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    Ireland Part 4: Blarney Castle

    After a night in Galway, we drove south to Cork to visit the Blarney Castle. We were blown away by the beauty of the castle’s grounds.


    Blarney Castle stream


    Blarney Castle grounds


    Blarney Castle grounds


    The castle was originally built around the year 1210 and was later rebuilt by Cormac MacCarthy in 1446.


    Blarney Castle


    Blarney Castle grounds


    People have been visiting the castle for hundreds of years! Check out this graffiti from 1899 and 1897. I was amazed at how beautifully these serif letters were carved into stone:


    Old graffiti


    We followed a steep and narrow staircase to get to the top:


    Blarney Castle stairs


    Inside the Blarney Castle


    It’s said that if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you gain the gift of eloquence (aka the gift of gab). There were signs around the castle that told about the history and legends of the place.


    All blarney


    I had no idea what it took to kiss the Blarney Stone. Once we got to the top, there was a man who offered to help us. For someone short like me, I really needed the help! You have to lie on your back, hold onto the supports, and bend over backwards to reach the stone. I can’t imagine trying to do it without the metal supports! They used to just hold people by their ankles. (Apparently there was a Sherlock movie where someone tried to kiss the stone and fell to their death.) We joined the ranks of people like Winston Churchill who have kissed the stone! Did you know that kissing the Blarney Stone is on the Discovery Travel Channel’s lists of 99 things to do before you die?


    David kissing the Blarney Stone


    Leah kissing the Blarney Stone


    The view from the top of the castle was incredible:


    Top of the Blarney Castle view


    View from the Blarney Castle


    After the castle, we enjoyed walking around the rest of the property and the beautiful gardens. There were some really unique trees:


    Large tree with low branches


    There were a few fall colors:


    Leah next to fall leaves


    The Rock Close garden had some peculiar points of interest. It was a little creepy at times!




    Brittany walking up the wishing steps


    We were at Blarney Castle for several hours and could have stayed even longer, but it started to get dark.


    Blarney Castle at night


    We didn’t pay close attention to the signs of how long the place was open. (Afterwards, we found out admission closed at 6pm or dusk.) By the time we made it out to our car, we were the only ones in the parking lot and everything was locked up. We were worried because they had put up the guard rail at the entrance and we thought our car might be trapped there for the night. Fortunately, we found a back entrance!

    We headed into Cork for the night (a crazy place to drive), then worked our way back to Dublin the next day.


    » Ireland Part 1: Dublin
    » Ireland Part 2: Driving in the Countryside
    » Ireland Part 3: The Cliffs of Moher
    » Ireland Part 5: Kilkenny and Dublin



    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.



    Exploring Ulus

    Last Saturday David, another teacher, and I took a dolmuş  to explore Ulus, an old neighborhood of Ankara. Ulus is about 5 miles from our neighborhood. We were on the hunt for an electronics store, Turkish puzzle rings, antique stores (I really want an Ottoman Empire skeleton key), and a Turkish pottery store. We didn’t have a lot of luck finding those things, but explored other areas! It was a perfect, sunny day to be walking around the city.

    Ulus is an older, more traditional area of Ankara. We walked around the busy market streets, got some lunch, and decided to walk up to the castle.


    The streets of Ulus, Turkey


    After we passed through the busy market streets, we made it to a quieter set of shops. There were some antique shops, though I didn’t find the skeleton key I wanted. We found two puzzle rings, but the sizes were too small. I did, however, have one great find! Over the past couple of years, I’ve collected letterpress and printing press letters. On our way out of one shop, I found a container that had several piece of of sheet music plates. There were several different sizes and I grabbed one of the smaller ones. I asked the store owner how much it cost. He replied it was 10 Turkish Lira and rattled off a price for the larger pieces. Now, I love to barter. It’s been difficult to barter here because I haven’t learned all of the numbers yet. I thought that 10 was too much and asked him if he would take 5. He shrugged and said ok. We just covered typography in the graphic design class I’m teaching, so I thought it was fun to show the students the printing press plate. It’s a bit difficult to read, but the song has something to do with water.


    Turkish Sheet Music Printing Plate


    There was road construction and we had to take a few detours to make it up to the castle. We walked a lot of cobblestone and gravel streets. I liked the look of the bricks in this building. It’s ironic to see these old, old buildings with satellite dishes.


    Old Turkish building with a satellite dish


    Before making it all the way to the top of the hill, we passed a pazar market. I love the bright colors of the different grains, spices, dried fruit and veggies. I got a half a kilo of dried cranberries. Yum!


    Market in Ulus


    We finally made it to the top! The citadel overlooks almost all of Ankara. We were amazed it was free to enter! According to “The foundations of this structure were laid by Galatians and eventually completed by the Romans.” It was fun and scary to walk the ledges and walls of the castle. There were limited steps and no hand rails or guards.


    Ulus Castle in Ankara, Turkey


    Ulus Citadel in Ankara, Turkey


    What a view of Ankara!


    View from the Ulus Castle in Ankara, Turkey


    View from inside the Ulus castle


    A lot of the city is this gray-brown color. I think the texture of the rooftops are interesting.


    Roofs of Ulus


    This was the first time we went someplace where we didn’t have someone as our guide. We plan to go back to Ulus sometime with friends who can show us where certain shops are located.


    Ulus, Ankara Castle

    This past Saturday we took a dolmuş into the old neighborhood in Ankara called Ulus. We walked up cobble stone roads to see the ruins of the citadel. We were amazed it was free to enter!

    According to “The foundations of this structure were laid by Galatians and eventually completed by the Romans.”

    It’s the highest point in the area, and it was fun and scary to walk the ledges and walls of the castle. There were limited steps and no hand rails or guards. What a view of Ankara!


    Castle Climbing in Ulus, Ankara