A trip to remember.
I had the privilege of visiting two of Turkey's hottest tourist destinations -- the sea-side Rixos Downtown Antalya Resort and the upbeat Rixos Elysium Suites Taksim located in the heart of Istanbul.
While sitting in Bahrain International Airport there were butterflies in my stomach. I could barely contain myself when I got onto the Turkish Airlines flight ready to jet off on the adventure of a lifetime. However, I had a rough four-hour flight to Istanbul.
For those who don't know me, I am a tiny woman and do not require much room. But the airline's seats made me feel like a giant ... and don't even get me started on the isles ... could they be any narrower?
It wasn't a great start to my trip but that quickly changed once I boarded my transit flight to Antalya. That hour-long journey was extremely relaxing. Also, say what you will about airline food, in my opinion it was absolutely scrumptious.
And, I especially enjoyed the safety video which featured players from my dad's favourite English Premier League football club, Manchester United. I giggled with glee as Rooney showed us how to properly store a carry-on and when the Portuguese winger Nani belted up.
While the plane was descending I gasped at the beauty of Antalya. The tension I felt immediately melted away as though I knew this would be the most peaceful holiday I had ever experienced. The city was carpeted with vibrant colours of greenery, red roof-tops and a crystal clear blue sea and sky.
The resort was located on the world-famous Konyaalti Beach over the cliffs with an incomparable view of the Mediterranean Sea and Toros Mountains. My first impression was 'wow'. The resort was also surrounded by a protected national park so there were so many areas to go and explore, not to mention the five-star facilities including an amazing spa and wellness centre, a massive gym, delightful restaurants alongside a tropical pool.
I had an all-inclusive trip because I was staying in the Limited Edition room on the eighth floor which offers its guests unlimited luxury.
The best thing about staying in a resort is that you have everything at your fingertips. So, when it rained the first day it didn't faze me at all as I simply treated myself to a massage and peel in their state-of-the-art spa followed by supper at the Italian, Japanese, Russian-inspired restaurant Kalina and a show. It was such a magical evening. I enjoyed a fantastic selection of Russian and Japanese food to the sounds of rain drops along with the musical stylings of a Turkish band whose singer, I kid you not, sounded exactly like Shakira. I had to turn around a few times just to make sure it wasn't really her. After dinner I made my way to the karaoke lounge where I was serenaded by the hotel staff singing a range of Turkish melodies. The next day I soaked up the sun by the phenomenal pool and then made my way to Antalya's picturesque old quarter, Kaleici, which features narrow, winding streets, old wooden houses, cafes and tons of shopping outlets. The shops are filled with vibrant coloured shawls, ceramics, lanterns, jewellery and more.
Antalya is also well-known for its seafood so if you fancy some calamari or fish, then head to Arma for the tastiest seafood and amazing views of the Mediterranean.
On my last day in Antalya I sat at the resort's Seyir Cafe, which is located in the national park, and feasted on a number of breakfast aperitifs including honey, cheese, cherry tomatoes, breads and jams. I took in the fresh air while I sipped traditional Turkish coffee and enjoyed views of the Toros Mountains.
It was so beautiful I almost didn't want to leave but, alas, it had to be done. I was a little depressed when I arrived in Istanbul but all that changed during my drive to the hotel. Their cornices were nothing like I had ever seen before. People were fishing on the Bosphorus Strait which was filled with yachts and sail boats. Others jogged or exercised on gym equipment left on the grass for health nuts.
There were basketball courts and football pitches everywhere. I saw kids jumping off cliffs into the sea then climbing back up only to dive in again. The Turks are extremely active and I can't imagine anyone being fat there, mind you, with the amount of mouth-watering cuisine they would need to keep fit or else they will simply bloat up.
When I checked into the duplex hotel apartment I was astonished by the luxurious surroundings. I felt at home with the little chocolates and macaroons on my dining table and the massive rain shower in my bathroom. I think this first 'duplex concept' business hotel is going to go far as the customer service was impeccable, the gym and spa were fabulous and the menu at the Lebanese restaurant Layali was one to die for.
Where to go? What must you see? Take a boat ride on the Bosphorus Strait for stunning scenic views followed by dinner at Reina, the hippest and trendiest restaurant-bar in Istanbul. You can either arrive by boat or by taxi. While in Istanbul I had to visit the Sultan Ahmed Mosque which is also known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. Like many other mosques, it also comprises of a tomb of the founder, a madrasa (school) and a hospice. While still used as a mosque, it is also a popular tourist attraction.
In Sultanahmet district you'll also find Topkapi Palace, Ayasofya (the church of divine wisdom), the Byzantine Hippodrome, a grand Byzantine square called Binbirdirek Cistern, the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, Great Palace Mosaic Museum and several other mosques.
For dinner I went to the hotel's restaurant for a taste of Lebanese cuisine which was devilishly good and satisfying. A belly dancer entertained the guests with her exotic cape dance and moves.
I then decided it was too beautiful a night to stay cooped up indoors. The climate was warm with a slight cool breeze making for perfect walking. I strolled through the busy Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi road, where tourists and locals go to shop, dine, party or to simply be seen.
Street decorations sparkled like little stars and loud music echoed from different restaurants between the big branded shops. The place was still abuzz at 1am.
I got stuck in a noisy but peaceful demonstration in Taksim during the day which the hotel's public relations girl informed me it is a regular occurrence that ends as quickly as it starts. That explains why all the police were hanging around.
On my last day I hit the Grand Bazaar which is Turkey's largest covered market offering excellent shopping. Most guidebooks will claim that it has 4,000 shops. Because of consolidation and replacement of shops by restaurants and other services the number is certainly lower, but you get the idea: it has lots of shops.
After breaking the bank at the bazaar (a tip by the way, never accept the first price), I headed back to the hotel to pack. I literally had to sit on my suitcase to lock it up. After working up a sweat packing I needed a nice, refreshing shower. That's when it hit me, Turkey is known for its Turkish Hamam (bath) so I made my way to the spa and was rubbed and scrubbed by the certified bather.
It was an experience that should not be passed up. I lay down on a hot slab of marble as a lovely lady massaged my achy muscles (probably from all the shopping/walking) and then covered me with foam before washing me up once more. After washing my hair she wrapped me up in a fluffy bathrobe and led me to the waiting area for some tea and coffee. 'This is the life', I thought.
At the airport I bid Turkey a tearful farewell, as I knew it was back to reality.
Would I go back? Let's just say I am already thinking of purchasing a summer home. Istanbul hasn't seen the last of me.
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