Wader ringing

This week has been lovely. I’ve been able to see my lovely auntie Kathy and saw my cousin Megan and my cheeky nephew Max. It’s always so nice getting to see people when you don’t get to see them a lot!

I also got some really good and exciting news this week. The research I did in Kenya for my masters has been accepted for publication. Soon it will be out for all the world to see. I’m really proud of this. This project made me realise how much I wanted to pursue a career in research and I guess it led me down the path I’m on today. When I get the final web address I’ll be posting it up here so if anyone is interested they can have a read.

The best part of my week was today. Me, Jake and Ingrid, who I usually do bird ringing with, went to North Wales to do some wader ringing with the scan ringing group. It’s really exciting because the method for catching the birds is so different to the normal mist nets we use for the song birds. This method is canon netting and involved a net being catapulted above the birds and catching them underneath. This was done on the shore line today, the target catch was oystercatcher. We waited quietly in the cars until all the birds were in the safe zone for the net to be fired. After the huge bang, we drove down the beach, got out and ran to the net. We then methodically extract all of the birds that have been caught. I had a lovely lady called Rachel helping me with the technique for extracting in this way. It’s very different from what I am used to and so I was very happy to be shown what to do. In total we caught 17 dunlin, 15 redshank and 34 oystercatcher. This was really nice because they are all different sizes and completely different to look at. When the birds are waiting to be processed they are kept in a type of holding pen where it is dark and quiet to keep them relaxed. When you put your hand inside it like a bird version of lucky dip! I’d say it was hard to choose my favourite species from today. The oystercatchers are amazing to look at up close, especially the adults. They have bright red eyes, pink feet and their bills are yellow and orange. They kind of reminded me of a calipo ice lolly! One downside though, they poo a lot and I’m afraid to say, my right leg was covered! Dunlin on the other hand don’t. These are tiny, brownish grey and white birds with dainty, slender bills. They look so beautiful up close and when they all fly together in a flock over the sea it almost reminds me of glitter. They seem to shimmer. Redshank are bigger than dunlin. Gorgeous reddish orange legs that stand tall below them, and a similar coloured beak. They look very elegant and have a gorgeous call when they are in flight. Anyway…. we enjoyed the sunshine on our faces and the nice sea air and headed back once everything was finished.

I’m now a tired little Amie. The sea air does you wonders of good but it makes me feel shattered. In a good way though.

It was such a lovely way to end the week, I’m feeling very positive about the one ahead.

Xx

Roller-ing with the punches

Another glorious week in Cyprus (a.k.a my favourite place in the world).

I’ve filled my time with birds, PhD work and friends. Can’t complain eh?! Monday was the day for my first wetland surveys since being back. I went to two near the West coast of the Island. It was lovely just going by myself. I listened to my music and just embraced the sunshine. It was really windy that day so at one point I just lifted my arms into the air and let the wind hold me up. I laughed, I think it’s good to laugh by yourself. Bird species weren’t out of the ordinary, a lot of coots, some mallards, little grebes and moorhens. There was a gorgeous kestrel scanning the hillside at one site. I watched her for a while. That night I went and stayed with my friend Penny. We had a lovely meze and a few rum and cokes!

Wednesday was probably my favourite day since being back here. I met up with Damla in the morning and we went and checked a lot of Roller nest boxes for chicks to ring. Rollers are probably the most magnificent looking bird on the island, well, either them or bee eaters! (Google both of them because they are beautiful and might just make your day!!). Quite a lot of the nest boxes had chicks. Some of them were pretty huge and had all there turquoise feathers in full show. I won’t lie, Rollers may look beautiful, but of all the birds I have handled (50 species or so!) they are the species that like to poo the most!!! Beautiful yet smelly. They keep their nests very simple. They just line the bottom with a bit of sediment and that is all. No little basket of straw or anything like that. Essentially they just make themselves a little carpet. One nest box just had a skeleton of a chick. It’s things like that that remind you how brutal the animal world is. It is literally a matter of life or death. After an exhausting day I went to Roots Bar to see my fantastic Roots family and Michelle and Paul. It was a fun night filled with laughs. I stayed at Michelle and Paul’s house that night, I think it is safe to say they are my Esentepe parents! The next morning we sat and watched the sea and talked about all sorts. One of my favourite mornings.

Friday morning was more Roller nest box checks. I went with a fellow Kuskor guy, Paul. We checked 8 new boxes but none of them had chicks. Maybe next year…. Had another night at Roots to see Michelle and Paul again. And I got a recipe for raspberry tequila! Need to try that!

Sunday was another Roller day. Me and Paul went and checked 13 nest boxes. 3 of them had Roller chicks! One of them was only a titchy one and it was accompanied by another unhatched egg. It was a pretty long morning but it was nice to get to see the lovely chicks. We also saw a small group of Hoopoe’s which was a nice surprise. (Another bird you should definitely google!). I went for a quick swim at Alagadi to cool off and then went for tea at Roots and watched a bit of an acoustic act that were playing. Didn’t stay too long though. Wanted to get home and relax!

In between all of this birding stuff, it has been election week for Turkey this week. Every day I have heard car horns beeping and music blaring. One day I was caught in a traffic jam of people rallying for their favourite candidate. People literally sit in their cars with their hazard lights on, waving flags and beeping a lot. It was making me smile. They’re very passionate about it. I finally got out of the traffic jam and saw a man riding his horse on a grass covered round-about. I laughed a little bit. I love this Island. It is so random and so unique and it just makes me happy. If I am having a rubbish day there is always something that makes me smile. Yesterday my smiles came from the waves. I waded into the sea and just jumped the waves for a while. Every now and then a big one would could and nearly knock me flying! I laughed to myself again. I think I need to start doing that every day. Find something to laugh about. Even if it’s just myself!

