A day trip to Düzce

Last Sunday we took a day trip to Duzce, in the Black Sea region for a quick hike. Unfortunately, Remi had to stay with friends back home, but he had a good time investigating everything at their house.

The trip is organized by Nadide, who takes groups out exploring the region every Sunday. It was a lovely area noted for waterfalls and being on a very busy bird migration route.  The rains made the waterfalls extra special, so we were kind of lucky.  We were surprised to run into my co-worker on the bus out there. Kristen took better pictures than we did and was great company.

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It was drizzly, rainy, and foggy all day long, but that just made the views magical. We went for the waterfalls and they were stupendous. Take a look.

An Overnight in Safranbolu

View across the valley

View across the valley

A few hours north of Ankara and just shy of the Black Sea coast is Safranbolu, a small town with a big history. Once the center of Saffron trade, the city has been reinvented several times in the last few generations. In 1937 a steel plant went in just to the south, and lately it’s been reinvented again as a tourist destination, and so the old town is now studded with bed and breakfasts, hotels and a thriving tourist market.

We went up for a quick overnight in the middle of the week. The BLIS schedule allowed for a day off on Wednesday – it was republic day, and the entire country was celebrating the 91st anniversary of the Turkish republic.

Safranbolu is easy to get to even on the busiest days thanks to Turkey’s well-stocked busing industry. There are three or four major carriers, each sending buses up every hour or two. So we showed up at ASTI and found the bus leaving the soonest – Kamil Koc, pronounced Camel Coach – bought some gummi bears to snack on, and settled in for the ride. The bus was almost luxurious, with TV screens in each seatback and an attendant who came by with tea and snacks.

After some reading and a quick nap, we were in Safranbolu just past nightfall. It’s autumn right now, and the weather is crisp and cool, perfect for a night walk into town. We went by the UNESCO world heritage center, then down into the heart of old Safranbolu.

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Night market – chestnuts, eggs, and butter

There were still a lot of street markets open; vendors were selling everything including a bumper crop of mushrooms brought out by the abundant rain. We found a nice little family restaurant and ate the local pasta dishes, and chatted with the owners. Everyone has been so friendly, it’s wonderful.

Later we were surprised by a Republic Day celebration – a dozen cars decked out in Turkish flags driving through the town square, honking their horns, passengers hanging out windows and shouting huzzahs – a great display of national pride.

Our cart driver/tour guide

Our cart driver/tour guide

In the morning we took a tour on a golf cart of the old village. The streets are little more than well-arranged rocks, so it was a bumpy ride! Our host was friendly and kind, but he didn’t speak much English. Through Google translate, basic savvy and pantomime, though, we learned a lot about the area.

Safranbolu is built in a valley, and is the remains on an ancient sea’s coastline. This means there’s a lot of old erosion, cliff faces that overhang paths, and deep narrow canyons where water rushes in clear streams at the bottom. It wasn’t quite Cappadocia spectacular, but it was crazy enough to inspire oohs and ahs as we followed the canyon walls and watched the houses on the far side display themselves against a foggy mountain background.

Saffron bulbs for sale

Saffron bulbs for sale

After the tour it was time to do some Christmas shopping. The majority of the goods were saffron related – soaps and sprays and lokum (Turkish Delight). The variety of the food was amazing; every Turkish town has their own twists on the standards, and Safranbolu had a lot of delicious surprises. There were even vendors selling saffron bulbs in case you wanted to grow your own.

After picking up a few Christmas gifts (They’ll be in the mail soon, hopefully), we had enough time to grab some lunch and head back to the bus station.

A local artisan and his daughter

A local artisan and his daughter

It was a great overnight, but with a few museums, a Unesco world heritage site, and other sites in the surrounding area, Safranbolu will definitely be on our list for a return visit.

German days, Teutonic knights: Summer vacation part 2

How you know where you are in Germany

How you know where you are in Germany

You’ll remember how part one of our summer vacation left us in Gloucstershire, at the Peakettle wedding. We felt our work in England was done, so we flew from London down to Frankfurt, then boarded a train up to a cluster of little towns near Kassel in the Hesse region.

