Cappadocia Part 2: Underground Cities and Breathtaking Monasteries

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After a good night’s rest, we were ready for another day of touring – this time, a little farther away from our home base. Our first stop was the famous underground city of Derinkuyu.

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Derinkuyu is an incredible man-made marvel 65 meters underground. This ancient and mysterious city is thousands of years old and was most likely built as a shelter to protect citizens from invasion. It has been estimated that up to 30,000 people could have lived in Derinkuyu, which had tunnels connecting to other underground cities in the area. Such a unique and fascinating place! Be warned, however, that it is not for the faint at heart; the tunnels are narrow, dark, and often crowded. If you are claustrophobic, it might be best to admire it from afar.

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After crawling around in a dark cave city, the fresh air and green trees of Ilhara Valley were a welcome sight. We took a leisurely hike along the trail, admiring a few of the churches along the canyon walls before stopping for lunch in a riverside bungalow.

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Our driver met us at the end of the valley to take us to our last stop: Selime Monastery…and holy crap! What an amazing place! I was immediately shocked that I had never heard of it before. This beautiful monastery carved into a giant fairy chimney overlooking a valley full of more fairy chimneys looks like something out of a fantasy novel!

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I was totally blown away by Selime. Petra fans, this should be your next stop.

20180513_150805.jpgAfter a couple hours of exploring, we reluctantly climbed back down to the cab to get ready to catch our flight back to reality. Since we got back a little early, we had some time to take in the views at our hotel with one last bottle of Turasan wine.

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I am so grateful to have spent such a wonderful weekend with such a wonderful friend! Happy Birthday to me! Here’s to another year of adventure.

The Perfect Birthday Weekend in Cappadocia Part 1: Turuncu Turu

IMG-20180512-WA0019.jpgThanks to one of my dear friends, my 27th year on Earth is off to an incredible start.

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How incredible is the view from our hotel?  Can’t recommend Hezen Cave Hotel enough!

We caught a red-eye flight to Cappadocia on Friday, checked into our hotel, and managed a few hours of sleep before getting up and around for tours.

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We hired a driver and spent our first day touring sites near our hotel in Ortahisar.  Our first stop was to see The Three Beauties (Üç Güzeller), followed by an incredible hike through Devrent Valley.

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Of course, we also had to stop for some wine because nothing says “Happy Birthday” like a little wine tasting before noon!  We picked up a nice bottle of red to enjoy back at our amazing cave hotel later in the evening.

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We got caught in a crazy downpour at the Zelve Open Air Museum, but it didn’t stop us from exploring.  We hopped into the old dwellings carved into the fairy chimneys to take shelter.20180512_132908.jpgAfter stopping to dry off with some coffee and mantı, we headed to the Göreme Open Air Museum, which is famous for its well-preserved frescoes inside of the ruins of orthodox churches.  It was a beautiful place, but a little too crowded for my taste.  I much preferred Zelve.

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Hobbit home goals.

Our next stop was a little ceramics shop, where we watched some demonstrations, learned about traditional pottery in the region, and bought a lovely Turkish coffee set for my husband and I.

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Our last stop before dinner was to Üçhisar Kalesi and the Pigeon Valley.  The views from the top of the castle were stunning and watching the sun set over the fairy chimneys through swarms of pigeons was nothing short of magical.

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We finished our first magical day in Cappadocia with dinner, dessert, and wine.  27 is feeling pretty damn good so far.

Istanbul Tulip Festival

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Every year in April,  colorful displays of tulips can be found all over the city of Istanbul.  More than a hundred varieties of tulips can be seen in almost any of the public parks.  After three years, we finally decided to see what all the fuss was about and we weren’t disappointed.  It made for a perfect afternoon and we couldn’t have asked for better weather.

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This is just further proof that spring is Turkey’s most beautiful season.

An Ode to My First Passport

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A grainy photo of my old passport the day before I moved to Turkey.

Retiring my first passport was like saying goodbye to an old friend. I still remember getting my photo taken at Walgreens, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the prospect of finally seeing the world outside of small-town America.  I always found a certain comfort in turning to the first page and seeing my teenage self smiling back at me, full of dreams of faraway places.

My new passport is empty, and thanks to Turkish passport rules, the photographer refused to allow me to smile in my passport photo (in spite of the fact that said rule does not apply to American passports), so I look a bit more like a displeased psychopath than I do an eager world traveler.  Still, there is a certain thrill in all of the blank pages of possibility that will inevitably fill up with adventure (hopefully sooner rather than later – I am feeling the itch).

