Istanbul: Accomodation/Hotels

Salaam

‘If you are granted only one glance at the world, be sure to make it on Istanbul.’ 

Every since I shared photos on Instagram when visiting Istanbul a few weeks back, I have received a lot of questions and requests for suggestions on where to go and what to eat etc. I thought I would collate all that I know in to a few blog posts, to both share our experiences as a family and provide some useful information for those who will be visiting Istanbul in the future.

WHERE TO STAY:

We have been blessed with the opportunity to visit Istanbul on a number of occasions, and have stayed in a fair few places during our trips. I can’t say I’ve found the perfect place to stay as yet, and we will keep trying out different Airbnb’s and hotels on future visits. However, here’s my review of the various places we’ve stayed in so far, alongside some recommendations.

On one trip, we chose to stay in a little guesthouse we found on Airbnb. I loved that it was family-owned and run, as I like to support local businesses whenever possible. It was reasonably priced, offered a free roof-top breakfast, and was close to the main attractions. It was down a little steep cobble-stoned road (not far from the Four Seasons). We managed to get to the location in a taxi, and, because we didn’t have much luggage, were able to carry it up the stairs (no lift) to our room on the first floor. 

IMG_2738

Photo of Airbnb Room (ceiling and all in bad lighting!)

Our room was a nice size, and looked very much liked the photos on their website. The staff were friendly, and our room was always kept nice and clean (you can read my Airbnb review on the listing above). The only issues we had were that the shower water pressure was not always sufficient, and that the cleaning lady put away our things in the bedside drawers, so we ended up leaving a few things behind, thinking we’d lost them.

I have seen a few more places I would like to try on Airbnb next time. If you are using Airbnb for the first time, you can sign up using this link to book and get some money off!

We stayed in another hotel which was well maintained and in an excellent location, but our experience during our stay meant I won’t be mentioning them on this blog (staff walking into our room uninvited on 3 occasions during the course of our stay!)

Our latest visit found us staying at Victory Day & Spa Hotel – a 4 star hotel close to the Grand Bazaar, a very short walk away from the Beyazit Metro station. Overall, our experience at the hotel was very good. We found the staff to be friendly, a decent breakfast spread was provided, the beds were comfortable and the room spacious (we booked a family-sized room). However, the toilet flush kept running after usage, and made all kinds of weird noises. There was a slight smell in bathroom which we noticed on day 2, as it was disguised by strong air-freshener on our day of arrival. The small hotel pool which my daughter used, while being clean and modern, was extremely cold, so she found it difficult to swim in. As with most buildings in Turkey, there was not much soundproofing in the hotel rooms. Other than that, it was a good stay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Living Abroad

Last night, yet again, someone said to me: “I don’t know how you do it! You must be very strong”, referring to my living abroad without a familial support network. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard. Some days I want to pack up our things and run back to everything familiar (read Greggs cheese and onion pasty and a Costa hot chocolate) but those days are far and few between. It’s been almost 8 years since we left the breezy shores of the Queen’s country, and I can honestly (regardless of how cheesy this sounds) say life has never been better.

A few weeks ago, another friend reminded me that some people are born and die in the same house, having lived their lives in a linear and conventional manner. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to meet people who hail from many different points on this vast earth, and each person has had a lesson to teach me about myself, life, and God. 

In other totally unrelated news, I met someone from Kyrgyzstan the other day! How cool is that!

Syria

The Syrians taught me about the  multiple uses of chickpeas by means of  delicious street food they cook – chickpea fettah, falafel, and hummus – and it was also the first place I discovered drains installed in kitchen and bathroom floors, to make cleaning these rooms so much easier. They (and now I) use what can only be described as a broom like wiper thingy to direct the buckets of  water thrown onto the floor down into the drains, taking all of the grime and dirt with it.. Another cool floor-cleaning hack I learnt from the Syrians is to  use  a hard-bristled broom with soap to scrub floors clean!  Damascus  taught me about the nature of surprises in alleyways, not knowing what would be found at every turn – surprises of marketplaces filled with spices, fake designer handbags, oud music, and whirling dervishes.