Our host Stefan picked us up at the rail station and drove us to the smaller village of Gertebach, where we bought groceries, and then to his little hamlet, Ziegenhagen. It was here he tucked us into his little guest cabin behind his main house, all on the edge of the great woods. If it sounds like a long trip through increasingly smaller towns, it kind of was, and that was the point: We were looking for a rustic little spot to while away a few days in relative obscurity, and this was a great place to do it.

Fire good! Fire very good!

Fire good! Fire very good!

Our little cabin had a small kitchen, and a cozy bed, and outside was a nice chimney fireplace with a statue of Buddha to bring us peace. Down the path was a space for hammocks (shout-out to Eagle Nest Outfitters!), and that was all we needed. We basically hung out for five days, reading books and hiking in the woods and eating sausage and cheese. Vacation success!

This is a little known part of Germany and we feared we’d have a hard time getting around. But no worries, German efficiency to the rescue! Trains run everywhere, and even the most remote places have bus service at least twice a day.

Also, Stefan was a fantastic and generous host; he let us rent his car for a day, and on others we borrowed a set of bicycles and a motor scooter. So we were able to get down to the train station and make a day trip into Kassel, historic home of the Brothers Grimm, noted librarians, folklorists and fairy tale collectors.It was an amazing collection that didn’t pander to kids , Ari would have loved it. There’s an entire Grimm Brothers Trail that leads along the Wesse, out through the woods that inspired the tales we all know, and at the museum was great artwork of old tales I hadn’t heard of like The Cold Heart, and the legend of Frau Holle.

This pork sandwich was brought to us by Castle Berlepsch

This pork sandwich was brought to us by Castle Berlepsch

This area of Germany is also, no surprise, chock full of old castles. One of them stood just over the line that defined the old East Germany-West Germany border. This was Burgruine Hanstein – the ruins of the Hanstein castle. We also visited Schloss Berlepsch, which is in better condition. In the spirit of the times, it’s been converted to a hotel and destination restaurant, and on the night we went a cover band was rocking out to highlights of the 90’s and 00’s. Hearing their music bounce off the ancient stone while we munched on pork sandwiches was almost like being a time traveller… sort of…

After a week of bicycles, scooters, hammocks and cars, though, it was time to move on. We took a train up to Berlin, then east into the heart of the old Soviet bloc: Poland. We spent our first night in the ancient capital of Poznan, then continued up to the coast city of Gdansk.

Gdansk was an amazingly beautiful city. There are apparently no big stones in northern Poland, but there is a lot of clay, so everything is made of brick. All the train stations and churches, palaces and fortresses are all made of red clay brick.

Our AirBnB was a beautiful attic dormer with a recently renovated bathroom and a grand view of a (brick) church. We had no clue that the 740 year old St. Dominic’s Fair was going on for our entire stay and we had a view of the kids playland next door. It was an amazing fair with a thousand vendors selling art, crafts, food, toys all temptingly beautiful and amazing.  My favorite vendor, Coolawoola, sold these wonderful circular sweaters.  Every night the fair was closed and the streets clean by 10 PM and reopened the next morning at 10.  We were nervous that it would be too crowded and loud, but it was just right and we met other visitors from all over the world. I’d love to go again!

Gdansk at Night

Gdansk at Night

Gdansk is a working class town dominated by the shipyards to the north. They played a big part in the fall of communism – the Solidarity movement started here. But in the historic old town we found a vibrant art scene. We stopped and ate at a restaurant just to listen to the musicians who were playing funky covers of cool songs on accordion, cello and guitar.

The food here was amazing as well. There was of course the traditional Polish comfort food of sausage, ham hocks, potatoes, and saurkraut washed down with beer. But there was also a great variety of international food. We ate Paella and sangria one night, and Thai food with french wine the next.

