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 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.

Panoramic views of Fethiye

If you want beautiful, panoramic views of Fethiye, a good place to head to is ‘Aşıklar Tepesi’ – roughly translated to ‘hill of lovers’. You can reach it by car, up a very steep winding hill road, or via foot, up 163 steps from a backstreet below.

Whenever we rent a car, we usually drive up and pull over for a while so that we can take in the views, and on our last trip we did that twice.
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The view at the top is just stunning. The boat yard, harbour and amphitheatre to the left, the main bay, marina and town in the centre, and Calis in the distance to the right. All the buildings, especially the more traditional houses with white walls and red/orange roofs look good from high above too. You can see various mountain ranges in the far distance and the trees growing on the hillside just frame the view perfectly.

There are wooden seating areas hanging over the edge, some of them are very rustic and wobbly and I’m always a bit afraid of them breaking!  There used to be a little cafe up there but it’s been gone for a few years now and it still looks a bit of a mess really. You’ll also find piles and piles of sunflower seed shells on the floor, since it’s a popular place for locals to come and sit with a packet of them, a beer and their friends. You can sit here for ages, watching the boats sail in and out, but it’s equally as spectacular at night with the whole of Fethiye lit up down below.
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On the last day of our holiday back in June, Berkay’s family came to visit for the day since it was Bayram/Eid, so we took them up to the look out point and sat at a table with a couple of bottles of coke and some ice creams. His step-mum was too scared to stand too close to the edge so she took this photo of the rest of us instead, Berkay’s dad, brother, his brother’s fiancee and us.
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Going, going, gone.. A Calis Beach sunset.

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Anyone who has been following my blog for a while will know that my favourite thing to do in Turkey is watch a sunset, and there is no better place to do that than in Calis!

There’s just something special about sitting on the beach watching the sun slowly shrink and disappear, at the end of another day.
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Cloudy sunsets are particularly impressive, but this was on a clear day back in June, although a bit hazy due to the heat. I stood on the sand in front of Jiva Beach hotel, pointed my camera and snapped photos as the sun disappeared behind the mountains and hills in the far distance, going from a full circle to a tiny red slither, leaving an orange glowing sky behind. I love the slow gradient from red to all shades of orange, so perfect, as if straight off of an artists paintbrush onto a canvas.

People were swimming in the sea admiring the sunset for themselves too, so there are a few heads bobbing around in my photos!
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Apparently, watching the sunset can have actual benefits on our health and attitude. Not only does it get us outside in the fresh air, but it’s also inspiring and reminds us that we should be thankful for each day, for each morning the sun rises and each evening the sun sets. Watching a sunset can apparently also be a stress reliever, as we watch the sun disappear it can help us feel like the weight of the worries and stress of the day is lifted from our shoulders, we can put the troubles of the day behind us. The soft orange glow of the sky can help us see things in a new light, and notice the beauty in things that the harsh daylight can make us easily miss.
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In the summer the sun sets towards the right hand side of the beach, so its partially blocked by the hill, but it still looks beautiful. In winter months however, the sun sets right on the horizon, right in the middle of the sea as you look at it from Calis Beach, I haven’t seen one of those kinds of sunsets for a few years, perhaps in October…

Dalyan – Dinner with a view, nightlife and something for everyone.

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Aside from the beach, neither Berkay or I had visited Dalyan before, so when we had the chance to spend the night there we tried to make the most of it!

