The Azan

Click on the link below to see a video I shot from our rooftop Wednesday at 4:45 p.m. It is completely representative of the sights and sounds that fill our days, including the dog howling along with the meuzzin as he sings.

(incidentally, the two-year ban on You Tube in Turkey was lifted a couple of weeks ago, thus allowing us to host videos there.  Woo-hoo!)

Call to Prayer from Rooftop

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Cold Comfort

With cold weather setting in, Paco’s getting good behind an axe.

You see, central heating wasn’t on the minds of the Greek family that built our house in roughly 1600. And in the centuries since then, the sporadic inhabitants of the house, those who have lived in the house during winter, have been content to use the widespread heating method called “burning coal.”

I know. It hurts our educated middle-class American hearts, too. But with the way the house and culture are constructed, it’s the option at hand. For Allegra’s room, which can’t support a coal-burning stove, we’ve bought an electric radiator. But for the other two rooms of the house where sleep happens, we’ve gone full-on Turkish and set up sobas (little stoves that do an impressive job of heating rooms). The rest of the house–kitchen, bathrooms, hallways–will remain unheated and, we hope, tolerable by poaching warmth from the heated rooms.

Since coal prices escalate in the cold months, we were well advised to buy our coal and kindling early. Thus, a couple of months ago, we had two tons of coal delivered, along with a heap of kindling. As well, we’ve been stashing all used papers and cardboard, to further help with the lighting. We may have gone Turkish in our willingness to heat with coal, but we draw the line at igniting the stuff the way Turks do: they put the coal to be burned into a plastic bag and set the whole thing on fire–because ain’t nuthin’ burns as quickly and hotly as a good old plastic bag, assuring the coal lights easily every time.

As with most of our household projects outside of baking cookies and communicating with the external world, the role of Hero fell to Byron. There was a usable soba in our bedroom already, but the antique one in Paco’s room proved decorative more than functional. One Saturday, then, we headed to the outdoor market in the neighboring town of Ürgüp and bought a soba from a crew of nice fellows who, when we told them we couldn’t envision wrangling the thing onto the dolmus to get it home, were kind enough to drop it off at our house a few hours later. The next step was to get soba pipes from our landlord. He handed Byron a bag of assorted, used pipes which ended up satisfying half our piping needs. A few trips to the hardware store later, and Byron had a veritable pipe organ laid out in the courtyard, along with having scored a pipe cleaner (a tool at which Paco took one glance and knew he’d found a lifelong friend).

The pipe cleaner, when in use, provided kind of a nails-on-a-chalkboard sound which, perhaps not unsurprisingly, I still prefer to the ancient muezzins who shuffle in casually to the mosque next door, tap the microphone a few times, cough loudly, pant for a minute, and begin their off-key “Allahu Akbar” before their cell phones ring and are hastily silenced, all while they sing the Call to Prayer at sunrise.  (Don’t get me wrong:  when the azan is sung well, it’s a thing of beauty, but there are several warbling characters locally who are cringe inducing)

A couple of days were devoted to scouring out the used pipes and eyeballing the jigsaw of lengths and angles. Mixed in to the cleaning and eyeballing were trips to the roof to examine the chimney and ponder how to snake pipes down a thing so narrow that I’d be hard pressed to work a bendy straw down its chute.

At some point during his upping and downing to the roof, our Mightily Friendly Neighbor Hassan took an interest in Byron’s project, going so far as to climb up and extract a hard-fought pipe out of the chimney and reinsert it upside down. Sighing beleagueredly, not exactly in the mood to tolerate unrequested help, Byron drew upon the part of his Norwegian heritage that excels at keeping its mouth shut and hunkering down despite distraction.

Fortunately, even though Byron couldn’t understand Hassan’s Turkish explanations about soba installation, it was ultimately good that Hassan insisted on helping. While some Turkish men establish reputations as Soba Whisperers, and Hassan didn’t qualify for membership in that exclusive club, he did at least have a lifetime of working with and living around sobas, which made him eminently more qualified than an anthropology major accustomed to radiator-delivered heat. In short order, Hassan was inside our house, poo-pooing Byron’s efforts to safely ventilate the smoke up through the chimney. In the Turkish equivalent of “fagedda-bout-it,” Hassan directed the pipes directly to the soba hole above the fireplace. Together, with a few pips, wheets, and snortles, Hassan and Byron assembled the pipes into a fitting length and, in the course of a half hour, got the stove ready for action.

