Archive | October 2011

Turkey travel day: Day 7 – Swimtrek day 5

Today’s post is one of my favourite days on the swimtrek. 2 great scenic coastal swims and some really cool photos that I absolutely love. —- Waking up every morning was like this:

From Swimtrek day 5

(A photo of a real sign in Kas – I think it was the name of a restaurant or a cafe). It was like the movie “Groundhog Day” but set in Paradise. Cloud 9 was my new address. Perfect weather, idyllic location, lots of swimming, great food and surrounded by stunning scenery. And because I don’t think I’ve tortured you enough with my photos and exciting recount of my time swimming around Turkey, here are some even more photos. After breakfast, we met a tad before 9am, and walked down to the marina to board our gulet (Turkish yacht), and set sail for another full day of swimming.

From Swimtrek day 5

The town of Kas in the distance:

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

First up this morning was a 3km coastal swim. Another glorious day of swimming. Water was so incredibly warm, and clear, deep and blue. We got to see some really cool underwater stuff today and I took some really neat underwater photos. We passed a sunken coastguard ship that was at the bottom of the seafloor. It had been planted there for scuba divers. The morning’s coastal swim ended at Shark Bay – which is not the most comforting thing you want to hear as an open water swimmer. Shark Bay we found out, was so called, because of a concrete shark statue that lies at the bottom of the water in that bay. I have some action shots of me swimming – gave my swim guide my camera and he took a few shots of me in action, which I thought was pretty cool.

From Swimtrek day 5

And then some unattractive shots of me taking a breath. No one looks attractive in that position. Trying to avoid gulpfuls of saltwater.

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

Even though I was in the middle-speed group, I gotta admit, at times, I had trouble keeping up. I had never swum this much ever (well, maybe not since my swimming squad days back in high school, over a good 15 years ago). 5-6km a day, each day. It was a little tiring. I love swimming, but I’m not that fast. Endurance, rather than speed is my thing. So even though I had no trouble with the distances, I wasn’t very fast. Swimming in a group though was really good for me. It was challenging for me to keep up and made me push that little bit harder to keep up. Some of swims, I was happy to be at the back of the pack. Swimming with others, pushes you to try that bit harder. Because I swim on my own in Japan, I think I’ve gotten complacent with speed and interval training. After our 3km swim, the boat anchored in Shark Bay where we settled in for a few hours for lunch and relaxation and leisure swimming.

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

The water was super clear, so I went on an underwater photo spree.

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

Can you see the Shark statue? (at Shark Bay):

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

I took a really cool underwater photo series of Mr. A (the hottie swimguide. I should add that he was also a nice, decent guy and not just because of his looks). Captured some really cool angles and movement. I’m not sure why I was taking photos of him. As a photographer, I’m constantly seeing things through a lens (which also makes me a super observant person of society and life), he was a really neat photo subject under the water. I’m not sure what he was doing because he wasn’t actually posing for any of these shots – I was just randomly taking photos of him, totally unbeknownst to him. And no, I wasn’t being some crazy stalker person. I, literally, take photos of everything! And these were really nice water angles of him. Of course, it helps to have a body like this (hard to peel your eyes off of):

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

I think these photos are so neat. They are pretty impressive, considering they’re taken on my underwater digital camera – they didn’t come out blurry considering the subject was moving a lot, and very little bubbles in the shot. I think the timing of the frames are also pretty spot on. He was swimming under water and I also had to be under the water to take them. I’m not the most buoyant person either, so that was challenging. Too much body fat – I float too much. The shark statue is kind of a popular spot with scuba divers as well so there were scuba divers about too.

From Swimtrek day 5

Here’s another photo series I cleverly captured:

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

Mr A offered to take a couple of shots of me. He anchored himself with his feet onto the shark statue and stood at the bottom of the sea floor and then had me swim over the top. I should mention that Mr A can also freedive which meant he could hold his breath for a substantial amount of time to capture these photos of me. I love this next photo of me (taken by Mr. A). This would be my favourite. How cool is that! Me swimming over the top of the water, and the photo was taken looking up from the bottom of the seafloor.

From Swimtrek day 5

iSwim. Therefore, I don’t drown. And this is another cool one of me swimming towards the light. This photo captures the essence of my whole experience on the swimtrek holiday in Turkey – me, being in the water, seeing light, seeing clarity. It captures solitude, freedom, opportunity, power, a balance of human existence and nature. Such a purifying and invigorating experience. And this frame captures that. A single moment of an amazing experience that spanned days.

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

Enough of the photo shoot (for now, anyway). Lunch today was fish, which was grilled off the back of the boat by Mustafah (our boat captain):

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

Best water view restaurant in the house:

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

After lunch, we had more fun in the water and more underwater snaps.

From Swimtrek day 5

Here is a neat one that I took of Mr. D (the other swimguide) – cool meditation pose that he’s doing. Do you realise how hard that pose is to do underwater! You’ve got to have no body fat on you to pull that off:

From Swimtrek day 5

More random group shots:

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

And then a couple more playful shots of me that someone else took:

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

Here are some underwater snaps of some fish:

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

And check out this interesting fish:

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

I also went back out to the sunken coastguard ship on the motor dinghy with the guides and took some more underwater shots of Mr. A freediving. This was at a depth of about 19m, which he freedove. Super impressive, and the fact that there were scuba divers down there with masks and oxygen tanks, and was totally doing this on his own – he did have a snorkle mask I think. Check out the sunken coast guard ship:

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

It was a lot deeper out here. The depth was a bit too much for my camera too handle, so wasn’t able to get down too deep.

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

Another short photo series I took of Mr. A freediving – I think he was swimming through the hull of the ship. Mind you, this was nearly 20m under water, as well. He goes in:

From Swimtrek day 5

He comes out:

From Swimtrek day 5

And then back up to the surface:

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

All these underwater shots were not easy to take. I’ve got to tread water in the choppy water, take deep breaths and go under water and focus on the camera lens. You’ve got to time the frames to capture a decent shot, but at the same time try not to get bubbles in the frame, and I was having to keep coming up for air. I didn’t have a snorkle mask so a lot of deep breaths. A lot of fun in the water today. So much stuff to see. It was a very scenic swim. The afternoon was spent doing another coastal swim of about 2km (I think this was the shortest swim the whole week). This time we swam to Pebble Beach (which is close to Kas).

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

Pebble Beach in the distance:

From Swimtrek day 5

And then back onto the boat past the Amphitheatre and back to Kas.

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

We got back to Kas around 4pm and had the evening at leisure. Some of us walked around the local markets before heading back to the hotel.

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

A big group of us went to dinner at Bahce for a mezze feast.

From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5
From Swimtrek day 5

A well-earnt beer:

From Swimtrek day 5

Another solid day of swimming and eating. Today we swam about 5-6km. My body was still itchy and I was getting some chafing on my neck and back shoulders after all this swimming. Definitely feeling healthy and fit. All this sunshine and exercise. This holiday was so motivating and inspiring. It made me feel as though I could do anything. Life was full of so much possibility. A holiday will make you feel that way. If there’s not enough photos here for your liking, then check out the Photo album.

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Turkey travel diary: Day 6: Swimtrek day 4

This morning we met at 9am but this time we were departing from Kas (not Ucagiz), so we walked from the hotel down to the town marina pier.

