Travelling to Turkey in these strange times..

Six months ago, we had just had our April holiday to Turkey cancelled – three months later, things still looked bleak, although Berkay had managed to get a flight to Turkey and visit family for a couple of weeks, albeit with a two week quarantine on return to the UK. We had had our September holiday booked for a whole year, but even just 6 weeks ago I still wasn’t really sure if it was going to go ahead – I was checking the Covid19 totals in Turkey daily, and obsessing over the cases per 100,000, afraid to buy holiday clothes, stock up on sun cream or get fully excited! Then, my countdown became closer.. a month to go, 3 weeks, 2 weeks… with just a week to go, our flights were cancelled with Pegasus but within half an hour we had re-booked again with Easyjet, for a day sooner than originally planned, so finally it felt like we could get excited and start packing!

We flew to Dalaman on 4th September from Gatwick and all the new measures in place at the airport and on the plane went smoothly – masks, distancing where possible & hand sanitizer everywhere! We arrived, got in our transfer and off we went to Fethiye to a hotel for two nights. I had packed Dettol spray in my bag and sprayed the hell out of everything in the room, and I was nervous as I’ve got so used to my little working from home bubble! We spent the first morning in Calis, sunbathing and eating, then went back to Fethiye for a late afternoon nap and dinner at the fish market, followed by cake at a local patisserie. Although everyone we met had been good at keeping a distance, even good friends who Berkay has known for years only fist bumped instead of the usual shaking hands, it was whilst walking along in Fethiye that evening that I realised people were a lot more relaxed about masks being worn properly than they should be. It’s the law to wear masks as soon as you step foot outside your home/hotel/accommodation in Turkey, so, when walking the streets, parks, inside restaurants (until at your table), even when in your own private cars masks are supposed to be worn! It didn’t really surprise me that Turkish people, and tourists, had adopted new ways to wear their masks – chin straps, elbow pads or bracelets. We were good though, too scared to break the rules and risk a fine!

The next day, we got a taxi to Jiva Beach Hotel (where else of course…..) where we stayed for 9 nights. Once we were inside there, it felt like a huge weight was lifted. I know it’s a psychological thing, and that corona doesn’t care about holidays or hotels, but it felt safe to us. Our suitcases were sprayed down, our temperatures were taken on arrival via a wrist thermometer gun, reception had perspex screens up and distance markers on the floor, and 99% of staff had masks on for their whole, long shifts. I was wondering about the buffet, as obviously tongs being handled by 100’s of guests is not allowed anymore, but actually the whole set up was so much better than normal! There are perspex screens up at each food station, you point to or ask the chef (who is armed with gloves and a mask) what you want, they put it on your plate and away you go to the next station that tickles your fancy! There were a few less options as a result, but not much difference really! I think it will improve wastage, since you’re not responsible for piling your own plate sky-high, so that’s a good thing! The tables had disposable paper mats and packets set up with cutlery in, one-time use salt & pepper sachets, and a strong alcohol wipe. Each persons temperature was taken every time they entered the restaurant at breakfast, lunch and dinner times. Guests were encouraged to wear masks in the restaurant whilst browsing, and there were specific bins to dispose of masks in. Hand sanitizer was available all over the place – mostly touch-free points too. There were even masks and wipes in the room, restocked by the cleaners. Activities like table tennis, darts and pool still took place, but bats etc were all sprayed down with disinfectant when changing hands. Poolside bars and even the mini disco stage had social distancing markers and reminders on the floor. Sunbeds were laid out with measured distanced painted yellow markers on the floor, though obviously groups of people did move these around a bit, the staff were good at putting them back at the end of every day. There were even special rooms put aside for quarantine, near the on-site doctors office, in case a case arose. I don’t think they could do much more really. We distanced from most people, though mingled with a few ‘chosen’ ones, our decision and perfectly avoidable if we wanted to. The evening entertainment was pretty well organised, people were asked to respect social distancing outside of family groups in the amphitheater, and tables laid out 1.5 meters apart for the ‘disco’ and live music nights, and plenty of space on the make-shift dance floor, since the underground nightclub wasn’t allowed to open, obviously. Masks weren’t required to be worn by guests in the hotel grounds (apart from in the inside areas like the restaurant), so this made staying inside the hotel grounds a lot more desirable than going outside for a sweaty, stroll into Calis, but we did a few times.

