Balloon-iversary

June 24th, 2013: We get married in Estes Park, CO

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June 24th, 2014: We eat a delicious French dinner in Fes, Morocco and a few days later celebrate our first wedding anniversary on a tour to the Sahara, where we rode camels and slept in a Bedouin tent in the middle of nowhere.

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June 24th, 2015: I lose my iPhone, Logan ruins an electronic rental car leaving us stranded on a beach in Greece and we get into a huge fight (ahh, marriage). But I haven’t gotten to that lovely story yet. Lucky for us we had already “celebrated” our second wedding anniversary with a magical morning hot air ballooning over Cappadocia.

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We knew that this was high on our priority list if we made it to Turkey and in order to save money for this expensive, but totally worth it, excursion we skipped Valentine’s Day and didn’t get anniversary presents for each other.

 

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There are tons of operators in Goreme running hot air balloon trips and choosing one is an intimidating task, so I didn’t. What I did instead was wait until we got there to ask around and luckily for me I didn’t need to look and further than the front desk at our hotel. Our wonderful host (who had booked us our tour the day before) called around to the places she recommends and got us onto a tour with Turkiye Balloons.

Side note: if you ever go to Cappadocia you really should book ahead. We got really lucky there was any space left.

The shuttle showed up at 3:20 am (joy!) and took us the Turkiye office/building/not sure what to call it, where we and the other 100 or so ballooners that morning ate an uncomfortably early breakfast and sucked down some caffeine. After an hour or so we were instructed to get onto our designated buses (denoted by the color sticker you were given when the van driver picked you up). I don’t know if we paid more or just got lucky, but we ended up in easily the smallest group, with only like 12 other people (compared to other balloons with 20 people).

After a short drive to our launch spot right outside of Goreme we got to watch the balloon get filled with hot air.

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Once the balloon was ready to go we climbed into the basket and the pilot and the balloon helper people got everything in position for take off.

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We were in the air for a little over an hour and it was spectacular. We saw the sunrise.

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Floated through valleys.

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And admired the landscape (and other balloons) that surrounded us.

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Our pilot landed our balloon back onto the truck smoothly and with amazing precision.DSCN7577

Back on the ground we were treated to a glass of champagne and a memento of the experience.

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Hot air ballooning was honestly just as magical as we hoped it would be and we are so lucky and thankful we got to celebrate two years of marriage in such a unique and special way.

Green Line Tour Cappadocia

Normally we do not take tours while we are traveling (unless they are free!) but in Cappadocia it felt like the most time effective way to see as much as possible without having to hike miles and miles in the hot Turkish sun. We decided on the Green line tour (as opposed to the red and blue line tours, all of which you can Google yourselves to find out more about). Why the colored names? I have no idea, but every tour operator in town calls them the same thing and follow basically the same route, so we just went with the one our hotel recommended (they even called and booked it for us!). The tour leaves pretty early in the morning, but it lasted all day, making us feel better about the high price tag.

Tour Day!

Tour Day!

We were picked up by a shiny black mini bus (the nicest one that had driven past our hotel all morning, I may add), and were whisked away from Goreme.

Our first stop was Pigeon Valley, so named due to the rocks with perfect bird sized roosts where pigeons love to live. Despite having a less than inspiring name, the valley was very beautiful and had a great view of Goreme.

Pigeon Valley

Pigeon Valley

Stop number two (and the main reason we chose this tour) was the underground city of Derinkuyu. According to Wikipedia approximately 20,000 people, plus their livestock and food stores, could fit in this multi-leveled city, which is completely underground. Why would 20,000 people willingly live underground alongside goats? Well, during the Byzantine era the caves and tunnels were fully formed to use as a mass scale hiding spot for the Christians of the region who were being persecuted by the Muslim Arabs. The people of this region did not always live underground, just in times when refuge needed to be taken.

