What a strange few months!

It’s been a long time since I posted on here – just as I was getting into the swing of blogging again and writing all about our trip to Istanbul at the beginning of the year, corona virus arrived, changed all our moods and took over our lives! It just didn’t feel right, writing on here about all the things we did in Istanbul and sharing my photos of the busy city streets from January because they made me sad, it felt like a million years ago, not two months!

Like everyone else in the country, we spent nearly 3 months in complete lockdown – instead of doing the commute for 2 hours a day, I began working from home and the longest commute I made was from the bedroom to my living room. Berkay was furloughed, and going a little more insane with each day that passed. Other than when he was in the army, this was the longest period he’d not been working since he was about 14 years old. I adapted easily to the ‘stay-at-home’ life, but Berkay really struggled. Knowing that Turkey had banned all flights from the UK really affected him, he felt trapped here and just wanted to get back there.

We had a trip planned in April. We were going to fly out the day before and then check into Jiva on my birthday for nearly two weeks. My family were going to fly out as a surprise, they had organised it all with Berkay and I had no idea. I’ve spent years conniving my dad to give Jiva a go, despite him not liking the idea of all-inclusive at all, and when he had finally decided to go, nobody was allowed to leave the country! It was a big disappointment. We also had our 4th wedding anniversary in April too.

In the middle of June, Berkay heard there was a repatriation flight to Izmir and he decided to book his seat. At the time there were still no normal flights, so it was a big risk and we weren’t sure when he’d be able to get back home to England – though I’m not sure he particularly cared! Luckily, the day he flew, somewhat-normal flights resumed from London to Istanbul, and with internal flights back in service in Turkey, he was able to book one back home for the beginning of July.  Whilst he was in Turkey he spent time with his family in Beyagac (whilst following all the corona and mask-wearing rules!), saw Boncuk dog, visited Calis & Fethiye, and he even bought an apartment in Denizli. He plans for it to just be an investment for us, and hopes to rent it out until he can sell it. Here are some photos he took on his travels:

When Berkay came back to London, he had to do the two weeks of quarantine, this time he wasn’t even allowed out of the house for a walk, so that was a struggle too! As soon as his two weeks were up, he was back at work, so now he’s back to his usual commute and daily routine – keeping him busy.  A couple of days after Berkay came back, our Turkish sister-in-law gave birth to a baby girl – our first niece! I can’t believe Berkay missed her by just a few days. I still have posts to write about their big-fat-village wedding almost two years ago, too!

As things start go back to normal-ish, we hope we are able to holiday in Turkey as planned in September, 8 days in our favourite place – Jiva, and then a chance to meet our baby niece, fingers crossed. I’m excited to go and meet up with some friends there but I know that it won’t be like ‘normal’ so I’m a bit nervous.

In the meantime, I’ll start searching through my photos and dedicating some time to writing on here again – keep your eyes peeled.

 

Visa renewal time – an unfair system?

It’s been a few months since I posted on my blog, now its 2019 and it’s March already, can you believe it?!

Now that we’re already into the 3rd month of the year, it’s time to start thinking about renewing Berkay’s visa. He arrived at the end of 2016, on the ‘spouse visa’ which enables him to live and work in the UK for just over two and a half years. It cost around £2500 at the time, and when we got it, there was that relief of knowing there were no more visas to worry about for two years! Of course, now those two years have flown by and its time to start gathering all the paperwork, and money, to renew it!

I think visas are one of those things that nobody really understands the process of, until they know someone who has gone through it. I think people assume its easy for people to come to the UK, we’ve all read those newspaper reports about ‘foreigners coming here, getting our benefits’ etc. I probably had those misconceptions before too, to be honest.

Even though me and Berkay have been together for nearly nine years, and he has been living here, working for two and a half years, applying for the extension of his visa is still stressful and full of uncertainty. It’s not just a case of filling out an application form and ticking a few boxes – it’s a lot of work.

When he initially applied for the visa two and a half years ago, Berkay had to pass an English exam. To renew it, he has to pass a higher level exam, which he will actually be sitting this week – that’s not cheap either, £150, so fingers crossed he passes or he will have to keep trying and paying out for it.

Then there’s the cost involved – the application fee is £1033 currently, but this will go up again in April as it does every year. There’s also a NHS surcharge, which has just doubled from £500 to £1000…despite the fact that Berkay earns a fair wage (he found a job within three weeks of arriving in the country..) and pays national insurance like everyone else in the country with a job, he has to pay this £1000 towards the NHS as part of the application, so essentially he’s contributing twice! If any of you reading this have heard people say before ‘foreigners come here to use our NHS for free’ please inform them of this! I can understand if he wasn’t earning and needed to contribute something so that he wasn’t just coming here for the sole purpose of abusing the National Health Service, but when he’s already paying taxes and national insurance every week this seems very unfair!

