At Sulaymaniye mosque

It’s been a year since Istanbul

At Sulaymaniye mosque

About a year ago, by some sheer luck, I was whisked to Istanbul, Turkey. That destination that always tops every traveler’s bucket list, Istanbul is ranked the world’s most popular travel destination, surpassing perennial favorites like London and Rome. Stepping into Istanbul is like stepping into another world – century old buildings stand near modern skyscrapers and despite the modernization of this tourist destination, the remains of Istanbul’s opulent past remained intact.

We walked through these cobblestone street and saw colorful buildings lined side by side.


Cafes I wanted to check out (even though I really don’t drink coffee). Unfortunately, like any other press/media trip, there was no time for that. Our itinerary was hectic and we kind of jump from one place to another. I’d like to do slow traveling to Istanbul next time. You know, travel for the sake of traveling.

in the streets of Istanbul

Istanbul in November was beautiful. It was autumn and the air is crisp and cool and filled with the smell of roasted chestnuts, a very popular street food.


The Turkish people are very proud of their country. There were many flags all around the city.


We explored Istanbul by foot – a lot that I had to wear (oversized) slippers (not mine but my travel buddy’s) on the last day because my feet would’ve died on me already. Being a very popular travel destination, there is nothing serene about the main streets of Istanbul. The traffic is heavy on most roads on weekdays, just like any other major city in the world, really.


We merged into the crowd near the Egyptian bazaar. All the while I was thinking as I was busy taking photos, what if I get lost in this crowd of people? We weren’t able to explore the Egyptian bazaar because it was too crowded. It could be just like any other bazaar but then, I still wanted to see what’s inside.

traffic in Istanbul

We saw amazing sunsets along the way, on our way to the airport. It was our last few moments in Istanbul and the sky kind of gave us a grand closure to our short trip.


Istanbul was fun, especially if you’re sharing the trip with friends, old and new. (This is my friend Sheila of AB and Me blog – great travel buddy!) It’s always nice to do silly things…with someone else!

street scenes Istanbul

Istanbul was cold in November and we were all wrapped up at Bakirkoy, one of Istanbul’s famous shopping districts. I really liked the company of these ladies. They made the exhausting (enjoyable but cannot deny it was exhausting) trip so much easier.

in bakirkoy

Interesting people you see around, locals or tourists alike. The guy on the left was insisting we take a sip of Cay or Turkish tea. He looked right through me to convince me that Turkish tea is the best. I said ok and walked away, LOL! The photo on the right is most probably a tourist taking a selfie near the Hagiya Sofia with a (very!) grownup son in a baby(?!) carrier.

street people local tourist

I’ve only been to Istanbul for three days and yet it leaves me wanting for more. It’s been a year but I am still thinking about it.

in the streets of Istanbul

After all, there are so many places to explore – for one, I haven’t been to Istiklal Caddesi, the perfect metaphor for 21st-century Turkey, the busy Taksim Square, the symbolic heart of modern Istanbul. Then I want to walk across the Galata bridge at sunset to experience Istanbul at its most magical when the historic Galata Tower is surrounded by shrieking seagulls and see the mosques atop the seven hills of the city. Hmmm, I guess I’ve been reading too much travel guide books!

Grace in Bangkok palace 2011

Blogger Outreach: Travel edition

Grace in Bangkok 2011

Just right after I wrote about blogger outreach a couple of days ago, this landed in my inbox:

“Hello. We’re looking for expat bloggers living in Dubai to blog about our airline client. Our client will fly the selected bloggers to a city in Asia and they will have to blog about their experiences.  Can you send us your blog analytics (showing subscribers and monthly traffic)?”

I’ve been contacted by a PR agency for their client (I won’t drop names), an airline company, who wants to send bloggers to a city in Asia for a blogger’s trip: free trip in exchange of posts, much like what I did when I worked with the Tourism Authority of Thailand in 2011 on a trip to Bangkok and Huahin and my recent trip to Istanbul, sponsored by Turkish Airlines.