After 9 nights, we checked out and drove 2.5 hours to Berkay’s family’s village in Denizli (I’ll be honest, I didn’t wear my mask in the car whilst it was just us two inside, unless we saw a police check point…) I expected not many villagers to be wearing masks as I thought the authorities might not be so strict with checking up on people there – but actually, people were really good! Masks, hand sanitizer outside all the shops, cafes and businesses and even more lemon cologne being offered around than usual. I was nervous when it came to eating – in this village its usual for the whole family, neighbours, friends and whoever is visiting to sit on the floor around a table cloth full of bowls and food, and all share things – dipping spoons in and out of bowls, ripping bread apart and handing it to someone else, sharing a side of salad, fried eggs, or a bowl of snacks and not to mention the countless hands in and out of a bowl of sunflower seeds. But, there were ways around it, and we were able to be a bit careful with our choices – more to protect Berkay’s family than us, since we were the ones who had just come from ‘outside’!

Dalaman airport, the gate and boarding situation for the flight home was chaotic though, and definitely felt like the most risky part – I know distancing isn’t really possible on the plane anyway, but absolutely no effort was being made by staff or passengers to distance at the gate, and it was a bit of an uncomfortable gathering! Forms had to be completed before arrival to both Turkey and the UK for track and trace purposes.

All of that said, I would be happy to get on a plane back to Turkey again tomorrow. I know some people think people shouldn’t be travelling at the moment and putting each other through unnecessary risk, but when you weigh up the positives, and the effect it has on people’s mental health, I think it’s absolutely the right decision for some! Is there really less risk involved in a staycation in the UK, an afternoon meal in your local Nando’s, a pub, or even a shopping trip to Asda? It also depends on your situation at home – Berkay travels to work in the pub on the London tube’s everyday, so taking a break from that environment for a few weeks can only be a good thing. Me – I’ve worked from home for nearly 7 months, and have seen and spoken to more people face to face (whilst distanced safely apart- mostly) in these two weeks than I have in the past 7 months, so that’s been good too.

Berkay is actually still in Turkey at the moment, due to fly home this Thursday, he’s stayed a little longer with his family, and our new baby niece, who is absolutely adorable, by the way. We got to see Boncuk too, who still has a soul as beautiful as ever.

I keep reading people say it’s selfish to travel at the moment, but I obviously don’t agree – as long as you’re sensible, being as safe as you can be, are insured and follow the guidelines of the places you’re visiting (including your own Governments travel advice), I say go for it – don’t expect it to be quite as carefree and ‘fun’ as usual, but Lord knows we all deserve a break from this year, and none of us need judging for taking any opportunity we get for that.

Sunrise over breakfast in Istanbul

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Visiting Istanbul in winter had a lot of advantages – one being the late sunrises. The sun came up at around 8am in January and this coincided perfectly with the hours breakfast was served at our hotel.

We stayed in Spectra hotel which was basic and cheap – I think we paid around £55 for 3 nights, but the location was absolutely perfect. Just a stones throw away from the Blue Mosque. It had a roof terrace room where the breakfast buffet was served each day. One morning we were 15 minutes early and sat in the terrace waiting for breakfast and admired the stunning view.

The sun was just starting to light up the sky, creating a beautiful silhouette of the Blue Mosque, with Hagia Sophia sitting proudly opposite. The sky was all shades of orange, peach & blue and looked absolutely magical! The mosque is undergoing some repairs, so scaffolding on two of the minarets kind of ruined the photos a little bit – otherwise they really would have been perfect!