From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4

We boarded our new gulet for the next two days. This gulet was smaller and not as nice as the previous two days’ boat. Ah well. We’d been pretty spoilt thus far – with amazing weather, delicious feast and a great location. Can’t complain. Mind you, it was still pretty luxurious.

From Swimtrek day 4

Before I go on, I will also mention the fact that I was suffering some kind of allergic reaction to the water. Despite the clear, warm, blue waters we were swimming in, there was also some kind of sea lice or something. Everyone was experiencing prickling during our swims. Littler critters would sting and prickle all of us. But I have super sensitive skin and an allergy to bugs and stuff, that I started to get an allergic reaction and was breaking out in an itchy rash – much like the one back here in Japan that time. It was the same experience all over. I had major itchy rashes on my arm and torso causing major discomfort. I had prepared for this, and had packed an assortment of creams just in case. One other lady was experiencing the same reaction, me to a worse extent though. All over my arms and torso I had red itchy spots and rashes. My skin is a little bit precious, me thinks. I think I have some kind of histamine issue in my system. Even though other people felt the stinging and prickles, no one else was having a reaction to it. Here are some photos of Kas from the boat out on the water:

From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4

Anyway, today we headed out into Greek waters near the Greek island of Megisti which is super close to Turkey. We were not allowed to step onto Greek soil, (which would have been cool) so we settled for Greek waters instead. Megisti – Greek Island (otherwise known as Kastellorizo – a tiny, tiny Greek island, less than 12 square km):

From Swimtrek day 4

Instead of a coastal swim, we were going to do a crossing swim today. From Greek waters we would swim into Turkish waters. This was one hell of a rough crossing swim, and it was about 4km.

From Swimtrek day 4

Here we are chilling out on the boat just prior to the swim. Little did we know what was in store for us.

From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4

The swim today was so difficult that we probably swam just under 5km – taking us 1hr and 45min. The conditions were super choppy and bouncy. It was so rough that one of the girls was getting seasick in the water and had to get back on the boat. It was a slog of a swim. Land seemed so elusive. Seriously, felt like we were getting nowhere despite swimming our hearts out. It was long and tiring. Felt like the never-ending swim. I felt like I was trapped in one of those snowglobes being shaken about. Others likened it to being in a washing machine. Either way, not pleasant. I soldiered through the swim. At long last, we got back on the boat. Even the boat was rocking about pretty heavily. Everyone was feeling slightly lightheaded and nauseous. The most traumatising swim to date. But at least we had swum from Greece to Turkey. Pretty darn cool. For extra cheese factor, we had a group photo with both the Greek and Turkish flag. Yay us.

From Swimtrek day 4

During the crossing swim, adding to the fact that we were in super choppy waters, I also happened to get stung by a jellyfish. At no point did I see the jellyfish coz it was so choppy and bouncy, I didn’t know left from right, but I certainly felt it. I swore and clutched at my arm. A jellyfish sting feels as though 20 needles are being jabbed into you at once, and then it just throbs. I kept on swimming though…because clearly I’m hardcore (or just plain foolhardy). Upon later inspection of my arm, you could see the marks that the jellyfish had made – one of which is a full circle around my arm where its tentacle had wrapped itself around – I have a nice little scar that spans my whole arm width, and a couple of smaller whiplash-style sting marks. At least, it doesn’t itch like the rash that covered the rest of my body. I also got stung on my thigh – got a nice jellyfish scar there too. I don’t think these are going away any time soon, but I’m hoping they’ll fade in time. Hopefully a tan will hide the scars. If I were a guy, they’d be totally badass, but alas, I am not, so I just look like I’ve flagellated myself with barb wire. I suppose a jellyfish sting was inevitable. I thought that my reaction would have been worse considering I’m allergic to bees. I had gotten myself an Epipen for the trip in the event of a bad reaction to a jellyfish sting. After being scarred by the morning’s intense rough swim, we were lucky that today was in fact a half day. Hell, we needed the rest of the day to recover. We were midweek into the tour, and one of the days is designated as a half-day so we can fit in our own sightseeing and free time, and get a break from the swimming. I think I was turning into a mermaid. So back to Kas we went for a free afternoon to do as we pleased. I felt a bit lightheaded back on land. I think everyone was feeling light on their feet as we all felt as though we were still rocking about. A combination of the sun, dehydration, seasickness and jellyfish sting. I probably could have done with a nap but I didn’t want to waste the day. Plus, I had errands to run. I took a photowalk through the town. Kas is a small hilly cliffside seatown. It’s quite romantic, really. A nice little honeymoon destination. Here are some photos I took as I got acquainted with the town of Kas. I hadn’t spent much time on land in the last few days.

From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4

Pomegranates are in abundance in Turkey:

From Swimtrek day 4

Once in town, I had to make some travel arrangements for my second week in Turkey. I had not planned a single thing beyond the swimtrek. I was just going to wing it once I got there. I booked a bus out of Kas for the Sunday onto my next destination. I also needed to book a flight back to Istanbul at the local travel agent etc. Just errandy stuff – but super productive. Went to the supermarket just to check it out. I like checking out foreign supermarkets. Got me some Powerade drinks. I was feeling dehydrated the last couple of days despite drinking over 2 litres of water a day. I felt like water alone wasn’t cutting it. Needed me some sugar and electrolytes just to give me a bit of strength. One of the guys told me he had packed protein powder and had been mixing that and drinking it everyday, just to recharge him. Smart. Even though I was eating well, I don’t think I was eating enough in comparison to what I was burning. I was trying to avoid overeating which is easy to do on holidays, mainly to avoid bloating. I didn’t want to eat big meals before big swims. Even though I was eating a lot, it was probably nothing in comparison to what I normally eat. I eat way more in everyday life. Some more photos of the town:

From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4

Not just any beer. BIG beer.

From Swimtrek day 4

Lots of local markets:

From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4

Kas is a really nice pretty town – surrounded by turquoise waters of the mediterranean and the rocky mountains of the Lycian Way. Lots of nice boutique stores, a marina pier and plenty of really nice seaside dining restaurants serving up great food. It’s a really hard place to hate.

From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4

You can do things like parasailing, snorkelling, scuba diving, swimming, boat trips out to the Greek Islands and various day boat trips to other nearby islands and ruins, as well shopping, eating, and sun-tanning (tsk tsk). Do not neglect the suncream. I was really good about applying suncream all over, but the one spot I missed were my hands. With all the swimming I was doing, my hands got quite tanned and look like they’ve aged. Was vigilant about applying it everywhere else though – arms, shoulders, neck, back of legs, back, face etc. Headed back to the hotel where I had a very late lunch and spent some time trying to research and plan accommodation for the rest of my trip. Had not booked anywhere to stay after the swimtrek. Just took it easy for the rest of the arvo. One of the nice things about doing this swimtrek, and just being on holidays in general, was seeing the sun set over the water each day. It was a daily ritual.

From Swimtrek day 4
From Swimtrek day 4

In the evening, had dinner with a two other fellow swimtrekkers at Ikbal – which rates as one of the best places to dine at. The service and food here was amazing!!!! It lived up to its reputation. Another satisfying day…although my body was a little worse for wear – itchy, red and stinging. But with all this swimming, I was feeling fit! Felt so healthy and alive. The endorphins were really kicking in with all this exercise. Swimming is really invigorating and meditative – gives you time to be totally free of thoughts, yet at the same time, an opportunity to reflect. Swimming provides such clarity and I was feeling a change within me. It was also really pleasant to be at one with nature – swimming in the wild deep blue ocean – a whole other world, as well as being in the sunshine, and surrounded by mountains and water. Such a nice change from the daily grind of everyday life and working in an office. Truly a wonderful experience doing this swimtrek and we were only halfway through the week! More photos here.