After coming back from the beach on the boat, I really fancied fish for dinner. Overwhelmed by the amount of restaurants to chose from, I messaged one of my Facebook friends who lives in Dalyan and she recommended we go to a restaurant called ‘Casa Nova’, where her husband works. So, off we went to find that restaurant and we were not disappointed! The whole restaurant was really nicely decorated and looked really fancy. Note the sign – you will see pomegranate signs and decorations everywhere in Dalyan as it is famous for its pomegranate growing, with millions of trees producing the fruit in the area.
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The restaurant had a main menu to chose from, but also a cabinet full of fresh fish. We decided to share one as it was quite big! I can’t remember what kind of fish it was, but all I know is that when grilled and served it was very yummy! It was served with onions and tomatoes and chips, along with the side salad, bread, dips and olives we had already been given. My friend had also arranged for us to have a fruit plate for dessert, courtesy of her, bless!
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The location couldn’t have been better either, a lot of the tables were already reserved but we managed to get one right on the waters edge, so we had a beautiful view while we were eating – we got to watch the sun go down behind the rocks, boats sail past and admire the floating garden boat while we ate, too! Considering how lovely the setting and the food was, the bill was very reasonable, so I definitely recommend it.
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After dinner, we walked around the town centre, trying not to get lost! At night the roads are blocked off to traffic so you can wander around the many streets and side streets of the main town centre safely – it’s like a square maze of restaurants, bars and shops. There seemed to be the perfect mix of everything, something for everyone. Cocktail bars, coffee shops, souvenir shops, restaurants, and bakeries!

We stopped at one bakery for some cake, as they just looked too good to resist, but they were quite expensive, 30tl for 2 pieces, which shocked Berkay. He still talks about it now, “if i think about that expensive cake I can’t sleep”! I guess Dalyan is a little more expensive than what we’re used to in Calis and Fethiye.
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By night, Dalyan still looks pretty, especially the rock tombs lit up, and the mosque in the town centre. I also loved that they had a little cat garden with beds safe for street cats and a bird house which seemed to be very popular with local pigeons!
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We stayed at the Tezcan hotel, right on the waterfront by the marina. It was fairly basic but had clean rooms and a good buffet breakfast and was in a perfect location. The next morning before we left, we went for a stroll along the marina with a bag of dog and cat food and fed some of the local stray animals. It was so peaceful in the morning.

Over all I really liked Dalyan, the beach, the river, the scenery, nightlife, restaurants… there was definitely something for everyone and it caters for all kinds of tourists. A really lovely place!
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Dalyan – A river boat, Lycian Tombs and Iztuzu Beach.

Our little mini-adventure on the way back to Calis from Denizli took us from Akyaka to Dalyan. We’d been there on a day trip once before as part of an organised coach tour but didn’t see any of the main town, so this time we decided to stay for the night and see a bit more.

We arrived at lunchtime and drove around for what seemed like forever trying to find our hotel! It seems the whole of the main town has a one way system going on and Berkay ended up very lost and very confused! After asking a lot of passers by, we finally found our hotel, Dalyan Tezcan Hotel, which was right on the waterfront.
 
After checking in, we packed a bag ready for the beach and headed to the waterfront and marina, literally only a 30 second walk took us to the ‘dolmus boat’ which runs regular trips down the river to Iztuzu Beach. I think it was 15tl each for a return journey.

The trip down the river, twisting and turning through the reeds lasts for around 45 minutes. On the way, the boats pass the very impressive Lycian rock tombs, carved into the cliff face. There are 6 main ones, the largest of which is unfinished. They have been there for thousands of years, silently overlooking Dalyan, watching the changes happen and the people come and go, oh the tales they could tell!
 
When we done this trip 5 years ago the boats stopped half way through and a nearby fisherman offered to sell you freshly cooked blue crab, but I don’t know if they still do this as we didn’t see any this time!

After the 45 minute trip along the river, the boat came to a sandy bank at one end of the beach, with a small jetty where people were able to disembark. The first thing we saw was this interesting sign, with lots of places listed and the distance to each one.
 
 
Iztuzu Beach is an arc shaped, 5km stretch of sand, it’s quite narrow and looks beautiful from above. You can get the boat to it like we did, or drive (or walk if you’re feeling adventurous!). The boats dock at one end of the arc and the car park is at the opposite end, so I suspect the car park end of the beach is probably less busy. It has toilets, a cafe and sun loungers/umbrellas, but other than that is relatively untouched, even the facilities are environmentally friendly though. Years ago there were plans for a hotel to be built on the beach, until in 1988 Prince Philip, as the head of the WWF, stepped in and begged the Turkish government to rethink. Following a study into the impact it would have on the environment and nature, the project got cancelled and the whole beach and surrounding area became a protected site.
 