So, total so far is £2033 + £150 for the English test, assuming he only needs one attempt at passing, but the fee’s don’t end there either… If he applies via the standard service, it can take months and months to get a decision, and they keep his passport all that time, so if there was ever a family emergency in Turkey, or he wanted to travel for whatever reason, he wouldn’t be able to, which leaves the option of paying a further £630 for a priority service, with a faster decision within a few days. So, £2033 + £150 + £630 = £2813, before travel costs to the visa application centre in London, sometimes they charge extra for the appointments where you hand over the documents, also! With the fee going up again in April, we will undoubtedly be paying over £3000 for this visa extension.

Perhaps finding the money to apply is the easy part. We also have to prove our relationship is genuine, with letters of support from friends and family, evidence we live together in the form of letters and bills addressed jointly to us at our address, spread across over the two and a half years he’s been in the country, to show that we have consistently lived together. Luckily, I knew that this was a requirement so I have folders of letters filed under my bed in preparation for this! We also have to prove we have the right to live in the property, with land registry documents, mortgage statements etc, and proof that we meet the £18,600 income requirement, with evidence in the form of payslips, work contracts, a letter from my HR department, etc etc!

Once this visa is granted (fingers crossed!) we will have to go through the same thing again in another two years time, only next time Berkay will have to pass a further test, a ‘life in the UK’ multiple choice exam paper, with general knowledge questions such as ‘when was Hadrians wall built?’, ‘how many members of the Scottish Parliament are there?’ and ‘When did the first Christian communities appear in Britain?’ – questions that seem better fitted for contestants on ‘The Chase’, rather than someone wanting to settle in the UK – I don’t know many Brits that would pass this 24 question test, by getting 75% correct.

As you can see, we have a busy couple of months ahead, getting all this paperwork organised, scanned and written, so that when we are able to apply in May/June, we are ready to do so.  I’m not really complaining about the process, I understand that rules have to be in place, but everyone I explain this process to, unless they know someone who has done it themselves, seems to be shocked when I tell them what it entails. With Brexit bringing out the worst in people recently, I have seen more and more people stating that ‘UK has no control of its borders, no immigration rules, no checks on people entering the country’ – I’m writing this post in the hope that if any of my readers believed this before, or have heard people making these assumptions, please, educate them and tell them you know differently!

It is very frustrating, handing over piles of paperwork to a complete stranger, to judge us based on the evidence they have in front of them, like we are some sort of criminals, and pay them £3000 for the privilege or believing we are genuine, or not.

 

The Christmas Poinsettia – Ataturk Çiçeği

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It’s that time of year, Christmas Eve, Eve, in fact! Where festive things are all around, twinkling lights, pretty trees, tinsel, enough food to feed the 5000, endless tubs of chocolates, and perhaps a poinsettia or two!

It’s the latter that I want to talk about – up until last year I had no idea that our festive red poinsettias have a link to Turkey, and not the kind that forms our Christmas dinner!

In Turkey these beautiful flowers are called ‘Ataturk Çiçeği’. I have read that they were Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s (founding father of Turkey) favourite flower, and named in his honour as he encouraged the cultivation of them in the country – the beautiful red colour certainly matches well with the Turkish flag, doesn’t it?
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I have 3 poinsettias adorning my table at the moment, a deep pink one which was a gift from a friend, a glittering, sparkly red one, and the one in the middle which is almost completely green, and overgrowing, as it has been in my house since last Christmas! When I got it last year it was red and glittery like my new one, and reduced to £1.50 in Tesco, so a real bargain! It’s not red anymore, though I have that read sticking it in a dark place for 12 hours a day will make the leaves turn red again so maybe I will try that… I tried to jazz it up with some fake berries. I’m amazed I managed to keep it alive, I’m not very good with plants… I’m a big fan of Christmas and start getting excited about it half way through the year, so I joked that the only reason it was still alive is because it’s always Christmas in my heart… of course Berkay said no, it’s because Ataturk is always in his! 
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2017 – A Year in Photos – Happy New Year!

2017 was a good one for us, we bought our first home, we celebrated birthdays, our first wedding anniversary, we had holidays to Turkey, Berkay settled into his job and got a promotion and we have just enjoyed our first Christmas in our own home together. When the clock chimed at midnight, we looked back on 2017 fondly, but look forward to 2018 and what it brings!

For the last 4 years I have shared our lives on my blog, and at the end of each year, done a round up of my favourite memories of the year through photos, so here it goes, a look back over our 2017.