Turkey travel diary: Day 5 – swimtrek day 3

Just another day in paradise. Sigh. The holidays gods were truly upon us. Couldn’t have scripted a more perfect day.

From Swimtrek day 3

Another beautiful sunny day on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, and a buffet breakfast to wake up to. Breakfast – a la Turkish style:

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

This is what I ate every morning for the whole week:

From Swimtrek day 3

Lots of watermelon (needed the water and sugar content before braving the gulpfuls of saltwater I’d be consuming), omelette, and the savoury Turkish pastry thing that I could have eaten by the truckload, washed down with a couple cups of tea. I avoided cereal, yoghurt and cheese – can’t really handle dairy before swimming in the sea. Breakfast was served from 8am everyday and we often had to be ready to go before 9am, so we’d be up early every morning to get breakfast before our start time. I have to admit, that I had sore shoulders when I woke up this morning. Super tight back and shoulders from the previous days’ 6km swim. After breakfast today though, we had a video technique-analysis session. The videos that the guides had taken of us yesterday were going to be played back to us on a tv screen (argh, cringe). We all sat around and watched each other’s video (both the above water and underwater film) and critiqued each other’s stroke and technique. The guides gave us really helpful swimming tips and drills to improve our technique. I thought this session was great. Turns out I’ve been swimming wrong for the last 25 years (I’ve been swimming since I was about 5 years old)! Well, not necessarily that I had been swimming wrong, but my form could definitely be improved on. Got some great tips from this session. Swim guide Mr. D, was super helpful and knowledgeable with technique analysis. He does this professionally, as well as being a triathlon coach. Definitely gave me some areas to improve on and some things to address whilst swimming for the remainder of the week. Day 3 was back out at Ucagiz again, so on the bus and back out on the Turkish gulet we set asail. Map of the Lycian Way waters we were swimming in:

From Swimtrek day 3

Drink bottles – they were going to come in handy for the morning swim!

From Swimtrek day 3

First up was a 4km coastal swim which we did in about 1h 22min, with breaks for drinks etc. I was pretty beat after this 4km swim. I was changing my stroke though and I have to say, that this definitely prevented me from getting sore shoulders for the rest of the week! It really made a difference! Arms need to reach out straight, in line with my shoulders and not cross to the middle. Crossing the arms – a big no no. Reach. Roll. Relax. Glide. Get more distance with each stroke. Don’t drop the elbows under the water. Minimize underwater hand bubbles and roll the body more so your torso is also getting a work out. My main problem was the lack of roll in my stroke. I was too flat on the water. Super helpful for my stroke. But I think I was swimming slower as I was trying to focus on all this. Here are some scenic water photos. This one is of the pink group. They were the slowest group, so they always started first to get a bit of a head start:

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

The marine life wasn’t very exciting here (not compared to last year in Dahab, Egypt), nevertheless we saw plenty of somewhat small fish:

From Swimtrek day 3

The escort motor dinghy:

From Swimtrek day 3

Crystal clear water:

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

4km done. After each swim, there’d always be drinks and fuel ready for us – cookies, nuts, fruits and turkish cay (tea).

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

And then lunch on the boat and lazing around on the sunbeds. The swim was worth it for this.

From Swimtrek day 3

I should mention, that at any point during any of the swims, we were free to jump back on the boat at any time. It’s not compulsory to swim the complete distance if we’re not feeling up for it. There’s no shame in getting back on the boat and working on your tan. None at all.

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

My problem with saltwater ocean swimming (and just my personal experience) is that consuming saltwater makes me bloaty, not to mention dehydrated. Saltwater consumption (not intentional, mind you) also makes me poopy in the diarrhoea sense. Swimming, in general, also makes me need to pee a lot. The pressure of the water on my bladder gets to me. I lost about 2kg over the course of this week – I was peeing, pooping, and burning calories like nobody’s business. Anyway, too much information. Moving right along. Isn’t the scenery gorgeous?

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

After lunch, we did a bit of a flat hike through Aperlae to take in some local sights. It was a holiday after all. We walked a flat trail through a sandy track surrounded by mountains. Aperlae thatta way:

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

Saw some local wildlife:

From Swimtrek day 3

And rock art:

From Swimtrek day 3

Our mini-hike was rewarded with another leisure swim.

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

At our destination, we reached a body of water where we had a bit of a dip. Here we got a demonstration of some drills we could do to improve our stroke and we got a bit of play swim to practice some drills. It was also an opportune moment to play with my underwater digital camera (yes, another camera to my collection) which I had bought just prior to the trip. I hadn’t taken too many underwater shots until now, so here are some fun water pics:

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

SPLASH:

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

Watch and learn, folks. This is how you swim:

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

And this is how you relax:

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

Turkey has such an amazing landscape.

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

We then traipsed back to our gulet and then we went for a cruise over the Sunken City – ruins of Aperlae island. This was once an ancient city that was sunk after an earthquake hit. Turkey, like Japan, is prone to earthquakes. The only problem is that Turkey’s infrastructure isn’t built to withstand earthquakes. Just a few days after I got back from Turkey, a rather large earthquake hit the east side of the country.

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

The boat had bottomglass panels so we could kind of see (not really, sort of) the island that had sunk beneath.

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

You could tell just by looking at the water surface, that a city existed below the surface.

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

No afternoon swim today which was kind of nice. The 4km morning swim was enough, and it was nice to have a leisurely sightseeing afternoon. After our scenic sail, it was onwards back to Kas in the late arvo. The rest of the evenings for the week were at leisure with dinner arrangements totally up to us. I joined a handful of the others where we ate at Blue House and feasted on lots of mezze dishes and fresh seafood. And wine and beer. Liquids are important!

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

After dinner we took a stroll through the town – the first time I had been out to see the town of Kas. We windowshopped at the little boutique stores (some great shopping to be had here), and walked down Slippery Slope – which is indeed slippery. I slipped twice. I blame my thongs (of the flip-flop variety – not to be confused with some fabrically-challenged lingerie). Slippery Slope – so called, because the cobblestone ground is so smooth, and it’s quite a slope, so it’s easy to slip. Slippery Slope:

From Swimtrek day 3
From Swimtrek day 3

We got to the town square where a lot of the action is – restaurants, bars, the marina pier etc. We had ourselves some Turkish ice-cream, which is a must-try when in Turkey. Delicious flavours – chocolate and pistachio. Authentic Turkish ice cream is quite unique. Some kind of plant extract is used which makes the ice-cream somewhat chewy. It’s almost like mochi ice-cream. And before they serve it, they pound it and serve it with a long stick. Apparently they use mastic – which gives it its chewiness, and salep – a kind of flour (thickening agent) which prevents it from melting, hence they are able to churn and pound it with a long paddle (I recommend Youtubing “turkish ice cream” for a visual). Ice-cream in hand, we meandered back to our lodgings for another fitful night’s sleep. Lots of swimming and eating, was perfect inducement for sleep. I could totally get used to this life. Photo album link

Turkey travel diary: Day 4 – Swimtrek day 2

Woke up to this view, as seen from the balcony from my room.