Jordan

Jordan was a short-lived experience, but beneficial. It was where I discovered the importance  of healthy eating. I used to bake brownies with a Betty Crocker mix and then gleam with pride when they turned out well (yep, true story!). I remember going to a lunch date at someone’s house and taking these boxed brownies and being looked down upon like I’d committeda  heinous crime. I have since repented and seen the errors of that boxed life. I now make brownies from scratch using this great recipe (with my own health tweaks of course like coconut sugar). They would be proud.

Saudi Arabia

Where do I begin the eye-opening experiences Saudi provided us with? We learnt the art of sand-surfing (it’s really a thing!), the blessing of having a small but incredible group of like-minded friends around us; we also experienced a lot of kindness from both natives and expats alike. We lived amidst  mountains and scorpions, and learnt to connect with nature by growing our own veggies. We were able to road-trip to the two blessed cities frequently,  and completed the lesser pilgrimage more than ten times. We were able to have the time and space for introspection, and make life-transforming changes.

Qatar

This was a shock to our desert-adjusted quiet souls. Traffic, food, malls amongst the glitz and glamour of well.. Qatar. We survived, ate lots and did lots of cool things like participate in a home-schooling co-op for the first time!

Turkey

I think Turkey has been the cream on the cake as our adventures come to an end soon (inshallah!). We have discovered  comical ways of communicating beyond language. Our eyes have been opened to the vast richness of Turkish culture, food and history – oh, and also Turkish television series (check them out!). Turkish home-keeping and their approach  to home cleaning and organisation is the best of the best. I look at awe at the speed in which Turkish women operate, cook and complete their daily tasks- ‘bish, bash, bosh’ is their slogan. This has also been the COLDEST place we have lived in, with temperatures dipping to -13 degrees  accompanied by up to 3 feet of pure white snow. 

IMG_4794.JPG

Konya in the snow, 2016

IMG_0015

Aleppo, Syria circa 2009

 

IMG_1533

Al Madinah al Munawarrah 2014

IMG_8076

Istanbul 2017

Food and Travel

I sometimes cannot believe I haven’t documented more of the food across my travels in the Middle East.

Travelling has opened up the food world to me, introduced me to new flavours and spices and combinations.

The tart, red dust from berries called Sumac that Damascus introduced me to, as a topping on a Fattoush salad. It is used in marinades, dry rubs and sprinkling over salad and food before serving.

The dried yoghurt/buttermilk balls in Jordan called Jameed served with the traditional rice dish called Mansaf.

The national rice dish of Saudi Arabia, Kabseh (rice and meat seems to be a common denominator across the Arab world!).

The wonderful drink, inspired by the South East Asian workers of Qatar (similar to the Indian Masala chai, called Karak.

IMG_6280.JPG

Tea and Pecan Cake at CocoMaya, London

The calorie-laden iskender kebab of Turkey – bread chopped up in to bite-size pieces, slices of doner meat topped with yoghurt and sometimes, tomato sauce, finished off with sizzling golden butter!

IMG_6913

Iskender Kebab near Haci Bayram Veli Turbesi and Mescit in Ankara

I pledge to blog more about food but you can also find photos of our food adventures on Instagram.

If there are any requests or things you’d like to see, drop me a comment or an email!

 

Ramadhan Drinks

culture-1613859_640

Dates at the Market

With Ramadhan around the corner, I thought I would share a few of my favourite and simple drink recipes

Date and Tahini Shake (serves 3-4)

  • 3 cups milk of choice 
  • 10 dates (medjool or sukary dates work best)
  • 2 tablespoons of tahini (you can substitute with almond butter)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Optional (ice)

Blend all ingredients together until smooth and serve! 

If your dates are not soft/squidgy – you can soak them in water overnight and add in to shake when ready to blend.

Peanut Butter and Banana shake (serves 3 – 4)

  • 3 ripe bananas (freeze overnight for a creamier shake)
  • 5 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • 3 cups of milk of choice (oat milk is nice in this – extra protein!)

Blend and serve with ice! 