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Logan and I both love being underground and this was such a unique subterranean experience. Next time we are in Cappadocia (spoiler alert, we loved it a lot and we want to go back someday) I want to rent a car so that we can do some independent exploration of other underground cities in the area.

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After winding our way through the amazing passageways underneath the rocks it was time to explore Selime Monastery, which was carved into the rocks above ground level.

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Our full morning of touring ended with an okay lunch (provided on the tour) at a super touristy restaurant that clearly catered to organized tours like the one we were on. Now really our scene, but what can you do? (Umm…. Other than chose to explore independently, which we will be doing next time around.)

On the way back to the bus after lunch I ended up having a whole conversation in Spanish with a couple from Argentina about the drug war at the Mexican-American border. That’s right, a whole conversation IN SPANISH! I am not sure why I was so confident in speaking all of the sudden, but it was awesome. I was proud (clearly, since this whole paragraph has literally nothing to do with our tour).

Back to the point, we headed to Ihlara Gorge after lunch for a lovely walk next to a babbling brook at the bottom of cliffs. The gorge looked absolutely nothing like anywhere else we visited in Cappadocia.

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The final stop of the day was an onyx factory for the prearranged shopping stop that all tours make so that they can get visitors to buy souvenirs from places that will pay them commission for anything purchased. We saw a demonstration (sales pitch) and then were taken to a show room full of expensive jewelry. After making a few purchases (kidding, we drank our free tea and went outside to wait) it was time to go back to Goreme for dinner and an early bedtime (in preparation for our adventure the next morning!!).

Why Hello there Cappadocia!

Up until Turkey we were able to avoid overnight trains and buses (almost) completely, which was a very intentional. We are basically old curmudgeons when it comes to sleep, and when our 8 hours gets messed up we are NOT happy campers. I am that neighbor that knocks on your door at 11 pm reminding you that “some people have to work in the morning!”(even if all I am going to do the next day is watch Mad Men). That didn’t always go so well during college, seeing as we attended one of the top party schools in the country…

GO BUFFS!

GO BUFFS!

But sometimes situations arise where not getting enough sleep is the price you pay for awesome experiences, like opening all your wedding presents/cards the night of your wedding after everyone goes home. It was worth it that night and our night bus, both to and from, Goreme was worth some lost sleep as well.

Goreme is one of the most popular towns to stay in while visiting the region of Turkey known as Cappadocia, which is known for its other-worldly geology. It is so insanely beautiful. Our bus pulled in around noon, and despite our less than rested bodies needing a nap, we were raring to get going with our Cappadocia exploration.

Hello Goreme!

Hello Goreme!

Our finances did not allow for us to stay in an actual cave room, but our stone room in the family owned Taskonak Hotel was a great alternative. If we ever go back though, we are springing for a cave room. Google it. It’s super cool. Taskonak Hotel is owned by a super nice Australian woman and her Turkish husband who she met when traveling through Goreme! How cool is that?

Taskonak Hotel

Taskonak Hotel

Our lovely host recommended that we start our time in Goreme with a walk up to the town overlook and then down Love Valley, home of the um… interestingly shaped rock formations, called fairy chimneys. We had quite a bit of fun taking less than appropriate pictures (which I am not going to post, since our parents and grandparents read this).

Fairy Chimmneys

Fairy Chimneys

Valley of Love

Valley of Love

The hike took around two hours and landed us at the Goreme Open Air Museum where visitors can explore stone churches carved into the rocks and catch a glimpse into how the Christians who fled to Cappadocia to escape persecution lived (more about that later).

I don’t seem to have any pictures of the Open Air Museum…

Back in town we ate a completely delicious dinner of chicken with eggplant and manti (Turkish ravioli) at a restaurant called Fat Boys (soooo Turkish sounding, no?) that was owned by the same couple that owned the hotel we were staying at. And then we crashed. At like 9 pm. We feel so old sometimes…

Yummy Turkish Raviolli

Yummy Turkish Raviolli

To Asia and Back in a Couple Hours

Backpacker confession… we have never been to South East Asia. Most of you reading at this point probably don’t know how blasphemous that statement is, but trust me, in the backpacker world not having been to Asia (specifically South East Asia) is like a San Diegan who has never been to the beach. While we still have not been to the backpacker motherland of South East Asia, we did make it to the continent of Asia while we were in Turkey, with our first few hours on our newest continent occurring as a day trip from the European side of Istanbul, where most visitors spend the entirety of their stay.

