It may only be two more sleeps until Christmas, but it’s certainly going to be a strange one. The tree is up and the Turkey is defrosting in the fridge, but thanks to 2020 and London being in Tier 4, it’s going to be a ‘merry little Christmas’ to quote Boris. With no family allowed in each other’s houses, all the plans went out of the window last Saturday so it’s just the two of us this year- me and Berkay, the real life Grinchy Scrooge!
I, however, love Christmas, so back in January when the world was normal, I was so excited to see Christmas decorations still up around Istanbul when we visited. Saint Antoine Church had it’s nativity scene outside along with a huge tree decorated with white and red poinsettias, so beautiful. You can read a blog post I wrote about the church with more photos here – https://livingtheturkishdream.com/2020/02/16/sent-antuan-kilisesi-st-antoine-church/
Even though most Turkish people don’t celebrate Christmas, (though Father Christmas does originate from there), some do associate him with New Year, so I think that’s why there were still a few Santa’s to be seen mid-January. One restaurant we went to still had a Christmas tree, Santa, reindeer and snow globes on display, looking wonderfully festive! Istiklal Street had bauble lights with a new year message lit up, and a hotel had teddy bears and light up Christmas presents above it’s entrance!
It’s so weird looking at these photos now, remembering being out and about sightseeing without masks on, thousands of people strolling down Istiklal street in the evening with no social distancing required, a time where nobody had ever heard the worlds ‘furlough’ and ‘covid19’, and where strangers walking past you in the street weren’t assumed to be an immediate threat to your health! It seems like a lifetime ago. Just two months after those photos were taken, the whole world got turned upside down! Travel bans, working from home, the 2 meter rule, face coverings… and in the past week we seem to have gone back to square one again! I often just think back to my lonely little desk in Canary Wharf, with everything just as I left it on March 16th, my desk calendar stuck on the same page for over nine months now, like something you see on a documentary where people abandon their houses in a rush, toys left behind, food still in the cupboard and things left untouched for decades. So weird.
Let’s hope 2021 brings better things – Merry Christmas and a happy healthy new year to everyone!
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.