From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2

Calm, flat waters and perfect weather. Today was the first official day of the Swimtrek tour (but I count yesterday as being day 1 – the Swimtrek arrival day). I think I was still jetlagged and woke up early. Or maybe it was out of habit considering the early starts that I had been having. There was going to be no sleep-ins this week. We had to be up early every day. I was sharing a room with a fellow female swimtrekker for the week. The tour is booked based on twin share, so I had been paired up with a roommate. You can pay extra to have your own room, but I was on a budget and didn’t want to fork out a week’s worth of single supplement, and was happy to share a room. The men however were inclined to get their own rooms. Jetlag, body clock adjustments, and the blare of the morning call to prayer from the local mosque was enough to awake me up. I was generally awake between 4am-6am everyday, but laid in bed until about 7-8am. We had to meet at 8am anyway for a compulsory pre-breakfast swim. Donned my cossies and headed down to the decks along with everyone else.

From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2

Our first ‘mini’ swim was only about 300-400m out in the bay in front of the hotel. This was a swim so the guides could assess our swim skill and speed. Based on this swim, they would put us into speed groups for the week. The hotel had its own private entry into the bay, via a ladder off the decks. The water was chilly. There was a fresh cold water spring right from the cliffs we were on. Patches of cold, patches of warm sea water. Swim completed. Breakfast on the deck. A buffet spread of fruit, bread, savouries, turkish condiments, cheese, olives, preserves, yoghurt etc. Had to restrict myself from going nuts on the buffet breakfasts so as to avoid getting bloated and drowning. A big meal, not a great idea before swimming. By about 9:30am we were all bundled up into a van and transported an hour’s drive away to Ucagiz. On the way to Ucagiz:

From Swimtrek day 2

Our swim for the day was taking place over that part of the coast. Ucagiz is a pretty little sea village.

From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2

We boarded our “home” for the next two days – a gulet (a turkish yacht). Super nice. Seating, table, a small kitchen. a toilet, and plenty of sunbeds – all your mod cons.

From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2

We set sail and enjoyed the water views, a little nervous about our first upcoming swim.

From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2

Day 1 and there was no mucking around. Literally, thrown into the deep end. First up, a 3.5km coastal swim! Prior to each swim, there was a ritual of lathering ourselves in suncream, and greasing up with vaseline (to prevent chafing – a common hazard swimming in saltwater). I was in the yellow-cap middle group, which was fine by me. There were six of us in that group. The orange caps were the fast group, and the pink caps were the slower group. Each group was staggered and each group was accompanied by either a swim guide or the boat captain with an escort boat. Mr swim guide A (aka the hottie) was mostly designated to our yellow group. Suffice to say that I had a wee crush on Mr A. And by “wee” I mean major. Geez, he was easy on the eyes. I may not be tall, skinny or pretty. But I ain’t blind. And I liked what I saw. He was fit (and knew it, too). Enough to make you want to drown just so he could perform mouth to mouth. Wait. I was on a swimtrek. That wasn’t going to fly. Damn. Given the fact that were indeed on a swimtrek, it meant that I got to see him wear nothing but little swim shorties all week! I could get used to this. Hehe. A little holiday crush is normal, right. Who hasn’t gone away on holidays and had a crush on their tour guide, cruise director or their ski instructor. Anyway, enough of my gushing… The first swim was magical. The water was warm, blue and clear. Relatively flat and calm as well. Very decent swimming conditions. The sea water was really salty which helped with buoyancy. Wasn’t going to drown in this water, even if I wanted to. I was as bouyant as a helium nugget. Try sinking one of those. Near impossible. We swam a tad over 3.5km. Each swim over the course of the week was always escorted. We’d stop for drink breaks during the swim where drink bottles were thrown to us from the boats, and we’d tread water, take a little drink break and then onwards to our destination. Once we had reached our end point we climbed aboard the gulet. First swim done. And I had survived. We sailed to Kekova for lunch – Kekova is the largest of the Turkish islands.

From Swimtrek day 2

The boat was anchored into a little cove, where there were some goats nearby.

From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2

The clarity of the water was stunning. I suppose this is why this west coast of Turkey is called the Turquoise Coast, also known as the Turkish Riviera..

From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2

Time here was spent sunbaking, getting to know each other, mingling, taking photos (maybe that was just me), and more importantly, eating.

From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2

Our skipper barbequed chicken off the back of the boat for lunch.

From Swimtrek day 2

He even tried to catch us some squid. We could see a couple of squid but they weren’t biting. Lunch was a nice spread. A veritable feast of salads, bread and chicken.

From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2

After lunch had digested, it was time for the video shooting. We had to swim a short course, one by one, and be filmed twice – once above water and an underwater video. Our swim stroke technique (or lack thereof) would be analysed later. Here’s me with a couple of fellow swimtrekkers:

From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2

Then it was time for our afternoon swim of 2km. I struggled a little with this swim. I had already done 3.5km in the morning. I was ready to call it a day. The afternoon was a little harder because the water was choppy and bouncy – not as flat and calm as the morning had been. Day 1 alone and we had racked up about 6km. Back on the boat and we sailed to Simena/Kalekoy – a tiny island, home to an old castle ruin.

From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2

We had some free time to explore the castle and the views from the top, and/or some sarcophagi tombs. A handful of us chose the castle ruins (Entry – 8 Lira). We had to hike a bunch of steep stairs to reach the top of the castle. The views were absolutely worth it. But you be the judge…check out the views:

From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2

Wow. Who knew Turkey was so beautiful. Bliss. There was even a little amphitheatre – perfect scene for a cheesy photo pose.

From Swimtrek day 2

I also loved the Turkish flag – it was everywhere! They’re a patriotic bunch. Such a simple understated flag – a moon crescent and a star. A flag as awesome as that, I’d hang up it up everywhere as well! Why wouldn’t ya!

From Swimtrek day 2

On the way back down – spotted: a cafe with an awesome name. I’ll spare you the cheesy photo pose that I took here as well. Yes, indeed a photo was taken here. How could you not?

From Swimtrek day 2

This holiday was truly turning out to be amazing. Beautiful water, stunning location, delicious food, great eye-candy. Geez,these guides had it hard. This was their “office” – not a hard life at all! Back onto the boat, and we sailed back to Ucagiz, and then a bus back to Kas. We got back to the hotel around 6:30pm and we had about an hour to shower and freshen up. It was a great first day. About 6km of swimming in one day. A group dinner had been planned for the night, so we met just before 8pm for dinner at a local restaurant where we enjoyed some wine and mezzes and some fresh Mediterranean cuisine. I could totally get used to this!

From Swimtrek day 2

Dinner – well earnt after a long swim day.

From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2

Some other photos: A cat sleeping in a basket on a window sill (lots of cats running around in Kas).

