Istanbul

Istanbul, home to 14.8 million people and a cultural capital in its own right, has been on the top of my list of travel destinations for a while now. Turkey is a great destination if you’re travelling on a budget– the conversion rates from GBP to TL is not only very good at the moment (approx. £1- 4.3TL) but also the food, accommodation and museum entry fees are all quite cheap compared to many other destinations that I’ve travelled to in Europe.

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Flight/Transport: 

We flew into Ataturk airport from London Heathrow with British Airways. Although British Airways is one of the more expensive airlines, we chose to fly with them because of their (general) reliability (that said, they are going on strike on the first week of July) and also because my mum is registered with their executive points scheme. It’s important to note that if you are planning on travelling with British Airways or to selected Middle Eastern countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia) that the UK government has temporarily implemented a technology ban, allowing only for mobile phones to be bought on the aircraft.

London Heathrow is always my first choice when travelling out of London for two main reasons. Firstly, it is probably the most accessible airport in London with the Piccadilly line terminating at terminals 1-5 and because of that, it is also one of the cheapest airports to get to, costing you only up to £5.00 to get there by tube.  Once we were in Istanbul, we asked our airbnb host to arrange an airport transfer for us which costed only 60TL, approximately £13. I would highly recommend to avoid using yellow taxis as they tend to up the normal rate, however if you find yourself in a situation in which you have to, make sure you always agree on a price before hopping in and that no money is handed over until you reach your destination.

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Visa:

Although you can purchase an e-visa online before arriving at Turkey, you can also purchase it at the airport at the visa information desk or using one of the self-service kiosk. The cost at the airport is £20/ $20 in cash and it is valid for 90 days from the date in which it is validated with a stamp (at the airport). You can apply for a visa up to 3 months in advance online and can pay using a credit or debit card. The official UK government website has some useful information about applying for a Turkish visa.

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Accommodation: 

Travelling light as we were only staying three days, we decided to book an Airbnb right in the heart of Istanbul, a stone throw away from the Blue Mosque. Airbnbs are my preferred type of accommodation because they often tend to be a lot cheaper, located in local areas and usually offer the a space to cook or prepare light snacks. If you’re unfamiliar with airbnb, I’ve got a video all about how I plan a budget holiday often including my staple airbnb accommodation.

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As I mentioned, I’ve wanted to visit Istanbul for a while now, with everything from the food, to the TV series, art and architecture influencing my decision, however with the increasing terrorist attacks worldwide and the media’s propaganda of which countries are ‘safe’ and which aren’t, I was a little apprehensive to visit. When I told most of my friends and family that I had booked a short trip there, most of them would ask me whether that was a good idea, which of course made me even more uneasy. I’m really glad I did visit though because we were met with nothing but openness, kindness and a heartfelt welcome from everyone. Waking up to leave for the airport on Monday morning and hearing of the terrorist attack that took place near Finsbury Park Mosque and in Virginia, I had to stop and question myself– is Istanbul really anymore dangerous than anywhere else in the world? As with everywhere, you need to be cautious of your surroundings, but we shouldn’t be dissuaded from experiencing a culture firsthand by the media’s portrayal of certain countries. I personally couldn’t have felt safer and more at peace here.

If you’re looking for somewhere to learn about Islam, go to Turkey. The Blue Mosque in particular had very useful information scattered around the premises, with everything from the history of Islam, to an explanation of what hijab means, to the family tree of the prophets. I felt so emerged in Islam, waiting to break our fast with the adhan and not just with a countdown on my watch– It was such a unique and spiritual experience for me. I truly feel that the people there were so genuinely kind and friendly, everyone we met was so humble. Anywhere we ate or bought food, or gifts from, they thanked us so much for choosing to visit their country and to buy from them. If you look lost, you won’t even have to ask, someone will be waiting willingly and eagerly to point you in the right direction. The hospitality and goodwill nature is something you must definitely experience firsthand. 

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If you want to see what I actually got up to whilst I was in Istanbul, here’s our daily vlog:

Malta

Whilst Malta is renowned as being a party island, with cheap flowing alcohol, countless beach parties, and an abundance of casinos, it is also an island founded on layers of history and cultural preservation. What initially attracted me to the Malta is their unique language. Maltese is descended from Siculo-Arabic– a cultural bend of Arabic that was developed in Sicily and later introduced to Malta. It’s such an intricate language in which half of the vocabulary is derived from standard Italian and Sicilian, some English and Arabic.