 

I had to open the terrace windows to get a good shot, and it was absolutely freezing, so quickly shut them back up. Before we knew it, the sky had turned yellow and orange, and the night sky just disappeared – but the view was still equally as magical while we sat eating our breakfast. Boiled eggs, tomato, cucumber, peppers, cheese, simit, bread, honey, jam, chips… My favourite things were these puff pastries, with icing and sprinkles – not very authentically Turkish but very yummy!

 

Mısır Çarşısı – Spice Market

We stepped off the tram in Eminönü one afternoon when Berkay’s eyes lit up at the sight of Mısır Çarşısı.  This historical and famous spice market is right next to Galata Bridge and the impressive ‘Yeni Cami’ / New Mosque (which is actually over 350 years old). It is the second largest undercover market in Istanbul, with the Grand Bazaar obviously being number one. 

Built in 1664, this market is a real joy for the senses! Piles of colourful spices stacked high, beautiful chunks of lokum / Turkish delight in every flavour, chocolates, dried fruits, nuts, herbs, teas… the list is endless! 

Mısır means Egypt in Turkish, and the market got this name from the trade routes the spices took to reach Istanbul before being exported to Europe. It has an oriental feel to it and reminded me a bit of Aladdin, which was coincidentally the name of one of the vendors stalls.
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Foodstuff isn’t the only thing for sale here, with vendors catering more and more for tourists you can find souvenirs, ceramics, jewellery, lamps, soaps, oils and all sorts! One shop we went into had real sea sponges for sale, which doubled up as lovely ceiling decorations! You can also find holistic remedies for almost everything, including natural ‘Turkish Viagra’, proudly advertised and sold.

We bought some Turkish delight which I took back home to share with my colleagues, and some chocolate covered fruit and nuts, which were all neatly vacuum packed, making them last longer and handy to put in my luggage!

I believe the market has been renovated in the last few years, with the archways reinforced and painted – it does look shiny and fresh, but I don’t think that this has taken away anything from the atmosphere.

The place just feels magical, beautiful arched ceilings with the newly painted patterns, the sound of the call to prayer echoing around from nearby mosques, bustling with locals and tourists shopping, and the smells, oh the smells! Cinnamon, mint, thyme.. every herb and spice you can think of just fills the air. Wonderful! 



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.

 

Yerebatan Sarnıcı / Basilica Cistern

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There are hundreds of underground reservoirs that lie beneath Istanbul, and the largest one of all is The Basilica Cistern. The cistern is in the old city, Sultanahmet, near Hagia Sophia and was built in the year 532, by a Byzantine Emperor.

From the outside, you’d never know this place existed – apart from the long queue of people lining up to visit in summer ,apparently! However, when you buy your ticket (we paid 10tl each as Berkay showed his ID card, but I think for foreign tourists its around 30tl) enter and go down the steps, you see the hidden beauty that lies beneath.
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A forest of 336 columns support the arched ceiling, most of which were salvaged from the ruins of other temples and recycled. They are beautifully lit up from the ground, with the lights reflecting off the shallow water that still remains in the cistern. There are raised walkways over the pool of water, allowing visitors to walk around..
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Obviously this place once held a lot of water, 100,000 tonnes according to the signs inside, and supplied places such as the Great Palace & Topkapi Palace but it is now almost completely drained.

One of the columns is noticeably different to the others – it is known as the crying or tear column as it is wet and has eyes engraved on it which look as if they are crying. It’s thought that this was deliberate, to honor the 7000 slaves who lost their lives during the construction of the cistern.
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Towards the back corner of the cistern, there are two famous columns – the bases of which are carved with images of the snake-headed Medusa. One is placed upside down, the other on its side, and nobody really quite knows why – a mystery!
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It is said that the cistern was forgotten about for a long period of time, and only got rediscovered in the 1500’s when a foreign traveler researching ruins in the area became curious after learning that residents in the area gathered fresh water and fish by lowering buckets into holes in their basements, leading into the cistern – I love this story, what a discovery that must have been! It became neglected even more so after its discovery, and it wasn’t until the late 1980’s that it was cleaned, renovated, properly drained and opened to the public.