From Swimtrek day 2
From Swimtrek day 2

I was physically tired by the end of the first day – a combination of jet lag, sleep deprivation, sun exposure, and oh, swimming 6km! Physical exertion alone was tiring. It was a great first day of swimming. Was on a total high. Met some great, friendly people. And was totally in love with the locale. Photo album link. 5

Turkey Swimtrek travel diary: Day 3 – From Istanbul to Kas (Swimtrek arrival)

So I’m getting closer to the more exciting part of my Turkey holiday – the bit where I swimtrek – but this post isn’t going to be so interesting…well, maybe a little interesting. More interesting than today’s horoscope I reckon. Monday – was the long travelling day. A tram:

From Trip to Antalya

A train:

From Trip to Antalya

A plane:

From Trip to Antalya

A bus

From Trip to Antalya

Another bus:

From Trip to Antalya

And a taxi later, I FINALLY arrived in Kaş (pronounced ‘Kash’) – the meeting point and base point for the week-long swimtrek. So I got myself from Istanbul via tram and train back to Istanbul airport. I had a 9:30am flight departure, so again was up early. Clearly, holidays are not meant for sleeping! Grabbed myself breakfast at the airport and a Turkish tea – I love the Turkish glass tea cups!

From Trip to Antalya
From Trip to Antalya

I had a flight from Istanbul to Antalya. Look at all the planes at my disposal. Pick a plane, any plane…

From Trip to Antalya

The flight was only 75 minutes but they still served us meals and drinks which was super impressive for such a brief flight.

From Trip to Antalya

I flew Turkish Airways. I love their company slogan: “Globally Yours”. What an awesome sign-off.

From Trip to Antalya

The flight from Istanbul to Antalya was rather scenic.

From Trip to Antalya
From Trip to Antalya
From Trip to Antalya
From Trip to Antalya
From Trip to Antalya
From Trip to Antalya

Scenic joy flight over Turkey. Check. Basically, I was heading for the Mediterranean west coast of Turkey, for the Lycian Way. Kaş is not the most convenient place to get to. Your choice of the two closest airports are either Dalaman – still 2.5 hours away to Kas by bus OR Antalya 3.5 hours by bus. I went with Antalya because flights there from Istanbul were cheaper. Check out the views as we approached the Mediterranean coast – some dramatic cliff coasts.

From Trip to Antalya
From Trip to Antalya
From Trip to Antalya

Landed at Antalya airport and picked up my gun (as you do!!??). No, seriously, rest assured I had no weapons on my possession, apart from my sharp wit. lol. I love that the gun delivery and the ATMs are in the same direction. Great! Memo to self: don’t withdraw cash at that airport. Based on the sign below, I see a foolproof plan: Pick up gun. Rob ATM. Hire getaway car at the Rent-a-car desk.

From Trip to Antalya

And if a tram, train and plane wasn’t enough modes of transport for a day (and it was only 10:30am), I still had another two buses to go. I got an airport shuttle bus from the airport into Antalya Otogar (bus station). One thing I observed about Turkey are their rather giant/massive extravagant roundabouts. Every major town and city had a major roundabout that was like a mini park adorned with statues, fountains, and bells and whistles. Here was one such roundabout in Antalya:

From Trip to Antalya
From Trip to Antalya

As for Antalya’s bus station – I was in for a rude surprise. I was expecting to be dropped off at a building, a proper bus terminal. Instead, we pulled over on a highway onto the side of the road and I was ushered into a mini van that was waiting there. I was bundled onto the mini-van that only seated about 16 people. This was my ride for the 3.5 hour journey to Kaş.

From Trip to Antalya

It was long, winding, journey along the coast of Turkey. We made a few stops along the way for toilets, food, and dropping people off. Everything was quite rural and coastal. Random trees along the side of the road constituted as bus stops. It’s also a very mountainous region as we crossed into the Lyican Way.

From Trip to Antalya

The winding roads were so dangerously close to the water.

From Trip to Antalya
From Trip to Antalya
From Trip to Antalya
From Trip to Antalya

A drive around Turkey isn’t complete with some goats alongside the road:

From Trip to Antalya

And then we approached Kaş.

From Trip to Antalya
From Trip to Antalya

Destination: Kaş. One word: Idlyllic.

From Trip to Antalya

Arrived at the bus terminal in the little town centre, but I still had to get to my accommodation. Kaş is one bitch of a hilly town, and I didn’t know the area so I hopped into a taxi for the 5-minute trip to my hotel. A long day on all sorts of transport from one length of Turkey to the other. A – Istanbul B – Antalya C – Kaş It was nice to check in to our digs for the week. A seaside hotel along the Turkish mediterranean coast with water views. Gorgeous weather – around 29 degrees. I arrived here sometime just before 4pm, and had a couple of hours to refresh before our swim briefing at 6pm. Check out the hotel we stayed in for the week!

From Swimtrek arrival

And check out the views!

From Swimtrek arrival

That island you see in the photo above – is a Greek island, which is only 20 minutes away by boat!

From Swimtrek arrival
From Swimtrek arrival
From Swimtrek arrival

A pool too, not that we ever swam in that. We are open water swimmers!

From Swimtrek arrival
From Swimtrek arrival

Kash – love at first sight. What an amazing location! Watched the sunset, ahhh bliss:

From Swimtrek arrival
From Swimtrek arrival

Water views from the dining terraces!

From Swimtrek arrival

Sundecks right over the water!

From Swimtrek arrival

I was in heaven. Surrounded by water. Watching the sun go down. Are you jealous, yet?

From Swimtrek arrival
From Swimtrek arrival
From Swimtrek arrival

Our swimtrek group was meeting at 6pm for drinks and dinner.

From Swimtrek arrival
From Swimtrek arrival

Pomegranate mojito. Yes, please.

From Swimtrek arrival
From Swimtrek arrival

The whole point of coming to Turkey was to do this swimtrek. It’s a tour company that runs open water swimming holidays around the world. I was booked on the Lycian Way, Turkey swim and was going to be swimming 5km a day, for a week, with a bunch of like-minded people – other randoms that had also booked themselves on the tour. Breakfast, lunch and accommodation is all included, as well as boat transport and local skipper/captain, escort safety boats, and two swim guides. Just turn up and swim. You’ll need to ensure you have special insurance though that covers open water swimming (it’s considered a dangerous sport along with bungee jumping and sky diving and the like), so you’ll need a Sports Rider insurance option. Then company provides you with recommended insurance, so it’s no problem, and they provide you with a basic 3-month swim training program. Pretty much everything is all provided. BYO swimmers, goggles and towel for a week of swimming and relaxation. We were all meeting for introductory drinks and dinner and the pre-trip safety briefing. We sat down to a meal, a glass of wine, and did all the introductions. There were 13 of us in total and our two guides. Most of the people were British – the swimtrek company is a UK group. There was an older American couple, a Belgium man, two English men, seven English women, and my-Australian-self. About half of us had come alone. Three of the women had come together as friends and colleagues (they were nurses), another two women had come as friends, and the American couple had obviously come together as well. The other half of us, had just come on our own. This was the second swimtrek for one of the guys. And for one other guy, this was his 8th swimtrek!!! Impressive. Clearly, he was addicted! He did one swimtrek at least once a year, and had already done most of the destinations available. Everyone seemed really friendly and nice, and down to earth. There were only three men and 10 of us girls. Ages ranged from 28-57 (I thought I was the youngest one there all week, but found out that one of the girls was younger) and we came in all shapes and sizes. It wasn’t so intimidating. I was little worried that everyone would be super hardcore swimmers and triathletes – because really, what kind of people sign up for a holiday where all you do is swim in the rough, wild ocean! That didn’t stop me from feeling as though I was still a little underprepared. I barely clock up 5km in a week, let alone a single day, and repeat that for a whole week. But I had nothing to fear (except perhaps jellyfish). Our swim guides were cool too – a young Aussie guy (around my age) and a UK guy (somewhat a little older, although by no means old). Both very fit looking. And good-looking too! (More on that later…lol) We went through safety, procedural stuff – about the hazards we could expect – sun protection, chafing, jellyfish stings etc.