You all know that travel and blogging (immersing in culture, taking photos and writing about those experiences) are two of my passions so I was ready to jump on this one but here’s what stopped me.

“Our client is very strict in the selection of bloggers and want the bloggers who have 100,000 followers (subscribers?) and high page view numbers per month.”

I wanted to laugh. What a perfect example of a flawed blogger outreach.

They really didn’t take their time to research, tsk. First of all, there isn’t a blog with 100,000 subscribers here in Dubai. I might be wrong and do correct me if I am or if that is your blog, please don’t throw a violent fit and leave a comment instead! I would like to see a stellar blog I might have missed

Second, as I have mentioned in my recent article about blogger outreach, bigger numbers are not always better. What if there exists a blog with high subscriber/page view count BUT in a very different niche? Maybe a blog with sky high traffic but not travel/lifestyle related ? Would they still consider it? 

This client obviously needs a blogger who writes about lifestyle and travel but is concentrating on looking for that high profile blogger regardless of what type of blog? Mind boggling.

Another very important point they have missed in their research (if they at all) is that high profile travel bloggers with those kind of numbers don’t go to blog trips for free. On top of the free accommodation, air tickets and food, most travel bloggers I know (based in the US at least) require a per day fee for their services. 

And rightly so.

Thailand bloggers trip 2011

A blogger’s trip/media trip/familiarization trip is hard work. The itinerary is almost always rushed and you’re whisked from one place to another. You have to keep up with documenting things: take photographs, listen to the guide despite heavy jet lag and take down notes. 

Then put everything together and blog about your experience, adding client links. Of course, don’t get me wrong, it’s fun and I enjoyed my trips to Thailand and Turkey but it is undeniably tough and exhausting.

All I’m trying to say is that I wish the client and the agency were realistic about this. Do a research, asking the following questions to themselves:

  • What audience do we want to reach out to?

Are you looking for moms who write about family travels, a businessman who reviews business hotels or amenities, or a blogger who blogs about group travel or solo travel? Be specific.

  • What value will we bring to the blogger and their readers?

Decide on what benefits you want to offer the (travel) bloggers and to their readers, and aim for a win-win partnership.

  • What do we want these bloggers to do for us?

Bloggers are receiving pitches from companies just like yours on a regular basis. So be transparent about what you are asking of them. Do you want them to stay at your property and review it? Attend an event in your destination? Or, try out your new spa services? Also, be specific of what type of social media coverage you’re seeking, such as Facebook mentions or live Tweeting at an event.

live tweeting in Istanbul

 ~ Bloggers live tweeting (updating social media channels) in Istanbul ~

But what really stumped me: the demand of high statistics

Not that that it is not important because it is but again, I can’t reiterate this more: bigger is not always better. A blogger who is in touch with his/her audience, has loyal followers are more likely to have more influence that those with a huge number of groupies. 

It’s not about the numbers, it’s about engagement.

So an equally important question would also be: which blogger is active/influential AND highly engaged with their followers in other social platforms other than his/her blog but also on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram? Look at the bigger picture and never underestimate the power of micro-blogging platforms!


There has been a change as to how travelers plan their next vacation. Before, guide books were the primary source of information but these days, there’s a survey that travelers who do their research online, seeking tips and recommendations from websites, blogs and social media channels like Facebook and Twitter are increasing. 

And reaching out to bloggers can be a cost-effective tool {cheaper!} for marketing hotels online or marketing a destination – if implemented appropriately. 

Lastly, another peeve: I wish PR agencies don’t ask bloggers to do work for them.

“My client need a bigger reach and your blog doesn’t have enough followers yet. If you know any other bloggers who might be interested, please send us their details.”

If I don’t meet your criteria as your required blogger, fine – I  know that my blog isn’t all-powerful yet. But to then add insult to injury and expect me to pass the details of my blogger friends, to save you the time? Please go back to the basic, “do your research”.


