Early morning at Galata Bridge..

The first morning we were in Istanbul we woke up early and headed out straight after breakfast – the sun was just coming up and it was freezing cold. We got the tram to Eminönü, just two stops from where we were staying in Sultanahmet. As soon as we got there we saw Galata Tower, dominating the skyline on the opposite side of the water, so we knew we were in the right place for what we we looking for – Galata Bridge/Galata Köprüsü.

The bridge crosses the ‘Golden horn’ stretch of water, from Eminönü to Karaköy, connecting the old town to the more modern, ‘hip’ area. You can cross it by foot, car or by tram, and there are 6 lanes so it’s quite wide!

The views from the bridge are amazing, especially early morning when we were there. The sun was still low in the sky and the cold, glowing, morning haze just made the view even more beautiful. Galata Tower can be seen on one side, while several mosques and minarets can be seen on the other, including the impressive Süleymaniye mosque.


The bridge is very popular with locals who love to fish- we were there around 9am and there must have already been hundreds of men wrapped up in coats, hats and scarves, lining both sides of the bridge, from one end to the other, fishing. My photos don’t really capture just how many fishing rods were hanging over the sides –  we also crossed the bridge early afternoon one day and there were triple the number of people there and triple the number of rods! Berkay was amazed by it all, and loved watching to see what they were catching – although they only seemed to be small fish! He loves fishing and would no doubt happily spend hours there joining in. Some people were selling their ‘catch of the day’ too.


The lower level of the bridge has dozens of cafes and restaurants selling all sorts of fish dishes – and probably most famously, Balik Ekmek / Fish sandwich (we tried this but I’ll save that for another post!)

If you’re visiting Istanbul I definitely recommend taking a little while to walk across the bridge and soak up the views and the buzz of the cars, trams, boats, seagulls and fishermen – I bet it would be lovely at sunset too!

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

Four days in Istanbul…


It’s been almost a year since my last post on this blog – but thanks to a trip to Istanbul last week, I have a lot of new material and photos to post!

I’ve wanted to go to Istanbul for years, but Berkay was never really keen to go, and we didn’t really have time, anytime we go to Turkey we just go back to Fethiye, because it feels like ‘going home’.

One day in November Berkay messaged me at work and said he wanted to go to Turkey in January, so I said lets go to Istanbul and he agreed.. when I got home from work that evening we booked our flights and hotel before he had a chance to change his mind!

We flew to Sabiha Gökçen airport on 10th January and I flew back to London again on 14th – so it was a very swift but very busy four day visit! Berkay is still in Turkey now as he has gone to visit his family in the village for a few days.

Despite living in busy London ourselves,  I thought that a city as busy as Istanbul might be a bit overwhelming, especially as we had no idea where to go and where things were, or how to get around, but we found public transport in the form of trams, buses and ferries really easy and cheap and it was fun finding our way around a new place.

People kept telling me that because we landed at 5pm, we would be stuck in rush hour traffic for hours on the transfer to our hotel, but it actually only took an hour and a half which is pretty good going! The funniest thing for me was being sat in the car in traffic, seeing people stood out on the road, in between lanes,surrounded by cars, selling things like light up balloons, snacks and bottles of water – I have never seen that before, I suppose it might keep the kids quiet if they had been sat in traffic for ages though!

We stayed in the ‘Old City’ – Sultanahmet. Our hotel was basic but nice, and right next to Sultanahmet square and the Blue Mosque. We had a rooftop area where breakfast was served and the views were lovely! Berkay was surprised by how many foreign tourists were there considering it was winter. In the Sultanahmet area there were definitely more tourists than locals, and when walking past shops and restaurants everyone spoke to us in English because they didn’t expect either of us to be Turkish. One night we ate in a lokanta restaurant and even they assumed Berkay wasn’t Turkish because they asked him if he understood the language, which he thought was really weird!

I am so glad we visited in winter. It was cold, around 7oc during the day and 2oc at night, but it was mostly sunny and we only had one night of rain. I’m not sure I could cope with the heat in the city in summer and we wouldn’t have been able to do all the walking we done – we did about 50,000 steps over the first two days! It was nice being able to wrap up in our coats and hats and wander around without being too hot or sweaty!

I carefully planned every day of our trip with a list of things to see, I did a lot of research before hand, writing down places to visit and checking on the map how far away things were from each other and the best order to do things in and which routes to take – I wrote down how much museums and attractions would cost so that we had an idea of how much money we’d need with us each day too. It worked out really well because without the little plan I’d made we would have woken up each day without a clue where we were going, even Berkay reluctantly admitted that my careful planning was a good idea!