Ever since I first saw photos of this place, one thing came into my mind – Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets. Does anyone else see that?! I was so excited to visit as it really reminds me of that so much! My photo’s don’t really do it justice, in person it is a little eerie – dim lights, a mixture of atmospheric music and the sound of dripping water from above – quite off putting when drips land on your head!

Definitely a must visit place!

P.S click on any of the photos above to enlarge them and see them in all their glistening glory!

Istiklal Caddesi

Istiklal Caddesi in Istanbul is one of the most popular, well known and busiest streets in Turkey. Around 3 million people a day walk along the pedestrianised street – in comparison, Oxford Street in London has less than a million visitors a day!

Renamed ‘Istiklal’ (independence) avenue after victory in the war of Independence in October 1923, the road is 1.4km long and stretches from Galata to Taksim Square. It’s bustling with people and is lined with hundreds of buildings, shops and even entire multi storey shopping centres. There are clothes shops, sports shops, book stores, cinemas, galleries, hotels, cafes, clubs, bars, restaurants, patisseries, coffee shops, Turkish delight shops, the list is endless! There are familiar names like Sketchers, Marks & Spencer, Krispy Kreme Donuts, Starbucks, Caffé Nero, Decathlon and Sephora.
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Apparently, it used to be known as the ‘Paris of the East’ – I’ve not been to Paris but it reminded me a little of New York. Modern shops and hotels are mixed in with historical gems – like St Antione’s Church which I wrote about previously, or Çiçek Pasajı which opened in 1876 and is so named because in the 1940’s it had a lot of flower shops and stalls -now it’s a galleria of restaurants and cafes.
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Towards one end of the street I came across the most beautifully located Starbucks, sat behind a water fountain. To the left of that, an ice-cream shop called Hans & Gretel which looked like a lot of fun with fun decorations inside and out – if it wasn’t a cold morning I definitely would have gone in there!
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We strolled along the street twice – once at 10am on a sunny Saturday January morning from Galata towards Taksim, and once on the Sunday night, around 8pm in the opposite direction, Taksim all the way to Galata. Early in the morning the street wasn’t busy at all, but Sunday night it came alive and there were thousands and thousands of people.
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I preferred it at night, the atmosphere was just brilliant. My favourite part was sitting inside a little patisserie by the window on the 2nd floor, looking down on people walking along, families and friends, young and old – a real mix of people. We had a little sweet treat – Berkay had Künefe and I had a delicious cake, beautifully presented! Opposite us on the other side of the street there was a coffee shop inside the Demiroren shopping centre, with tables outside on a tiny balcony which was covered in fairy lights – I thought it was the cutest thing ever and next time I’m definitely finding that place again and stopping by for a coffee up there!
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I also loved the fact that the buildings lining the street still had Christmas (or New Year) decorations up.  A hotel had a beautiful display of flowers and teddy bears above its sign, and other buildings had garlands, baubles and twinkly lights everywhere. Lights were hung along the street, above people’s heads, wishing them ‘yeni yılınız kutlu olsun’ – a happy new year.
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Aside from the shops and the historical buildings, the other ‘must see’ is the nostalgic 19th century tram, running along the road from Tünel to Taksim. They started running around 100 years ago, but in the 1960’s were taken out of service. After the pedestrianisation and regeneration of Istiklal Street in the 1990’s, the tram was reinstalled and is now the only vehicle other than official state cars, police etc, that is allowed to drive along the road. The red trams are a major symbol of Istanbul and are popular with tourists and locals – it’s rare to see one that doesn’t have someone hanging onto the pole on the back, posing for a photo (whether its stationery or not!) They apparently still take around 6000 people a day along for a ride, though the inside is tiny with only a few single seats and not much room at all – people must get very crammed in! I like hearing the bell, warning you to get out of the way, as they drive down busy street – I expect it’s frustrating for the driver, and it’s probably quicker to walk!
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P.S As always, please click the images to enlarge them.

