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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 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.



    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!



    Istanbul With Mom

    My mom is here! She’s our second visitor and we’re having a blast showing her our home away from home. She arrived last Tuesday, and we traveled to Istanbul after school on Friday. She partly schedule her trip around the Istanbul Marathon. We wanted to show her the hot spots before race day.


    David and Mom near the Egyptian obelisk


    First stop: Hagia Sofia. The Hagia Sofia was a church, then a mosque, and now it’s a museum. (Watch a video about it on Ted-Ed’s Youtube Channel!)


    Hagia Sofia


    Mom taking photos


    Hagia Sofia


    Inside Hagia Sofia


    We stood in line to see the view of the Blue Mosque from Hagia Sofia:


    Window inside the Hagia Sofia


    View of Blue Mosque from Hagia Sofia


    Next up was the Grand Bazaar. It has become our tradition to eat at Fes Cafe. We love their sandwiches and coffee:


    Lunch in the Grand Bazaar


    Lunch at the Fes Cafe


    After a little shopping, we visited the Blue Mosque. Its actual name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, but it’s nicknamed the Blue Mosque for the beautiful tiles on the inside. It is an active mosque, hence the headscarves.


    Inside the Blue Mosque


    Leah and Mom in the Blue Mosque


    And after the Blue Mosque, we went to the Marathon Expo Center to pick up Mom and David’s race packets. More on that soon!


    Where we stayed
    We spent two nights at Serdivan Hotel. We stayed there during last year’s race, too. I didn’t recognize it because they had done some major renovations. Our room was in the new addition and we were very pleased with the location, breakfast, WiFi, and service.



    San Antonio Spurs vs. Fenerbahçe Ülker

    About a month ago, David and I took a quick weekend trip with some friends to watch the San Antonio Spurs play Fenerbahçe Ülker in Istanbul. It was a really quick trip – we left Saturday morning and returned Sunday evening. The basketball game was the only thing on our agenda, which left the rest of the trip to be a relaxing time to enjoy the city.

    The view from our hostel was awesome:


    Kadikoy at night


    Kadikoy view of mosques


    The game took place on a Saturday evening. I think it might have been the first professional basketball game I’ve attended. I found it interesting that almost all of the entertainment was provided by the American team. The Lords of Gravity were really cool. They did a bunch of crazy dunk stunts with trampolines. The Spurs won 96–90.


    San Antonio Spurs


    At the Spurs game


    Fenerbahçe stadium


    Lords of Gravity


    We slept in Sunday, walked around the Sultanahmet area a bit (with no street sahlep to be found… sad day), stopped by the Spice Bazaar, and made our way to Beyoğlu and Taksim.


    Riding the ferry


    Spice market


    We stopped briefly at a cultural building that had an exhibit on Turkish coastal towns. I loved this display of newspaper headline clippings:


    Turkish beach towns exibit


    Where we stayed:
    This was our first time staying on the Asian side. We spent a night at the Hush Hostel Lounge in Kadıköy. We found it to be very clean and modern. The only thing we disliked was that our room smelled like smoke. It was supposed to be a smoke free, but the people who stayed in the room before us must not have followed the rules. Also, worth noting because this is Turkey: the breakfast included filtered coffee.

    Where we ate:
    We grabbed döner and lahmacun at a couple of street places. We also ate at Shake Shack near Tünel. It had the most delicious, greasy, American burger I’ve had in Turkey. And the custard? Oh so good.



    Istanbul Marathon

    Running a marathon was something that was on my never-to-do bucket list… then I gained 30 pounds.

    Before we moved to Turkey, I only dabbled in running. The summer we moved overseas, I was near 210 pounds at 5′ 9″… and by near I mean greater than or equal to.

    After we moved to Turkey, I started losing weight primarily from the change in diet (smaller restaurant portions/less preservatives/fresher produce). To complement this, I decided to start running again. I soon realized that when I stopped running, so did my metabolism. Before last year, running was never something I loved and it is still difficult to motivate myself. It is a small price to pay to keep healthy.