The courtyard at Marienberg Castle

The courtyard at Marienberg Castle

Did I mention we visited a lot of castles last summer? Not far from Gdansk is Marienbourg Castle, the medieval home of the Teutonic Knights. We showed up around 3, just in time for the only English tour of the day. Our guide, Bogdan, was a law professor at the local university, who looked happy just to have someone show up for his tour. As it turned out, we were glad to have him to ourselves as he was one of the best guides we’ve ever had.

He told us all about the Teutonic’s origins in Palestine, and how they moved to Poland at the invitation of a King, and of the founding of the castle in the 13th century. For centuries, the knights had a great influence on medieval European history. The castle itself is one of the largest brick fortresses in the world, and survived siege after siege before being almost flattened by the Soviets in 1944 on their way to Berlin. It made for a spectacular afternoon.

The Beach at Hell

The Beach at Hell

You’d think that would be enough for a summer vacation, but no! We were also able to squeeze in some beach time. Across the bay from Gdansk is a spit of land ending in a little ball of sand and a tiny village called Hel. We took the ferry in the morning, and whiled away an afternoon with cribbage, then lazed about on a white-sand beach.

Street Performer in Berlin

Street Performer in Berlin

But there was more! We spent two more nights in Europe, wandering the streets of Berlin. It’s a big, bustling city, exciting and full of culture and history. Blah blah blah, we said. Perhaps we’d had enough of history and excitement, but Berlin just wasn’t our cup of tea, even with a street fair on Alexanderplatz featuring street performers on slacklines and acrobats doing all sorts of stunts in front of us.

It was fun, of course – we took a cruise on the river Spree, and wandered  up and down street after street, but after two days we boarded an overnight train for Frankfurt. From there, it was a hop to Istanbul and and skip to Ankara, and finally we were tucked into our own bed again, with our dog by our side, ready for the school year to start.

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From the Bosphorus to the Baltic – Summer vacation part 1

Geographically, we are fortunate to live in Turkey. Most of Europe and big chunks of Asia, not to mention Africa, are a few hour’s flight away. So, while we are here, we are reveling in how close we are to so many countries, and taking every opportunity to go abroad. Living a teacher’s lifestyle also gives us big chunks of summer to play with, so this year we took a month off to do a backpack-style tour of Europe, and to pop in on a friend’s wedding.

We planned our trip using the online room-booking service Airbnb.com.  It’s provided some great stays in unusual buildings in the past, and would not let us down this time. We searched for private apartments for less than $100 a night in Europe, and based our trip around our awesome finds. Most of our locations were $30-60 a night total.

Mosque celebrating ramadan from our table

Mosque celebrating ramadan from our table

Our first stay was in the Pera district of Istanbul. This is a funky neighborhood just starting to be gentrified.The apartment blocks in our neighborhood were decrepit and surrounded by fencing and being torn down to be replaced by mixed use buildings; it made for an interesting walk with insight into the current state of Istanbul.

It was Ramadan, a time of year with its own rhythms. The steps on our block were filled with families staying cool in the late day heat, probably waiting for the sun to set so they could break the fast. Kids played outside till late, and the feeling was of a friendly gathering. We woke daily at 3 am to a drummer moving down the street, calling people to get up and prepare a pre-dawn meal before the sunrise before the fast began.


Melon and Raki

Outside this neighborhood, Istanbul was its usual romantic self. We wandered the crooked streets of Taksim down to the waters of the Golden Horn, where we passed the evening Turkish style: eating cheese and melon while drinking raki in a restaurant under the historic Galata bridge.

One day, on our friends recommendations, we went to the Princes’ Islands. This is a string of islands once used as a retreat for the Ottoman elite that is now a resort destination for Turks and vacationers alike. We stopped at Heybeliada Island – the second largest of them – to go swimming and found ourselves lounging in cafes, national parks, and ice cream parlors.


