Sumela Monastery


    Leah at the Sumela Library


    Friends in Sumela




    Rock Church frescos


    Sumela frescos


    David in Sumela Monastery


    Plants growing out of rocks


    Sumela Monastery


    After Sümela, we drove back through Trabzon and then east through Rize towards Ayder.



    Rome, Italy

    Spring Break Day 7 & 8: Rome, Italy
    We left Florence and arrived in Rome by train around 5:30 on Friday. We had all of Saturday to see Rome and flew back to Ankara very early on Easter Sunday.


    Rome park


    Where we stayed
    We spent two nights at Sleeping Beauty Guesthouse. The room was large, clean, and the staff was friendly and incredibly helpful.

    By the time we made it to our hostel, I was exhausted and my feet were killing me. (Wear good shoes when you travel!!!) We got dinner, then came back to the room. David turned on the news and saw that the Pope was at the Colosseum for an Easter lighting ceremony. I stayed in, but he went to check it out. He ended up missing the Pope by about 20 minutes.


    Colosseum with moon


    Before we left for our trip, we pre-booked 8:45 am tickets to the Vatican and signed up for the breakfast inclusion, because it was the only advanced deal left. It actually worked out great. It was a typical American continental spread, and it gave us enough energy to make it through the afternoon. We walked through the many halls of the Vatican, saw the Sistine Chapel (gorgeous!), and stopped in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

    We had a rainy day for touring Rome. (The gelato did make up for it!)

    After the Vatican, we visited the Colosseum. David was especially excited because his mom had visited it and told him about it in homeschool. It’s kind of a morbid place to tour, if you think about it. So many people were murdered and martyred inside. I’ve been studying Romans this semester with my Bible study group, and it made me think about how greatly Paul longed to encourage the body in Rome.

    After the Colosseum, we searched for the Secret Vatican Keyhole. It’s nowhere near the Vatican, but gives you the most amazing, aligned view of St. Peter’s! The hole looks through The Knights of Malta gardens. We found other beautiful garden views in a nearby convent.

    Where we ate:
    At the suggestions of our hostel, we ate at Spaccio Pasta and Trattoria Pizzeria Da Simonetta. Both were walking distance from where we stayed. Neither were particularly amazing, but were cheap and tasty. Spaccio seemed more like a chain restaurant. Simonetta was a rustic, local restaurant. I had a delicious eggplant casserole dish. The owner was so proud when I told him how good it was and told me his mama made it.


    Vatican breakfast




    Vatican hall

    Vatican art


    St. Peter's Basilica


    Gelato cone


    Colosseum sign


    Colosseum rocks


    Colosseum maze


    Colosseum cross


    David and Leah in Colosseum


    David looking through keyhole


    The Knights of Malta keyhole


    David in front of old door


    Orange tree through hole


    We had a stressful time getting back home. We experienced a bit of reverse culture shock in dealing with the shuttle to the airport. Terravision leaves right when it says it does. I don’t know what we were thinking… I guess we were used to people loading around the time on the ticket, since that’s usually what happens in Turkey. We missed our shuttle, but fortunately they let us hop on the next bus an hour later. That put us at the airport just an hour before our international flight. We sprinted through the airport to check our bags and stood in the longest customs line we’d ever seen. (We should have known better since it was Easter weekend!) By the grace of God we made it through and safely back to Ankara.


    We loved our trip to Paris, Venice, Florence, and Rome. It was David’s and my first Europe trip on our own! We came back to school refreshed. It was the trip of a lifetime!



    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!



    Paris: Our First Evening

    Spring Break Day One: Paris 
    As we planned for this spring break, we knew it would be our last Europe trip for a while. We considered several options, but decided to travel to France and Italy. (It’s been one of my dream trips!) Over nine days, we explored Paris, Venice, Florence, and Rome.


    Flying over land


    We left Ankara early Saturday morning, and landed in Paris around 5:30 pm. We used the metro to get to our “hotel”, then dropped our bags and headed out to explore. We were a 15 minute walk from Hôtel de Ville, Paris’ city hall. (Every time we passed it, the Cruella de Vil song came to mind.)

    We weren’t planning on it, but Notre Dame was open and there was a free organ concert inside. We didn’t stay long and visited again on Monday during the day time.

    More of our trip to come soon!


    Hotel de Ville


    Notre Dame at night


    Notre Dame doors


    Notre Dame Cathedral


    Notre Dame - Jesus on Cross


    I am the way which seeks travelers


    Leah and David outside Notre Dame


    Paris lights over the river


    Where we ate
    We grabbed dinner at La Taverne de la Huchette. They had a fantastic €14 menu including an appetizer, main dish, and dessert. David ordered mussels that were coated in the most amazing cream sauce. We thought the food was very good for the price.

    Where we stayed
    We used AirBnB and spent three nights at KOKO Maris, a tiny studio apartment in the wholesale district. We liked the location, and I’d recommend it for a short stay in Paris. It was very basic, but worked for us. It was originally an office space that was converted into apartments. Know that the bathroom had little ventilation and there was some black mold. Other than the bathroom, it was a clean, efficient little space.

    We love using AirBnB, and highly recommend it. People list their rental homes all over the world. Sign up at this link and you’ll get $25 off of your first AirBnB stay!