The Asian side of Istanbul is only a short ferry ride across the Bosporus and we had been told it has a very different feel to it. More local, less touristy. Sounded great. Well… I mean I guess technically it felt a little more local since there were far less tourists wandering around, but if you walk a few blocks from the main tourist streets in any city it will always feel a lot more local. But basically it had the same crowded, bustling, kinda dirty city feel as the European side.

Goodbye Europe!

Goodbye Europe!

Maybe we were expecting too much, but we had read and heard about it being like transported to a totally different city, one that is like magic and off the beaten path and different and blah blah blah. It wasn’t horrible or anything, but we got the same feeling as we had walking through the local neighborhood we were staying in, so the “something special” factor just wasn’t there for us.

I have no other pictures of the Asian side. I wasn’t even inspired enough to take out my camera.

Feeling completely uninspired by our day trip, we scrapped the rest of our plans for our Asian adventure (which wasn’t hard since “walking around the Asian side of Istanbul” basically summed them up) and headed back to the European side to finish our short stay as the guidebooks had intended, filled with Turkish merchants overcharging white cruise ship day trippers for trinkets that would end up at the bottom of their grandchildren’s junk drawer. To the bazaar we went!

Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar

Knowing that we would be coming back to Istanbul to do some shopping at the end of the trip, our walk through the Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar was really more of a reconnaissance mission for future purchases, although we did buy enough dried fruit to last us a few bus rides.

Since we had cut our Asia-day extremely short, we had some time after our grand non-shopping adventure to take a sweaty and miserable walk up an intimidatingly large hill (strangely lined with stores that only sold pots and pans and kitchen appliances) to the Suliemanye Mosque. We arrived just in time for the call to prayer (when the mosques are closed to non-Muslims), but our timing ended up being a blessing in disguise since it gave us a chance to observe all the different people showing up to pray.

Suliemanye Mosque

Suliemanye Mosque

Walking around Istanbul it is not easy to forget that you are in a Muslim country. Many women are fully covered, the call to prayer sounds loudly throughout the city and mosques are everywhere you look. But despite a prevalence of long pants on men and headscarves and ankle length skirts on women, there are many, many Turkish Muslims dressing a lot less conservatively, especially in Istanbul.

When walking through the younger, hipper neighborhoods (like the one near the University) it is impossible to distinguish who is a practicing Muslim and who is not based on their clothing. Beyond that, it is often difficult to distinguish young tourists from young Turkish locals based on the length of their skirts alone. Istanbul is still far more conservative than say, Los Angeles, and you will not see booty shorts and low cut tops on very many Turkish women, but jeans, summer dresses and sleeveless tops are not uncommon. Dressing well seemed to be very important in Turkey and there are tons of extremely attractive Turkish men and women who would fit in just fine in any fashion capital in the world.

Nowhere was the wide disparity in conservatism more obvious than at the entrance of the mosque, where women in heels and pencil skirts came to pray alongside their fully covered female co-workers. I loved seeing the modern, professional women putting on the long skirts and head scarves provided by the mosque that I assumed were available because of non-Muslim tourists. It had never occurred to me that the beautiful women on the metro wearing that cute summer dress would be kneeing in prayer later in the day. How narrow-minded is that?

When the prayer ended we were allowed to enter the mosque. Shoes come off, knees and shoulders (and heads if you are a woman) need to be covered and a respectful silence is expected. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that these beautiful buildings are not there for us as tourists to snap a few pictures and leave, they are places where people find their peace and solace and they need to be respected.