Relaxing on the Beach

It was a perfect day. The beaches were different from any we’d been to. They were fenced in, and therefore semi-private. Instead of sandy beaches, our lounge chairs and umbrellas rested on concrete embankments. We splashed around the cool water, then went up the hill behind the beach, where we found a nice hammock and read books in the shade.

And because automobiles are not allowed on the islands, we didn’t have the stress of Turkish traffic to contend with. But there were horse-pulled phaeton carriages, so it wasn’t completely ‘waste’ or ‘aroma-free.’


The Olympic Stadium at night

Then it was off to England. Two friends we met teaching in Korea were getting married in Gloucester,  so we hopped a plane for London, where we spent a few days before the wedding. AirBnB found us a a funky, intimate (okay, it was small!) house boat on the river Lee, in the shadows of the Olympic Stadium.

Our houseboat was moored with dozens of other boats on the long, winding canals of London’s east end. We took long walks along the canals and watched as houseboats moved through the manual lock and dam system. The neighborhood was full of art studios,  industrial warehouses, and trendy bars, and staying here instead of the more touristy areas gave us a great new perspective on this sprawling city. It turns out, London’s not all crowded tourist districts and overpriced fish and chips! We breakfasted at Mapp’s Cafe, where we found a full English breakfast for £3.50 – a real steal! And it was run by Turks from Cyprus, so we even had a touch of our adopted home country.

Our highlights of London featured indulging in pork, beer, and buying books. We didn’t hit any of the amazing tourist sights, but we did enjoy some of the great restaurants we found last year including the Ethiopian restaurant Addis.

Then it was time for a Korea reunion. We took the train out to Gloucester where we were met by Mrs. Peak, who drove us through the charming town filled with Gothic ruins. On the way to the Yates Farm, she showed us a boarding school that was used as a set for one of the Harry Potter movies! (We looked for signs of magic goings-on, but as muggles, saw nothing.)

Will and Sam drew friends from far away and their parents kindly hosted us, indulging us with rides, jelly babies, lunch buffets, and English breakfast. We loved seeing our friends from Korea in their home town and the wedding was a romantic celebration of their love, woooooooooo.


The happy couple

There was a great thunderstorm the morning of the wedding, but by midafternoon the skies were clear, and the party in the barn went on late into the night. By the end of the wedding we learned a lot about organza, garden parties with the royal family, who wears wigs in English court rooms, assembling party pagodas, and had two new kiwi friends. A proper wedding.

Thankfully, no marmite was consumed.

We returned to London for a night in a posh hotel near the airport, then took a morning flight to our next destination: the idyllic German countryside around Kassel, somewhere between Frankfurt and Hanover, where our adventure will continue in the next post.

Below we’ve included bonus footage of a touching Jeollanamdo reunion. If you miss the amazing dance moves we all honed at Moe’s Bar in Mokpo, grab a tissue. I present you with a proper wedding dance.

Oh and trip photos.

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Winter Trip: Munich and Prague

IMG_1036Better late than never post. Tomorrow we head off on Summer vacation. here is a late post about winter vacation. Oops. 

Back in December, around Christmas time, we had 2 weeks off of work. We’d heard good things about the Christkindl markets of Bavaria, so we thought we’d head off to Munich and swing by Prague.  We read that Munich  closes on Christmas day, so we decided we might as well hop on a train for Salzburg for a day trip.

We arrived in Munich on the 21st. By 10 pm, we were in the Marienplatz, the symbolic heart of Old Munich and home to the Christkindl market. By ten of course the shops were all boarded up for the night, so instead we had some famous gluhwein (hot mulled red wine) and looked around at the huge Christmas tree. Then we discovered a nice pub and had a few beers with the locals. After months of Turkish beer, a hearty German Pilsner was just fine for both of us.

The next morning we toured the markets. Everything Christmas related was crammed into dozens of market stalls that filled the plaza: nativity sets, tree decorations, smokers, ornamets, paper lanters, and candy, chocolates, and  sweets. Walking through the markets with a gluhwein and a pastry, we bought gifts for people back home and for ourselves.