A final note – When I was writing this post, the Coronavirus Pandemic was just starting here in Europe – in the 2 weeks it took me to finish writing and editing this, the world looks a lot different. It’s sad that we won’t see the streets of Turkey, or UK, busy and bustling like my photos here anytime soon – but one day it will all be over, and we can get back to visiting and experiencing everything these places have to offer – it’ll be waiting for us, as soon as it is safe to do so. (:

Ortaköy & it’s speciality Kumpir

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Another food near the top of my ‘must try’ list for Istanbul was kumpir. This is a popular street food all over the country apparently, yet somehow in Fethiye they’ve never really caught on, and I’ve never really came across them.

My friend, a frequent Turkey visitor, couldn’t believe I’ve never tried one (neither had Berkay) so I decided we needed to try it, just for her!

Essentially, kumpir is ‘just’ a giant jacket potato – but the fun is in watching them make it, choosing your toppings and finally tasting the smooth, cheesy, buttery potato they present you with.

Ortaköy is one of the most popular places in Istanbul to get a kumpir, so we got a very busy bus from Besiktas to see what all the fuss was about.

I have to say that Ortaköy was one of only two places in Istanbul that I did not enjoy visiting. It was crazy busy with people and kids rushing around, people walking out from all directions and not making any effort to get out of your way, not thinking twice about barging into you. There were men fishing, not bothered about casting their line out and hitting people sitting on the benches. I think we made a mistake going there on a Saturday afternoon though – early morning on a week day would be a different experience I’m sure!

The view is picturesque, with Ortaköy mosque the main focal point. The Bosphorus Bridge is visible just behind it, one of the 3 suspension bridges across that stretch of water which link Europe and Asia. The bridge was renamed the 15 Temmuz Şehitler Köprüsü (July 15th Martyrs Bridge) after the failed coup attempt in 2016.

In amongst the maze of little streets, cafes, souvenir shops and stalls there is a whole row of stands dedicated to kumpir, or the other poplar street food in the area – waffles. As soon as we walked into ‘kumpir sokak’ they could tell we were overwhelmed with choice, we must have stuck out as tourists like a sore thumb! We had about 10 stalls of people shouting at us, waving their arms in all directions, winking, banging their signs and gesturing us to go over – this put me off straight away and immediately I looked for the stall making the less fuss, hassling customers is a big turn off for me and was quite intimidating! We settled on one stall and watched as they prepared our kumpir.img_8908img_8910

It’s really interesting to watch how they make it- they grab a baked potato from their oven, put it in a tray and slice it open. Then they grab a knife full of butter and mash it into the potato with some cheese – they definitely have a special technique of doing this, twisting and turning, I reckon it takes some practice, they do it so fast. They keep mashing it with the knife and mixing it in until it’s smooth and stretchy, then they pass it down the counter to the topping section. If you’re like me and really rubbish at decision making, you’ll struggle with this. A variety of possible toppings include sweetcorn, red cabbage, olives, Russian salad, sliced hot dog sausage, kisir, chopped pickled veg, mushrooms, peas, yogurt, jalapenos… I’m sure there are some I’ve forgotten, it’s a whole world away from the good old British jacket potato beans and cheese.

To top it all off, you can add mayo and ketchup if you want!

Berkay decided on sweetcorn, pickles, sausage and ketchup on his, and I went for sweetcorn, sausage and a handful of mushrooms.
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As we were walking back along the seafront to find a place to sit and eat, we walked past a few more kumpir stalls and I spotted this one who had turned the butter into a face with spoon ears – I loved that and wish we’d gone there instead! I suppose with lots of stalls selling the same thing they need to make theirs look unique, and they often arrange the toppings in patterns or shapes to make potential customers laugh and grab their attention – that is more effective than waving their arms in the air and shouting, surely!
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We found a little bench around a tree and sat there eating our very filling kumpir, I shared some of mine with a cat who very much looked like he enjoyed it too. We sat and people-watched for a little while, fascinated by the man selling bird food for the pigeons, little children approached him, bought the food and threw it around for the pigeons, sending them flapping around as they ran through them. I love pigeons and always feel sorry for them, but the flapping birds all around me just added to the manic-ness of our Ortaköy experience!
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I’d like to go back on a less busy day though, and I can confirm that the kumpir was delicious!

