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! 🙂

A Brief glimpse of Istanbul..Aqua Florya Alışveriş Merkezi

 
I have wanted to visit Istanbul for ages, but never had the time or the opportunity really – we are creatures of habit and love going back to Calis and Fethiye. Although I would be happy to go elsewhere for a change, Berkay just is a real Fethiye boy at heart. I’m hoping for a little city break in Istanbul one day, but the closest thing I’ve had to seeing Istanbul so far, is from inside Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.

However, when we were on our journey back to London Gatwick in September , we had a 4 hour stopover at Ataturk airport and we took the opportunity to have a mini adventure. We exited the domestic terminal and stood in the taxi rank area, we planned to go straight to the International terminal and just sit around and wait, but seeing all the taxi’s made us reconsider! We had 4 hours to spare, and decided as long as we were back at the airport 2 hours before our flight we would be fine. It was a bit manic, taxi’s everywhere, people trying to find empty ones, but Berkay managed to speak to someone who suggested we go to the nearby Aqua florya, so we hopped in a taxi with our hand luggage and that’s what we did.
 
The shopping centre was about 15 minutes away from the airport, so we arrived there quickly. I felt a bit suspicious walking around with my mini suitcase hand luggage, especially as security was pretty high, they searched the taxi as it approached and scanned us and our bags on entry to the shopping centre – the level of security is quite reassuring though.

Aqua Florya Shopping centre is huge, it has multiple floors of shops, a food court, cinema, sea-side cafes and restaurants and even an aquarium, which is the main theme throughout, hence the name ‘aqua’. There are fish-themed decorations hanging in the centre too, it looks really pretty. When we went it was completely empty, but it was around 11am, so quite early. It was also midweek, I bet it’s really busy at weekends. The shops looked quite expensive, big fashion names, but we didn’t walk around too much so didn’t go in any or see much of it.
 
We saw a sign for the terrace and stepped outside, the view was absolutely stunning. We walked down the wooden steps to a little cafe with a sea view, we only had a glass of tea though. While sitting there, we could watch the planes fly in over the sea on their way to land at the nearby Ataturk airport, where we had just come from. They were very frequent, every few minutes, as it’s a very busy airport!  

We were really conscious of the time, and although we had around 3 hours until our flight, we didn’t want to be in a rush, so we only stayed around 45 minutes. On our way out of the shopping centre we tested out the massage chairs, just for a couple of minutes of fun! If we had longer between flights we would have gone into the aquarium because I’ve heard it is very good.

When we left, we found the taxi rank and jumped in one back to the airport, where we experienced a bit of Istanbul traffic! The journey which took us 15 minutes on the way there, took us 50 minutes on the way back, so it’s a good job we left in plenty of time!! Finally we got back to the airport, through security and passport control and waited for our flight, with plenty of time to spare without getting bored!
 
Even though we had the briefest glimpse of Istanbul, it was a nice little mini adventure to break up the wait between flights and we enjoyed the change of scenery and beautiful sea views. I really want to explore ‘real’ Istanbul in all it’s glory and hope one day I can convince Berkay to have a proper visit!

Flying with Turkish Airlines again!

I flew with Turkish Airlines for the first time last year, and wrote a post about it on here (click HERE to read). We flew with them again last month and it was a little different, so I thought I’d do an updated post.

Going out, we flew from Gatwick to Dalaman via Sabiha Gökçen airport in Istanbul, which I’d never been to before. The previous 4 times I flew with them, the cabin crew came around with a small piece of Turkish delight and a menu, just after take off, but this time they didn’t – I think they must have stopped doing this now! The menu was handy as it told you the meal options in advance, rather than just waiting for them to come around with the trolley and having to make an on-the-spot decision!  When they did come around, about 45 minutes into the flight, we got given the option of a meat dish or a pasta dish – I chose the meat. We had chicken, vegetables, mash, salad with feta cheese, tomato and cucumber and a bread roll with butter. Dessert was some kind of mousse, I think it was mango or something similar with chocolate flakes on top! We also had a little carton of water, and a drink of whatever we wanted, including alcohol! I love that you get a little sachet of olive oil for the salad, we all know how Turks love their olive oil, and salt, pepper and ‘real’ metal cutlery too – nothing worse than trying to cut meat with a plastic fork!

When we came in to land at Istanbul, the view of the city from the plane window was really interesting, the airport is so close to so many buildings, and there are some really fancy tower blocks too. All you can see when taking off/landing at Gatwick is fields, so it made a nice change! We had an hour and 25 minutes between flights, but our first one was delayed by around 30 minutes, so it was a bit tight! We walked down the steps off the plane and onto a waiting bus to take us to the terminal. There was a MASSIVE queue for passport control and we panicked a little as we only had an hour to get through, go to the international terminal, find the gate and board the plane. Luckily, there were airport staff directing people with domestic connecting flights to go through a fast track passport control desk and straight into the international terminal, without having to re-enter through security so that saved us a lot of time. After a quick wee, we checked the board, found our gate number, walked down to it and breathed a sigh of relief as we sat down in the seating area. We must have been sat down for less than 60 seconds when they announced that it was time for us all to go towards the desk and have our boarding passes checked, then taken onto another bus on the tarmac ready to take us to the plane!

