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    I Fell in a Hole

    I usually look forward to getting rest during trips. However, once we’re actually traveling, I find myself restless and ready to explore. I think my curiosity is to blame as I’m always looking for an adventure. So, needless to say, I rarely catch up on sleep during breaks.

    During our recent trip to Istanbul, I went out for a walk while the others took naps. I spent some time along the shore sitting on some boulders by the Sea of Marmara. I was having a good time and was enjoying taking pictures.

     

    Istanbul Coast

     

    Sea of Marmara

     

    As I made my way back to the hostel, I stopped at a bakkal (convenience store) to get candy bars. I was looking around the store and reached up to grab something off of a shelf. As I did, the owner called out to me. I turned around to see what the owner had to say. I didn’t notice the big gap in the floor. As I turned around, I stepped back and fell right into the hole. Luckily, my back, head, and thigh hit the metal frame so I didn’t fall all the way down immediately.

     

    Bakkal hole in the floor

     

    Next thing I knew, I was stumbling up a ladder with the store owner. He sat me down for a few minutes and gave me water. After he was sure I knew where I was, I paid for my candy bars and left.

    I’m still a little bruised and scratched.

    Moral of the story: Watch where you walk.

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    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 HostelBookers.com. 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.
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    Weekend Getaway in Bolu

    Our secondary students took their finals at school last week, and everyone got the day off on Friday. With the long weekend, we wanted to find a cheap place nearby to escape the city. Fortunately, a cabin was available at a mountain retreat in Bolu. Bolu is a two-hour bus ride northwest of Ankara. Some of our friends visited there last year and loved it.

     

    Ankara to Bolu, Turkey on a map

     

    The place we stayed at is called Sakintepe. The eight of us shared one of their four-bedroom cabins. We spent most of the time chilling in the living room and kitchenette area. The heated floors made our stay extra warm and cozy!

     

    Sakintepe in Bolu

     

    The view of the snowcapped mountains was wonderful.

     

    Bolu Scenery

     

    We also loved hanging out with Bear, their German Shepherd puppy and his mom Georgia and dad Montana.

     

    German Shepherd puppy named Bear

     

    It was a weekend of both rest and work. Our grades for the semester were due Saturday at midnight. Several of us had new classes for the spring semester and were able to get a good amount of prep work done. It was nice to work by the wood burning fireplace.

     

    Working by the fireplace

     

    We were sure to take a break and walk around the forest.

     

    Hiking in Bolu

     

    Hiking in Bolu, Turkey

     

    The dogs loved having new friends to play with. The guys spent a lot of time throwing snowballs to Georgia and Montana.

     

    Throwing snow at the Sakintepe dogs

     

    Montana was a funny dog. He carried around rocks as though they were chew toys. He also had a game where he took a rock, rolled it around to create a snowball, then pawed at it till he got back down to the rock.

     

    Sakintepe's dog Montana rolling a rock

     

    On our last night, the caretakers of Sakintepe let us borrow their projector. The ceiling was a perfectly slanted canvas. We kicked back and enjoyed a couple of movies.

     

    Sakintepe cabin

     

    We highly recommend the cabins at Sakintepe and hope to visit Bolu again.

    But for now, it’s back to school and onto the spring semester!

     

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    Hiking in Bolu

    Bolu is a two hour bus ride northwest of Ankara. We spent a long weekend there with Daniel and 5 other teachers. It was a relaxing time with beautiful scenery!

     

     Hiking in Bolu

     

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    Iyi Bayramlar: Selçuk and Izmir

    I like what one of our friends said about travel in Turkey. Let me try to paraphrase: “Being able to travel here is like a gift from God. He knows we need the breaks from work and makes it easy and cheap for us to get around.”

    In our previous blog post, David talked about day 1 and 2 of our trip in Izmir (Smyrna!) and Ephesus. We spent the first part of day 3 in Selçuk. Selçuk has several ruins, including a Byzantine aquaduct in the center of town. We also walked up to the citadel, though we didn’t pay to go inside. The Basilica of St. John is within the walls.

     

    Byzantine Aquaduct

    Byzantine Aquaduct

     

    Selçuk Citadel

    Selçuk Citadel… a castle with palm trees!

     

    The weather was warmer than what we’d been having in Ankara. It was a beautiful place to walk with palm trees, mountains, and beautiful flowers still in bloom.

     

    Selçuk city and landscape

     

    As we explored, we came across a Turkish rug store. There was a lady weaving outside the door, and we stopped to watch. One of the store employees greeted us (in English!) and brought us in for a rug presentation. They unrolled maybe 30 rugs, talking about the different materials and patterns. Since none of us had any intentions of buying a rug, we were a little nervous and didn’t want to offend the man. I think business was slow that day and he was just being kind. The store also served us yummy apple tea.

     

    Turkish rug weaving

     

    The man told us silk on silk is the most durable rug structure and the rug outside Topkapı Palace in Istanbul is silk on silk. It was really neat to see how they “harvest” the strands of silk. A machine pulls the silk from cocoons.

     

    Machine that harvests strands of silk

     

    Once we had explored all we wanted to in Selçuk, we took a dolmuş ride to Kuşadası, another coastal town about 20 km away. Kuşadası translates to “Bird Island.”

    Kuşadası was very much a tourist area. It was fun to walk around and look in the shops. Further down the shore, there was a Venetian/Byzantine castle on an island.

     

    Kuşadası castle

     

    After walking around the castle, David and I took an hour ferry ride back and forth around the harbor. It only cost 10 TL, which is less than $6 USD! The wind was blowing, the sun was shining, and it was very relaxing.

     

    Kuşadası Boat Ride

    {Photo taken by our friend Dale.}

     

    The next morning, we took a train back to Izmir. The train was extremely packed because of everyone traveling home from the holiday. There was the cutest 6th grade Turkish girl with her dad and younger brother. One of our friends speaks Turkish, and she laughed as she heard the girl’s dad urge her on to practice her English with us. The girl had a big smile and asked us our names, how old we were, where we were from, and if we were studying or teaching.

    We stayed at the same hotel in Izmir again, and after dropping off our bags, we explored some more ruins. Izmir also has a citadel called Kadifekale Castle. There wasn’t much to see within the castle, but the view was nice. The Aegean coast was on one side and the city was on the other. We also walked down to the Agora. They had it blocked off for some renovations and excavation, but we saw it through the gate.

    For the last evening of our vacation, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset.

     

    Izmir sunset

    {Photo by our friend Dale.}

     

    There were many vendors on the pier selling corn, oysters, chestnuts, and seeds. We wanted to try the oysters mussels. I almost backed out last minute because I was afraid they were raw, but they ended up being cooked. The oysters mussels were stuffed with rice and the vendor squeezed fresh lemon juice on top. David also got me a rose! Did I get a keeper or what?

     

    Rose

     

    We ate a delicious dinner at Mandolin Cafe and said goodnight and goodbye to Izmir.

    It was a long 9-hour bus ride back to Ankara the next day, but so worth the trip!

     

    » Read about day 1 & 2 here.

     

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    Library of Ephesus

    Over the Kurban Bayram holiday, we traveled with two of our colleagues and friends to Izmir and Ephesus.

    It was so cool to walk around the ancient ruins. The library was built in 117 A.D. Paul visited Ephesus; you can read about it in Acts 19.

     

     121105-libraryatephesus

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