January/February
In the first week of January we went to view a flat, the first one we’d ever looked at in person. A couple of weeks later, we started the process of buying it and dealing with solicitors and all that grown up stuff! We spent February slowly gathering things for our house, and spent nearly 4 hours in Ikea on one occasion, ending up with a big shopping trolley full of essentials! We really enjoyed house shopping, even Berkay loved picking out stuff and going to look at fridges, sofas and washing machines, who would have thought that could be so much fun! 🙂

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March
On March 17th, we got the keys to our flat and moved in! We loved making it our own and getting all our furniture delivered and sorted out – even my giant 6ft teddy bear moved in with us 🙂
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April
At the beginning of April, I celebrated my 25th birthday, with the help of a lovely cake from Berkay. Towards the end of the month, we visited Turkey and whilst there, celebrated our one year wedding anniversary in Jiva Beach Resort Hotel in Calis. We started off a little tradition where each year, we take a photo of us holding the photo of us the previous year, eventually we’ll be holding a photo, of a photo, of a photo, of a photo, etc etc, hard to explain but it will make sense the more we do!
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May
During our trip to Turkey, we also visited Berkay’s family in Denizli, and of course got to spend a couple of days with Boncuk, who was very happy to see us.
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June
June meant warmer weather and we enjoyed having our balcony and looking out over the view! Our favourite thing to do in Turkey was have BBQ’s so we got ourselves a small little BBQ to keep on our balcony and we enjoyed a few of those over the summer! img_5819

July
In July, we went on Berkay’s first ever English camping holiday for a few days with my mum, stepdad and their dog, Brad. I knew Berkay would love camping and the simple life and he really did. He loved sleeping in the tent, going off to get water, doing BBQ’s, walking through the fields and even the toilet/shower blocks didn’t matter to him. It reminds me a lot of village life, which he loves. He still talks about this camping trip and always says he wants to go again, so hopefully we’ll do another one soon!
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September
Apparently nothing exciting or photo-worthy happened in August, it was mainly spent looking forward to September, because in September we visited Turkey again, this time a few days in the village visiting Boncuk and Berkay’s family, and then a week at Jiva hotel in Calis, which was the best holiday we ever had! We’d never really had a ‘holiday’ like that before, and we always used to walk past Jiva Hotel when it was being built and think we’d never be able to afford to stay there, we stayed there for one night in April, but a whole week there in September, enjoying the sun, the pools, the all inclusive food/drink and entertainment was just so good! It’s now my favourite place ever.
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October/November
At the end of November, Berkay went back to Turkey, alone this time, to visit his family and spend time with his step mum as she had been quite ill with kidney problems. He was there for 10 days and made friends with the new baby cow on their farm, her name is ‘Zilli’!  This was a month ago, so I expect she’s a lot bigger than this now! Meanwhile, I was in England getting ready for Christmas, my favourite time of year, and putting up the decorations. One of my favourite decorations this year is this key, ‘First Christmas in our new home’.
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December
In December we celebrated Berkay’s birthday with a caterpillar cake and a day out at the very wet, cold, Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. We went to the circus and on a few, very expensive rides and had a great laugh – I love this photo of us on one of the rollercoasters.
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Then of course, it was Christmas day. Our first Christmas in our own home, and our first time cooking Christmas dinner! My mum, stepdad and their dog came for the day and they definitely rated our dinner 10/10, even with the improvised ‘no pig’ pig-in-blankets, made from Turkey bacon and chicken sausages so that Berkay could eat them. Berkay surprised me with a white gold diamond ring on Christmas morning, which he had bought in Fethiye whilst he was in Turkey alone a few weeks earlier, I love it!
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Last night we stayed at home for New Year, we sat on the sofa with our blankets and watched a film, then watched the fireworks on TV and from our balcony.

Who knows what 2018 brings, but I’ll be sure to document it on here. I hope we, and all my friends, family and readers have a very happy and healthy year!

(:

Our new house!

This time last year, if you had told me that we’d be married, Berkay would have been living in the UK nearly 5 months and we’d have just bought our own place, I would have laughed in your face… In fact even 3 months ago if you’d have told me we’d be living in our own place by April I’d have thought you were crazy too…  alas, that is exactly what happened!

In the middle of March, after a stressful few weeks of dealing with solicitors, banks, and all those other ‘grown up’ things, we exchanged contracts and completed. We got the keys on 17th March and moved in within a few days, between working and Berkay having a horrible toothache! You might be wondering how on earth we managed to buy property in South East London, and so soon after Berkay had moved here, but don’t worry, we didn’t rob a bank! The answer is it’s a shared ownership property – we own a 40% share, and a housing association owns the rest. Renting a one bedroom flat around here would be around £1000 a month, but it actually works out a lot cheaper for us to have a mortgage on 40% and pay rent and service charge on the remaining 60%, so we are much better off going down this route.

I love our little flat and since we’ve moved out and have our own place, Berkay is a lot more settled. He’s settled more in this past 3 weeks than he has in the last 4.5 months. Previously, we lived with family, which we were very grateful for, but it’s just not the same as having your own place, especially as we already lived together for 3 years, so moving back home was like taking a step back for a while. It also means more space for the two of us so we’re not cramped up in one room and annoying each other 24/7!