(I like to think Paco’s wandering around in footie jammies served as moral support)

Naturally, all the best uninvited assistance is best capped off with an offer of tea and cake, but do not presume that Byron ever once indicated to Hassan that we had another room, another soba that still wanted piping. Oh no. He was about doing it himself, with the occasional aid of his willing but easily befuddled wife.  As it turns out, I may be spatially challenged, but I’m well able to stand on a chair, put my arms above my head and hold a pipe–an ability that convinces me I just might have Circus People in my lineage.

(The soba in Haakon’s room, which we bought at the outdoor market in Urgup; I assume you can understand how overjoyed we were not to drag it home on the bus)

Once both sobas were installed for the season (they are generally taken down during the warm months–although I have to say I’d be a fan of leaving them in place year ’round, simply because I believe in the concept of Effort Once Expended Is Plenty), it was time to, er, fire ‘em up.

Here’s the thing:  not only am I lame spatially (but, to give me some just due, I never leave a participle dangling), I’m also a bit afeared of fire, particularly of lighting gas…long story, but it involves an oven in Colorado, an attempt at baking bread, and the loss of all my eyelashes.  As a result, I’m complete dead weight when it comes to wielding the small propane tank that is used to start the kindling and coal on fire.

I like to think my many failings are merely opportunities for Byron to shine, so shut up already.

Anyhow, for the first lighting, I had the camera at the ready, wanting to capture the flames–

…little anticipating that the tube piping the gas from the tank to the coal would “burp,” startle our usually-unflappable hero, and cause him to drop the entire lit tank of propane. In under a second, a line of fire several feet long was running along the edge of our landlord’s expensive Turkish carpet, and both of us were struck with the realization that stone houses can burn down. As Byron tried to recapture the flailing hose of gas that whipped around the floor, I started yelling Naughty Words and looking frantically around the room for a blanket. As luck would have it, I had stripped the bedding just that day. Grabbing a pillow to whack at the flames, I looked over at Byron and saw that his ability to White Boy Dance was coming in handy as he awkwardly stomped out the line of flames.

The aftermath consisted of a few minutes of us standing, panting like aged muezzins at the microphone, feeling a bit stunned, noting that the damage had been minimal, and thinking that perhaps we could soldier our way through the winter with nothing more than wool socks and bulky sweaters.

Better sense, and two weeks out of the house, balanced our thinking, though. Now, each day when the sun sets, and cold seeps in through the cracks, Hero Byron loads the sobas with a bucket of coal, tops them with some kindling, and bravely lights the propane tank.  While my adrenaline spikes at the very sound of the thing, he matter-of-factly applies himself to ignition…

with a bucket of water at his feet.

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London, Big Time

 What is it about miniatures? Despite their diminutive size, things like tiny furniture, china, chocolate bars, and Heidi Montag’s brain all receive fairly major attention.

 With miniatures, as with Heidi’s brain, the hitch seems to be the incongruity of It’s All Just As It Should Be, Only Queerly Smaller and So I Can’t Look Away.

 Such was the case for us this past weekend at Windsor Legoland, located a bit outside London. A few years ago, our family, along with my mom, visited the Legoland near San Diego, and it was a tremendous day for every one of us. Thus, as we looked around at possible trips when planning our first exit from Turkey (so as to re-enter and renew our 90 day visas), the idea of a Paris/London jaunt held the added appeal of a couple of days at a Legoland. Since our time in Turkey has been almost exclusively adult-oriented, and since it would have cost 800 lira more for us to take a trip to, say, Greece, the decision was an easy one. We’d fly to Paris for the cheap airfare and then Chunnel across to England to see some more sights and take the kids to a much-craved amusement park.

