Browsing Tag:

turkish culture

    Ihlara Valley & Picnicking with Turks

    Some of my friends hiked the Ihlara Valley several years ago, and we decided to check it out on our girls weekend. (Ihlara is about 50 miles southwest of Göreme.)

    We asked the hostel owner how best to get there. He said there were too many of us to hitchhike and public transportation would require too many transfers. He said we could go with a tour group, but we didn’t want to see the other parts of the tours. We ended up hiring a mini-bus. There were 7 of us, and it cost 38TL each (about $18 USD). It worked our perfectly. The driver dropped us off at the entrance and picked us up about 5 hours later at the end of the trail.

    Ihlara Valley has four entrance points. We decided to hike the entire 16 km. Entrance to the valley cost 5TL (or was free with the Müzekart).




    For whatever reason, I thought we were going to a crater-type area that would be very flat and desert-like. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It didn’t look or feel like we were in the Cappadocia region!




    The canyon was absolutely gorgeous. The Melendiz Stream ran along the trail:












    There were a couple of rock churches along the way. Two were right next to each other. I wonder how that worked way back then… Was it like parts of America where there’s a church on every corner? It’s always cool to see the frescoes:




    Very few people hiked the first section. As we got closer to the middle of the valley, the trails became crowded. There were several restaurants near the entrances. The tour groups and Turks didn’t go very far, though. By the time we got to entrance three, we had the trails to ourselves again.








    It looked like we lost our way a couple of times on the last stretch. It weaved in and out of farms. These ladies waved and said hello. They were hard at work!




    We ran across a shepherd a little further down. He was excited to meet us and offered to take our photo.




    This is what he took:




    Carved into the canyon walls were rock houses from the Byzantine period. Wikipedia says: Due the valley’s plentiful supply of water and hidden places, here was the first settlement of the first Christians escaping from Roman soldiers. In the Ihlara Valley there are hundreds of old churches in the volcanic rock caves.






    Near the end of our hike, we passed a family of Turks picnicking by the water. The little boy with the yellow ball motioned to us and said, “Come!” The Turks also motioned and said, “Gel!”




    And so we did. They had a feast of a picnic set out. After we finished eating, they packed everything up, so I think this was all their leftovers:




    The family was so sweet. The boy and one other man spoke some English. Between that and the Turkish we know, we had a grand time. They took lots of photos with us and we enjoyed the mid-hike snack and çay. Turkish hospitality is the greatest. This was one of my favorite Turkish cultural experiences:






    The trail ended at Selime Monastery. We explored it for a little while, but were all tired. Our driver picked us up and we went back to Göreme. I loved Ihlara! I definitely want to bring David back here sometime.


    Turkish Wedding Henna Party

    I was going to title this “That Time We Went to Our Security Guard’s Daughter’s Wedding Party”… but that seemed a little long.

    I was so excited when I found out the teachers were invited to a henna party. Henna parties are a part of Turkish wedding celebrations. Traditionally, only women attend and the event is held in a home. However, this was a modern celebration in a banquet hall with both men and women.

    It’s customary to give gold as a wedding gift. We pooled some money and our friends purchased gold pieces. I was told that years ago, people wore gold clipped to their clothing to show off their wealth. Gold jewelry and pieces of gold are prized in Turkish culture and passed down from generation to generation.


    Gold wedding gift


    (Please forgive the graininess of the iPod photos.) Here’s the bride and groom:


    Bride and Groom Dancing


    There was lots of dancing! We were served an appetizer plate, fruit plate, nut plate, and cake. Check out the flame thrower on the cake:


    Wedding cake


    Before the henna ceremony, one of the sisters came around and passed out white veils to most of the women. I’m not sure of the symbolism:


    Wedding veils


    The bride put on a traditional red dress and red veil. One woman held the henna tray, and the rest of us followed behind the bride and walked in a circle. The women sang a song and carried candles.


    Henna outfit


    Then came the henna application. The bride was supposed to initially refuse to open her hand, symbolizing the struggle of leaving her family. Next, the mother of the groom put a gold coin in her hand and applied henna over the coin. The groom got some henna, too.


    Henna application


    After the ceremony, they came around with henna for everyone else. We also received a bag of nuts and a small pouch of henna. The henna stain on the guests’ hands show they know someone who just got married.


    Wedding gifts


    It was a really cool cultural experience, and we were honored to celebrate with our friend.


    Friends at wedding


    Read more about Turkish henna parties at these websites:



    Children’s Day

    Every year on April 23, Turkey celebrates National Sovereignty and Children’s Day (Ulusal Egemenlik ve Çocuk Bayramı). For this holiday, “schools participate in week-long ceremonies marked by performances in all fields in large stadiums watched by the entire nation” ( We had the day off, so we walked to a nearby Turkish school with some friends to check out the festivities.


    Turkish balloons


    This boy, dressed in traditional clothing, saw me taking a picture and posed.


    Boy wearing traditional Turkish clothing on Children's Day


    The morning was filled with groups of kids performing in front of their parents and community members. One group even performed Gangnam Style!


    Children's Day Celebration


    Children's Day


    The day had some of the best weather we’ve experienced this spring. Leah and I decided to go for a walk and we both found four leaf clovers! Leah even found a five leaf clover.