    I am goal and statistics oriented. I think that is why the Nike+ app was such a motivator for me. I loved tracking my average pace and how I compared to others my age. I also loved logging personal records. As my running strength and endurance grew, I became interested in long distance. In the spring, I experimented with several long runs to see my pace, including several ten milers and a half marathon. Sometime around then I decided to participate in the İstanbul Marathon. I thought it would be a good challenge to encourage me to run.

    After a couple of minor injuries last spring, I spent a lot of the summer biking and trying to keep my metabolism going without the high impact on my legs. However, the marathon was always in the back of my mind. When we came back to Ankara in August, I started running again.

    It took me a while to register for the marathon. I actually started training for it before I registered. I don’t know why I held back. I think I secretly hoped I wouldn’t have to run it. I finally registered and made travel reservations, so I was committed.

    Training was difficult and unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I was running 40+ miles some weeks. At times, I despised running. It cut into my schedule and school become more stressful, not to mention I was helping coach men’s volleyball through several weeks of training. I found myself trying to come up with excuses not to run the marathon, but they were ruled invalid each time.

    There were two key people that encouraged me throughout my training. A dad of one of my students has run multiple marathons and Iron Man competitions. He gave me a lot of encouragement and taught me exercises to help prevent injury when I had some weak spots in my legs. I credit a lot of my race technique and injury prevention to him. The second person that encouraged me throughout training was Leah. I knew that she wouldn’t let me give up. Three weeks before the race, I had my longest training run and was super nervous. I had burned out on my long run the week previous and I had resorted to walking. Leah’s encouragement helped me work through this tough time in training when I was about to give up.

    Fast forward three weeks and I was in Istanbul with Leah and friends. We stopped by the marathon expo where I picked up my number, shoe chip, and race bag. There were several vendors and booths. I even ran into the dad previously mentioned and he helped talk me out of some pre-race jitters.


    Marathon Expo


    There were two of us running the marathon and two that ran the 15k:


    15K and Marathon runners


    Leah and three of our friends registered for the fun run. As you can see, they were really enthused about getting their numbers:


    Fun Runners


    The morning of the race was crazy. We lined up in Sultanahmet Square to get on buses that shuttled us to the start of the race. I feel like I had a higher risk of injury getting on the bus than the actual marathon. People climbed and clawed onto the bus like rabid cattle.

    Finally at the starting line, we made last minute preparations and paused for a few pics.


    Shoe chips


    We met up with one of our Turkish friends and spent some time getting pumped up together:




    The place was hustling and bustling. There were vendors selling çay (Turkish tea) and coffee:


    Crowd at the race start


    Other vendors sold simit (Turkish bagel):


    Simit bread


    Leah decided to support our home state by wearing her Michigan Awesome shirt during the fun run:


    Michigan Awesome TShirt


    The Istanbul Marathon is the only trans-continental marathon. We all crossed over the Bosphorus Bridge from Asia to Europe.


    Bosphorus Bridge


    Bosphorus Bridge


    Here’s Leah with the Welcome to Europe sign:


    Welcome to Europe sign


    While I spent the next four and half hours running in the marathon, Leah and our friends enjoyed the beautiful sights of the fun run and the trek to the marathon finish line. They even stopped for milkshakes and coffee.


    Istanbul Marathon




    My goal was to finish the race. I relaxed and didn’t push too hard my first 15 miles, then tried to pick up the pace for the last half. At about 30 kilometers, I was pushing about all I could. I am quite pleased to say I did not walk as much as I thought I would, probably less than a quarter mile (I know I keep switching between metric and standard – such is international life). I knew that I had given almost everything when I thought about the finish line and almost started bawling. As I drew nearer to the finish, the cheering crowd grew thicker and I pushed harder.

