Cappadocia.

We had quite the Christmas! Hours after picking Nick up from the airport, we jumped on an overnight bus to CAPPADOCIA, a region about 10 hours south of Istanbul because our lovely families PLANNED A SURPRISE CHRISTMAS EXCURSION for us there. Who does that? Honestly? Our families, that’s who. Talk about an incredible time.

On the bus!

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After 3 connections, and a delayed flight – Nick shows us his “I’M READY FOR A NIGHT BUS” equipment.IMG_1473

IMG_3089We arrived at 7am and headed to “Azure Cave Suites” which happened to be the most incredible “hotel” ever. Our rooms were literally caves – and they were GORGEOUS. We had the most amazing breakfast (provided for free!) every morning, and homemade puddings, breads and sweet treats every night. The family running the place and their German Shepard puppy, Zeus, were absolutely the best ever. They literally roasted us chestnuts (over an open fire!) on Christmas eve, made us gingerbread men cookies and did everything they could to make us feel like family. On our last morning, they drove us back to the main section of town where we could catch our bus, and the woman explained her “business” this way: “every guest is a family member from all over the world that I am just having the opportunity to meet for the first time. It’s a celebration every day.” And, it truly felt like that every. day.IMG_1518

oh! Our place also served, LINDEN TEA, which just so happens to be my namesake tea!

Screenshot from 2015-01-03 13:16:37IMG_3214View from our roof top.IMG_3152Morning one, we rented four wheelers (thanks to Anthea and Brittany!). The company we rented through encouraged us to wear hair nets under our helmets…which Kev did proudly.

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And this was what we saw:

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Cappadocia is especially known for two things…1) exceptional natural wonders, in particular fairy chimneys  (pictured below) and 2) hot air balloons (which are a bit further down this post).

The rock formations have eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars which people of the villages at the heart of the Cappadocia carved into houses, churches and monasteries from the soft rocks of volcanic deposits. Obviously now all are completely abandoned, but climbing through the tiny caves and crevices, higher and higher up these formations made for an awesome day of exploring.IMG_3132

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After, not surprisingly, we stopped for tea:

IMG_3147The next day we woke up early and went on a killer tour which included an underground city, a gorgeous hike in the basin of the “Grand Canyon” of Turkey, drank (more!) tea, river-side, explored more caves, fairy chimneys and monasteries and truly, just took in the beauty.IMG_3110IMG_3112IMG_3120IMG_3144IMG_3218IMG_3227Once we got up there, Kev was pretty scared of how high we were 🙂IMG_3237Which was kind of understandable 🙂IMG_3239IMG_3241IMG_3244IMG_3251IMG_3255IMG_3258IMG_3261IMG_3262IMG_3266IMG_3278IMG_3279IMG_3282Christmas morning, we woke up at 5:30 am to (FREEZE OUR BUTTS OFF) watch the sunrise and watch the famed hot air balloons take off. Sorry for the 6,000 balloon pictures, but it was honestly magic.IMG_3158IMG_3160IMG_3161IMG_316915991075439_ee2d44aeb0_kIMG_3173IMG_3176morning eyes, cold noses.IMG_3178IMG_3180IMG_3185IMG_3192IMG_3198IMG_3200IMG_3207IMG_1519Another day, we rented mountain bikes. The guys looked like this: magazine-worthy.IMG_1538Conferrng with phones as to geo-cache location.IMG_3379This is how I felt about it. (That picture does not do my grumpiness justice.) We were minutes from dropping the bikes back off for the day, so my spirits were higher than on other times 🙂 Drew, if you’re seeing this, I would NOT have made you proud!IMG_1539BUT, after biking up the insane hills, we had an opportunity to do some pretty killer geo-caching, explore MORE old cave-things and see some pretty spectacular sights, so in retrospect, I shouldn’t have complained quite as much as I did 🙂IMG_3310IMG_3306IMG_3311IMG_3312For instance, on our biking adventure, we happened across a sunset balloon take off! IMG_3315IMG_3324IMG_3330IMG_3333IMG_3333IMG_3340IMG_3342IMG_3343IMG_3344IMG_3348IMG_3352IMG_3354The boys with a close-up view.IMG_3359IMG_3360IMG_3365IMG_3367IMG_3368IMG_3374A few hours later: bike view to Mount Erciyes.IMG_1536All in all, Cappadocia was amazing. We were all so thankful we had a chance to visit! Thanks Mar and Kevin and Mom and Dad and Brittany and Anthea and Ezgi and Mike! It was a Christmas to remember! <3IMG_3385

ISTANBUL.

Having too much fun (again!) to think much about blogging – but here is Istanbul, Turkey in a nutshell.

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We were (and are!) beyond thankful to Ezgi and Mike (Kev’s childhood friend), who offered us their flat while we were in Turkey. Originally, we had planned to stop in and see them, as they live in Istanbul, but as luck would have it, they were both back in Grand Rapids (of all places!) for the holidays. Unbelievably, they offered their apartment to us during our stay – which turned out to be insane. The flat was absolutely BEAUTIFUL, Kevin continues to say probably the nicest apartment he has ever been in. Short of sleeping in all types of ridiculous accommodations after the last 6+ months, our time there offered us a reprieve we didn’t even know we needed so desperately. It was glorious – and we are (again!) beyond thankful. We met Ezgi’s wonderful sister Elif at their family’s cafe and she and her friend Pinar were unbelievably sweet, and short of driving us to the flat and showing us the ropes, they took amazing care of us. To have such warmth (especially over the holidays!) not to mention a clean, spacious BEAUTIFUL place to chill and relax was truly such a gift.