    Leah holding a 4-leaf clover


    David holding a 4-leaf clover


    The trees and flowers have been in bloom and Ankara is filled with new life and color. We had such a fun time on our day off and enjoyed the sunshine, performances, and flowers.


    Pink blossoms on the trees





    Daniel Meets Our Neighbor

    Before Christmas break, David and I visited our neighbor to drop off a plate of goodies. She was excited to hear Daniel would be visiting us in Turkey. This past weekend, she asked if she could meet him. One of our friends is taking language lessons from her and offered to translate.

    We thought she coming to our house for çay (Turkish tea). Some friends told us it is traditional to serve two salty things and one sweet thing with çay. We stocked up on simit (bread with sesame seeds), a dry bread, and cookies at the grocery store. Our neighbor must have thought the plan was to meet at her place. We walked over to check if she was still coming. She invited us in, but we got things figured out and she and her husband came over shortly after. We had our çay pot on the stove and were surprised when she walked in with her pot. Little did she know these foreigners have learned how to make çay!


    House visit with our neighbor.


    Our neighbor is always a teacher. She loves to help us as we stumble through our limited Turkish. She zeroed in on Daniel when she learned he was taking a language course. She flipped through his notebook from class and gave him a mini  lesson on dishes.

    We were so glad our friend was there to translate! There was a lot less charades this visit. However, we did use a lot of our Turkish to English dictionaries.

    This was the first time we had Turks over to our apartment. It is customary for the woman of the house to serve the guests and refill glasses. And aside from a slight mishap of me dropping the lid of the çay pot, the visit went well. We all had our fill of çay and understood most of the conversation (thanks to our translator!).


    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!



    Can You Read Turkish?


    Lucky for us, Turkey uses a mostly English alphabet. Even if you don’t know what the word means, you can usually say it. A few words are the same in English, and others are close enough you can figure it out. See how many you can get correct:




    Automatic! This is for a car gate.




    2Pac! He lives!




    Need a photo copy?


    Fourth line down:








    Anyone need a mathematics geometry tutor?




    This is an organic foods store down the road from where we live.



    Taxi rides are a quick way to get to the mall, but can be scary because of the traffic! Turkish drivers don’t pay attention to the lines on the road. There can be a 3 lane highway with cars 5 across! Their mentality is if there is a space, fill it!



    I must have looked like a tourist taking all of these photos… Maybe that was ok because this was a tourism bus!


    So, how did you do?



    Turkish Hospitality

    To follow up on Leah’s last post, I also have had times of selfishness since we arrived. I tend to be pretty laid back, but sometimes I’m so laid back that I can view her concerns as petty, worry-some, or not that big of a deal, which is wrong. It should be “a big of a deal” because she is my wife and it is my responsibility to show her love. To shrug off her concerns like they’re unimportant is telling her she’s unimportant. This week it is my goal to make sure I am putting the concerns of my wife before my own.

    On Thursday of last week we got our first taste of Turkish hospitality. Our neighbor across the hall brought us a plate with food a couple of days previous. Fortunately, we were informed it is customary to return the plate with food on it. So we bought some baklava and situated it decoratively on the plate with some grapes.


    Turkish Sweets

    Şeker Bayram is a holiday including lots of sweets!


    It was about 8 pm when we made our way across the hall to knock on the door. We figured with it being so late, we would be arriving after dinner. We were welcomed into their home, and the family scattered everywhere. I noticed plates in the living room which they quickly relocated to the dining room table and added two more places.

    As we sat in the living room while dinner was prepared, we began our attempt to communicate with the father and three kids. We found he and the two oldest children learned a little English in school. During the very broken conversations that followed before, during, and after dinner, we were able to communicate that:

    1. We are from Michigan and Michigan looks like a hand on a map.
    2. We are both teachers.
    3. I grew up on a farm.
    4. How much we liked the food.
    5. We were done drinking çay (tea).

    Our neighbors were able to communicate that:

    1. Leah was very cute.
    2. We should drink more tea.
    3. They were happy we came.
    4. We should eat more.
    5. We should drink more tea.
    6. The father has lived  in Turkey his whole life.
    7. The mother makes the best baklava.
    8. We should drink more tea.
    9. We were invited back on Sunday for Şeker Bayramı.

    The two hours we spent with our new neighbors was definitely a learning experience. I’m not going to lie, it was also awkward at times. Turkish people are a lot more comfortable with silence than we are. When there’s such a big language barrier, you don’t have a whole lot to talk about. But we tried… and tried… and tried. And we won’t give up. Turkish is not easy, but we are hoping to learn the basics with a little practice and interaction.

    Yesterday we spent another few hours at our neighbors house for Şeker Bayramı. From what we gather, this holiday is celebrated at the end of the Ramadan. In Turkey, it is as major a holiday as Christmas in the United States. This holiday lasts three days and is filled with visits to family and friends. Since many have been fasting throughout the hours of daylight, Şeker Bayram is a time filled with eating sweets (Şeker = sugar!). That being said, yesterday we found out that Turkey has delicious chocolates, and our host does indeed make the best baklava.

    We have found the Turkish people to be very friendly and hospitable. They will drop anything or miss a scheduled event to spend time investing in relationships. Often I get so rushed and busy that I forget to invest in relationships. Our neighbors have unknowingly reaffirmed the value of quality time and fellowship with others.