When we lived in Turkey together we never really had anything of our own, no furniture, no personal touches, no real belongings or house decor, the longest we lived in one apartment was 2.5 years but we didn’t make it our own and it was always very clear that we were living in someone else’s house, it never felt like ours, so buying things and planning for this flat was really exciting.

 
Our flat is only one bedroom, but it’s a really good sized room, and Berkay has already mentioned to everyone he speaks to that one day he could split the room into two and make space for a nursery ( I think he knows something I don’t! ha ha). It has a bathroom with a bath, something we also never had in Turkey, along with hot water without relying on solar panels, another luxury…but the best room in the whole place is the livingroom/kitchen area. It has huge, floor length, wall to wall windows which provide stunning views across the area, although fitting the blinds to the windows was a nightmare, I have a new-found respect for people who have blinds, now I know how long they take to perfect. I absolutely love the windows and having a balcony is something I’ve always wanted too, as that reminds me of our Turkey days! The only thing that is missing is the BBQ outside! My other favourite thing in the house, and the most expensive thing I’ve ever bought, apart from the flat itself, is our corner sofa, it’s massive with plenty of space for us both to lay out end to end and not even touch each other! 😉 You may also notice I have a giant teddy in the corner, he’s over 6ft tall and bigger than me, I’m such a big kid! I guess I have to balance the grown-upness of mortgages, solicitors and bills, with my inner-child somehow!

 
 
There are a few little references to Turkey in our house, including wedding photos all over the place, a family shot of us and our lovely dog Boncuk, some word art given to us as a wedding present by our friend, a glittery map of Turkey and of course a couple of Turkish eyes.
   
    
It still doesn’t feel real that we have our own little place and it’s so cosy and homely already, I actually think I’m going to miss it and get a bit homesick when we’re out in Turkey in a few weeks time!

If any of my readers are in the position we were in this time last year, when we were just about to get married and then be forced apart after just 3 days of married life, to go through the whole struggle of visas and all of the uncertainty, I urge you to please not give up, it will all work out, although I know the patience is hard to find. ❤

Submitting the visa application…

img_6518-1For those who don’t follow my Facebook page – I have just come back from 8 days in Turkey! Amongst many other things during the very, very busy week (including our big village wedding party…) a major event happened – we applied for Berkay’s visa!

This has been a very, very long time coming. Ever since I came back to the UK in December 2014 this visa has been the end goal, but it has been the main obstacle in our relationship since day one. The whole time Berkay was in the army I was working hard to find a job earning the minimum income requirement, then once I found that 18 months ago, I began slowly ticking the other things off the list of visa requirements.

Since July I have spent every waking moment after work gathering paperwork as evidence and organising it all – hundreds of pieces of paper, constantly writing letters, perfecting them, making sure everything was explained, printing, reprinting, proof-reading, triple-checking everything, getting paperwork from outside sources to prove everything, collecting wage slips, bank statements and saving enough money to apply. Then, a few weeks ago we finally had everything ready, paid the extortionate total £2500 visa fee and booked our appointment to submit the papers in Antalya on 6th October.

So, while I was there last week (after a couple of late nights on the terrace having a final run through of the paperwork) on Thursday morning we woke up bright and early at 5am and made the 2.5 hour journey to Antalya. Actually finding the visa application centre was a mission in itself – thank goodness we had GPS on Berkay’s phone, although him trying to drive on the massive, extremely busy Antalya city centre roads was rather scary too, nothing like the Fethiye roads we’re used to which are tiny in comparison! There was so much pollution too, the whole city area was all smoggy. We arrived in plenty of time so we stopped for some breakfast – delicious meat borek and a glass of cay.
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We eventually did find the visa application centre, which was in a big multi-purpose community centre with a lot of different rooms and security scanners on the doors. It was very modern looking and had a lovely big water fountain outside. Berkay had to register in a small room and I was allowed to sit in there with him while a man rummaged through the paperwork. Seeing him reorder the paperwork that I had painstakingly ordered and labelled according to my contents page was hard to watch, that paperwork has been my treasured possession for months, I felt like snatching it all back! After the intital registration, we had to wait outside another room – there seemed to be at least 5 other people there with the same appointment time as Berkay, and there was no order to people being called into the room, it just seemed to be whoever managed to make eye contact with the man on the door first! He eventually got seen 30 minutes after his appointment, I wasn’t allowed in so I had to sit outside but I could see him through a section of glass in the door and was trying not to make him laugh when he realised I could see him. They took the paperwork, shoved it all in an envelope, took Berkay’s fingerprints and a photo and then that was that.
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It was a relief that it was all over – I had gone over the paperwork so many times and was happy with it, I was confident that we had done all we could and shown all we could possibly show, but I always ended up second guessing myself and trying to add more, so having it finally sent off and knowing I could do nothing else was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders instantly.

