Hatay and Gaziantep (aka Tesaduf Travels)

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I’ve often said Istanbul isn’t so much a metropolis as a series of small interconnected villages and a set of coincidences I experienced when I went to Hatay and Gaziantep has really confirmed this belief.

Some of my mementos from TransAnatolia 2022.
Some of my mementos from the race

One day I was looking for a Whatsapp chat I’d had with someone at an animal shelter on this side of Istanbul ages ago. By chance I came across a happy birthday wish from last year I hadn’t seen at the time. It was sent by a woman my husband Kim and I had met some years previously. Jale had helped us with one of those pesky things that apply to foreigners living in Turkey and we’d hit it off brilliantly. Time and the pandemic had intervened since we last spoke, but I contacted her to say sorry I hadn’t replied to her message and this led to us meeting for coffee.

Like everyone, we shared tales of how we’d fared during Covid, swapped travel stories and then talked about what we were up to now. That’s when I found out that slim, blonde Jale who looks very delicate (until you hug her and discover she’s all muscle and strength), was getting ready to compete in an off road rally race. I had no idea she was interested in motor sports or indeed that there was an international race in Turkey. Then again, I am a big user of public transport.

Here I am with Aysegül on my left and Jale on my right. As you can see, both of them are taller than me!
Here I am with  Aysegül on my left and Jale on my right. As you can see, both of them are taller than me!

A couple of weeks later an email landed in my inbox, from a PR person named Türkan, inviting me to participate in a GöTurkiye press trip. It was for Transanatolia 2022 an off road rally race starting in Hatay, where we’d also go sightseeing before travelling to Gaziantep. As you’ve probably guessed, Transanatolia was the race Jale had entered. She and her co-pilot Ayşegül first competed in 2021, becoming the only all female team to do so since the race began in 2010.

I was thrilled to be invited and immediately said yes. Türkan was very pleased and then told me she lives in Kadikoy too, and invited me to meet for coffee when I got back. Naturally I agreed. I spent the next week finishing some other writing assignments and madly shopping for clothes to wear. The temperature in the south east was going to be in the mid 30s and a lot of the events on the schedule were outdoors, so I needed to get a hat, some lightweight T-shirts and some new jeans. I’ve almost completely cut out sugar in the last six months and go to the gym three times a week when I can so have lost weight. I’m really pleased about that but not about having to buy new clothes .

The exterior of St Pierre’s Church in Hatay. Beautiful, isn’t it?
The exterior of St Pierre’s Church in Hatay. Beautiful, isn’t it?

At the airport I met the Özlem, another person from the PR company who was accompanying us on the trip. We chatted during the flight and she asked me all the usual questions, why I moved to Turkey? How do I like it and so on. When she asked me where I lived, we were both really astonished when we realised we live two blocks from one another. In Istanbul, a city with an official population of around 15.5 million people. Yep! Truly! Two blocks away. I’ve passed her place hundreds of times and her family once even lived in my street. By the time the plane touched down in Hatay we were firm friends, and during the transfer to the hotel we’d hatched a plan to race into town to buy swimmers so we could use the hotel pool.

Mission accomplished we headed to the rooftop at the gorgeous Museum Hotel. The pictures say it all really. 

The incredible architecture of the Antakya Museum Hotel suspended over a floor mosaic and hamam.
The Antakya Museum Hotel rooftop pool is as fabulous in real life as it looks here.

The next day, having met the three French photographers, two member Romanian news team, an Italian influencer, his assistant and Marta, a Polish journalist, influencer who loves Turkey and only other woman in the group, we set off on five days and nights of museums, food, cars, künefe, SBSs (that’s side by side vehicles, like a souped up dune buggy), baklava, mosaics, tepsi kebab, farms, etli ekmek city tours, katmer, tombs, Turkish coffee, markets … groan, I have to stop. I have a stomach ache now.

I have written a more detailed post on Gaziantep and planned to write a detailed guide on how to visit Hatay, but then the earthquake struck on 6 February 2023. I think it will be a long time before it is appropriate to visit Hatay as a tourist, so here’s a very small selection of the hundreds of photos I took on this trip. Some will, I know, tempt you to start making plans to visit Gaziantep while the others are a memorial to the lives lived and lost in Antakya.

Coffee anyone? In 400 year old coffee house in Gaziantep.
And of course we ate baklava in Gaziantep. Naturally I brought some home for my husband too!