Chocolate and Vanilla shake (serves 3 – 4)

  • 3 cups of milk
  • 2 tablespoons of cacoa powder (substitute with cocoa powder)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla powder
  • Ice

Blend and serve with dark chocolate shavings on top – and whipped cream for a more indulgent shake and enjoy!

Ideas for optional add ins to make the shakes more wholesome and nutritious: protein powder, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, handful of oats, coconut oil, coconut water, coconut milk, maca powder, moringa powder, spinach

Stories of teas (and how to make the perfect cup of masala chai)

Over the years, we have been exposed to our fair share of teas in many places, beyond the English cuppa.

There was the little tulip shaped glass which contained more sugar than tea (usually Lipton or Ceylon) served in the alleyways of Zainabiyya, Damascus. On other occasions, we sipped floral herbal teas, a blend of wild flowers and herbs (see here for more details), in the living room of friends who have long since left. And then there is another commonly consumed hot drink in Syria is ‘mate‘, a caffeine-rich tea that comes from South America. It is described as having the’“strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate” all in one cup!

teastrainerI gave up caffeine when we lived in Jordan, so chamomile and herbal teas were my new friends!

I found that the Saudis tended to favour copious amounts of lightly flavoured cardamom coffee  when hosting guests. During a road trip, when we stopped for drinks at the little street stalls, they would sometimes have Yemeni/Adani tea on their menu; a good milky cup of tea, sometimes spiced with ginger and cardamom.

Tea is generally consumed without milk in the Middle East. However, wherever you find Pakistani and Indian expats, you will be sure to find a top notch cup of tea with milk (albeit the evaporated ‘Rainbow’ brand kind)!

Qatar was a step up in the tea game. The famous Karak tea can be found in most places, Qatar’s answer to masala chai but with a twist. This twist is that the tea is sweetened with condensed milk. A cup of tea is a sure-fire way to get sugar rush! If you find yourself in Doha, try Chapati & Karak at Katara for a cheap, cheerful and sweet cup of tea with flaky bread. Londoners can also sample their tea (for a higher price!) in Knightsbridge.

tea

Now, a Turkish tea is a different story altogether. An important aspect of the culture here in Turkey, tea is often brewed using two stacked kettles: A small pot of very strong tea kept hot on the top of a larger one filled with boiling water.  A small amount of strong tea is poured into a little tulip-shaped glass, before the desired strength is achieved by adding the appropriate amount of hot water. The funny thing is I didn’t know that when I ordered tea off a self-service local vendor. I filled up my paper cup to the brim with strong tea. It was a bitter learning experience, literally!

Here is my recipe for the perfect cup of tea, born of Indian/Yemeni roots, nurtured in Syria, perfected in Saudi Arabia, and enjoyed in Turkey.

teaa

Ingredients (makes two)

A decent sized pot

5 cardamom pods slightly crushed open

3 cloves

3 black peppercorns

Half a cinnamon stick

Thinly cut slices of fresh ginger

Tea bags (or loose leaf tea if you are a purist but I am not there yet!)

PS. These are my favourite tea bags to use

Your choice of milk (cows, almond, oat etc)

Water (1 and 1/4 cup)

Choice of sweetener (honey, brown sugar etc)

Optional: a tiny piece of a fresh vanilla pod (I just cut mine in to tiny pieces to use)

masalas.jpg

Place the pot over the heat and the spices in the pot. Now this is the trick, tea hack, secret to this tea – toast them (yep, toast!) for about 30 seconds, or until they are slightly fragrant. This ‘toasting’ facilitates the release of their oils and permits the spices to flavour your tea more.

Then add water (I add 1 and 1/2 cup of water for every 2 cups of tea that I make). Let it brew a little. Let those spices infuse the water.

Once the water is simmering, add your tea bags. Clipper tea bags are quite strong. Depending on how potent I desire my tea to be, I use either 1 tea bag for 2 cups for a medium strength brew. If I fancy something stronger, each cup gets a tea bag!