The decision usually takes 12 weeks, but we paid £450 to prioritise the application which means a decision should be made within 3 weeks – a huge difference and well worth the extra money. There is an online tracking system that tells us exactly where in the process the application is currently at – it’s so addictive, we keep logging in to check, even at completely random times of day when we know the office is shut, even at weekends. Berkay wakes up during the day and checks it then goes back to sleep, I check several times a day when I wake up, during work, when I come home… The day when it changes to ‘decision made’ I think our hearts will stop beating for a second!! Unfortunately, the decision won’t be known until they send it back in the post and Berkay opens the envelope and searches through the passport for visa or a refusal letter.

Our whole future is in someone else’s hands at the moment… please keep your fingers crossed for us!

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Wedding Celebrations – ‘Hen’ Afternoon Tea.

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Last weekend was the real start of the wedding celebrations as some of my family and friends joined me for a ‘hen-do’.

 I know it doesn’t really come accross this way through my posts, but anyone who has met me will tell you I am very shy in person, I hate being the centre of attention and having all eyes on me, people singing happy birthday around a birthday cake is bad enough, so the whole wedding process, including dress fittings and hen-do was always going to make me nervous! Me and mum narrowed down the hen party options to two things, a meal in a Turkish restaurant or afternoon tea, and settled on the latter.
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I went to the Orsett Hall over in Essex, joined by mum, aunt, nan, stepmum and three friends. It’s a really nice place and has lovely grounds, it’s quite popular too and whenever I’ve been it’s always busy and booked up in advance, there’s always a lot of baby showers there too!

The tables were nicely decorated and my aunt had bought me along a special balloon as well as the little favours my mum had organised – personalised chocolates and sweet bags. Mum also got me the customary ‘bride to be’ sash with ‘The Future Mrs Degirmenci’ and our wedding date written on it which I loved, it all made everything feel so real!
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I’ve been to afternoon tea at the Orsett Hall 3 times before and each time it has been lovely, mostly similar food items but always a slightly different mix. This time we had 4 small finger sandwiches each – smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber, ham and mustard and egg and cress, which were nice (apart from the smoked salmon.. yuck) but let’s be honest, the real reason anyone goes to afternoon tea is for the cake, right? We had scones, jam and cream, pistachio cupcakes, macaroons, battenberg cake, chocolate covered strawberries and some kind of lemon and fruit dish in a mini jar which I’ve forgotten the name of! Of course the other main component of afternoon tea is the actual tea, and we had unlimited tea of every variety and flavour, fruit or otherwise, as well as water and coffee. I had strawberry and mango tea, lovely! Mum had booked the champagne afternoon tea so we all got a glass of champagne too which made the afternoon even more of a celebration, and the staff bought out a plate with ‘happy hen’ written on in chocolate for me which was a nice touch.
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After the lovely food, I opened a few ‘hen’ presents, including these two bride and groom rubber duckies, my friends know me so well! Everyone that came all signed a special personalised plate that mum had found on the internet. I love this idea, everyone writes a message and then you put it in the oven for half an hour and the writing sets into the porcelain plate and becomes permanent and washproof. Definitely something good to keep and display on a special stand when we ever have our own house.
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We spent a couple of hours sat at our table eating and chatting and then when outside into the grounds to take some photos, it was quite cold and it started to rain so we just rushed a few snapshots with everyone.

The funniest thing for me was taking a photo in the throne-like chair inside the Orsett Hall. Back in 2008, I had my senior school prom at this venue and had a photo taken of me sitting in the same exact chair. After a bit of digging through old photos I found that photo, and its quite scary when comparing them side by side, I don’t look too much different (although a bit fatter..). Who would have thought that 8 years later I’d be sitting in that same chair at my hen celebration, eh?
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We all (I think..) had a lovely afternoon, and in the words of my friend “it was nice to have afternoon tea for a hen do, something different, everyone else just drinks through penis straws!’ which is totally true. Strippers, straws and cakes shaped like body parts and crude things are just not me, and it was lovely to have a nice quiet celebration with a few  of my closest family and friends.

Now I have just 10 days left as a ‘Miss Smith’!!!

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Back in Turkey & Wedding planning?

It seems like I’ve only just got back from Turkey (5 weeks ago) but tomorrow I’m flying back again! It’s only a quick visit this time, I’m going to the airport straight after work tomorrow evening, flying all night via Istanbul, and then landing in Dalaman at 7am! I fly back to the UK on Sunday morning so it’s just 4 days/nights.

I didn’t think I’d be back there again so soon, and the only reason I’m going is to put some of our wedding plans into action. I have completed the relevant paperwork here, had it signed by a solicitor and certified by the foreign office, but now we need to take our paperwork into the registry office in Fethiye, have some blood tests and book a date!

What started out as a small wedding in the registry office followed by dinner in a restaurant in Fethiye has turned more into a ‘proper’ wedding – I went dress shopping a few weeks ago and despite being adamant I would just have a pretty, basic dress from a high street shop, I ended up walking into a ‘Confetti and Lace’ bridal shop, trying on a beautiful, sparkly white wedding dress and the rest is history!!
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Since then, we’ve been planning the wedding, I have sorted out favors, a cake, a venue, flights and accomodation, and now all we need to book is an actual date for the wedding in April, a photographer, flowers and wedding rings… It’s going to be a very busy, but exciting 4 days!

