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.

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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

 

Dream Sea Change

I’ve just come back from an amazing holiday from Turkey (hence my blog absence) – one week of which was spent doing a Swimtrek where I swam over 25km over 5 days of swimming around Turkey. The. Most. Amazing. Experience. Ever! Veni vidi vici.

It was a great week of open water swimming. Some people pray. Some people meditate. Some people drink. Some people run. I swim. It was an exhilarating experience. A week of sunshine, sea and water. Water is home for me. I also fell in love with Turkey. Leaving was like having my heart broken all over again. Such a beautiful, amazing country! The week of nothing but swimming was very much cathartic. Such a cleansing and purifying experience of being in the ocean and indulging in open water swimming. Some people go to India, Thailand etc for meditation, yoga and Buddhist retreats – for me, this swimtrek was my meditative retreat. At the end of the week, I felt great. I felt fit, inspired and awakened. Not sure how or why. But I felt really different after this experience. Open water swimming is so liberating.

Water is so essential to my being, and although I got a bit abused by the water, I have a very healthy respect for the open water and oceans of the world. When you’re swimming 5km a day in the deep blue ocean, there’s plenty of time to think and reflect. I have spent much of my life traveling. I live for travel. It’s a funny thing that all of life’s experiences happen on land, yet more than half of this earth is water. Even our own human bodies are over 2/3 water. Considering, over 70% of the earth’s surface is covered in water, for me, this was an incredible opportunity to sea travel – to explore a whole new underwater world. It was a new perspective to see things below the surface and peek into an entire world that exists in water.

Words can’t really express this most amazing experience. For me, it was more than a holiday. It was almost a catalyst, or a turning point for change. I felt purified and liberated after the first week in Turkey. Something I was totally not expecting. I expected it to be like any other overseas holiday. You go away, have fun, see new things, take photos, explore a new country and then come back home to reality. It was weird, but I felt different after the first week of swimming around Turkey, in a way I can’t explain. I felt inspired, motivated, but also lost and confused at the same time. There was definite clarity but also a sense of loss. Then something even weirder happened. A few days later after the swimtrek ended, I was in a different part of Turkey and one night I dreamt of my own death. It’s scary to dream of your own death. I was a bit wary for the rest of my trip, especially that day, when I was later on a flight back to Istanbul. I paid more attention than usual to the in-flight safety procedure. Exits here, here and here. Right. Got it. What does dreaming of your own death mean? Really weird state of mind to be in, especially after what was such a renewing week of solid open water swimming. How could I have felt so alive, yet have this cloud of death hanging over me.

On my last night in Istanbul, I met up with my best friend, Em. She had flown over for 24 hours from the UK to meet up with me in Istanbul. I told her of my dream, and she shocked me by telling me what it meant. Dreams are very rarely a premonition. They also rarely foretell of the future. Dreams are what happens in your subconscious and are more a reflection of the present. Phew, what a relief. Dreaming of your own death, she told me, means ‘change’. Wow. How incredibly freaky is that. The fact that it means change, especially after how ‘changed’ I felt by doing this swim trip. It’s like what I felt had been confirmed by this dream. Dreams of your own death means change, renewal. It means a loss of a part of yourself to something new that is about to happen. It’s about transition, and new beginnings. Death of yourself is symbolic to leaving a part of yourself behind. There’s those sayings about, something needs to die in order for something new to grow, one door needs to close for another to open. This is why you dream of yourself dying. Another transition, however, lies in wait.

It is said that dreaming of your own death is symbolic of an inner metamorphosis. And almost always, dreams of your own death are a positive thing! Hmmmm. Change is a brewing. What this change is, I don’t know. It may not even be drastic or even related to job, relationship etc, but simply could be just a change in the way you feel, or even letting go of something in the past, letting go of some feeling or something. I don’t know. But I do know ‘change’ is on the horizon. It’s uncanny that I dreamt of my own death following this incredible swimming journey, this sea change. The title of today’s blog post is ‘Mukai’. The two kanji characters are ‘dream’ and ‘sea’ 夢 and 海. Together pronounced ‘mukai’ – Dream Sea. Extremely fitting in light of my dream and sea journey. The beginning of a sea change perhaps. Here is a really amazing photo (if I do say so myself) of me swimming in Turkey which captures the beauty of what I experienced – swimming towards the light. It was taken by someone else on my underwater camera. He had me swim over the top whilst he held his breath and stood a few metres under the water looking up. He was able to capture this beautiful shot of me swimming towards the light (the sun being reflected off the water).

From Swimming towards the light

Over the next month, I will be posting up a travel diary on my blog here of my time swimming and traveling around Turkey.