 As regular readers know, Paris was enchanting, and, of late, London and Windsor have grown on us. To tell you true, I was slow to warm to London this time round. On past journeys, I’ve loved England easily, widely, delighting in its feeling of “different from the U.S.” However, because of the backwards approach we took to the country this time, coming from East to West, I ended up feeling the place was too much like home, too uncultured, too blah. That we were drenched by heavy rain, left standing in the dark by non-working buses, and housed on the fifth floor of our budget hotel (79 steps up with bag after bag of luggage) didn’t promote our delight. Fortunately, once we came out the other side, somewhat shellshocked, from that nasty first day, everything shaped up, and we emerged from the Windsor train station a day later to a wonderland of charm and sunshine (however short lived).

 Windsor, of course, meant Legoland: zippy rides, primary-colored themes, peppy staff, over-the-moon children, wizard fireworks…and, my favorite, Miniland—a huge swath of ground covered with Real World Rendered Small.

 When you look at the photos of the cool structures in the slide show below, you’ll see why I keep telling Byron he needs to launch a career as a Lego Master Builder. To be able to take squares and rectangles and shape them into such complexities is mind blowing. Left in possession of a heap of plastic rectangles, the most I’d be able to turn out is something roughly lunch boxian. Making anything more strikes me as genuine craftsmanship.

 Surrounded by such creativity, we had a happy two days in the Land of Miniatures, returning afterwards to London, our attitudes much improved, ready to take on the science museum, the London Eye, and the changing of the guard. Even better, along the way, we managed to stumble across a couple of killer good curries—something I never need in small amounts. When it comes to curry, fly me to Maxiland already.

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The Women–With the Exception of Your Humble Author–Truly Are Chic, and the Fact That Nearly Every One of Them Was Wearing Knee-High Black Boots Almost Blotted Out the Fact That We Couldn’t Find Internet Access Fer Nuthin’

All apologies to the complex and fascinating country of Turkey,

but when we got off the plane in Paris, it was like the start of five days of shore leave. We were giddy. Suddenly, it felt like we’d been shipped away from a barren outpost and dropped into a city of twinkling lights, crusty bread, layered pastries, stacks of books, straight streets, even walkways, sophisticated fashion, neon-leafed trees–a place with a sense of plan, organization, elegance.

*Exhales sigh of heady romance*

Our first afternoon in Paris, we figured out the train system enough to get to our hotel; because the city is prohibitively expensive, especially for a family of four on one partial income, we had put in hours trying to find the cheapest option. Eventually, we happened upon the chain of “Hipotels,” specifically the one near Joinville le Pont, which, fortuitously, turned out to be a charming section of the city much like the Linden Hills area in Minneapolis. After checking in and appreciating firsthand the spare reality of “basic accommodation” (ah, but towels were provided, in contrast to our recent Istanbul hotel), we headed out for a meander around the Joinville area. First we passed the green grocer (Endive!); next the cheese shop (A mind-boggling palette of fromage!); then the first boulanger (Pain au chocolat!); followed by the second, third, fourth boulanger (Macarons! Baguette! Tartelette!); then the hair salons (Should one desire une coiffure tres jolie!)…and on and on until the grocery store (Crackers! Applesauce! SALTED BUTTER!).

Mon Dieu. What’s more, the wine cost under 5 Euros a bottle.

Between the chocolate and the booze, it’s like they invented the place just for me.

The interesting part is that I’ve been to France a couple of times before, and it left me shrugging with a noncommital, “Eh. It was okay.” I had been put off by getting terribly lost the first visit and then being treated snootily the second time. This time, though? I was smitten.

Thank you, Turkey, for the perspective that allowed me to leap around gaily, doing high kicks all the way from L’Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concord.

As we rode the on-and-off double decker bus the first couple of days, and as we used our five-day Metro passes to get around, and as I felt like dancing a la Gene Kelly in ANCHORS AWAY, I thought about how easy this year would have been if we had chosen—if we could have afforded—to live in a country like France. I’m glad we didn’t and couldn’t. While Turkey is a relatively Western and familiar-feeling culture, compared to, say, Iran, it still stretches us. When we are in Turkey, I feel disconnected from everything that makes me feel easy inside: in our daily lives, we aren’t surrounded by people who read books, who drink espresso, who have a vigorous Life of the Mind, who sit–genders intermixed—and converse for hours over intricate food. In Turkey, men get up, leave the house, and don’t come home until they feel like it, often after 10 p.m. In Turkey, men love children but spend little time with their own. In Turkey, our village’s main street and square are completely the domain of men who drink tea and gossip all day (this is them at “work”). We never see an entire family together, enjoying each other’s company.  In most of Turkey, no one goes out for a run. In rural Turkey, life for the women is about scraping and roasting seeds out of squash, about putting up tomato paste, about making pekmez, about doing handiwork. In short, in Turkey, we can never fully relax because we are outside observers and queer objections of observation ourselves.