Online check in is done, my suitcase is packed full of nandos sauce for Berkay, and I’m nearly all ready to go…
See you tomorrow, Turkiye!

Flying with Turkish Airlines…

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Up until a few weeks ago I’d only ever flown to Turkey with the usual holiday airlines, Easyjet, Thomson, Thomascook, Monarch, and once with Pegasus. I’d never flown with a slightly more higher class scheduled airline like Turkish airlines, mainly because I didn’t want to deal with the stopover at Istanbul. However, in January there were no other options unless I flew to Antalya which was far from ideal, so after much persuasion from friends who have done this same journey many times, I plucked up the courage to book my flight from London to Dalaman via Istanbul Atatürk.

I panic about the smallest of things, and having to find my way around a strange new, very busy airport was my worst nightmare. All sorts were running around my head, would I have to pick up my suitcase between airports, how long would be enough time between flights, what would happen if I missed one, what if I got lost and ended up on the wrong plane… some really irrational thoughts went through my head! I can honestly say though, even with the stopover in Istanbul, Turkish airlines are the best airline I’ve ever flown with and they were the best flights I’ve had.

The biggest bonus about Turkish Airlines is the fact you get free food and drink on board. I haven’t had meals on planes for years, I never bother because I think they’re very overpriced and not that great. But these Turkish airlines meal options were really impressive, although definitely very ‘Turkish’ so may not appeal to all tastes. Just after take off on the international flights we got given a little menu with 2 different meal options listed (but I believe there are more meal options available if you specify you require a special meal in advance when booking). The menu had a meat dish and a vegetarian dish, and you just tell the air steward your choice when they bring the food trolley out. On my flight out to Istanbul we had a choice of pasta or meatballs. I had the kofte (meatballs), served with rice and kuru fasulye (beans), patlican (aubergine), cream cheese and crackers, a bread roll, butter and a berry yogurt/mousse. This came with a choice of drinks, including alcoholic ones, but I settled for orange juice and water. Also quite excitingly, the cutlery was ‘real’ and made of metal, instead of flimsy plastic.
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Coming back from Istanbul to Gatwick, the meal wasn’t quite as nice, but still amazing considering it was included in the price. This time it was a choice of fish or pasta and I opted for the fish – grilled salmon, served with mashed potato and black lentils, along with cacik (garlic, mint and cucumber yogurt), cream cheese and crackers, a bread roll, butter and a chocolate mousse.
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On the internal/domestic flight we also got a mini-meal which I wasn’t expecting! The flight was an hour long so as soon as the cabin crew’s seat belt lights went off they grabbed the food trolley and began serving us cute food packages, designed to look like picnic baskets with little handles. On the outbound Istanbul – Dalaman flight we got given a turkey, cheese and salad sandwich, a pot of aubergine and a banana and chocolate mousse, and on the return flight we got a cheese and salad sandwich, a pot of olives, cucumber and tomato and a slice of vanilla chocolate cake.
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The cabin crew also served tea and coffee throughout the International flights, and gave us a small, well presented piece of Turkish delight just after take-off, which was a nice touch. The crew were really friendly, smiley and helpful and I liked the way the chef stood with his white hat on at the entrance to the plane welcoming everyone aboard too. Another nice touch was the way they played a bit of music when landing, it’s such a small thing and a simple concept but it really made me smile.. although not so much when I was landing back in the miserable UK!

The other main bonus when flying with Turkish Airlines is the fact each seat has a personal entertainment system built into them. Normally I just sit and entertain myself by watching a film on my iPad or listening to music and doing a puzzlebook, but I really enjoyed having the entertainment system to use. It had the most recent movies, even ones not yet on DVD such as the new James Bond movie, lots of movies of all different genres, TV programmes, music and games… great for keeping kids amused too. My favourite part was the tracker telling us how far into the flight we were, which countries we were flying over, the altitude and how far to destination we were.

