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    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.


    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?




    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.



    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.




    Iyi Bayramlar: Day 1 & 2 in Izmir and Ephesus

    Last week, we had a few days off of school for Kurban Bayramı. Kurban Bayramı is an Islamic holiday celebrated in Turkey. According to, “The Feast of the Sacrifice commemorates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to show his faithfulness to Allah. You can find essentially the same story in the Old Testament where Abraham was willing to kill his son Isaac, until an angels stops him.”

    Since our school is located in Turkey, we are closed during both Christian holidays and the Islamic holidays recognized by the Turkish government. It was a five day weekend, and we decided to travel to some historical and Biblical sites with two friends and colleagues.


    Map of Ankara to Izmir


    We left Ankara Thursday morning by Pamukkale bus and headed to Izmir. The bus was fairly comfortable and had internet and built in entertainment, similar to a lot of airplanes. After a long 9 hour ride, we finally made it to our hostel. The first thing we wanted to do was see the water. We walked a few blocks and came upon the coast of the Aegean Sea. The sun was falling towards the horizon and we were greeted by a beautiful sunset.


    Izmir sunset on the water


    As the sun dipped lower, we took a ferry to Karşıyaka, another part of the city, for dinner. It looked like a promising spot to find some grub, however, many of the businesses and restaurants were closed for the holiday. We found a quick bite to eat at a doner restaurant.


    Izmir Ferry Ride


    Karşıyaka, Turkey


    After taking the ferry back, we finished off the night by drinking coffee in a cafe next to the water. It was a very peaceful and relaxing night. Our hostel, Hotel Baylan, was very accommodating and affordable with a delicious breakfast buffet.


    Izmir Park

    Izmir is a coastal city. We had perfect weather, and it looked like Florida with all of the palm trees. This photo was taken by our friend Dale! Well, by her camera’s timer.


    In the morning, we left Izmir via train for Selçuk. This small town lays about 2 km from the ancient city of Ephesus. Our hostel, Attila’s Getaway, was only 3 km from Izmir. Breakfast and dinner were relatively expensive, so we found more affordable options in Selçuk. Although it was a bit more rugged than our first hotel, we enjoyed our stay.

    After checking in, we took a taxi to Ephesus. Visiting Ephesus is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. As we walked around the ruins of the city, I was overwhelmed to be standing next to such amazing pieces of history.


    Hercules Gate


    At the Efes ruins


    On the ancient toilets in Ephesus

    On the ancient toilets! I may or may not have slipped past a rope for this picture…


    We walked through the ruins taking pictures for a couple hours. We saw the library and the theatre believed to be mentioned in Acts 19. One of the most amazing exhibits was the Terrace Houses. This excavation site featured several houses with beautiful artwork. There were mosaics and frescoes still surprisingly visible upon the walls, ceilings, and floors of these houses.


    Library at Ephesus

    In front of the Library at Ephesus


     The Great Theatre of Ephesus

    We sang Amazing Grace in the Great Theatre of Ephesus. The acoustics are so perfect that the person in the very back row can easily hear.


    Ephesus Terrace House

    Inside the Ephesus Terrace House exhibit. There was beautiful and intricate tile work!


    We grabbed dinner and coffee in Selçuk before heading back to the hostel, where we played games on the patio. The first two days of our break were amazing, and they were just the beginning!

    » Read about day 3 & 4 here.


    Turkish Money

    Here’s a quick look at the money we use in Turkey. The currency is very colorful! All of the bills are slightly different sizes. Turks use a 1 lira coin instead of a 1 lira bill. Change smaller than 1 lira is called “kuruş.” There is a 50 kuruş, 25 kuruş, 10 kuruş, and 5 kuruş coin.

    If your bill ends in a denomination less than 5 kuruş, the cashier will round it. Even if a bill ends in 5 kuruş, it usually gets rounded. The 10 and 5 kuruş coins are very small and somewhat cumbersome.

    There is also a 200TL bill, not pictured here. Unless your purchase is close to that amount of money, we’ve found a lot of stores don’t like it and some won’t even take it.


    Turkish Money


    We fill our change bowl rather quickly because of the 1 lira coins. But then again, it depletes just as quickly. The bus transportation costs 2TL per ride, and it’s easiest to use coins rather than try to get change.


    Turkish Coins


    We’ve been very pleased with the exchange rate since we’ve been here. For every $1 USD it’s approximately 1.80TL. We hope the rate stays there! People told us it dipped not too long ago to a rate of 1:1.5. It would still put us ahead, but we like where it’s at now.

    The cost of living in Turkey is very reasonable; it’s another blessing we are thankful for!



    Home Sweet Türkiye

    Welcome to our apartment tour! We live in an 11-story building in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Ankara.

    The picture below is our entryway. We usually pile our backpacks and shoes on the rug.




    Also part of our entryway is this dolop. Dolop is a Turkish word for any kind of closet or wardrobe. It’s nice to have a place to set our keys, hang up our coats, and store extra shoes.


    Entry dolop


    Connected to the entryway is the kitchen. We love the marble countertop! (There is a lot of marble used in the buildings in Turkey, especially on the outside.) The strangest thing about the kitchen is the cupboards. Giants must have built the kitchen (or very tall Turkish men who don’t ever work in the kitchen). I can reach the front of the bottom shelf, otherwise, I have to use a step stool. That was one of the top things on my shopping list after we first moved into the apartment! We have a gas stove, fridge, and microwave. You can see a blue water jug on the left hand side of the picture. We order water jugs for drinking water. It would be OK to use tap water, but excessive use over time can cause kidney stones. Across from the sink, there is access to a porch.


    Turkish Kitchen


    Next to the kitchen is the dining/living room. It was nice not to have to shop for furniture here in Turkey. Transportation can be a little complicated. As of now, we are renting comfortable furniture from the school. We have a good sized table with 8 chairs. There is also a china cabinet type thing. We’ve filled the drawers with office supplies and electronic cords.


    Dining room table and chairs


    Beyond the dining room table is the living room. This set is very comfortable. We don’t really use the loveseat or armchairs much, but we love the full sized couch.


    Living room


    Can you see why? Most couches in Turkey have this awesome pop up footrest. Super comfy!


    Living room and comfortable couch


    We also have a nice entertainment center and bookcase set. We were just given a DVD player, so we hope we’ll get a cast off TV sometime eventually.


    Living Room Shelves


    After entering the apartment, directly to the left is the hallway to the bedrooms and bathrooms. We have two bathrooms, one of which we never use. It is the Turkish bathroom – the squatty potty. We have a cover for it and store cleaning supplies in this tiny room. The door always remains shut! Sometimes it can smell a little weird. The ventilation system for all the apartments is connected to this toiletroom.


    Turkish Bathroom


    And then there is the regular bathroom (which I know you’re dying to see…). We have our washing machine in the bathroom.




    Here is our bedroom. When we were shopping, David didn’t understand why we needed a comforter. Afterwards, he agreed it looks nice. The mattress lifts up for more storage.


    Master bedroom


    This dolop is in the master bedroom. I so graciously allowed David to use it as his very own closet.


    Master bedroom closet


    Because the next room’s dolop is all mine! Just kidding – I share. He uses one section and we store linens, towels, and extra bathroom supplies in it, too. There’s a small balcony off of this room.


    Dolop room


    The third bedroom is our guest bedroom slash laundry room. And by laundry room, I mean we hang dry our clothes in here. Hence the drying rack and clothesline.



    God has blessed us with a roomy, comfortable place! We would love to paint some of the walls and get a couple rugs for the floors. However, right now we are okay living with just the essentials.