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    Batumi, Georgia

    Because we were so close, and because we could, we visited the country of Georgia. We had no idea what to expect. We read an article from someone who crossed from Georgia into Turkey but couldn’t find much information about the other way around. It made us a little nervous navigating a border crossing!

    There was plenty of parking available. We opted for a “closed” lot that cost 2,50TL an hour. (You cannot take a rental car from Turkey across a border.)

    From there, we got in line. This was a classic Turkish experience. I took us around two hours to get through customs.


    Turkish border crossing


    Waiting in line in Turkey does not follow the Western way of thinking. Lines follow the waterfall principal. If there is a space available, fill it. There was a lot of pushing and cutting attempts. Prepare to shoulder up. Our group of five created a nice wall across the line. Some Turkish people were very irked with us because we left some space in front of us to breathe. I decided to combat people pushing into me by leaning back. If was going to wait in a long line, I might as well be comfortable! Everyone seemed to be either Turkish or Georgian. We got a lot of stares. There was a group of about 10 older men who deliberately cut at the door. We threw out a couple of çok ayıp!‘s with the rest of the crowd.

    Isn’t this border gate funny? It reminded us of Snoopy:


    Georgia border crossing


    Turkish customs took about an hour and 15 minutes to get through. Georgian customs took another 45 minutes. There were more lines open on the Georgian side. While we waited, there were three ladies who kept looking back at us and whispering. I told David to cross his eyes the next time they stared at him. He did, and the two younger girls had a good laugh and stopped staring so much. The customs lady must have never seen American passports before, because she didn’t know what to do. She called over to a buddy who said to let us through. (We did not have to buy a visa for our short stay.) She was very thorough matching our passport photos to our faces.

    Once across, we exchanged a small amount of money and walked a short ways down to an Orthodox church. (Tip: Don’t exchange money RIGHT at the border crossing. There are other exchanges a short walk away with slightly better rates.) My friend Dale took this photo of a church, the border crossing, and a mosque on the other side:


    Church, mosque, border


    Church door


    We walked back to the border area and hired a taxi for 20 Lari to take us into Batumi. He dropped us off at the flower district. We didn’t find many restaurants, but grabbed lunch at a pastry shop. Nobody spoke English, but we were able to charade and write our way through the exchange. (It’s been a while since we’ve been in a place where we didn’t know at least a little of the language!) One of the pastries had pork, which was a treat.

    We realized none of us had done any research on the city before our trip, so we spent some time walking around. Batumi was interesting. Some areas were VERY modern and nice (some almost European), while others were in pieces. There was an even starker contrast between the rich and poor than what we’ve seen in Turkey.




    Georgian Lari


    Georgian flag


    Raddison tower


    Old building in Georgia


    Old car


    Batumi park

    Batumi courtyard


    We found a really nice park with a beach along the Black Sea. We sat and threw rocks for a while and watched dolphins play.


    Georgia Black Sea


    Sea glass


    Georgia Black Sea rock tower


    Black Sea friends


    David found a carnival game in the park and was excited he could say he’d shot a gun in Georgia:


    Batumi gun game


    Batumi buildings, old and new


    We bought a few more pastries for dinner. These girls were very sweet and curious about us. When we asked for a picture with them, they said “Ah! Supermodels!”


    Pastry friends


    Sarpi good luck


    After that, we took a taxi back to Sarpi. I like how the sign above says “Good Luck” instead of goodbye. We felt it was appropriate as we neared the border. Re-entering Turkey was a lot easier than crossing into Georgia. We breathed a sigh of relief once we were safely back “home.”

    It was a fun adventure and now we can add Georgia to our list of countries visited!



    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!



    Our First Views of Venice

    Spring Break Day Four: Venice, Italy Part One

    Venice is a dream! We took a bus from the Treviso airport and arrived in Venice in the early afternoon. We hopped on a water ferry and made our way down the canals.

    I could gush on and on about Venice. It was my favorite city on our trip. Could a place be any more picturesque? (…The answer is probably yes. This place was swarming with tourists. I came across this CNN article shortly after we returned titled “Are We Loving Venice to Death?”) Were it not For the mass of tourists, I would have sold all that I own and moved here on the spot. The canals, the little shops, the colors, the winding streets… I think we should make it a tradition to visit an island on spring break. Being near the water is good for my soul.


    Venice view


    As what I feel might be a right of passage for everyone visiting Venice, we got thoroughly lost before we found our hotel. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around, grabbing a bite to eat here and there, and taking it all in. The weather was much warmer than Paris and it was bright and sunny!