From Swimtrek arrival
From Swimtrek arrival

It was gonna be a great week! I was so excited and buzzing and ready to swim in paradise. The next 6 days of blog posts are going to be awesome, so clear your reading calendar. You can read Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ later. Prepare to Get Jealous!

Turkey travel diary: Day 2 – Gallipoli

Woke up in Istanbul. Early. I had booked myself in for a day tour to Gallipoli. The departure time was 6:30am! Sleep…so overrated. Myself, an American girl and a kiwi couple were all transferred to Eceabat (near Gallipoli), a 5-hour drive away. There were plenty of pit stops along the way. We stopped every hour which seemed rather excessive. This was our breakfast stop, where I picked up a cheese gozleme (a Turkish crepe):

From Gallipoli

It was nice to see some Turkish landscape during the 5-hour drive, albeit from a car window.

From Gallipoli

Sunrise:

From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli

Arrived in Eceabat sometime after 11am, where we joined a bigger tour group. We had lunch and then we got on another bigger bus for our tour of Gallipoli. A table for two? (No, this is not where we ate lunch at. Just a random photo I took at Eceabat.) A shame I didn’t take this photo on the SLR for a more arty shot.

From Gallipoli

The sheer scale of the Gallipoli Peninsula is overwhelming, let alone reflecting on its place in history. It takes about 3 full days to explore the whole peninsula. We had only about 5 hours.

From Gallipoli

What amazed me the most was how stunningly beautiful it was. Unfathomable how it could have been the scene for such a bloody war. It’s a spectacular piece of real estate, a preserved national park. It literally seemed like the end of the earth. I was captivated by the surrounding water. Amazing colours. The highlights that we took in were: Brighton Beach, ANZAC cemetery, ANZAC Cove (beach), trenches/tunnels, the biggest mass Turkish grave, Lone Pine cemetery, Shrapnel Valley and views of Suvla Bay and a few other spots. We had a great tour guide – a young local graduate of History, super knowledgeable and passionate about his work – always a bonus. I will spare you the history lesson on WWI and just post up a whole bunch of pics (as usual) with some minor commentary. The water at Brighton Beach was stunning, and we were blessed with beautiful weather, although, it gets a little cool along the Peninsula.

From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli

I love the layers of colour of the water in this photo:

From Gallipoli

We then went to the site of the ANZAC Day dawn service. I was so surprised by how small that area was! You see it on the news on the TV every ANZAC Day and you see all the people crammed onto that small patch of grass! I was impressed by how many people can fit there.

From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli

2015 will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. They’re expecting a crowd of about 50,000 people!

From Gallipoli

Ok, so you might have noticed that a lot of the time, photos of me are generally of my face. That’s because I’m usually taking a photo of myself with my arm outstretched. If I ask people to take a photo of me, that photo usually ends up quite shoddy – out of focus, or bad timing, or people walking in front of the photo etc. Case in point. I asked someone to take a photo of me on my SLR. Don’t people remember the days when you actually had to squint your eye through a tiny little glass square. It seems that without some wide touchscreen, people don’t know how to take photos. Here is one such photo that I asked a stranger to take of me. Shoddy work indeed. Obviously, didn’t know how to work a zoom and we end up with a way unflattering photo of Zac and Aleisha! Henceforth, you’re only gonna get headshots of me.

From Gallipoli

I mean, really! I don’t ask for much. Just a holiday snap. I do not see a future as wedding photographer for whomever took that photo! I don’t know what’s worse, really – someone who takes as bad a photo as that OR people on holidays, or people out in public for that matter that take photos on their iPad!!!! Seriously, the only thing I wanted to do with that iPad was wallop her on the head with it! I guess, each to their own. But did you know that the iPad camera has less than ONE megapixel. The quality is really bad. She shoulda just sketched whatever she wanted a photo of!

From Gallipoli

Beach where the ANZACs landed:

From Gallipoli

The sphinx:

From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli

And then we went for a stroll along the beach.

From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli

Gallipoli, much like any other cemetery, is a very sobering place. There’s a certain irony in how peaceful and serene and beautiful it was here, a spectacular location, yet thousands upon thousands died here. It makes me wonder what their last image would have been before they died – an image of blood, war, terror or that of serenity and beauty. Could they have still appreciated the latter despite being faced with the former.

From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli

I was captivated by the volume of water that surrounded us, that stretched out into the horizon.

From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli

It literally felt like we were standing on the edge of the world. And it was a stark reminder that the earth is indeed round. The horizon looked curved. Hard to imagine the amount of force, the amount of gravity required, that pulls the water to the centre of the Earth to prevent water from floating.

From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli

We then stopped at Lone Pine Cemetery.

From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli

Lone Pine is up quite high by this point, and offers amazing views over the surrounding valleys.

From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli

I took a neat photo of the American girl (unbeknownst to her) who was also on the tour:

From Gallipoli

A red poppy:

From Gallipoli

We saw some trenches and tunnels – from which the ANZACs got their nickname as “Diggers” – they dug a network of over 300km of tunnels and trenches.

From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli

In addition, to paying respects to the many ANZAC soldiers, we also visited one of the largest mass Turkish cemetery – around half a million soldiers who died on home soil.

From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli

Some spectacular scenery to take in.

From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli

It can get rather windy here, so the trees tell me.

From Gallipoli
From Gallipoli

Gallipoli is a convergence of history and nature – respect its past and appreciate the force of both. 5-hour drive back to Istanbul, arriving some time around 11:30pm where I crawled into bed. The sun had set on another day. Gallipoli photo album. (I took over 500 photos, but have culled them down to just under 100 in this album).

Turkey travel diary: Blue Mosque

Day 1 cont. (Post 3 of 3) Words. So overrated, right? So here are some pictures instead. Pretty self explanatory, really – The Blue Mosque. I went before closing time, at night, to avoid the daytime queues, and on my way back to my lodgings following afternoon tea. All throughout Istanbul, the skyline is peppered with the minarets from the multitude of mosques that adorn the city. Can’t say I appreciated the early morning calls to prayer that blare out from them everywhere in Turkey. Inescapable. Still, a part of the wonderful tapestry that is Turkey. The Blue Mosque is one of the most majestic landmarks, built back in the 17th Century, its interior lined with thousands upon thousands of handmade tiles. It’s a sacred place of worship, so be sure to remove shoes and cover up. A quiet place for some solace amongst the bustling Sultanahment district. Highly recommend going at night to avoid the tour groups. Need a tour guide? I’m not your girl, but check out this webpage which has pretty much everything you need to know about the Blue Mosque. Entry: Free. Blue Mosque by night:

From Blue Mosque

I’m looking really tired in this next photo. Over 8 hours at work, an 8.5hr flight, a 7-hour stopover, another 4.5hr flight, a few hours later in Istanbul, over 30 hours without sleep. I am definitely fading but needed the obligatory tourist photo in front of the Blue Mosque.

