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!

 

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.

 

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!

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! 🙂

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…