We managed to see everything on my list and more, which I was so glad about. My feet got blisters and my legs ached (why did nobody tell me how hilly Istanbul is!?!) but it was definitely worth it and the 4 days went by fairly slowly so we managed to pack so much in, and even had time for some afternoon naps. The first afternoon we were there we were laying on the bed catching up on social media when the bed started wobbling – we both blamed each other for shaking it and then realised that it was actually a earth tremor, but thankfully only a small one at 4.8 on the scale. Still, enough to remind me that whilst in Turkey you can never really fully trust the ground you walk on, and I do not miss going to bed everynight with earthquakes on my mind!

We managed to visit Galata Bridge, Galata Tower, Istiklal street, St Antoine’s church,  Taksim Square, Dolmabahçe Palace, Basilica cistern, Topkapı Palace, Aya Sofya, Eminönü, the Spice Bazaar, the Blue Mosque, Istiklal Street at night, Balat and saw famous Turkish actors filming for a tv series – Çukur, Bulgarian St Stephen’s church, a boat trip down the Bosphorus, Suleymaniye Mosque & the Grand Bazaar.

Everything was so beautiful and I took over 1000 photos – I’m excited to finally have new things to write about, so come back for new posts soon! 🙂

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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Two village weddings, some bizarre traditions and saying goodbye to the summer..

Last Wednesday we returned from our end-of-season trip to Turkey. We wouldn’t normally visit so late in the year, but we mainly went out for Berkay’s brother’s wedding. Berkay went out 5 days before me to help with wedding preparations, and then I flew out the day the wedding celebrations began (all 3 days of it)…. I missed the actual ceremony as that was earlier in the week, but was there for 2 full days of wedding parties, one in the brides village, one in the grooms. It involved some bizarre traditions, like men beating the groom, having him dress up in women’s clothes then cooking his wife an egg… Thousands of people came to the family home and the final night ended in a few tears after police were called and closed down the wedding due to several fights…… Honestly, if I didn’t have photographic evidence of all this stuff you’d all think I was making it up…

Anyway, after surviving 4 nights in the village, with the help of some ‘rescue remedy’ drops (seriously…) I breathed a huge sigh of relief when it was finally time to drive to Calis. Berkay’s brother and his new wife came with us for a few days too. We stayed in our favourite hotel, Jiva Beach Resort, which was lovely but also not without its surprises, partly because there was a loud, intimidating, narcotics anonymous convention in the hotel for a few days while we were there, with people from all over the world gathering… After a few days, that was over and during the end of our stay we were one of very few occupied rooms left…in fact, we checked out the morning the hotel closed for winter, so we had a very quiet last two days and practically had the hotel to ourselves! In amongst all that, we did the usual things, watched some beautiful sunsets, visited some old friends, made some new furry 4 legged ones and ate a lot of food! We also had some new experiences, visiting the new beautiful park in Calis/Fethiye was definitely a highlight, as well as hopping over to Sovalye Island for lunch, a first for us! Also somewhere amongst all the fun, we’re sure Berkay broke his toe.

As with everything, all good things must come to an end. Saying goodbye to our family and friends is horrible. Even saying bye to the hotel staff was hard, its funny how quickly you get into a routine of doing things and seeing people and then it’s hard to leave them all behind and go back to reality! I could never be one of those seasonal workers, making friends and knowing you’ll probably never see them again…I know they’re used to it and probably don’t really care about the people going and coming, but even for them I think it felt a bit weird right at the end of the season, there was definitely a strange atmosphere around! The hardest goodbye of all, was when we left the village and had to say bye to our Boncuk dog, she had the happiest face when we were around, and the morning we were leaving she just knew, she had the saddest face ever and she just broke my heart!

While we were out there, the clocks went back in the UK, but stayed the same out in Turkey, meaning the time difference is now 3 hours, long enough to leave us with a little jet lag on our return!

All in all, it was a good 12 days away, even if a little….very…stressful at times… It was the perfect end to the summer.

Now we’re home it’s full on CHRISTMAS mode…

 

 

The Sea Turtle research, rescue and rehabilitation centre…

When you think of Dalyan, you think of the beautiful Caretta Caretta turtles. Also known as Loggerhead sea turtles, they have an impressive average lifespan of up to 67 years, and can weigh around 300lbs!

In 2009, the sea turtle research, rescue and rehabilitation centre was founded in Dalyan. It is run by a team from Pamukkale University and helps dozens of Turtles every year.

The Turtle Hospital as it is more simply known, is located at the back of Iztuzu beach.