From Blue Mosque
From Blue Mosque
From Blue Mosque
From Blue Mosque
From Blue Mosque

Inside the mosque: grand, tiled ceilings, low-hung lights.

From Blue Mosque
From Blue Mosque
From Blue Mosque
From Blue Mosque
From Blue Mosque
From Blue Mosque
From Blue Mosque
From Blue Mosque
From Blue Mosque
From Blue Mosque
From Blue Mosque
From Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque photo album.

Turkey travel diary: Afternoon tea in Istanbul – delightfully criminal.

Day 1 cont. (Post 2 of 3) I had just arrived in Istanbul, and after three airplane packaged meals and one free airport meal, I was in need of some real food. The first thing I did when I arrived in Turkey was do an afternoon tea. And yes, on.my.own. When I was in Cairo, Egypt last year, I did an afternoon tea there as well, at the Four Seasons hotel. I made a passing comment on this blog somewhere that I should do an afternoon tea at all the Four Seasons hotels around the world. What a great idea. I’m going to do just that! Henceforth, whenever I’m overseas, I’m going to find me a Four Seasons hotel to partake in afternoon tea at. I’ve already done Egypt, both the Four Seasons hotels in Tokyo, and I can now cross Istanbul, Turkey off the list. The next one will be in Bangkok, Thailand later on this year. I skipped all the million and one things I could have done as a tourist upon my arrival in Istanbul and instead headed straight for the Four Seasons hotel – only a few stars more than my current hostel lodgings! The previous post was merely just photos I took on my way to finding the hotel. I had until 6pm to get myself in before afternoon tea ended, and it was already nearing 5pm. I should mention that the coolest thing ever about the Four Seasons hotel in Istanbul (Sultanahmet district) is that it used to be an old jail during the Ottoman Empire! So cool, it’s positively criminal! The jail was revamped into a hotel back in the early 90s and only opened in 1996. (There is also another Four Seasons hotel in Istanbul on the Bosphorus side). I gotta admit, the hotel was really easy to find because it looked like a giant square fortress. They’ve done a great job of decking it out into an opulent hotel though. It’s colour too, very distinguishing – a Colonel Mustard hue. Due to the fact that it used to be a jail , the architecture of this hotel is very unique – four perimeter walls, an inner courtyard and watchguard turrets. It would be really cool to stay in a room there, sharing quarters where a criminal once lived. Huge novelty factor. In fact, Google Maps still lists the hotel as Sultanahmet Jail (Point A)! What a great venue to do afternoon tea – at a former prison, now a Four Seasons hotel.

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

Afternoon tea is in the lobby lounge which has 3 separate seating areas – Here:

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

Here:

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

And here:

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

I settled on the latter – a covered patio area. There was more natural light, garden views, and it’s where all the other people were seated. I’m sure the hotel staff thought that I was weird, sitting on my own ordering afternoon tea on a Saturday afternoon. Crazy lady, they probably thought, one of those people whom you’ll find dead in a house full of cats. Seriously, that won’t be me! (Thou doth protest too much I say). Here are some photos once inside the former-prison hotel.

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

On the menu were two offerings – traditional afternoon or Turkish tea set. It was tempting to opt for the Turkish one just for something different and a bit more local, but I wanted to stick with the traditional one. The scones won me over. I even splurged and went the Royal option, which included a glass of champagne sparkling wine. Hell, why not. I was on holidays after all. And I had a week of swimming ahead so I could indulge a little without the guilt. I was sure as hell I’d be burning it all off soon enough. I sat myself down and got settled in for an afternoon tea on my own.

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

The afternoon tea setting was very traditional, classic English rose. Very un-Turkish, but pretty nevertheless.

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

The huge pot of tea came complete with a tea candle warmer. Bless! That totally made my day.

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

The signature Four Seasons emblem/logo:

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

The afternoon tea set offered perfect portions for one. Three savoury morsels, four sweet treats, and a scone, with a huge pot of tea (enough for about 5 cups of tea). Tea selection was limited, but so long as they had English breakfast tea, I didn’t really care. Tea for One:

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

Savouries:

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

And sweets and scones:

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

First up on the menu was a turkey, tomato and gherkin sandwich. Eating turkey in Turkey. Check.

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

Followed by a Turkish bruschetta of sorts:

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

And smoked salmon and caper open finger sandwich:

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

And then onto the sweet stuff:

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

Here is the parade of the assorted cakes:

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

And I always save the scones for last.

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

A tea party for one. I’m such a loser!

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

On the wall behind me were some of the old prison locks. Pretty cool. If these walls could talk, ay. Imagine the secrets and crimes that these walls held.

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

Afternoon tea was very reasonable. Turkey is still a relatively cheap country to travel through. Not a part of the EU so you’re not subject to Euros. The Afternoon tea was only 40 Turkish lira (60 with the champagne).

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

I then took myself on a little tour of the hotel, as you do. It’s not a particularly tall building – only 3 or 4 levels high but I went and checked out the views from the Terrace Bar. This is definitely a nice spot to grab a drink. Views of the Blue Mosque, haghia Sophia and even water views of the Sea of Marmara.

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

Terrace Bar:

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

Surrounding fortress walls:

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

Views of some of Istanbul’s top tourist attractions:

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

Quite the luxurious hotel. Didn’t get to see the sleeping quarters, but it would be fun to stay a night there in an old jail! I imagine the rooms would be pretty plush.

From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul
From Four Seasons Tea Istanbul

Afternoon tea in Istanbul – accomplished.The one and only afternoon tea I did during my two-week holiday in Turkey. Had wanted to fit in one more at another venue, but alas, did not have time. I’m glad I prioritised it on my first day in Istanbul! A criminally delightful venue! Complete album link. Hotel details.

Turkey travel diary: Day 1 – Sultanahmet Photowalk

Since arriving back in Japan from my holiday, I’ve been sick. Coming down with a cold something. Started off with a sore throat, now a runny nose and headaches. Haven’t been sleeping well since I got back either. Jetlag and body clock still adjusting. Got back late Sunday night and was back to work on the Monday. No recovery time. Temperature also dropped by about 10 degrees between my first and second week in Turkey. And the weather is getting cooler in Tokyo with the onset of winter. Am trying hard to ward off this cold before it gets worse. Already on the tablets and lots of water and peppermint tea to flush out the system and keep hydrated.

Saturday, October 1, 2011 (Part 1 of 3) (Day 1 will be split over 3 posts.) Touched down in Istanbul at Ataturk airport early afternoon (around 3pm). I did a good job of packing lightly. My backpack weighed less than 9kg. I have mastered the art of packing lightly. It only took me 10 years! Made my way from the airport into Sultanahmet – the old city/ touristy area of Istanbul. Took the dirt cheap option of public transport – a train and then a tram into the city. Super easy. Super cheap. Only 4 turkish lira (2AUD) for an hour ride into the city. Alighted at Sultanahmet tram station and made my way to the hostel for the night. Had booked a really cheap hostel for the night.

Basically needed a place to stow my luggage, because I’d be up early the next day at 6am so didn’t see the need to pay for an expensive hotel for what would be a 12-hour stay. Just somewhere to get me through the night and leave my luggage at in the morning. Man, I had forgotten what it was like to stay in hostel dorms sharing with a bunch of randoms. Constant noise, people rustling about and packing their bags at ungodly hours of the morning – 2:30am! Really?! And at any given time someone would be trying to sleep in their bed (made even worse when you’ve been allocated the top bunk!) which meant you had to try and be as quiet as possible and avoid turning on the lights even in the middle of the afternoon. Sheesh… Kebab. (Had to throw in a lame Turkey pun).