At the very least, I still have my old passport as a souvenir.  As I flip through its pages, I like to think that my 16-year-old self would be pleased to know that that passport would carry me to 27 countries, using every last page before it expired.  26-year-old me certainly is.

Fener-Balat

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Tucked away in the Golden Horn of Istanbul is an often-overlooked piece of history, just far enough away from the main attractions of Sultanahmet to go unnoticed.  The old districts of Fener and Balat – the old Greek and Jewish quarters respectively – have somehow managed to preserve their minority histories throughout many tumultuous centuries.

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As you walk along the coast from Eminönü, past the fishermen and heavy traffic, a different sort of skyline will come into view.  Along the sea, the imposing figure of St. Stephens, a newly renovated Bulgarian church made almost entirely of iron, shimmers in the sunlight.

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Across the bustling streets, Rum Lisesi – a Greek Orthodox church-turned-school overlooks the tangled network of alleys.  The old bohemian streets beckon you in a little farther with their numerous charming cafes and quirky shops.  Before you know it, you are standing above it all, glancing down at rows of colorful houses, dotted with clotheslines.

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It is a version of Istanbul unlike any I had ever seen before.  I don’t know why it took me so long to see it, but I know that I must go back.

A Mild Addiction

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I remember in the months leading up to beginning my journey as an expat, I naively believed that I would become an instant minimalist, forever moving through life with no more than a couple of suitcases. As it turns out, I can fill up an apartment remarkably quickly. For the most part, we have tried to avoid accumulating more than what is necessary to live comfortably. That being said, we all have an Achilles heel and ours seems to involve coffee mugs.

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It all started with this mug, a cool and thoughtful Christmas gift from my husband. Before that, we had been using drab, secondhand mugs left behind from previous teachers.

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Just a few weeks later, I acquired this amazing, nerdtastic beauty as a New Year’s gift from a student. When I asked him how he knew I was a Game of Thrones fan, he simply responded “I didn’t.” To this day, I wonder what it was about FIRE and BLOOD that made him think of me. In any case, I love this mug.

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Generally speaking, I’m not much of a Starbucks fan, but it is so ubiquitous that a frequent traveler can hardly avoid the place. I actually fell in love with the Istanbul “You Are Here” mug on an outing with friends and bought it for Dakota. When I went to NYC last summer, I couldn’t help myself.

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We bought these lovely Gaudi-inspired pieces on our trip to Barcelona and I just love them. Perfect for cortados.

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These were a cheap and frivolous purchase from our summer trip to Alaçatı. I love the colors and textures.

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Our most recent addition to the collection is this set of mini mugs that we purchased in Jordan. They are slightly larger than espresso cups and have very interesting designs.

Sometimes I look at our cupboards and lament the fact that we have so many damn cups we don’t need. Other times, I stare at them all one by one as I am reminded that each one of them carries a story with it. I can’t imagine parting with any of them and yet I can’t imagine packing them all in a suitcase. That is what is so hard.

The thing about being an expat is that you never really know when you will move on until you do. We have gotten so comfortable in this stage of life, but something in the air has been telling me that it’s time to start thinking about the future. I guess this is my way of recording this time and these memories while I am still in this moment. For now, I can enjoy my collection just a little longer.

The Ruins of Ani

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Can you see me?

Just east of Kars are the ruins of Ani, a once-bustling Armenian settlement from the 11th century.  The territory was often disputed and taken over in the centuries that followed, but the once-prosperous city of 1,001 churches has long since been abandoned.  What remains is a beautiful mess of rubble, mountains, sky, and one-of-a-kind architecture.

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The church of St. Gregory was absolutely stunning.

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I also loved the look of the old Armenian script

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Ani Cathedral

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We so rarely get photos together while traveling, so we were thrilled when a kind stranger offered to take this for us, even if it is a little dark.  

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The inside of Ani Cathedral.

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This river acts as the border between Turkey and Armenia.  Turkey is on the left and Armenia is on the right.  

I couldn’t believe how stunning this place was and I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to walk around an ancient city.  Ani is honestly one of the most beautiful and unique places I have ever seen. IMG_2023.JPG

Better yet, it’s not nearly as difficult or as expensive to get to as I would have expected.  Buses run daily at 11:00 from Kars (in front of Antik Cafe) and it only costs 7 TL each way.  The bus returns to Kars from Ani at 14:00, which gives you a little over two hours to explore the site, which we felt was sufficient.  If you’re planning a longer vacation in Turkey, definitely don’t skip it!