    I ended up finishing on a dead sprint, passing several people in the last three hundred meters. I think I finally realized how close I was and the adrenaline gave me an incredible rush. I heard Leah and my friends calling my name and took off:


    David and his medal


    At the marathon finish


    The relieving beep of the chip being detected and my name being announced over the loudspeakers was almost more than I could bear. I had done it. I finished my first marathon. I was excited, covered with salt (see above), and exhausted.


    David's Marathon Certificate


    I had a lot of fun at the marathon and enjoyed the challenge. There were times where I felt like giving up. I remember praying throughout the race that I would have the strength to finish.

    I can honestly say that I plan to keep on running. I may not always enjoy the training, but the end result is definitely worth it. I think this race will encourage me in future situations, both athletic and not.

    Philippians 3:12–14.

    You can search my name on the Istanbul Marathon results page to see my time splits and stats!



    Visiting Istanbul with Daniel

    We had Friday off of school last week and used the long weekend to take Daniel to Istanbul. It’s about an hour flight from Ankara and a must-see if you’re visiting Turkey!

    Where we stayed:
    The first time we visited Istanbul was the New Year weekend, and our friends recommended Side Hotel and Pension. It was a very nice place, but we needed to go a little cheaper this trip. We knew we wanted to be in the Sultanahmet Square area again, and did a little searching on Location, cleanliness, and safety were our top priorities. A place called Sur Hotel had good reviews and was almost half the price of most other options we considered.

    We were very pleased with Sur Hotel! It’s around the corner and slightly back behind the main strip of hostels, but a short walk from the square and was well-lit at night. It overlooked some ancient arches and the Marmara Sea.


    Sur Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey


    The room was quite large and had a queen sized bed, two single beds, and a private bathroom. The only strange thing was that there was nothing separating the floor of the shower from the rest of the bathroom. I think this was because of the location of the drain. (The building was built 120 years ago and last renovated in 1999, so I suppose there’s only so much you can do.)


    Sur Hotel in Istanbul


    Breakfast was included, and was a typical Turkish spread of meat, cheeses, tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, pastries, and hard boiled eggs. They served scrambled eggs one morning and French toast on another. Yum!


    Sur Hotel Turkish breakfast


    The staff was all very friendly and even let us have breakfast the morning we checked in. We definitely recommend Sur Hotel and would stay here again.


    What we saw:
    Istanbul is such a cool city. It was a lot of fun for us to watch Daniel take it all in. Our first stop was the Hagia Sofia. This was one of the sights we missed last time. The inside of this structure is beautiful! It was first a church, then an a mosque, and now it’s a museum. The boys figured out that 2 of their dad’s silos stacked on top of each other could fit inside. The construction was remarkable, especially for its time because of the round dome on top of a square building. Even today, the dome does not require additional support.


    Inside the Hagia Sophia


    The mosaics and frescos were amazing:


    Mosaics in Hagia Sophia


    Inside the Blue Mosque


    Since it’s free, we also went inside the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque):


    Inside the Blue Mosque


    And of course, we had to make a visit to the Grand Bazaar! We stopped at Fez Cafe, a place we loved last time. Daniel had his first Turkish coffee:


    Turkish Coffee at the Fez Cafe in the Grand Bazaar


    We also visited the Spice Bazaar. What a colorful (and crowded) place!


    Spice Bazaar in Istanbul


    The last thing we saw was the Archeology Museum near Topkapı Palace. Surprisingly, there was an exhibit of pieces from Egypt. I found the details of the Alexander Sarcophagus to be especially well preserved and impressive:


    Archeology Museum in Istanbul


    Where we ate:
    Last time, everywhere we ate was wonderful. This time, we struck out a few times. The fresh fish sandwiches near the Galata Bridge were fantastic, though!