DessertThen we ate. Eating in Munich is a special pleasure.  Pork products are hard to find, so we eagerly sought out ham, pork, and bacon. We ate at the Tegernseer Tal and the Andechser am Dom (Twice!). Mike made a vow to eat all the bratwurst in Munich, but fell a few links short. One of our favorite spots had a giant wurst and beer stand shaped like a Christmas Pyramid – one of those toys where the candle’s rising heat turns a big spinner on its tope. Then we wandered the shops and sights, even climbing to the top of St. Peter’s church tower where we had a view all the way to the Bavarian Alps.

But the Munich Christkindlmarkt is not permanent. By noon on Christmas Eve, they were taking down the giant Christmas pyramid  as we ate bratwurst and drank more gluhweing. Then the shops shut down, and Munich fell eerily silent.

The next morning we met up with some friends and hopped on a train for Salzburg, where the markets were still open. Salzburg is famous as the home of Mozart and as the location for the events of the Sound of Music. We walked along the charming old town, had another meal of veal and potatoes (and beer!), then explored the high castle with spectacular views. Salzburg really was a wonderland.

Prague was equally spectacular. Here we stayed at a nice little AirBnB rental; we had our own little guest house tucked behind our host’s place. It was an easy walk to the bus or tram line, then into the historic old districts of this ancient capital of Bohemia. Castles, churches, intimate cafes – Prague was another fantasy land, complete with a subway, tram lines, and modern free internet everywhere. We met another friend in Prague and walked along the old town and castle for the day.

The Christkindl Market here was larger and more spectacular than Munich’s. They had giant pork roasts turning over open coals, and a special pastry made by wrapping dough around a long cylinder, then turning the cylinder over hot coals, then rolling it in cinnamon sugar. There was also a lot of beer, which makes the memory of all that food hazy but also sepia toned.

Fireworks!This brought us back to Munich for New Year’s eve. We’d heard Munich was fantastic for new year’s eve, though we didn’t know the extent of it. People buy their own fireworks and set them off in the street, for example. There aren’t any organized fireworks shows.

So after finding a nice Indian restaurant near our hotel off on the west side of town, we stepped out on the street to find the entire neighborhood setting off roman candles and giant sunburst fireworks that exploded just about the roofline of the apartment houses. Smoke filled the air like fog and it was just fantastic.

The next day, it was back to the airport, and home to Anakara, though we’d love to go back again. One of the best parts of teaching here is the new friends we have made.  We enjoyed meeting up with them along our trip and sharing our vacation with them.


Spring in Ankara

We arrived here in August and it was hot, dry, and dusty. There were small, desert like flowers that blossomed in response to rain, but it was overwhelmingly brown.  Since winter ended it has been raining a little bit every day.  Now, spring is in bloom and there are blossoms everywhere.  Unfortunately, summer is coming.  The rain is slowing down and things are drying up quickly.  Here is a glimpse of what we saw this spring.

The cacti are blooming.  Most of the year this cactus looks like a scary cotton ball.  Now it is a beautiful purple flower.










Remi and I took a hike with Jeff and Mavis last month we saw a lot of beautiful flowers and an amazing creek. We hiked 10K through many villages.  We saw cows out with cowherds. You know me, I like cows.

a cool creek

a cool creek










We had a lot of rain the last two months.  Our lojman is on top of the city.  One of the benefits is great views of rainbows.

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My classroom is very high up over campus and I noticed a falcon gliding everyday outside my classroom. Mike and I went exploring and we found the falcon’s nest.  I was able to bring my class out to see the nest and the parents were out hunting and bringing bites of flesh to the nest.  One day Mike and I found a fledgling about 500 meters from the nest.  We hope it got home okay.  Later, while walking the dog we saw the birds in flight training.  I had to do some serious zooming and cropping to make the birds visable, but you still need to click on the photos to identify the birds. Enjoy.

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It has been an interesting year getting adjusted to the Ankara environment. I am glad we finally got to see some green. Here is a little slide show of some of the greatness we have seen this spring.

