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!

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. (:

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! 🙂

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…

 

 

30 DAYS, 30 DISHES – DAY 30: Kuru Fasulye


Kuru Fasulye is a real winter comfort food. Made from dried white beans, onion, tomato, tomato paste and olive oil, it’s a kind of stew, great for warming you up in the cold winter months. You can add chunks of meat if you wish, lamb or beef usually. We love to eat it with fresh, crusty bread to mop it up, but it’s commonly served along side a dish of rice too! It’s one of the most popular dishes in Turkey, and you can buy it in lokantas, although there’s something really satisfying about making your own, if you have the time! Click HERE to read a recipe for this dish.

30 DAYS, 30 DISHES – DAY 6: Zeytinyağlı taze fasulye

Zeytinyağlı taze fasulye is one of my favourite, simple Turkish dishes and it’s quite versatile. It can be eaten warm like a stew, eaten as a side dish with meat, served over rice or eaten cold along with other dishes as a meze.

It’s made with fresh green beans, tomatoes, tomato puree, peppers, onions, garlic and lots of olive oil. You can make it in large batches as it freezes well, and the olive oil means it last for a few days in the fridge too, and the flavour just gets better over time, making it delicious as cold leftovers too.

I love eating it warm in winter with fresh, crusty bread to mop it up with.

Meat is quite expensive in Turkey so a nice vegetarian dish like this is ideal, cheap and very easy to make. I have a recipe for it on my blog, click HERE to see that. In fact, writing this post has really made me want to make some soon so I think I’ll be buying some beans in the weekly shop!

AUGUST PHOTO SERIES – DAY 31 – SITTING IN THE SUNSET

I can’t believe the whole month of August is over and this is the final day of the photo series! I’ve saved my best photo til last, it’s without a doubt my most favourite photo I’ve ever taken. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve shared it a million times before, I just LOVE it. This is Boncuk as a puppy, we’d had her 4 months and were just taking a late afternoon stroll one day in February, along Calis beach. I was trying to get some good sunset photos and she just sat down and posed – pure luck, it’s not easy getting a puppy to sit still! I love her little smiley face, tongue out, ears flapped over, sitting up straight. The sunset in the background, the waves rolling in and Boncuk’s little doggy paw prints in the sand. She was the cutest puppy!

I’ve enjoyed looking back over my old photos this past month and sharing them, showing you all the beauty of Turkey in it’s many forms! I think this photo sums up everything I love most about Turkey personally, Calis beach, sunsets, the sea and our beautiful Boncuk dog.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the photo posts too, thanks to everyone for liking, sharing and commenting over the last month!

AUGUST PHOTO SERIES – DAY 24 – BABADAG MOUNTAIN

Driving or walking along the Fethiye peninsular provides you with plenty of opportunities for panoramic views of the area. Some look out points even have the metal binoculars which you can put a lira in and get a better view of everything. I took this photo while we were parked up somewhere along the peninsular, just past Aksazlar bay. I love how the trees frame the photo, with the masts from the boats in the background and beautiful mountains (with snow on the top – it was February and cold!) I love it when we first approach Fethiye in the transfer or car and you can see these mountains in the distance, always makes me feel like home! ❤

AUGUST PHOTO SERIES – DAY 22 – EARLY MORNING CALIS

Most of my photos of Calis are taken from the beach, looking out to sea, or down the promenade, so today’s photo is a different view of Calis, taken from a boat sailing past. It was a January day and we were on a morning boat trip for breakfast. Obviously it was a bit cold and the boats don’t usually go out, but a few of the boats had the brilliant idea of offering a 2 hour trip, sailing from Fethiye, past Sovalye Island, along Calis beach and then back again, with a buffet breakfast served in between! The sea at Calis can get quite choppy during the day, especially in the afternoon, but for some reason the mornings are usually really calm – as you can see in the photo!

AUGUST PHOTO SERIES – DAY 20 – SEEING DOUBLE?


Mountains Babadağ and Mendos form a major part of the scenery around Fethiye, and has featured a few times in this photo series, but today’s photos show them as you’ve probably never seen them before! When I was living in Turkey the first time, I had a beautiful view of the mountains from my kitchen window, most of the time it was a blue sky and mountains covered in greenery I could see, but on this particular winter day around 5 years ago it looked a bit different! A combination of rain, low cloud and fog made the mountains look very strange, like I was seeing double! There is lots of interesting aspects of Mother Nature to be seen in Turkey whether it’s Summer or Winter!

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