    FIsh sandwiches at Galata Bridge


    One of our colleagues and his friend were in Istanbul, too, and they invisted us to join them at a Korean restaurant close to Taksim Square. It was the first time Daniel, David, and I had tried Korean food. We failed at chopsticks, but the food was delicious! Also, the waffles and ice cream at Charley Temmel  in Beyoğlu are worth a mention.


    Other Istanbul travel notes:

    • If you fly into Sabiha Gökçen Airport, save money and take the Havataş bus to Taksim. It’s only 12TL and buses run every half hour. From there, you can take the Metro to Sultanahmet.
    • Istanbul is a tourist trap and appetizers like salad, bread, salça, and yogurt sauce are not always free. It is advisable to check and see if the meze is complimentary or not.

    Celebrating the New Year in Istanbul

    On our way back from Christmas in the States, we stopped in Istanbul for three nights. We stayed at Side Hotel & Pension. Especially considering the holiday, Side was fairly affordable. Although the room and the breakfast were simple, the location was perfect. The terrace offered a view of the Bosporus Strait, the Sea of Marmara, Hagia Sophia, and Sultan Ahmet Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque).


    The Blue Mosque at night

    Sultan Ahmet Mosque


    Not too far from our hotel was Topkapı Sarayı. This palace, dating back to the Ottoman Empire, was a home to several sultans over a period of several hundred years. Today it is a museum with rooms and rooms of historic items. The buildings are beautiful inside and outside. We would have liked more time to see the relics and artifacts, but the crowds were unbelievable due to the holiday. On a side note, there was a Chinese exhibit and we got to see four terracotta soldiers and a horse.


    Topkapı Palace Entrance

    Topkapı Palace Entrance


    Topkapı Palace

    Beautiful ceiling artwork in Topkapı Palace.


    We also visited Sultan Ahmet Mosque. It is commonly referred to as the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles that decorate its interior. It was built by Sultan Ahmet I and is a major tourist attraction in Istanbul. Because the mosque is still in operation, Leah was required to cover her head.


    Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque)

    Inside the Blue Mosque


    On New Year’s Eve Day, we walked a few blocks from our hotel to The Grand Bazaar. (The Grand Bazaar was featured in the opening scene of Skyfall, the new James Bond movie.) The Grand Bazaar is said to be the world’s first covered shopping mall with construction dating back to 1455. It has 60 streets, 5,000 shops, and sometimes as many as 400,000 visitors a day. We did a lot of looking, got some coffee, and purchased our 2012 Christmas bulb.


    The Grand Bazaar


    The Grand Bazaar


    For New Year’s Eve, we decided to try the local fish. Many restaurants had all-you-can-eat New Year’s packages that ran €100 or more. After perusing around the Galata Bridge area, we found Odessa Restaurant. We were pleased with our service and the fish was tasty. We found ourselves trying to recall the deboning skills we acquired at the Wisconsin fish boil with my family. Our waiter was hospitable and offered us a complimentary dessert. We were impressed by the affordability. Since Leah doesn’t like to stare at fish heads, they even removed the head off her fish before serving.


    Odessa Restaurant Fish


    After eating, we made our way to Taksim Square. Taksim is where many Turks celebrate the New Year, kind of like Times Square in New York. After walking several blocks shoulder to shoulder with the crowd, we decided being there for a few minutes was enough and headed back near the Galata Bridge.


    Busy streets of Beyoğlu


    Beyoğlu New Year's


    Although the fireworks did not launch from where we thought they would, we watched other fireworks over the Golden Horn set off by some of the local restaurants. There’s no ball drop in Turkey – we had to keep an eye on our watches for the count down!


    Istanbul New Year's Fireworks


    While in Istanbul, we were also able to meet up with some friends. We were happy to fellowship with Mike and Sharon, who recently moved to Turkey. We were also excited to learn Kennie and Lizzy were visiting Istanbul. We met them this summer at training. They are teaching in Kenya and visited Turkey over their Christmas break.

    We enjoyed exploring Istanbul and getting some rest before we headed back to Ankara to resume school.