The seats had a bit more legroom that I normally get flying with Thomascook etc, although Easyjet are pretty good in that department too. The only one negative thing I can think of is how hot it was on board the plane. Normally when boarding I’m always a little hot and bothered, but mid-flight I’ve usually got my blanket or jacket out and like to get cosy – but all 4 of my flights with Turkish Airlines were hot and stuffy and that made it rather uncomfortable towards the end. It was so hot that at one point I was fanning myself with the ‘what do to in an emergency’ card and fellow passengers were asking them to turn down the heaters – I think it must be a Turkish thing, they’re afraid of a tiny bit of cold air, especially if its being blown out through vents like the ones above the seats on planes. It was bearable but definitely a problem, and I’ll make a note next time to wear removable layers rather than just a long sleeved top or jumper!
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The best part of all was that the stopover at Istanbul wasn’t nearly as traumatising as I thought it would be, and it also meant I got to see Istanbul, even if it was only from above it still looked beautiful! When we got off the London-Istanbul flight we exited the plane via steps which was quite exciting as I haven’t done that for years. Then we got on a transfer bus which took us from the tarmac to the arrivals section of the airport, it was well signposted for international arrivals and for those of us with non-Turkish passports. I queued up with my visa and passport and went through passport control then exited the airport and followed signs to the domestic terminal, it only took around 15mins to walk to it. I didn’t have to collect my suitcase or check in again as I already had been given my boarding pass for the 2nd flight when I checked into the first at Gatwick, so I just went through security and found my gate. I had 2 hours to wait til my flight so I found a free wifi-spot to catch up on some internet time! (Note – Starbucks and Cafe Nero use the same free wifi host and you can register and join the network for free.. I didn’t even buy a drink, just stood outside for an hour taking advantage of the connection!) Also worth noting that even though my 2nd flight landed at the domestic terminal of Dalaman, we had to board a bus to be taken to the international terminal as our luggage still had to clear customs. It led to some confusion for Berkay because despite me researching this before hand and telling him, he was parked up waiting at the domestic terminal! D’oh! The return journey was pretty much the same and just as easy – I flew from the domestic terminal so all I had to do was check in and go through security, no passport control until I landed at Istanbul and entered the international terminal. International departures at Istanbul Atatürk is HUGE, very busy and quite overwhelming. I had a 4 hour wait so again found a spot next to Cafe Nero and sat on the floor next to the escalators using the WiFi. There were a few duty free shops, as well as several designer shops like YSL and Chanel, and a lot of cafes.. I didn’t explore much but I realised how large the airport was when I went to to the toilet and it took me 10-15minutes to find my way back to where I was previously sat. There were hundreds of flights departing too so the departure board looked quite impressive! When my gate eventually popped up I made my way to it and we were taken onto another bus from there and driven to the plane where we boarded up the steps, so much more satisfying than walking through the usual covered walkways to the plane!
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All in all, my experience of Turkish airlines was a good one and I will recommend them to anyone and everyone. If you’re in two minds about whether to book with them because of the stopovers in Istanbul, don’t let it put you off, it really wasn’t that bad. When booking your connecting flight make sure you have around 2 hours in between them so that you are able to find your way through the airport and to the correct gate without getting too stressed out and rushed.The best part of all for me, is how cheap the flights were – I paid £141 return, for effectively 4 flights with 23kg of hold luggage, 8kg of hand luggage, inflight meals and drinks all included. Despite my original fears and usual dismissal of Turkish Airlines purely due to the stopover, I would have no hesitation whatsoever about booking with them again, if they worked out cheapest, and I’d probably even choose them if they were slightly more expensive that other airlines as I feel it’s worth it. The only real problem is the length of time it takes, as the stopover does obviously lengthen the journey, but if you see the whole journey as part of your holiday experience it can all be part of the fun. If they flew direct to Dalaman it would be a no brainer and I would book with them every single time. It’s easy to see why they have won awards for being the best airline in Europe for the past few years!

Ending the blog with one of Turkish Airlines’ slogans – “Smaller world, Bigger smiles” – If only, eh?
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2015 – a year in photos.

A year ago, when Big Ben chimed for midnight, I was dreading 2015 and the inevitable things that came along with it. I had just moved back to the UK, I was trying to find a job, Berkay was heading off to the army and everything was very uncertain. Now, fast forward a year and things are looking quite different! I’m looking forward to the year ahead, but also reflecting back on 2015 and how far we’ve come so far, with the help of some photos!

January
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January was mostly spent worrying about February. Berkay had 4 weeks before he was due to enter the army and we made the most of the time speaking on skype as much as possible. At the end of the month he sent me a package of goodies from Turkey, with some of my favourite Turkish treats and two pairs of baggy village pants. His little note ‘I love you honey, going to army but coming soon, wait me’ is now sitting framed on top of my two countdown jars.

February
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February marked the moment that I’d been dreading for YEARS. The inevitable military service that Berkay had been putting off for years finally began. I can still remember this as if it were yesterday, sitting at home with my little sister watching Peter Pan after our last ‘goodbye’ skype with Berkay from outside the entry gate to the Izmir base camp. It was horrible. A lot of tears flowed that day! He didn’t know when he’d be able to contact me again so when I saw an Izmir phone number pop up on my phone later that day it was a huge relief! “We’re just waiting to check in” he said from the base camp phone, making it sound like he was just off on a little holiday! Those first few weeks were the toughest.