The beach is a nesting site for the famous Caretta Caretta turtles, so you can only access it during the day, at night during the summer seasons the turtles come to lay their eggs. A team from Pammukale University have been researching and studying the turtles over a long period of time and have a turtle sanctuary set up at one end of the beach which we visited, but that deserves it’s own post, so I will write one soon!

The best thing about the beach is the golden sand, there aren’t many sandy beaches in the Dalaman area, a lot are stony and pebbly, with only Iztuzu and Patara really standing out to me as pure sandy beaches. The downside to the sand of course is how hot it gets, you know that feeling when you’re walking along in flip flops, getting your toes burnt, and the ridiculous run/dance you do to reach the sea when you decide it’s time to swim, then realise you’ve underestimated how hot the sand is and you have to run back to get your flip flips and take them to the waters edge with you anyway!
 
When we arrived at the beach it was lunch time and we were really hungry so we went to the wooden cafe and ordered some chips and drinks. Surprisingly, the prices were very reasonable, they could easily take advantage and charge a lot more. The shaded benches provided a very welcome break from the sun too.
 
There are wooden sun loungers and umbrellas available to rent on the beach, one sun bed and an umbrella was 10tl, and two beds and one umbrella was 15tl. We hired two and laid down sunbathing for a while before heading into the sea to cool off, it was an afternoon in early June so it wasn’t overly busy.

Apparently it gets very windy at this beach in the afternoon so it may be better to visit in the morning, although I can’t say that we had any problems, the sea wasn’t too wavy and it was lovely and relaxing.

When it was time to leave, we just headed back to the boat area and boarded one of the dolmus boats, then started the 45 minute trip back to Dalyan – the boat was very full though, barely enough room to squish our bums in!
 
Iztuzu beach is definitely worth a visit, if you want to do something really touristy, I recommend the boat taxi to the beach, but if you prefer things a bit quieter then maybe avoid the boats and make your own way to the beach instead, the boats can sometimes be a bit chaotic! The whole area, the reed-lined river, the pine covered mountain and the golden sandy beach is beautiful and very clean and it’s clear that it’s very well looked after, thankfully!

A Boat trip along the river Azmak, Akyaka..

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When I mentioned that I was going to Akyaka, someone recommended that we go on a short boat trip along the river, and when we arrived and saw how beautiful it was, that’s exactly what we did!

We found the ticket kiosk and asked how much it was, I think it was 10tl each but I’m not 100% sure, I can’t remember, but whatever it was it was cheap and well worth it! We were directed towards a boat which had a few people already waiting, and as soon as we got on, they started up the engine and off we went.
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The Azmak river runs through the valley, winding, twisting and turning until it reaches the sea. It’s surrounded by tall reeds which make wonderful sounds when the wind blows.

We weaved in and out of the reeds and sailed along the crystal clear waters – they told us the water was a ‘natural aquarium’, perfect for the many fish living in it. It was so clear you could see right to the bottom, and it was deep! As we sailed along we admired it’s natural beauty, the sea plants and the shoals of fish swimming past, some were really big! We also saw a lot of pretty birds flying past or perching on the reeds singing.
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The fish and the birds were’t the only wildlife, at one point we turned a corner and came across a gathering of ducks, Berkay referred to them as the ‘duck mafia’ because they were all grouped together. It soon became clear why – on the other side of the boat there were several restaurants lining the route of the river, some of which had seating areas actually IN the cold water! The customers at these restaurants were throwing food in for the ducks, which they definitely seemed to be enjoying!
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One part of the river in particular seemed particularly popular with locals, and they had taken camping chairs and picnics and were sat on the edge of the river bank, under the trees, feet dangling in the cold water, although some of them were diving in, right in front of the boats! I suspect that it was only busy like that because it was a Sunday, and during the week it wouldn’t be so bad.

After around 15 minutes the boat turned around and started its journey back to the marina area, giving us all another look at that beautiful ‘aquarium’ area of the river.

The entire boat journey lasted about 30 minutes, but was well worth it, very relaxing and a real natural beauty. I think we timed it perfectly as well, as when we returned the sun was starting to go down, creating a nice glow over the boats moored up in the marina. If you visit Akyaka, I definitely recommend a trip down the river Azmak.
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