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The first day in Istanbul, we checked out the Basilica Cistern, which was this cavernous,  beautifully illuminated, cavernous cistern that was built in 532.  Apparently, there are hundreds of cisterns hidden under the streets of Istanbul, but only 2 are open to the public. The Basilica Cistern is the largest cistern in Istanbul and was constructed using 336 columns, and stored up to 100,000 tons of water which was delivered to the Byzantine emperors in the Great Palace. Up to 7,000 slaves were rumored to have built it.

We had to pay a “decent” amount (I think $10 each?!) to get in (the most of any attraction after the Taj Mahal (which of course we got in for free), but it was honestly pretty crazy. At the back, there were carved Medusa heads which no one knows for certain why they landed here, which was quite interesting in and of itself. Worth the money? We’re not 100% sure, but it was beyond beautiful, without question.
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Right across from the B.C. were a couple more famous attractions…the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya.

The craziest thing about Istanbul for us was the fact that mosques seemed to just pop out of NO WHERE. BEAUTIFUL, HUGE, ornate vessels of grandeur – just BOOM. There they are. The pictures below are of Aya Sofya….

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IMG_1410IMG_2999And even craizer, JUST across the street from THAT was the Blue Mosque (aka: Sultan Ahmed Mosque). Although I wish I could say otherwise, I did not get a great photo of the Blue Mosque (at least from the outside) – even though, in my opinion, it was MUCH cooler than Aya Sofya. But there were fountains, and people selling tea and loads of Muslims coming to pray (and tourists coming to gawk). It had quite the atmosphere.

IMG_2982Not surprisingly, they were very strict about the dress code, and offered free garments to ensure those entering the mosque were adequately covered. After removing our shoes, I was given a lovely light blue head scarf (giant piece of cotton cloth) which you can see in the goofy picture below.IMG_2992That said, it was honestly magnificent.IMG_2989No pictures can do it justice – it was just SO, so big. There were 20,000+ handmade iznik tiles covering the walls (appropriately giving the name “Blue Mosque”), over 200 stained glass windows…and yeah. The level of detail was just astounding.IMG_2988

IMG_2991And, as I said, right across the street from Aya Sofya. Pretty crazy, right?IMG_2996(In other news :)) Not surprising, we were pretty excited about the food. Kevin was stoked to try some baklava, but we both found it (surprisingly) tasted like a barn…which doesn’t sound like a great description – it was still quite delicious, but had a very distinct and pungent flavor that neither of us were used to.IMG_1380One night, we cruised around Taxism, which is known as the “Times Square of Turkey”. That description was pretty funny to both of us, although it did have a great energy and a LOT of people shopping and enjoying winter festivities…Down a little alley though, we came across a church that was totally decked out of the holidays. It was my first European church! and I was pretty happy with it 🙂IMG_1390IMG_1391(In other news (again)) The Turks loved their tea (cay). I don’t think I could even come close to counting how many glasses we drank while there…I loved that they came in cute, tiny little glass cups (perfect for hand warming) with miniature spoons and a single sugar cube. Even though I refuse to put sugar in my tea (thanks Mom!), it still added a perfect tone to the tea drinking 🙂IMG_3023One night we met up with Elif, Ezgi’s sister, and her friends in Beyoğlu and had an awesome night.IMG_3029IMG_3032Thankfully, we had a few perfectly spring-like days before the weather turned, and one day we headed to Ortakoy, which was this beautiful sea-side haven. We spent a decent amount of time just enjoying the water and watching endless jellyfish float by. IMG_3053IMG_3061Kevin also got pooped on seconds after this shot.IMG_3047IMG_3072

IMG_3014IMG_3038Turns out, the skyline at sunset was pretty insane.

The other amazing thing about Istanbul was the “Call to Prayer”. Five times a day (based on the position of the sun, etc) all mosques would “call”/sing to the people of Istanbul from loud speakers, welcoming them to their mosque to pray. Given the sheer number of mosques (3,113!!!!) and the fact that Istanbul is conveniently situated on so many waterways, during these times of day – magic happened. These eerie echos would literally masque whatever noise the hustle and bustle of the city might present and your ears would be filled with the rumble of the endless trilling cacophony of the Call to Prayer.IMG_3007

More food: IMG_2955IMG_1373

Turkish coffee (while literally as thick as mud), always came with a tiny glass of water and Turkish Delight. It really made me want to read The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe again…IMG_1413Breakfast of kut borek. Mike gave us a recommendation to go check out this little place near their flat which was owned by the sweetest old man, his wife and son. Even though they spoke no English whatsoever, we had the most wonderful time “talking” with them on a few mornings. One of the highlights of our time in Turkey, for sure.IMG_1454And, just a few days into Istanbul, it was time to get Nick from the Airport!IMG_3085

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Turkey, part 2: Cappadocia coming soon.