March
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In the middle of March, 6 weeks after his start date, Berkay had his passing out parade to mark the end of his first stage of training in Izmir. His mum, brother, uncle and cousin went to watch and got to spend a couple of hours with him. His brother sent me photos as soon as he could and it was the first time I’d seen Berkay in his uniform! He looked very proud. He even managed to skype me from his brothers phone, and it was the first time I’d seen him since 4th February, I love this photo his uncle took of Berkay and his stepmum waving to me on skype, look at those smiles!

April
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 April was probably the most exciting month of the year. Berkay took 10 days leave in between training and starting at his new base in Kayseri. He went back to Fethiye for the week and I got a flight out to see him… It was the first time I’d seen him in person since December so it felt like a long time. We stayed in an apartment in Calis and had a lovely week together, I also got to spend my birthday there with him. Of course we were both reunited with Boncuk too, and she was very excited to see us! We picked her up from our friends house where she was staying, and rented a car so we were able to take her everywhere with us, to BBQ picnics, to the beach, to Oludeniz, and at the end of the week we packed up all her things and took her 4-5 hours away to Berkay’s familys village where her new home was. Spending a couple of days in Berkay’s village was hard, I don’t think I will ever get used to that place, but it was different for sure, and leaving Boncuk there was difficult! While we were there it snowed, so driving back to Fethiye through snowy roads and then 4 hours later ending up in the sunny, warm, Fethiye climate was very odd too!

May
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After spending time with Berkay in April, adjusting back to the UK was hard, even after just a week away. But he kept sending me photo updates by sneaking me some photos from his friends phone. I’ve heard people say that their Turkish partners sent them photos of their names in bullets, Berkay sent me a photo of my name in flowers instead! I thought it was really funny, big, hard soldiers in camoflague picking and arranging flowers! Bless.

June
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June was a big month. Finally, after 6 months of looking, I got my first full time, long-ish term job through an agency. Initially on a 3 month contract. The job was at Canary wharf, on the 33rd floor of the tallest building there! It was surreal at first, and very overwhelming. The first week or two I was there it was horrible, going out at lunchtime was a real struggle as there were thousands and thousands of people all outside going in all directions at the same time, a real culture shock compared to the relatively quiet areas of Turkey I’d been used to. It didn’t take long to adjust though, and I fell in love with the job. I love the view from our staff room window where we can see the whole London skyline. It’s so beautiful, and made me find a whole new appreciation for London!

July/August/September
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Apparently, these months were really boring because I don’t appear to have many photos! I was getting used to full time work again, and adjusting to that. August was a big milestone because it meant we had hit the 6 month’s to go mark! Berkay had been in the army for 6 months and only had 6 more to go. Every day I put a marble in my ‘days down’ jar and seeing equal numbers in each jar felt like a real achievement!

October
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October saw the arrival of autumn here and marked another month off the calendar. Berkay’s brother kept his promise of regular Boncuk updates by sending me the cutest photos of her. I remember sitting on the train home from work when he sent the photos and just smiling, look at her little face!

November
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November was one of the toughest months of the year. Turkey held an election and emotions in the country were increasingly tense. The expectation of trouble in certain areas meant Berkay was transferred to one of the more dangerous zones in the South Eastern part of Turkey – Diyarbakir. This is an area known for terrorist activity and not a good one to be doing your army service in. I was very worried, and despite what he says, I know Berkay was too. He ended up spending about 5-6 weeks in Diyarbakir and he actually liked it more than his base in Kayseri, we got to speak a bit more on skype through his smuggled in phone, too! Oops.

The best part of the month for me was being told I definitely had my job until the end of the year at least, because by this point I loved it and knew I really wanted to be kept on. The earlier evenings meant I got to see the London skyline at night through our staff room window and it looked even more magical all lit up!

December
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December was THE best month. I had to interview for my position at the company I work for and I was successful. I got the permanent job! This was more than just a job to me. It meant I could prove people wrong, people who were so judgmental in the past. Most importantly, it meant I earn well over the income requirement needed for Berkay’s visa to live in England. This is what I’d been waiting for and it seemed like it was never going to happen! After my manager told me I had to sneak off to the toilets for a little dance around (entirely true!). It was a huge weight lifted and another big obstacle out of the way. Such a relief.

Of course December also meant Christmas, and I had a lovely few days with my family, made even better by the knowledge that my job meant 2016 wouldn’t be quite so uncertain and unsettled (hopefully). The marble jars looked even better, with less than 40 days to go, and when Big ben chimed at midnight on 1st January 2016, I was filled with excitement about what the new year would bring, instead of being filled with dread.

It was a very emotional year, in one way or another, and definitely my most testing! Army life has not been easy for Berkay, or for me, and it’s certainly tested our relationship. After living together for 3 years, not seeing him for 8 months hasn’t been easy. By the time I see him again it will likely have been 9-10 months, but at last the end is in sight. Who knows what this year will bring, but I’m sure it will throw a few surprises our way, I’m just glad everyone I know and love made it through 2015, safe, happy and healthy.

I hope 2016 is kind to all of you, and us!
P.S less than 28 days to go!!