Short me with tall and handsome companions Tommaso and Giovani.
Hmm, I'll have the blue ones! Yemeni in Gaziantep.
Twin love in Gaziantep bazaar.

Cay stop on the way to Titus Tunnel. It's as lovely as it looks
I bought handmade soap from this farmer on the path to the tunnel. He had a painfully firm handshake!
Have you visited the ancient Titus Tunnel?

This unassuming building is the Hidir Tomb on the waterfront in Samandag.

After looking at the photos I don’t want you to get the wrong impression about this trip. We didn’t just eat and socialise a lot (although we did both and it was great fun). We did work too. When I mentioned to Marta that Jale’s co-pilot Aysegül lives in Poland, Marta was thrilled and did an interview with her for her Polish readers. The finished article is in Polish but Google translate does a pretty decent job. I introduced them to Cristian and Adrian, the Romanian news team as well and enjoyed watching them being filmed in their car at the start of the rally. The segment aired last month so now Jale and Aysegül will be famous in Romania, adding a more modern representation of Turks than the Ottomans in Romania.

French photographer Marc and I argued politely about the ethics of photographing people unawares. I’m against it, particularly when some people are living in a place illegally and fear being identified by authorities, as well as experience in Turkey of people not wanting their photos taken for religious or other reasons. Marc said it allowed him to take more authentic pictures, but the word authenticity is loaded with meanings pertaining to background, privilege and perspective, isn’t it?

Jean-Philippe had a wonderful wry sense of black humour and Raumauld the only actual car journalist among us, spent most of his time lugging his heavy zoom lens around, taking photos of cars driving around. I know they are meaningful and moving to some people, but I’m not one of them. He was very quiet and took a lot of teasing about being a vegetarian in a meat heavy area.

Giovanni doing his influencer thing.

I started off being rather cynical about the idea of the word influencer as a job description, but after watching Giovanni at work, I’ve changed my mind. Influencers who take their, well, influence seriously, put a lot of time and effort into what they do. Giovanni has a degree in psychology which might make his approach to influencing more professional, I don’t know. What I do know is how kind he and Tommaso were, answering my painfully ‘Instagram for Idiots’ questions, without making me fee’ like a fool. Now I know much more now about it than I did before, and am beginning to enjoy matching my words to images.

Naturally I chatted to everyone about Istanbul and am looking forward to showing them the city I call home when they come to visit. These examples of tesadüf, coincidence or to meet by chance, is what living in Turkey is all about. Istanbul might be an enormous city in a country of over 86 million people but really, it’s just a series of villages, all interconnected in some way.


If you’re thinking about or in the process of planning a trip to Turkey, here are some helpful tips to make your travels run more smoothly

For FLIGHTS I like to use Kiwi.com.

Don’t pay extra for an E-VISA. Here’s my post on everything to know before you take off.

However E-SIM are the way to go to stay connected with a local phone number and mobile data on the go. Airalo is easy to use and affordable.

Even if I never claim on it, I always take out TRAVEL INSURANCE. I recommend Visitors Coverage.

I’m a big advocate of public transport, but know it’s not suitable for everyone all the time. When I need to be picked up from or get to Istanbul Airport or Sabiha Gokcen Airport, I use one of these GetYourGuide website AIRPORT TRANSFERS.

ACCOMMODATION: When I want to find a place to stay I use Booking.com.

CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: Let me guide you around Kadikoy with my audio walking tour Stepping back through Chalcedon or venture further afield with my bespoke guidebook Istanbul 50 Unsung Places. I know you’ll love visiting the lesser-known sites I’ve included. It’s based on using public transport as much as possible so you won’t be adding too much to your carbon footprint. Then read about what you’ve seen and experienced in my three essay collections and memoir about moving to Istanbul permanently.

Browse the GetYourGuide website or Viator to find even more ways to experience Istanbul and Turkey with food tours, visits to the old city, evening Bosphorus cruises and more!

However you travel, stay safe and have fun! Iyi yolculuklar.

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  1. IG is cumbersome for such a small part, but a way for people to find you on your other platforms. I follow your blog and Facebook. Love your writing!

  2. I *thought you were looking slim! Congratulations on having to buy new clothes!
    I’m glad you mentioned putting words to pix. I love your pictures but wish for more descriptions as I am learning and I want to know what I’mlooking at. My DNA traces back to Gaziantep so that area interests me a lot! Thanks for your words!

    1. Thank you for the compliment! I am enjoying IG but it is so much work on top of my writing so I will probably always write more for my posts and articles.

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