Turn the heat down low, and when the tea has brewed, pour in the milk and stir. Watch the tea until it foams up. Take it off for a few seconds, and then place it back on the stove and let it foam up once more.

The only three things left to be done are pour, sweeten, and enjoy.

Peace out tea people.

teacup

Midas Touch Craft – Natural Beauty Product Making DIY Workshop Review

I found myself queuing up outside Queensborough Community Centre on a cold Sunday morning, my body still adjusting to being back on the cold, British soil. On my left, a little playground on an estate, and on my right, not much. In front of me, a group of eager but recently awoken women chattering about the workshop that we had all signed up for.

A late night search on Google for natural DIY Beauty workshop yielded some very expensive results. I was losing hope, when I stumbled upon a 3 hour course for £29 in which we would make 5 products! I was delighted, and immediately signed up.

I wasn’t sure what to expect – or maybe I was – I envisioned a gentle lady and approximately 5 other people with goggles and lab coats standing around metal worktops conducting a very scientific composition of beauty products – precisely measuring and weighing ingredients we would find in our kitchen pantries. The reality, however, was a very down to earth community hall with about 7 or 8 newspaper lined tables, with 6 chairs around each one .

Upon arrival, we queued up outside, before the co-ordinator, Naz, ticked off our names on the register. Then, we were guided to a room, took off our coats, and took our seats. On my table were two German-speaking friends, a mother and daughter from Hungary, myself, and another lady (whose name evades me, sorry!). We started chatting, and she said this was her Midas Touch second workshop – her previous one was all about making hair products. I regret not taking more photos (!), but on our table were some ingredients in plastic containers, and then a few more plastic containers and bottles inside another plastic container. I was hoping we would use glass jars, but I know that would drive the cost of the course up, so fair enough!

Our very enthusiastic and chirpy co-ordinator, Naz gave us an introduction as to how she got started with natural beauty. She accredited her energy to copious amounts of coffee. It was nice to be greeted with such passion, and she definitely knew how to captivate her audience. She also said it was a not for profit organisation – with money being donated to cancer research (her friends/family getting diagnosed with cancer led her to start Midas Touch Crafts up).

Naz talked us through some ingredients for our first project – a lip plumping lip balm. Her instructions were thorough. We had a little plastic spoon (smaller than the ones you get when you buy ice-cream) and she directed us as to how to mix the ingredients. There were 5 volunteer helpers present who then carefully poured hot wax into our lip balm jars so they could set. It was pretty straightforward and easy.

The next 4 projects (a lip scrub, a leave in hair conditioner spray, a cellulite body scrub, and finally, a body moisturiser) did not have such thorough instructions. On our table, some ladies had different spoon sizes, so being told add a spoon or two was confusing. During the body scrub, Naz forgot to mention the need to add coffee until after we had completed the process, but we got through and made our products. The helpers were around if we had questions. My suggestion would be to have a set of clear laminated instructions, which could then be re-used for future workshops, on the table. Once or twice, we forgot the measurements or the instructions, and pretty much just winged it!

IMG_3425.JPG

The product making processes were peppered with talks and tips from Naz – how to whiten your teeth naturally with activated charcoal, how her dad healed his arthritis with arnica oil, and the benefits of essential oils. I was familiar with some of her ideas through my readings on the internet, but other participants were intrigued, curious, or dubious about some of the claims. On our way to the station, a couple of girls said they were amazed at the idea of using everyday ingredients to make your own products. Another said that while it was a fun weekend session, she would stick to commercial products, and that she thought claiming arnica oil was a cure for arthritis was a little far fetched for her. It made me realise that like our opinions, our skins and bodies vary – what works for one may not work for another.

img_3426

 

Overall, the session was a fun, relaxed, and casual gathering of women who wanted to learn something new. I like the products I made, but not necessarily the consistency – I feel that using a teeny tiny plastic spoon to stir the products may have been the cause of the gritty texture of my body butter and lip balm – but I definitely took away ideas and basics. We were told we would be emailed the recipes we used on the day, and some other recipe e-books too, so I am excited to see what I can make in my kitchen.

 

For more information, check out http://midastouchcrafts.com