We got to walk up the steps to the plane which I always love doing, so much more fun than walking through the tunnel to board! This particular plane was different to any others I’d been on and had little footrests under the seats which I loved – really comfortable. By the time we sat down, the sun was just beginning to set outside, which made it feel like a really long day of travelling as we had left our house at 7.15 am that morning!

The flight from Istanbul to Dalaman is really quick, less than an hour, and almost straight after take off the cabin crew came around with some snacks. On the domestic flights you don’t get a full meal, just a snack, and no alcoholic drinks, just soft drinks or tea/coffee. The last time I flew the food was given in a little paper tray and had a sandwich, pot of salad and dessert, but they have changed this, now it’s only a toastie or something similar. We had cheese, tomato and olive toasties. Berkay, being the growing man that he is, asked for two, and they gave them to him, he was very thrilled about this as you can tell!

The domestic terminal at Dalaman is currently under construction so when we landed we were taken to a corner of the International airport through a door to collect our luggage from the carousel, then it was straight outside, down the ramp and into our transfer car to Calis!

Fast forward two weeks and the inevitable journey back home again began. Of course the flights out to Turkey are always much more exciting than the flights back home again, right? We had been awake since 5am for our 8.30am flight, and although the excitement of going on holiday keeps you wide awake on the way out, when you’re tired on the flight home and facing the reality of going back to work the next day it’s not quite as fun! With one last glance down at Dalaman, the plane soared up to 30,000 ft and we waited for our in-flight breakfast snack – a cheese and tomato panini!

As soon as we had finished that, it was time to land in Istanbul again, this time at Atatürk Airport. We had longer between flights this time – almost 4 hours to wait, so we actually left the airport for an hour and hopped in a taxi to a local shopping mall. On our return to the airport, we went through security, passport control, one more security with full body scanners, then through to Duty Free. When we checked the departure boards, our gate number was already up so we found that and had our boarding passes and passports checked not one, not two, but three times, and Berkay had his hand luggage thoroughly searched in a spot-check too! The security there is really good, but I suppose it’s expected. We didn’t have to wait too long before boarding once again, and Berkay had his last sniff of Turkish air before stepping on the plane.

The meal on the flight home was again a choice of a meat or pasta dish. We had kofte (meatballs), rice, vegetables, cacik (yogurt with cucumber), a bread roll and a chocolate mousse for dessert.
 
Other than the food, my favourite things about Turkish Airlines are the personal entertainment touch screens on the back of all the seats. They have lots of games, music and films on them, including some films not even released on DVD yet! The ones on the plane home even had USB ports so you could charge your phone through them, really handy! I’m a big kid and can’t travel without a a bear, I always get him out on the plane as you can see! By the time I had watched a film and had a sleep, making the most of the empty seat one side of me, the Captain announced it was time to descend into Gatwick, right back to down to earth with a bump, literally!

Overall I love flying with Turkish Airlines, and this time they were actually cheaper than Easy Jet, Thomas Cook etc with the added bonus of 23kg hold luggage included, 8kg hand luggage and the free food and drinks. The only downside is the waiting time between flights but I think it’s well worth it!

Flying with Turkish Airlines…

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

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

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

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

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

Ending the blog with one of Turkish Airlines’ slogans – “Smaller world, Bigger smiles” – If only, eh?
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One more sleep!!

Yes, ONE.MORE.SLEEP.

One more night of star-fishing in my bed alone until Berkay will be here to join me!

It’s been nearly 13 weeks since I saw him, still can’t believe I’ve been back that long. I was looking back at my old posts on here the other day and it seems like a whole different world away to life now.

It was Berkay’s birthday last Friday, unfortunately he wasn’t here to celebrate so I’ve got his presents all wrapped and ready and my little sister informs me she wishes to make cakes as a belated celebration, we’ll see. 🙂
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What with it being winter, there are very few direct flights to Dalaman, so he has to fly from Antalya instead, there were also no cheap direct flights either, so it involves a stop over at Istanbul. He starts the long 4 hour journey from Fethiye to Analya tomorrow morning, 2 buses later he’ll be at the airport with a few hours to spare, hopefully, before his 17.15 flight to Istanbul, where he’ll wait for 2.5 hours before boarding the 4 hour flight to London! Poor Berkay will be knackered! Me and my dad will be picking him up from the airport 11pm tomorrow night,  less than 24 hours … I can’t wait!!

I’m so excited to see him of course, I just wish I wasn’t juggling two jobs so I could see him more. What a great feeling it will be to have him waiting at home for me when I get in though! 🙂

He’s here for 3 weeks, and most importantly, for Christmas and New Year. Friends will be staying in the hotel and looking after Boncuk, so she won’t be alone, she’ll be well looked after and has a ton of Christmas presents for Berkay to bring back for her! Spoilt doggy.

I apologise for not updating this blog as much as I should, I’m hoping to do daily updates when Berkay is here, time permitting!

Thanks for all the support as always, I’ve had tons of people messaging me saying they’re so excited for me after following my little facebook countdown 😉 I’m off to bed now and the ‘1 more sleep’ is about to become 0!

As I type, the song ‘Driving home for Christmas’ has just come on the music channel, I’ve been playing this song a lot recently, it seems very appropriate. I heard it play when I walked into Tesco the other day, and now on the TV as I was about to press ‘publish’ on this post! It’s a sign, I’m certain ! 🙂
xxx