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The cultural infusion is not just encompassed in the language, but remnants of the vast empires that occupied Malta is evident from every day life to the monuments. Littered throughout Malta, I was surprised to see the traditional British phoneboxes and letterboxes

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Don’t be fooled by the fact that Malta is in the European Union (subsequently, the currency is Euros– Malta adopted the Euros in 2008), the British have definitely left a stamp on their former colony with English being the second official language, cars driving of the left hand side of the road, and even the plug outlets are standard British.

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Malta has a very different feel to many of the other destinations I have been to. Valletta has been named Europe’s capital of culture 2018, and walking through the streets you definitely feel how imbued the island is with its multifaceted culture, as my friend said, it does feel like you’ve been transported back into time. That said, I felt like there wasn’t much ‘to do’ in the sense of visiting museums, ‘great’ landmarks or monuments, but rather the edifying experience for me came from being immersed in the streets and the listening to the fluid language. 

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Getting around: 

Our experience of public transport in Malta was on the whole good. There were a couple of instances when buses were delayed, but nothing too bad and of course this is to be expected anywhere. We used a tallinja card (the maltese version of an oyster card) which costed €15 for 12 single day journeys and we purchased this at the ticket office in Valletta. One ‘single’ journey was valid for 2 hours, which meant you could tap in to as many modes of public transport as you would like during the 2 hours and would only be charged one single fare. On top of that, you could share the card with as many people as you liked. So two people could tap in twice for two single fares, using just the one card which was really handy. Tickets could also be purchased on the bus at the price of €1.50 for a single fare and again, once purchased is valid for 2 hours on any mode of transport. 

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If you’re looking to book a taxi, we were advised by our Airbnb host that the cheapest and most reliable company is ecabs. Be careful with white cabs as they have a reputation for swindling people. If you do have to take a white cab make sure you agree on a price before hopping in and that you only pay when you reach your destination

Travelling on a Budget

Some of you may know by now that I have my own YouTube channel, or perhaps in fact you’ve found my blog through my YouTube channel. I wanted to share on here a video that I recently filmed about how I travel as much as I do on a very tight budget (as a university student with a part time job) so that those of you who are looking to plan a cheap get-away without breaking the bank might be able to glean some tips. These are what have worked for me so far. Let me know in the comments below how you save some extra cash on your travels–Enjoy!

Marsala

Since living in Sicily, I’ve come to notice that a lot of the towns here have a reputation for their own speciality. Marsala speciality in wine is one which is known internationally. It is also however an important historical site. Marsala is built on the ancient ruins of the Carthaginian city, Lilybaion, and like many parts of Sicily, its ancient roots are still visible in the archaeological site: Motya island (once an ancient Phoenician town). A reoccurring trend that i’ve noticed in the Trapani region is that a lot of the architecture– especially religious– seems to be made out of this beautiful, natural ‘sandy’ stone local to the region.  

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Scala dei Turchi

I was contemplating whether I should write a post/ share these photos, given how very few there are. I have been wanting to visit la scala dei Turchi since I’ve arrived in Sicily– and precisely because of the picturesque photos that I’ve seen pasted all over the web. 

This rocky cliff is located off the coast of Realmonte, in southern Sicily and whilst it is not particularly very close to any other outstanding monuments, it has gained a reputation as a tourist attraction due to its peculiar colour, form and beautiful beach seasons. The contrast between the white rock and blue sea is definitely eye opening at the very least and the sea’s blue waters almost recalls those of the Caribbean. If you are looking to get your worth of time travelling to this region, Agrigento, known for the Valley of the Temples– a huge, well-preserved, ancient Greek archeological site, is not too much further afield. 

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Palermo| The city of Palms

Come rain or sunshine, Palermo’s glory definitely shines through. It is by far my favourite city in Sicily, and is one which I find myself revisiting often. Not only is the blends of years of domination by a number of people reflected in both its name and architecture, but passing through il mercato Ballaro  on a mild Sunday morning, the multi-cultural hustle and bustle which pours out from different tongues is a testimony to Palermo’s multifaceted nature.  Of course, being the capital of Sicily, you would expect it to be a leading city in the arts and humanity, and no doubt it is with an array of UNESCO sites, and il teatro massimo right in its range. But Palermo has even more to offer. I find it hard even to put into words the unmistakable ambience and character that is so distinctly and proudly Palermo, yet unassertive and humble in being so. You truly have to go to Palermo to experience its aura and spirit firsthand– I promise, you won’t be disappointed if you do!  

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