Arrived at the hostel, dumped my bags and went out to explore Sultanahmet in the remaining last hours of sunlight. Sultanahmet is the tourist hub of Istanbul. It’s full of camera-wielding tourists (myself included) and tour groups being shuffled about. There’s plenty to see, that’s for sure. The Blue Mosque, Sultanahment park, Aya Sofia, the Basilica Cistern – all within metres of each other. Where to start?! Not to mention all the al fresco dining options. I walked about getting my bearings and taking some photos with the last few hours or so of daylight. Gorgeous weather – high 20s.

Photowalk of Sultanahmet: The Blue Mosque which presides over Sultanahmet:

From Sultanameht
From Sultanameht
From Sultanameht
From Sultanameht

Lots of street food carts selling watermelon, corn cobs and fresh pomegranate juice. I love pomegranates. Fell in love with the fruit in Egypt.

From Sultanameht
From Sultanameht

The Blue Mosque by night:

From Sultanameht

Across the road from the Blue Mosque is the Aya Sofia.

From Sultanameht

Aya Sofia by night:

From Sultanameht
From Sultanameht

Walked along the cobbled streets of Sultanahmet…

From Sultanameht
From Sultanameht

Checked out some local Turkish cuisine:

From Sultanameht

Lots of stores selling Turkish sweets. I was just window shopping at this stage:

From Sultanameht
From Sultanameht
From Sultanameht
From Sultanameht
From Sultanameht

I think Turkish Delight really means Dentists’ Delight!

From Sultanameht
From Sultanameht

 

Turkey travel diary: Departure – Making time fly in Dubai (how to kill time at Dubai airport)

I really want to skip to the part where I talk about my swimtrek in Turkey, but I’m going to be disciplined and do this properly, and chronologically. Here is the first entry of my Turkey travel diary – the journey from Tokyo > Dubai > Istanbul. Friday, September 30, 2011 Worked during the day. After work, headed to Narita airport for my night flight to Turkey via Dubai. The last time I headed to the airport straight from work was the day of the Tohoku earthquake, on my way to Australia. Needless to say, I was a little anxious about my Friday flight. What other possible natural disaster could hold up my flight this time. No direct flights from Tokyo to Istanbul, unfortunately, with most flights stopping over in Dubai. The flight to Dubai was over 8 hours. And then once in Dubai I had a 7-hour stopover. Ugh. A stopover just as long as the flight itself. But not as bad as one would think. Of all airports to stopover in, Dubai would have to be one of the better ones. I arrived in Dubai at 3:50am (local Dubai time) and had 7 hours to kill. Here’s how I made the time fly. I went for a swim at the airport! That’s right, a swim. Albeit, in a very tiny pool. The Dubai Airport hotel located in terminal 1, has it’s own pool and gym. There is also another stand-alone gym within the airport, which is where I originally thought the pool was. It’s on opposite ends of the airport terminal so I trekked there and back. I certainly clocked up some k’s just walking from end to end and back again of the airport. The pool is a tiny hotel pool but I had it all to myself (mind you it was ridiculously early in the morning to be swimming).

From Dubai airport
From Dubai airport

I did some laps in the pool (it took 6 of my arm strokes to complete one lap – the pool was that tiny!), and then had a DIY aquaerobics workout. After a day at a work, an 8.5 hour flight, and another 4.5 hour flight to go, it was definitely beneficial to get some exercise in. I walked and jogged up and down the pool, did forward lunges, side lunges, jumping and just kept moving in the water. Also got to have me a nice hot shower which was most welcome after a long day of work and flying. It was nice to freshen up. Shower amenities were very nice. Included soap, shampoo AND conditioner. And yes, they’ll give you a free towel and locker to use. And you can buy a really cheap pair of swimmers (about 5USD) if you don’t have your togs handy. Of course, I had my swimmers, goggles and cap in my carry-on bag though! To use the pool will cost you. But it does include a shower and a great way to kill time. Alternatively, you can use the gym if you prefer (again for a fee). For me, it was worth it. The alternative was to sit on my arse for another 7 hours instead. Use of the airport hotel pool will cost you 16USD per hour. And includes use of the shower. I was lucky to score extra time there for free. The guy let me use the facilities for 1.5 hour – which meant use of the pool for an hour, and a nice 30min shower and freshen up. Jacuzzi also available. The Airport Hotel Pool can be found in terminal 1 (departures). Follow the signs to hotel, and walk around the back of the hotel reception area to the gym and pool area.

From Dubai airport

There is also another small gym facility and showers located in Terminal 3 (for a fee). You’ll want to follow the Spa and Health Club signs.

From Flight to Turkey

Alternatively Dubai airport offers free shower rooms with basic soap. BYO shampoo, conditioner and towel though! After a swim and a refreshing shower, I then scored myself a free meal. A little known fact (no one will ever tell you this) – is that if you have a 4-hour or more stopover in Dubai on an Emirates flight (must have Emirates boarding ticket), is that you’re entitled to a meal voucher – nothing special mind you. It gets you either a free meal at McDonalds, an italian joint or a Thai joint. I went the Thai option. Eating – another way to kill more time. You’ll need to present your Boarding Pass at an information booth within the airport. They’ll then give you a meal voucher that should look like this:

From Dubai airport
From Dubai airport

I also did all my currency exchange in Dubai. Funnily enough, they had no Turkish Lira at Narita when I left Tokyo, so I hadn’t been able to change it until I got to Dubai. I got myself some USD (to pay for the Turkey visa and to use at Dubai airport) and a stack of Turkish Lira. Spent some time walking up and down around Dubai Airport. Came across this “special” on the menu:

From Dubai airport

Can’t get me enough anus, I say. Now, originally I thought that it should have read ‘angus’ as in reference to beef steak – Angus – a breed of cattle, but as it turns out ‘white sturgeon’ is a kind of fish – a species of the ‘transmontanus’. Well, there you go. Who said this blog wasn’t educational!? Lots of shopping to be had if you’re so inclined.

From Dubai airport
From Dubai airport

Time for a cup of tea and cake stop at a cafe before getting on the next flight. Not a bad way to make time fly in Dubai. Then onto my next flight – Dubai to Istanbul. I generally hate being short! but one of the advantages of being somewhat vertically challenged…is that flights are generally quite comfortable. I have no problem with legroom. I can often curl up with my legs on the seat. Take that all you tall people of the world! Ahhh…lots of legroom:

From Dubai airport

I do like flying Emirates. The flight crew wear nice uniforms and they have a great in-flight entertainment system – all on demand. Food wasn’t too bad either. Complimentary alcohol a plus!

From Dubai airport
From Flight to Turkey

Inside the cabin, the roof even had nightlight stars to help provide that nighttime ambience (because you know, I had forgotten we were actually in the SKY!).

From Dubai airport

On the Saturday afternoon, I finally touched down in Istanbul, whereupon my Turkey journey begins. So far, so good. Had arrived safely and refreshed into Istanbul.

From Flight to Turkey
From Flight to Turkey