But, with all that said, I will make an exception because I know travel blogging is a new and hip gig that gets bloggers excited (free trip, baby!) and some of you reading this might be interested. I’m gonna do this just this once!

If you are a blogger based in Dubai and have the blog analytics I mentioned above and interested in working with an airline brand for a media/fam trip to a city in Asia for a few days and blog about it, please get in touch via comments so I can pass on your details to the PR agency! 

Behind the scenes of airplane food & jumbo jets up close

Turkish airlines

So I wrote about the touristy part of my trip to Istanbul a few months ago {and still reeling with so many beautiful memories of Istanbul} and left out the ‘technical’ part of the trip: visiting Turkish Do & Co and Turkish Airlines Flight Academy.

Turkish Do & Co is operating nine gourmet kitchens all over Turkey. Over 60 national and international airlines are catered from these locations. While Turkish Airlines represents 70% of the sales, British Airways, Air France, Asiana Airlines, Emirates are also among its wide range of customer portfolio.

Think about 150,000 meals being prepared in this huge hub. Every. Single. Day.

Turkish Do & Co

Turkish Do & Co
What surprised me was the fact that despite the heavy volume of work, most of the preparations are done by hand. Manual peeling and cutting of apples, for example for apple pies, etc.

Turkish Do & Co

Turkish Do & Co

What’s interesting was that the facility had mock rooms replicating actual part of Turkish Airlines’ carriers. Here at the business class section, we get to try “airplane food” as prepared by Turkish Airlines’ flying chefs – The “Flying Chef” is part of the crew and is responsible for the perfect product presentation in the Business Class on board and the culinary assistance of the flight attendants.

Turkish Do & Co

Photo credit: Sheila, my travel partner

It was a great insight into what goes on behind the scenes of the airline food industry. Next up: Turkish Airlines Flight Academy!

Turkish Airlines Flight Academy

Cabin personnel undergo training during emergency, like water landing. I am glad they didn’t ask us to experience this…although that would have been cool too!

Turkish Airlines’ Flight Training Academy was founded in 1998 to provide training and consultancy services to companies, organizations and individuals in the civil aviation sector. Experienced and expert instructors train cockpit and cabin personnel at the Flight Training Center, which provides flight training of all kinds to International Civil Aviation standards.

Candidates for pilot and cabin crew receive training in simulators exactly as if they were on real airplanes at the Flight Training Center. We were excited that we could experience it as well but unfortunately, all the flight simulators were being used at that time.

Turkish Airlines hangar

How many have you been into a hangar? Not ever? Me too until Turkish Airlines took us to the hangar at the Turkish Airlines Flight Academy. A hangar is where these big jumbo jets are maintained, checked and repaired. Unfortunately, taking photos inside the hangar was not allowed due to safety issues so we only took photos outside.

Read more about my trip to Turkey here.

I was invited by Turkish Airlines along with other bloggers from the GCC (Dubai, Qatar, Egypt and Kuwait) for this Istanbul bloggers trip.  All views and opinions are mine.

Istanbul in November


A friend of mine posted a lot of photos of snow in Turkey in Facebook recently. Istanbul was covered in snow that I almost didn’t recognize it. I was just in Istanbul in November but except for the tall standing minarets of the Hagia Sofya, I couldn’t make out where the pics were taken by my friend. White winter can change the scene, definitely.

Turkey was glorious in November. Or at least when I was there towards the end of November.


People basked in the sun at the plaza. It was wee bit cool at about 14C but the sun was out.


Even the cats of Istanbul loved the weather, I think.  One of the interesting things I found in the streets of Istanbul are cats and dogs. There are plenty of them. And it seems Istanbul loves its street cats too. They are not regarded as pests  – rather feline neighbors – and plastic containers of food are often left for the animals by locals. Legal Nomads has a great post about the history of cats in Istanbul.

istanbul cat

At one part of the Topkapi Palace, the Bosphorus was quite a sight.



I love the colors of Istanbul’s sunny winter. You can see a lot of these food stalls in the streets selling freshly squeezed juices!