Fitting in at the  Suliemanye Mosque

Fitting in at the Suliemanye Mosque

With our final bit of sightseeing/ culture soaking finished we headed back to our Airbnb to grab our bags and eat a delicious kebab dinner on Istiklal street before making our way to the gargantuan Istanbul bus station to catch our overnight bus headed for the destination we were possibly most looking forward to… Cappadocia!!

I May Not Love Istanbul (Yet), but I LOVE Topkapi and Kumpir!

After a full first day of falling in “like” with Istanbul, we set out on day two, in search of some city-love.

Hoping to beat the forecasted insufferable heat and the even more stifling crowds, we made a point of waking up fairly early and hightailing it (via the metro) to the Grand Bazaar to do a bit of shopping (well, looking more than shopping, to scope out of the copious amounts of crap I was planning to buy later in the trip). Unfortunately for us (and anyone else who assumed the market is open every day), you cannot visit the Grand Bazaar on Sundays. So picking up from where we stopped caring the day before, Topkapi Palace became the goal for the morning.

We had read and heard very mixed reviews on the Topkapi Palace, but I honestly don’t know what those crazy haters are talking about. IT IS BEAUTIFUL. And interesting. And, unfortunately, very crowded. Logan and I generally have SHORT attention spans when it comes to the visiting and exploring of churches, art museums, historic homes, basically any place which you are supposed to stand in awe of anything located inside of a building. But we lasted 3 HOURS at Topkapi Palace, and I almost think we would have stayed even longer had it not been for the mind-melting heat and pushy crowds.

I LOVE geometric patterns!

I LOVE geometric patterns!

I mean, look at this place!!!

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Nuff said.

Plus there is a lily pond.

Plus there is a lily pond.

While inside, stop and stare type of activities are not typically our cup of tea (cups of tea are, incidentally, my cup tea…haha?), laying/sitting in a park/garden reading/relaxing is one of our absolute favorite pastimes and right outside the walls of the palace is an amazing, shady, slightly trippy outdoor space where we were able to get our read on.

The park, like everywhere else in Istanbul, is extremely crowded, but the energy is different and after a full morning of doing the tourist thing we were happy to take a reading break in the shady, almost comfortably cool-ish grass.

We spent a few hours in our city oasis surrounded by young couples sit on park benches canoodling (Muslim appropriate canoodling of course), teenage boys taking “look at how sexy I look against this tree” selfies, and joyful children running around playing with local and tourist friends alike. It was marvelous.

But, since we are alive, we eventually got hungry, so back into the crowds we went in search of food, settling on kumpir, which is basically a baked potato on crack. When describing kumpir I must first make very clear that the potatoes used to created this magical twist on a down-home classic are GIGANTIC. Like a big as a small human head. Okay not really, but they are HUGE.

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Preparation of the Kumpir

  1. Make a baked potato.
  2. Take insides out of baked potato and mix them thoroughly with enough cheese and butter to give you a heart attack.
  3. Put buttery, creamy mixture back into the potato and fill with toppings such as sliced hot dog, relish, mayonnaise, corn, olives, sour cream, meat stuff. Ketchup is not optional.

I’m not really into potatoes and at home baked potatoes rarely make an appearance on our dinner/coffee table. In fact, in five years of living together I am not sure we have ever had baked potatoes. But I gotta confess, I LOVED kumpir. A lot.

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But did I love Istanbul? I still wasn’t so sure so with only one day left (for now) we wanted to explore a different side to the city. So on our third and final day we decided to take a day trip to Asia. Haha… a different side… went to another continent… no one has ever made that joke before…

Beautiful Istanbul?

It turns out that Logan and I are really not city people. The noise, the smells, the crowds, not really for us. We much prefer to travel to places with lots of fresh air, very few people and space to lie around reading. Generally we now plan our trips “city-lite”, preferring to cram all the sightseeing into a few busy days so that we can get the heck out of dodge (or Rome or Prague). There are, however, exceptions to our anti-city attitudes. Paris, Budapest, Edinburgh, Vienna, we love them all. The culture, the food, the energy. All that stuff can make up for any middle-of-the-night screaming or the ever-present smell of garbage and urine.