You can visit the centre, where a tour guide will take you around, giving you information, showing you replicas, and explaining more about their organisation. There are posters and leaflets in different languages, going into detail. The centre likes having visitors, since they aim to promote public awareness of the work they do and the need for their conservation and preservation efforts.

The first thing you come across is the mini museum with information posters on Akut 3, a fairly famous turtle! The body of the turtle is also preserved there. It was hurt in a boating incident and was unable to be released back into the wild because it was unable to eat properly with its damaged jaw. In a first of it’s kind special surgery, it was given a 3D printed prosthetic jaw! The turtle died a while later due to different complications but it’s very interesting to read about. If you do a google search on the name, you’ll find a lot of news articles about this turtle.
 
 
There is also information about the causes of injuries to the turtles, perhaps most disturbing is the fact that 20% of injuries are caused intentionally by humans, and another 19% by accidental collisions with boats etc.

You’re also taken on a little tour to see the turtles they are currently looking after – although the aim is to rehabilitate and release the turtles, sometimes it’s not possible, so some of them have been there for a while.

When we went in June, they had 5 turtle residents in their individual tanks, all various ages with different health problems. There are posters next to their tanks telling you their names, how old they are and why they’re there.
 
Aybüke – a 35-40 year old Caretta Turtle who has been at the centre since February due to a weakness meaning she won’t survive in the wild.
 
Selda – A 15-20 year old Caretta turtle, found in Bodrum and rescued 18 months ago after she swallowed a fishing hook and line.

Kanki, a baby, just 9 months old, rescued from Sargierme due to having a problem with it’s left eye. Just look how tiny it is!
 
I can’t remember the names of the other two turtles but they were all very cute. So surreal seeing them up close. I did feel sorry for them living alone in their tanks swimming around in circles… but they’re not kept there for fun – they’re kept there because they wouldn’t survive if they were released in the wild to fend for themselves.

The centre relies a lot on donations, so there are collection boxes for you to put some cash in, if you wish (and after seeing the turtles, who wouldn’t want to donate!) There are also branded products you can buy, fridge magnets, bags, coffee flasks, keyrings etc.
 
If you’re visiting the area, or spending a day at that end of the beach, it’s well worth visiting the turtle hospital, it’s a rare opportunity to see them up very close, and have the chance to donate and make a tiny contribution towards helping them and their sea friends!

The scenic route to Iztuzu Beach…

Iztuzu Beach, an arc shaped 5km stretch of sand on the Mediterranean coast, is accessible from Dalyan in two ways – either by boat, which takes you to one end of the beach, or by car/bus which takes you to the opposite end. For me, as nice as the river boat is, it’s even more spectacular to go by car, passing by the beautiful, serene, Lake Sülüngür on the way.

As you follow the road higher along the mountain road, among the pine trees, you are greeted with beautiful views of the beach. It looks really impressive and you can really see the shape it forms, a fairly narrow beach, with a small lagoon behind it at one end, and the reeds and Dalyan river behind it at the other.
 
The reason we chose to drive on that day was to visit the Turtle hospital which is at this end of the beach. The hospital is towards the back of the beach, overlooking the lagoon with equally stunning views – mountains in the distance, trees and beautiful pink flowers in the foreground, reeds, and that calm, still water, just beautiful!
 
Another bonus of driving, is the chance of getting a closer look at the wildlife. On our way back along the mountain road, we saw a tortoise minding his own business trying to cross to the other side (I’m sure there’s a ‘why did the tortoise cross the road’ joke in there somewhere!). Berkay stopped the car and helped him along his way, saving him from inevitably getting run over. I love how the tortoise’s legs are just dangling in these photos, bless him, I’m sure he was grateful for the little intervention!
 

Looking out over Ölüdeniz…

 
Back in June we made the most of having the rental car by driving around and visiting various places. One of them being the look out point at the start of the Lycian Way, over looking Ölüdeniz.

We drove a little way up the mountain road, parked up and walked for about 5 minutes to the look out point, passing an old abandoned tent on the way! It involves climbing up a few rocks and it’s steep and bumpy under your feet so you need to wear decent shoes, not flip flops! We went on a particularly hot day and thanks to my Fit-bit, I could see my heart rate rising a lot, it was quite hard work in the heat!

When you climb down the other side of the rocks, you’re greeted with this beautiful view…
 
I’ve never really been a fan of Ölüdeniz, controversial I know! At ground level, I don’t think its that impressive, but from above it’s really stunning. Because it was so hot the day we went, it was very hazy so my photos aren’t the clearest, and they were only taken on my phone, but I have taken higher quality, better ones on my camera before and posted them HERE a few years ago if you want to take a look. Photos don’t really do it justice though!