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Dolmabahçe Palace / Sarayi

Dolmabahçe palace wasn’t on my list of must see places in Istanbul, I had researched and decided that Topkapi palace would be better, but on our first day we were way ahead of schedule and found ourselves with a few hours to spare after lunch, so we got a taxi from Taksim Square and went exploring.

Sitting along the Bosporus in Beşiktaş, Dolmabahçe is the largest palace in Turkey, with 285 rooms, 44 halls, 68 toilets and 6 Turkish baths. It was built in the Ottoman era, between 1843 and 1856, ordered by Sultan Abdülmecid I. Prior to this, the sultan and his family had lived at Topkapi palace, but this lacked the ‘modern’ luxuries he desired. Dolmabahçe is very grand, with a lot of influence from European palaces – the Queen wouldn’t look out of place here! It has the largest number of Baccarat crystal chandeliers in the world, a crystal staircase, bearskin rugs and beautiful ceilings which they used 14 tons of gold for!
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Before I start, I should say that taking photos inside the palace is not allowed, there are signs everywhere and we definitely broke the rules, but the photos are just too impressive not to share. There are security guards with eyes on you, so you have to be really sneaky and prepared to be told off if you get caught (Berkay did!).

When approaching the palace, you are firstly greeted with a huge clock tower, before you arrive at the ticket booths. There are different ticket types, one that one allows entry into the main section of the palace, and a combined ticket that allows entry into the harem section too. We got the combined ticket but as a Turkish citizen, Berkay got it for half the price and we paid 130tl altogether – mine was 90tl of that.
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You enter the grounds through an impressive gate – like something out of a fairy tale. Once through the gate, you can see the palace sitting perfectly centred behind a large pond, surrounded by trees and statues. There is also a gate straight into the Bosporus on the right hand side of the palace – handy for boats!

At the palace entrance you are asked to cover your shoes, and there are huge rolls of rather unattractive plastic blue shoe covers for this purpose – I dread to think of how much plastic they get through in a day!
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The palace is split into two wings, one is the men’s quarters, with reception rooms for visitors and for official business. This is the part of the palace which was really made for showing off and impressing other countries officials with the luxuriousness of the chandeliers, staircase, furniture and paintings hung on the walls.

I wish I could explain how beautiful the crystal staircase is. You are able to walk up the red carpeted stairs, lined with crystal banisters while the chandelier glistens above. We weren’t able to get a good photo but I felt like I was in Disney movie, a princess walking up the staircase of dreams! If you google ‘crystal staircase at Dolmabahçe’ you can see photos of it.
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In the ceremonial hall, the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier hangs above you. It has 750 lights and weighs 4.5 tonnes – ouch! Although impressive, with the stunning intricately detailed ceiling above it, it wasn’t my favourite. My favourite was a chandelier in a different room with red crystals – I’m glad Berkay managed to sneak a few good photos of that one.
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The other wing is the Harem at the back of the palace– which has 8 interconnecting apartments where the Sultan and his family lived – including his wives, concubines (mistresses), mother, and slaves. It’s really interesting thinking what life must have been like for them as you’re walking through. Although not quite as grand as the other wing of the palace, it still has impressive rooms and chandeliers and is definitely worth paying for the extra ticket for.
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After the fall of the Ottoman empire, Dolmabahçe Palace became founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s presidential palace, where he spent time during his Istanbul visits. In the harem section, you can find the room that Atatürk died in – there is a sign outside the room informing you of this. The wallpaper is gold, green and peach, with matching curtains and ceiling. The bed has a Turkish flag covering it and the clock in the room is set to the time he died, 9:05am on November 10th 1938. I think the palace has a special place in Turkish people’s hearts for this reason.