I’m deeply grateful for this. I’m hugely glad we landed in a place that is further down the “foreign” continuum than, say, France. In France, we would be more comfortable, plunked into a place that makes easy sense. However, simply moving from one leisure culture to another would have yielded lighter rewards than a year in a place that feels less natural.

Thus, these last few days, as we’ve gasped from the top of the Eiffel Tower, oohed at the gilt of Versailles, moaned with pleasure at every bite of ham, marveled at the array of talent on display at Monmarte, ahhhed at the Mona Lisa, and gone goggle-eyed with people watching on the trains,

I’ve not only thanked Turkey for making me ripe for shore leave in France.

I’ve also thanked France for renewing my gratitude toward Turkey.

Except for the part about there only being unsalted butter in Turkey. That’s always gonna suck.

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Recess and Field Trips

Because I was a towering giant of a girl, one of my favorite things to do during recess during elementary school was play tetherball.

We don’t have that here–yet I don’t feel the kids are missing out.  Here are some photos from yesterday’s recess:

Tomorrow, we launch ourselves into a multi-day field trip, not to the firehouse or the zoo,

but, rather,

it will be a field trip that starts with a cab ride to Goreme, where we’ll have coffee with a German anthropologist,

after which we’ll get on the overnight bus (11 hours) to Istanbul,

followed by a day of wandering around the city on its national Republic Day–we’re hoping the mosaic museum will be open…and the Starbucks…anything to keep us moving and awake until we can check into our hostel mid-afternoon and collapse;

the day after that, we fly to Paris (it’s time to exit the country so as to renew our 90-day visas), where we’ll spend five days and nights touring the sights and telling the kids, “If you see the Mona Lisa in person, that definitely qualifies as art class,”

and then we’ll take The Chunnel to London and spend a day looking at wax figures and watching the changing of the guard,

before we head out of the city for several days at Windsor Legoland,

closing that off with another day of sights in London proper and a return trip on The Chunnel,

which will allow for a last day of croissant eating

before we climb on a plane and jet back to Istanbul,

where we’ll sleep, relax, and ready ourselves to board a plane back to Cappadocia the next day.

I don’t think we’ll be strapped for journal prompts in Language Arts class…

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One thing I’m finding valuable about this year is that it’s taking us back to a base line in regards to things we take for granted.  For instance, I would pay significant money right now for mac ‘n cheese, molasses, vanilla extract, Triscuits, and espresso.  What’s more, I really miss clean, free public bathrooms, along with having a car.  It would feel like a bonus birthday to have a gym and central heating within easy reach.

And that’s what I’m appreciating:  what I miss.  In truth, I feel really fortunate to be able to miss things, as that process highlights how felicitous our “landed” lives are. 

More than anything, we’ve been missing the easy feeling of established friends and family, of knowing that we have Our People–running along a continuum from acquaintance to parent–behind us, next to us, with us.  When you have Your People, you live in context.  You define yourself by who and where they are.

In a year extracted from Our People, we have the challenge of figuring out what a place is without those touchstones.  More compellingly, we are being reminded of how new touchstones heave forth; we haven’t been born into relationships in Turkey, nor do we gain them by living in the same neighborhood or attending the same school.  Rather, we’re figuring out who we are in Turkey step by step, and that’s the revelation.

So far, we’ve meandered along this path:  we came to Turkey because Byron’s dad worked for the father of a woman named Christina, and she was here and welcomed us.  Then we got here.  Christina knows people.  Of her people, one jumped out as a good match:  a woman named Elaine, who has a Turkish husband and two kids.  Now Christina feels her relationship with Turkey has reached its conclusion, and she is about to leave.  Subsequently, we’ve worried we’ll be left with only Elaine as in-country support and that we’d have the poor, beleagured woman on the phone every ten minutes with our questions.  But then we met our expat neighbors, and they had parties and invited us.  We went.  Knowing that our mental health could hinge on creating a greater web of connections, we chatted with people who seemed twelve steps removed from what we’d normally be drawn to.  We had them over for pasta.  They will have us over for barbeque.