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Devils run in Georgia

We were feeling low on pork and good beer, and had a four-day weekend to burn, so we grabbed a group of friends – fellow teachers, mostly – and went to Tbilisi, Georgia.  Sights were seen, food was eaten, history was learned, and very good beer was drunk.  Here are the recaps:

Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, lies in a valley that stretches along a beautiful high-bluffed river. During most of the 20th Century, Georgia and the entire Caucuses region was in the Soviet Union, so there are lots of reminders of that era. Like many old cities, there’s a fortress on a hill. We took the funicular – which we’ve taken to saying instead of gondola lift – up to the top of one of the hills.  Here, we saw the spirit of Mother Georgia, a grand socialist style statue with a great view of the city. There was also an old church, remains of the old fortress, and ice cream vendors. One of the most comforting things about traveling the world is there are ice cream vendors are everywhere. It’s hard to feel like a stranger in town if you’re eating an ice cream cone.

loved these guys at the flea market

loved these guys at the flea market

We walked down the hill and into one of the main parks, where we had a great time, especially at the flea market.  It was as if every person who’d ever been forced to buy and use Soviet paraphernalia had dragged it from their attic down to the sidewalk to sell it off and be rid of it forever. There was so much to see, we went back twice.Some of the items – like the Smyrna, Georgia yearbook- were hokey and not worth purchasing, but there were so many interesting items I would have loved to have brought home. Mike wanted to buy hand-painted portraits of Stalin and Lenin for his office, but exercised strong self-control. There were also old record players, sewing machines, coins, knives, hats, uniforms, and busted guitars. In the end we settled for a map of USSR industrial regions, antique postcards, and jewelry.

Georgia’s history is deep and dynamic and the more we saw the more we all commented that we know so little of our world.

Mavis in her element at the flea market

Mavis in her element at the flea market

We spent a lot of time wandering amongst the old churches. Georgia’s religious history is (yup) deep and dynamic; they were one of the first countries to convert to Christianity, and every few blocks you’ll find an old orthodox church. Their architecture is distinctive – lots of piled up wings, roofs jutting out everywhere, generally narrowing to where a tall cylinder ends in a cone-shaped dome.

Since the fall of communism in the 90’s, religion has made a remarkable comeback in Georgia. We saw Zoroastrian churches, which I hadn’t heard of since my classes with Barbara, remnants of the cult of Mithras, indicators of mosques and old arabic script, synagogues old and new, and lots and lots of churches. Icons were for sale everywhere.

The food was fabulous. There were many signs of Turkey’s influence in Georgian cuisine including pork shwarma, wood fire kebabs, and restaurants with evil eyes. We saw cevizli sucuk everywhere.  It is made from grape molases and nuts.  While it is funky looking, it is not my favorite…

Cevizli Sucuk

Cevizli Sucuk

We hired  a driver for an afternoon, and he took us out to Jvari monastery, then down into the old village of Mtskheta (No I can’t pronounce it either.) This was a trip made more interesting by a group of, we think, teenagers on a graduation field trip. The boys all wore black pants and white shirts signed in sharpie by classmates, and the girls all wore black dresses and white aprons. It was quaint things to these energetic kids running around the yard where in the 4th century Christianity took its foothold in Georgia.

We also went to the Gabriadze marionette theater to see a show called Ramona. It was a tragic love story about two train engines who fall in love but are separated by fate. It was performed in both Georgian and Russian, with English supertitles, so it was pretty easy to follow along.  This marionette theater is one of the treasures of Tbilisi.

We should give a shout-out to our traveling partners as well – they were generous and awesome, and it took a great load off the what-should-we-do-next doldrums that can plague traveling in pairs. Someone always has an idea! We even worked out a no-work-talk rule whose penalty was a bottle of wine for the table. Thanks to this simple rule, our conversations were remarkably happy and positive! Don’t worry, we still found reasons to buy the wine, though. We couldn’t just let it sit on the shelf gathering dust, could we?

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