In 1984, the palace became a museum, and opened to the public. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the palace every year and if you’re in Istanbul you should stop by. You’ll feel like you’re walking through a real life fairy tale palace – and it is totally different to Topkapi (I’ll write about that soon!) so I’m glad we had a chance to visit both.

P.S click on any of the photos above to enlarge them and see them in all their glistening glory!

Taksim Square & the Islak burger/wet burger..

When we booked to go to Istanbul we were both really excited about trying it’s famous street food – top of the list thanks to friend recommendations, was the Islak Burger – I had seen people post about it online and it had never really looked appealing to me but I’m open to new things so I stuck it on the list!

Once unique to Taksim square, islak burgers have started to spread across to other areas, and when Berkay went back to Fethiye after our trip he even managed to find somewhere there selling them! They aren’t really as popular elsewhere though, and to get the authentic experience, you have to go to the home of the islak burger – the top of Istiklal street, on the corner of Taksim Square.
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Taksim square itself is well known for being the central point of demonstrations, riots and protests but when we went, on a sunny, cold Saturday lunchtime it was peaceful and relatively empty. There is a monument in the middle of the square, made in 1928, commemorating the founders of the Republic of Turkey – showing Ataturk in his military uniform on one side, representing the war of independence, and in his ‘normal’ clothes on the other side, representing the modern Turkish Republic.

By night, the area is bustling with thousands of people frequenting its many restaurants, bars and nightclubs – at the end of a good night, they all need something to soak up the alcohol and that’s where the islak burger comes in!
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‘Islak’ is the Turkish word for ‘wet’, so as the name suggests, it is essentially a soggy burger.  A thin, small beef patty, bun and a special garlicky tomato sauce is all they consist of. Once the burgers are cooked and made up, they are put in a glass box on a metal plate – underneath the plate boiling water creates steam which rises up and creates condensation – basically the burgers are treated to their own little sweaty Turkish Hammam experience! It may not sound the most appealing in the cold light of day, but after a heavy night out, you can imagine the appeal!
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As we were in the area at lunchtime, I had my burger earlier in the day than most people! At 5tl each, I can see why people are tempted to have more than one! Berkay didn’t fancy it so he had a doner instead from the same little cafe.

If you get the chance, you should definitely try an Islak burger, don’t be put off by the fact it looks soggy – it’s delicious, especially the way the sauce is soaked into the bread!
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Sent Antuan Kilisesi / St. Antoine Church

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Saint Antoine of Padua Church is the largest Catholic church in Istanbul. Construction began in 1906 and it was opened for worship in 1912. Istanbul had approximately 40,000 Italian members of the community at the time, and the church was built with them in mind.

Located along the bustling Istiklal street, it is still a popular church today, run by Italian priests, holding mass in Italian, Polish, English and Turkish. I think when people think of Istanbul they don’t necessarily think of beautiful churches, so if they stumble across it whilst walking down Istiklal street, it can be a bit of an unexpected hidden gem!
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The church has red brickwork on the outside and is beautifully designed. At the entrance there is a statue of Pope John XXIII who served there for 10 years, he was known to have a fondness of the city of Istanbul.  The ceiling inside is a shade of blue, making it feel particularly bright, and the sun shining through the many stained glass windows adds to the beauty. For a small charge (I think it was 1tl) you can buy a candle to light – we bought two and placed them together.
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We visited in the second week of January and they still had Christmas decorations up – inside we were greeted with huge wreaths, trees and tinsel and outside, a massive tree decorated with red and white poinsettias and a nativity scene. I love Christmas so I was so pleased I got to see it all beautifully decorated – it really was stunning!
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P.S click on any of the photos above to enlarge them and see them in all their glory!