In the meantime, as we cast out feelers in a myriad of directions, Christina and Elaine continue to yield contacts, and suddenly, breathlessly, at the end of this week,

we have gone from a point of “when we were born, we knew no one; when we came to Turkey, the same was true” to “one person trips to another, which expands to a circle, which slowly starts turning.”

All of which is to say:  we had a Halloween party, and, outside of Christina and Elaine, we invited strangers, and some of them came

and brought their children

and now my cell phone contacts list has grown past two entries,

the process of which makes me contemplate how the weave of relationships back home

built itself one thread at a time over the course of a lifetime.

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Kurds and Why

The first step is admitting I have a problem, right?

That I can do.

Unfortunately, I’m still unwilling to explore any of the steps beyond that.

Because I still quite like my addiction–

to textiles.

I don’t need knicknacks; I don’t need fridge magnets; I don’t need explanatory guidebooks.  What really warps my weft are things woven, embroidered, sewn, tatted.

Turkey is proving a delightful enabler.  Here are some ways it’s fed my problem:

This orange shawl currently covers some ugly wood down in our guest room (“The Courtyard Suite”) and, as does every bit of fabric or square of rug, helps to absorb the dust that is constantly being shed from the stone walls.

In the neighboring town of Ürgüp, there is a shop dedicated to the Ottoman art of Ebru painting, but it also contains shelves of scarves and tablecloths. I bought this cashmere shawl there; because it’s made of fairy wings and ground unicorn horn, its beauty doesn’t translate well into photography.

When we visited Istanbul, we spent some time in the Grand Bazaar. Just as we were exciting the massive conglomeration of stalls, I spotted this brightly-colored tablecloth and found myself drawn out of the flow of foot traffic. 

The pattern is traditional Anatolian.

The rustic feel of this tablecloth appealed to both Byron and me–although we have trouble imagining using it when we’re having spaghetti and meatballs with red sauce.

The pattern is hand-stamped with Hittite symbols.

This purchase is a shout-out to my mother, she who took a 2+ month cruise to Australia, stopping at islands all along the way…and then brought back gifts made in China. In the case of this mirrored wall hanging, I came to Turkey to buy stuff from India.

After buying this pillow cover, I sewed loops on the back so that it could be hung on the wall. Who wants to lean against something so pretty? I want to make staring eyes at it.

Another shout out to Mom’s training here: I went to Ankara and bought this purse made in Nepal. In my defense, it is made out of hemp, sewn with silk thread, and has cute little felted circley things on it.

Speaking of felted things, this little change purse has proven invaluable in helping me keep track of my lira and kurus.

Here’s another Grand Bazaar purchase–a wool shawl that makes me long for the cold to set in, just so I can cuddle up in it. Even more warming will be the memory of haggling down the initial asking price by 25 lira.


For me, this purchase is the crowning glory of the whole bunch: it’s Kurdish folk art, and it’s only for sale in one shop in Göreme (in contrast to most of the things for sale here which are seen everywhere, the same items in shop after shop). While I generally am not a fan of gaudy, something about the crazy quilt nature of this piece really appeals to me.

Because of all the spangles, beads, sequins, and glitz, it weighs maybe 8 pounds.

Who knew the lasting legacy of this year in Turkey would be a desire to bedazzle my walls?

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How to Make the Muscles in One Leg Significantly Larger Than the Other

As mentioned in an earlier post, we found a pottery teacher for the kids in the neighboring town of Avanos, a place known for the red clay that comes out of the Kizilirmak river. The teacher is named Ertas; he started at the wheel when he was about seven and now continues to run what was his father’s studio. In addition, he’s a high school history teacher and a driver’s license examiner. Pretty much, he’s a one-stop shop, this guy.