The view of the lagoon is lovely, and the sea to the left hand side is an impressive shade of blue. You can hear people playing in the swimming pools at the various hotels at the foot of the mountain, watch the boats sailing, or people walking along the beach. I love the mountains in the distance too, just a shame it was hazy.
 
Of course, as with most patches of natural beauty, human interference has had an impact. While trying to enjoy the view, we couldn’t not notice the amount of rubbish in the area – carrier bags, beer bottles, cigarette packets, food packets, water bottles, and the charred remains of various fires people had lit for BBQ’s! It really spoiled it, and Berkay decided to do his bit and went around with a couple of empty bags collecting a lot of the rubbish up… It’s sad everyone doesn’t take their own rubbish with them!
 
You can access the road leading up to the look out point by foot or by car, but you have to walk the last little bit. It’s worth the effort for the view, and nice to see Ölüdeniz from a different angle.

Köyceğiz – Peaceful, Beautiful, lakeside views.

  
Back in June we were due to land at Dalaman late at night and needed to find a nearby cheap hotel for the night where we could just sleep before driving onto Denizli the next morning. Berkay was quite happy to drive around at midnight trying to find a hotel, atypical Turkish laid back attitude, however I kept bugging him to find one, so when we were sat at Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen airport awaiting our connecting flight, he contacted his friend who suggested we stay at a hotel they’d been to in Köyceğiz, so after a very last minute booking, that’s what we did!

Köyceğiz is about 25 minutes from Dalaman airport, and it was around 1 am when we arrived and checked in at the Kaunos Hotel. After a day of travelling and having the stop over at Istanbul, we just fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows!

I woke up really early just after the sun had risen, and when I looked out of the balcony window I was greeted by this stunning view, the sky had a slight pink tinge and that early morning glow still lingered.

After getting ready and sorting out our bags we headed downstairs for breakfast which was a simple Turkish breakfast buffet. I had a brief look at the pool area which was really nice and peaceful but we didn’t have time to swim as we were driving to Denizli later that morning.
 
I insisted we have a little walk along the promenade after breakfast so I could take some photos of the beautiful Köyceğiz lake. Since it’s a lake and not the sea, its very calm and the surrounding mountains and clouds reflect perfectly on the still water, it’s quite clear so you can see to the bottom in the shallow places. The lake is the source of the Dalyan river, which meets the sea at Iztuzu Beach. Apparently, the lake was formed 7500 years ago, as a result of several earthquakes. A major fault line runs through it, and this is were the sulphuric hot springs that you visit at the nearby mud baths come from too.
 
 
There is no beach here, but a nice long promenade to walk along and take in the views. It was so peaceful we didn’t see any other people walking around, only a few street animals, some people having a rest on a bench, and a lonely boat moored up.

Köyceğiz is very quiet, there are a few basic hotels and cafes, a market on a Monday, and boat trips across the river, some of those going to the mud baths. Because the hotels are basic, they are very cheap, we paid less than 100tl for the night for both of us and there wasn’t any complaints from us! It’s got a real authentic Turkish feel and hasn’t been at all ruined by tourism, it’s a bit of a hidden gem for a relaxing few hours away from the hustle and bustle of nearby resorts like Dalyan, Sarigerme, etc.
 

5 Year Blog birthday!

Today is my 5 year blog birthday!

In August 2013 I was living in Turkey and had been living there for two years, I decided to start writing a blog to share my experiences and let people see that living there wasn’t all one big holiday! A month after starting my blog I actually moved back to the UK (which ended up being temporary..) and then it became more of a place just to write my thoughts about moving back. Then a few months later I moved back to Turkey again, carried on writing about life living there and exploring the area. Then of course, Berkay went into the army for his national service so I wrote about that a lot, if you’ve been following me since 2015 you will remember my countdown posts! He finished the army, we got married, applied for his visa and now we live in the UK.
I haven’t really been concentrating on my blog as much over the last year as I kind of fell out of love with the country a bit, having seen too much of a side I don’t really like… however, after our most recent holiday back in June I fell in love with the place again and have been trying to be more regular with my posts!

Back in April I finally reached 1,000,000, ONE MILLION views, which was very exciting, so thank you for everyone who reads my posts or follows me, really much appreciated!

Just for fun, here’s a link to my first ever blog post where it all began:
https://livingtheturkishdream.com/2013/08/18/a-little-about-me/