Beautiful? Hmm.....

Beautiful? Hmm…..

So how did we feel about Istanbul? Did the delicious food and wonderful sights make up for the throngs of people and dangerous taxi drivers constantly threating life and limb? Does it have enough culture and energy to make up for constantly having to question if you stepping in water or pee? In short, mostly. Istanbul is big and loud and smelly and full of cats and shops and people. And it is pretty wonderful.

Beautiful.

Beautiful.

After a seven-hour bus ride across the Bulgarian border and through the insane Istanbul traffic we successfully figured out the metro system and found our Airbnb in the Beyoglu neighborhood. This proved to be a great home base from which to explore the city. It was much cheaper staying in the Old City and much less touristy, while still being close to the main sights and lots of great restaurants on Istiklal Street.

Our bus "conductor".

Our bus “conductor”.

Our first food stop on our first day of sightseeing was the famous fish bread boats along the Bosporus. These perfect sandwiches consist of bread and fish (grilled mackerel) and onions and are greasy and delicious.

Nom nom nom.

Nom nom nom.

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After stuffing our faces full of fish bread (the official name by the way) we lugged our full butts up the hill to the main sights of the Sultanahment neighborhood. Our first stop was the line to get into the Basilica Cistern, the very one in which the climax of the Dan Brown novel Inferno takes place. Being underground in the eerily lit cistern was very otherworldly and strange. I loved it. The only downside was other tourists constantly jostling you to get the best picture (but isn’t that always the main downside at major sights?).

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Basilica Cistern

Next we headed to the line to get into Aya Sofia, located right across the road from the cistern. Aya Sofia was a Christian church, then it became Muslim mosque, and now it is a tourist museum. Because of that there are both Christians portraits and Muslim symbols, all of which are beautiful and sparkly and golden.

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Aya Sofia

Just a short stroll across a beautiful square filled with flowers and a bubbling fountain is the equally famous Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque is a working mosque, meaning visitors need to be mindful of their clothing and need to plan their visit around the call to prayer, during which non-Muslim visitors are not allowed. We hopped in the longest line of the day and prepared ourselves by removing our shoes and covering our knees and shoulders (and my head).

There's the Blue Mosque!

There’s the Blue Mosque!

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

With all this sightseeing and line waiting we had somehow not noticed how hot and humid the day had become. The original plan was to visit the Topkapi Palace, but we felt tired and cranky and sick of pushing our way through crowds so we cut our day a little short and headed back to our room for reading and relaxing (and air conditioning!) before feasting on kebab and fresh cherries while taking a nighttime stroll down Istikal Street.

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Nothing quite like a relaxing post dinner stroll.

It’s always a good idea to end a chaotic day in crowd filled streets with a calm stroll down even more crowded streets.

Welcome to Istanbul!

Yes We are Still Alive

Hello avid readers!! Most of you have noticed (and in turn asked us in person) about the lack of writing since our return from Turkey. I left you on a cliffhanger with Logan’s arrival and then never wrote a single post about what the two of us actually did during our month abroad. Well fret no more! After hearing feedback from 5 or 6 of you (which is probably 50-60% of our followers) I am finally sucking it up and getting back work.

Our absence (okay, my absence, Logan doesn’t do any of the writing) mostly stems from laziness. Plain and simple. The month of July was basically a Gilmore Girls watching lounge-fest for me, with a few road trips (in which, to be fair to me, I DID see a lot of you who are sticking with us) thrown in there.

For the last two weeks, however, I have been working hard on something new. I am not ready to announce to the interwebs what it is, but I think it is going to be great and when I am ready to share I think you’ll understand why this blog has slipped down low on my priority list.

And now back your you irregular scheduled programming.