The guidebooks said that November weather in Istanbul is unpredictable. But on the day where we needed to be out and about to be the typical tourists, the weather Gods were on our side.

inside topkapi

I loved the distinct fall colors on the trees. It made me miss the four seasons – something we don’t experience here in Dubai.


The best time to visit Istanbul is September to November. That’s when the crowds diminish, the rates drop, and weather is spectacular. This three-month window is sandwiched by the too-hot summer and too-cold winter. Also one very important issue that might be looming in your minds regarding travel to Istanbul is safety. There had been civil unrest in the city some months back but when we were there in November, the whole atmosphere in Istanbul was very peaceful. I never felt unsafe or inconvenienced not even for a moment. But do check your local travel advisory bureaus before going, if that makes you feel more confident and safer to travel.

Disclaimer: I was invited by Turkish Airlines for a short trip to Istanbul. Turkish Airlines offers daily direct flight from Dubai to Istanbul (it’s only 5 hours!). All opinions are my own.

memories of istanbul

Memories of Istanbul

memories of istanbul

Around this very hour last week, I was in another world. Istanbul – Turkey’s largest city with well preserved heritage from Byzantine churches to Ottoman palaces was simply, breathtaking. It’s so different from the city I flew from. The season was winter, weather cool at 14C at daytime and a bit cold with rain at night. Here was a city with lots of relics from thousands of years ago still standing.

Suleymaniye Mosque

Istanbul is situated between two worlds: Europe and Asia. We were taken to the Grand Bazaar,  one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world but the last thing on my mind when I arrived in Turkey was shopping. The Grand Bazaar was wonderful but the traveling bag that I brought was small and I only had budget for small stuffs like key chains, fridge magnets and most importantly, Turkish delights.

grand bazaar

In earlier times, the market was a meeting point for locals, a place to congregate after a visit to the nearby mosques and, of course, a trading venue, where merchants offered gold, gems or fine fabrics.


I loved the colors of things sold at the Grand Bazaar from lamps to ceramics to textiles and teas but this is a very big tourist trap and there’s nothing that you can’t find in other shopping places so I spent time admiring the architecture rather than buying stuff.


Pomegranate juice vendor in the street outside the Grand Bazaar.

pomegranate 1

pomegranate 2
My friend Sheila and I , along with one of our guides decided to go out of the Grand Bazaar as soon as possible and explore the nearby sights. The guide said we should go see the Suleymaniye Mosque.

The Suleymaniye Mosque is an Ottoman imperial mosque located on the Third Hill of Istanbul, Turkey. It is the largest mosque in the city, and one of the best-known sights of Istanbul.

Suleymaniye Mosque

Standing on this very ground and I felt I’ve been taken into another place in time. This is one of those places I wish I could stay longer and just linger and breathe in the sights. For a while, I thought time stopped.

cobbled streets

This is the European side of Turkey and what’s more European than cobbled streets?


These walls in the above photos? Hundreds of years old!

Winter is Istanbul is tricky, weather wise. It could be sunny and a little warm one day and then cold and rainy the next. On the day of our city tour where we needed to walk a lot outside, the Gods were on our side. Istanbul is beautiful in November – at least when we were there.

Flowers at Topkapi Palace

It was a great weather to be outside. And so nice to see flowers thriving in their natural environment (no hoses to water them at regular intervals automatically, like in Dubai).

Flowers at Topkapi Palace

When you visit the Topkapi Palace, don’t ever miss the side where you can see the wonderful view of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn from the palace patios.