    Venice canal


    Venice laundry


    Venice masks


    St. Mark's Square


    St Mark's Basilica


    Venice laundry


    Venice canal


    Venice street and canal


    Where we stayed:
    We reserved two nights through at Hotel San Maurizio. We enjoyed our stay. The staff was friendly, it had fast wi-fi, and it had the cleanest bathroom ever! Cons: the walls were a little thin and we could hear the conversations of the people in the next rooms; the bedding was a bit dated, but clean. San Maurizio was around the corner from a store that sold two scoops of gelato for €2,50 and right across from a serve-by-the-slice take out pizza place. Venice is very small, so everything is within walking distance.

    Where we ate:
    We ate pizza and pasta for lunch at the Art Blu Cafe and had pizza for dinner from the place mentioned above (not sure of the name!).



    A Night in Antalya

    Last weekend we traveled south to Antalya for the RunAtolia Marathon (formally known as Runtalya). Last year we flew down, but one of our friends has a car and invited us to ride with her. We left early on Saturday morning. It took us about 7 hours to make it to the coast. I really like getting to see the landscape of Turkey when we drive. So many mountains, and crops, and colors.


    Driving down to Antalya


    Antalya oranges


    Antalya was sunny, in the mid 60’s, and gorgeous! We stopped by the race registration and then headed to our hotel. Our friend found an AMAZING deal through a travel agent for an all-inclusive stay at Akra Barut. It was one of the nicest places we’ve stayed at… and it was less than the price of a typical hotel in the States! Our stay included a huge buffet dinner on Saturday night, breakfast Sunday morning, and a shuttle to the race start.


    Akra Barut Hotel


    We have another friend who swears by staying in a nice hotel the day before a race. We can understand why!


    Akra barut hotel room


    I loved that the hotel was right on the Mediterranean. Being near the sea is good for my soul.


    Akra Barut Pool


    Stick pile by the sea


    Plant with purple edges


    David looking out to sea




    Mediterranean Sea boat


    Leah by the sea


    David climbing rocks


    Antalya water at night


    Here was the view from the balcony of our room:


    Akra Barut


    We had a great night’s rest before the race day. More on the marathon soon!



    Fall Break: Pamukkale Again

    One visit to Pamukkale wasn’t enough! The hostel owner told us we must see Pamukkale at sunset. (“Cappadocia at sunrise, Pamukkale at sunset.”) This time, we wore our swimsuits up the hill and sat in the pools along the way.


    Lonely shoes at Pamukkale


    David in the mineral water


    Leah in the water at Pamukkale


    Pamukkale ground


    Infinity pool at Pamukkale


    David in the Pamukkale pool
    Leah in the mineral pool


    Pamukkale mineral water


    Mineral clay




    Parasailer at sunset


    Pamukkale parasailer at sunset


    Pamukkale travertines at sunset


    Mom and daughter at Pamukkale


    Pamukkale at night


    Where we stayed:
    We spent a night at Bellamaritimo Hotel. This hostel was much cleaner than Koçak, however, the room was a little dusty, the shower was not enclosed, and the extra blankets were not clean. The Turkish breakfast was delicious, and the hostel worker was helpful.



    Fall Break: Didim

    The Turkish coast is so beautiful. We spent two nights in a beach town called Didim. Didim is on a peninsula about 100 miles south of Izmir. Thousands of people from the U.K. have purchased summer homes there. We visited at the very end of the tourist season. Most of the shops and restaurants were in the process of shutting down. The major tourist attraction nearby was the Temple of Apollo, but we decided to relax by the beach. We strolled around the brick walk and rented some beach chairs for an afternoon. The water was cool, but warm enough to swim. We liked that it wasn’t too crowded.


    Turkish coast


    Didim beach


    Beach view


    Seaglass and shells


    David eating at Ikbal


    Pretty purple flower


    David and Leah in Didim


    Didim brickwalk


    Leah on the boardwalk


    Didim at night


    Moon reflection on water


    Where we stayed:
    We spent two nights at Arden Apart Hotel, which was so refreshing after our last hotel. This place was clean, had a nice view of the water, and had a gazillion TV channels.

    Where we ate:
    We ate at Nigel’s the first night. It was okay, but overpriced. We ate twice at Ikbal’s Restaurant: once for coffee and a yummy fruit cake and again for dinner. David had an excellent steak and I had some delicious calamari. Ikbal’s has an interesting approach for being in Turkey; they call themselves a no-hassle restaurant. They don’t bug you to come inside and don’t pressure you to order more.

    After our two nights in Didim, we headed back north!