Having a lesson each week is not only good for the kids, in terms of learning a new skill, but it’s beneficial for all of us to have a commitment outside of the house each week and to feel like we’re availing ourselves of an activity for which this region is renowned. A bonus during each lesson is the conversation with Ertas, as he has more English than most Cappadocian Turks and is–how to put this non-judgementally?–more of an academic thinker than most Cappadocian Turks. Put another way: he reads, and, therefore, he has a depth and breadth of facts and critical thinking that aren’t present in those whose daily lives are built around sitting on the street and drinking tea twelve hours a day. Their habits stem, er, more from the oral tradition.

At any rate, we’re delighted Haakon and Allegra have this chance to learn from a man who is very aware of the larger context of individual human experience. Plus, he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty.

Here are a couple of videos of the kids at the wheel:

Paco Pottery from Jocelyn Blog on Vimeo.

Girl at Wheel from Jocelyn Blog on Vimeo.

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The Fifth Dimension Said It First

 A few years back, Barack Obama entered many people’s lives and gave them a renewed sense of hope and “Yes, we can”-ishness.

For me, this week, a taxi driver named Kadir was our Turkish Obama.

The backstory is that, although we generally use mini-buses for transport around Cappadocia, we do occasionally rely on taxis to get from the village of Goreme to our home village of Ortahisar.  The mini-buses stop running fairly early in the day, so any time we’ve been in Goreme hanging with friends or eating at preferred restaurants in the evening, we have to take a cab home.

Our favorite driver is named Kadir–he’s pals with our friend Christina, never overcharges, always plays dance music instead of the wailing Turkish stuff on the radio, and has enough English (thanks to working on a hot air ballooning crew and picking it up from the tourists) that we don’t have to sit in silence the entire drive back to the village.  Simply put, we like us some Kadir, even though we don’t see him all that often.

It came as a surprise last week, then, when I set out for a sunset run up the hill from our village and suddenly ran into him.  He and his fellow balloon crew were standing on an overlook, eating potato bread, watching one of their company’s pilots fulfill the request of a “special client.”  What this client wanted was to be landed on the terrace of his house, in the balloon basket, as the sun went down. 

Amazed that such a feat is even possible, I stood with Kadir and his fellows, watching the landing.  As we stood, Kadir asked if I’d done a balloon flight since being in Cappadocia.  I told him no, that I’d love to, but the cost (a little over $200 per person for a low-end flight and upwards of $325 for a deluxe flight) was too high for our income.

“You can come for free with us.  I am working very hard for the next six days, but then I will be taking up some pilots with new licenses.  They need the hours in the air.  You give me your phone number, and I will call you when they go up.  We will need extra kilograms in the basket,” Kadir told me, in an unexpected moment of Yes, You Can.

Jumping around and clapping wildly, which is one of my lesser-known talents, I asked if they would need even more kilograms, in the form of a ten-year-old girl who lives with me and who really, really has been wanting to go on a flight. 

“Sure.  Two people.  I call you next week.”

My run that evening was particularly joyous, and Allegra was completely excited when I got home and told her about the conversation. When she wondered why he would extend such an offer, I could only posit, “Well, every time I get in his taxi, I ask about his kids and compliment him on his taste in Britney Spears tunes; maybe that’s all it takes.”

Maybe five days later, Kadir called and told us to be at the balloon company’s office the next morning at 6 a.m.  When we got there, we were given tea and cookies, stuffed into the enclosed trailer part of the truck pulling the basket and balloon (which made us feel like we were attempting to enter a new country illegally), and stuck in the company of two Japanese tourists who seem to have “made a connection” with one of the pilots working for the company.  Standing in a clearing at sunrise, watching the crew assemble and inflate the balloon was treat enough.

Two hours up in the balloon–with only six passengers and the two pilots instead of the usual twenty-four passengers for an hour–moved the experience from “treat” to “Obama.”  Yes, we could.  Yes, we did.

Cappadocia is one of the world’s top ten ballooning areas; I hope the photos in the slide show below help explain why.

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Second Grade Tour Guide

A few weeks ago, we experienced the Black Sea area of Turkey when we took the bus from Istanbul to the town of Amasra. While there, we flew rocks into the sea, walked over an old Roman bridge, and ate fish (well, some of us not born and raised in landlocked cattle country did, anyhow).  Other highlights of our days there were Haakon’s mini-movies, one of which can be viewed by clinking on the link below:

Paco Minaret from Jocelyn Pihlaja on Vimeo.

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