Bosphorus at Topkapi

At Topkapi Palace, you can walk through the courtyards and see the interiors of the buildings and just imagine what life must have been like in the past. Unfortunately photography is not permitted in the treasury rooms which house the most beautiful jewelery encrusted with emeralds and rubies and diamonds.

bosphorus 2

If these walls could talk…


What is a Turkey trip without visiting one of the historical places – The Blue Mosque (Called Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish) is an historical mosque in Istanbul. The mosque is known as the Blue Mosque because of blue tiles surrounding the walls of interior design. This is one of the few mosques in the world where non-Muslims can enter but (predictably enough), women have to cover their hair when entering the mosque and the textile color is, blue.

blue mosque

And of course, Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia is a great architectural beauty and an important monument both for Byzantine and for Ottoman Empires. Once a church, later a mosque, and now a museum .

hagia 3

hagia 1

hagia 2

Turkey was magnificent. The scenes, sights and food was better than I had imagined it to be. In three short days in this gleaming city, we were  able to immerse in nearly 3,000 years of history, from Roman ruins to Byzantine marvels, Ottoman treasures and modern amusements.

Leaving Turkey behind

Like all trips, it was time to go back home.  This was the view I saw before I boarded the bus to the airport. I’m leaving this historical world behind but I heard a whisper in my heart, “I’m going to be back.”

Thank you for reading all the way to the end! I wanted to write about each day of the trip as soon as I can so it is still fresh but alas, the only thing my mind and body was able to handle at the end of the day was a quick shower and bed. If I forgot about some tidbits, I’ll be posting again.

Next up: Turkish Airlines’ Turkish Do & Co (catering company providing stellar service to airlines, restaurants and international events), hangar and flight academy.

A very huge thank you to Turkish Airlines for inviting me and other bloggers from the GCC (Dubai, Qatar, Egypt and Kuwait) for this Istanbul bloggers trip. It was an honor to be considered for this wonderful travel opportunity. All views and opinions are mine.

Istanbul is ace


So sorry for the lack of updates. I arrived safely in Turkey last Thursday and since then got busy with the tour and crashing to bed later once back at the hotel.

Istanbul is amazing. I can’t believe I have missed to include this in our travels. I simply need to come back!

Meanwhile, my lack of blogging doesn’t mean no updates on the trip – I’ve been tweeting and instagramming and posting to Facebook while on the road so please check out my blog’s Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. You can also check out the hashtag #tk_tour in Instagram and Twitter to see updates from other bloggers together with me on this wonderful trip sponsored by Turkish Airlines.

I will blog more about the trip once I’m back in the arms of my trusty PC (it’s so hard to write a full blog post using the iPad!).


Istanbul here I come!


When this post goes live, I’ll probably be up in the air aboard Turkish Airlines, bound for Istanbul. I’m part of a group of bloggers/media invited for a trip to the historical city of Istanbul (and report back what we’ve seen there or Tweet/Instagram live from the location).

How cool is it?

As of this writing, my husband has called me 5 minutes ago to ask what cake I like? Chocolate? Red Velvet? Plain old vanilla? No, he is not celebrating my going-away-for-the-weekend. It’s actually my birthday on the 22nd (Friday) and it’s the first time in years that I’m away from family.

In fact…maybe it’s the first time that I’m celebrating it alone. So we’re having a little celebration at home, in advance.

No biggie, though but what’s big deal for me (still is) is Benjamin. Yeah, punch me for I am that kind of mother who paces back and forth trying to make a decision to go or not to go, convinces herself it’s ok to go, decides to go and then feels guilty of going.

I’m 100% female. I have a fickle mind. And then, I am also a mother. I worry. I feel guilty when I spend time for myself.

I know I’m going to enjoy this little break and Benjamin will be alright and perhaps the thought that he might not even remember he was mom-less for three days when he grows up is calming me a bit…but I digress. I know I will terribly miss the little guy I’ve been sleeping with for the past two years or so. How can a hotel pillow ever replace that?

Oh shut up, I tell myself over and over again. He will be alright, he will be alright. On the other hand, maybe I am not going to be alright – you know, weaning him suddenly like this. I’d have cabbage leaves under my bra in the middle of Turkish winter.


Even then, I’ll be a proper grown up and keep my cool so stay tuned for photos and stories of the trip by subscribing to this blog (enter your email address at the box at the top of the right sidebar), following me on Twitter, Instagram and Liking the Sandier Pastures Facebook page!