I’m already looking forward to what this week brings me!

X

Rollers, reptiles and Raki

This week has been another belter! Cyprus suits me. I can’t help smile when I drive along the roads with the mountains on one side and the sea on the other. I’ve seen 2 new bird species this week which is always exciting! A pair of Yellow wagtails (the Turkish subspecies) and a blue cheeked bee eater! You should google them, they’re beautiful!

This week started with a last visit to see my Mum and Sister before they headed back to the UK. We went to the local kebab shop and got an amazing adana and chicken doner wrap! Adding chillies was heaven! It was a lovely evening and always so nice to see them!

Most of the week has comprised of roller nest box making! My circular sawing skills are pretty good and I even know how to use a drill now! Me, Rupert and Bob spent a day driving around the Masouri plain to find suitable spots to place them. It was a lovely day actually. At one point I had a small conversation in Turkish with a local man who then gave me an artichoke! Have you ever seen artichoke flowers? They’re amazing!! I drove us home whilst the other two slept, I just sang and smiled.

So, as well as being Roller crazy, we’ve also had reptiles galore. Both alive and dead. We’ve been looking after tortoises. They are the most bizarre creatures, but fascinating to watch! Emma is the Mum who loves eating fresh apple slices and hiding under suitcases. As well as these gorgeous reptiles, we’ve had a couple of dead turtles too. Both juveniles, one only 13cm long!

Moving on from dead turtles, I have a happy animal story. Freddy fledged this week! My gorgeous house sparrow chick is now in the big wide world. He was such a character and I miss him but I’m quite proud that I raised him and he went on his own accord. It’s not every day you get to raise a bird!

Last night was lovely. We were all invited to for a meal with Mehmet and ─░brahim. 2 fishermen we have been working with. We had amazing mezze with fish cooked in the proper fisherman way! Of course, this was all washed down with Raki and brandy and beer. Raki is so strong! Safe to say I was drunk and happy.

Now, I’ll end on an exceptional high…. mid way through writing this (I’m sat on the beach hungover) I got a shout from Rupert saying he had spotted a turtle when he was snorkelling. Me and Bob rushed in and had a turn with his mask and snorkel. I just swam with a gorgeous Green turtle! It was peacefully grazing on a bed of sea grass, in an underwater world of its own. It was one of the most magical moments I’ve ever had. I just swam with a turtle.

On that note, I’m going to lie here and smile and be happy with this day.

Family and a fledgling

This week has been lovely.

I got my Mums apartment ready for her arrival this week. I swept up whilst Sav cooked dinner! Not a bad deal really! I got to visit them on Thursday for a couple of days which was nice. I don’t spend much time in the UK nowadays so any time I can grab with my family is special! Sav joined us for a day and a half. Lots of tequila was consumed. Surprise surprise.

Freddy is all grown up now. The gorgeous sparrow of mine is full of feathers and still just as hungry. He goes outside with us now and has started preening and flying loads. It’s amazing to see how he has developed. His beak is getting quite tough now though, so his affectionate pecks on the cheek have turned into pinches!!

Bird surveys have been done. I went to wetlands with Bob and saw my first ever night heron! Three of them to be exact. It was a lovely first for me. I also saw my first bee eater of the year too. I went and did a breeding bird transect with Sav which ended up in an ancient village of ruins. The view was breathtaking. A gorgeous valley of golden crops edged with the west coast sea. We saw a pair of rollers calling their crackling call and watched them as they span around in the air. It was lovely.

I have also learnt a new skill this week. I used a circular saw for the first time. We are making roller nest boxes and I’m head of sawing!!! I think if my research career doesn’t go as planned, i still might have a chance as a builders labourer?

Have an amazing week everyone.

Xx

A hungover necropsy

This week has disappeared into thin air! Can’t believe how time is flying, but I guess it means I must be having an amazing time.

Cyprus is getting warmer each day. Right now it’s perfect weather, not too hot!

This week for me has been mainly PhD work and looking after Freddy. He amazes me. Every time I look at him, more feathers have come through, his beak has changed colour, his legs and wings are stronger. I really feel like a proud Mumma bird!

On Thursday, Sav and I were asked to go and do a television interview at Bayrak International. Neither of us had done anything like it, it was really exciting! We arrived and got taken to a proper tv studio with huge cameras moving around like robots! The recording was done for about half an hour and we just chatted about the projects going on in Alagadi at the minute. Kuskor and it’s birds, SPOT and it’s fisheries. I really enjoyed it. I like talking about conservation and trying to spread the word. Every little helps, you never know what little bits of information might change someone’s perspective!

Friday night came and all of sleepy house went out to Roots Bar for the owners birthday bash! Many tequilas were had! Saw Michelle and Paul again which was lovely, and met a couple of titchy brothers who showed us the ropes at playing pool! I’m pretty sure at one point I got roped in to playing tag with them too… Turns out I’m really not that good!

Yesterday, I was hungover. But my hungry little chick doesn’t stop begging and so I had to carry on as normal! There was a dead turtle that had to be necropsied today too. Unfortunately I got landed with the task. Normally it’s grim, but when hungover, it’s just awful. She was a huge loggerhead who had been dragged up in a fishing nets from quite a depth, giving her “the bends”. One of her lungs had collapsed and after fighting hard for a few hours, she eventually died. This beauty had been through it. When conducting the necropsy I discovered she was a healthy turtle. Huge layers of fat and massive muscles. She was a strong one. When removing her gut (for later analysis of plastic presence) a small tear appeared which allowed a small amount of stomach contents to escape. It was plastic. In such a small amount of stomach matter, there was parts of a black bag, part of a toy car, a wire coated in red plastic and several unidentifiable pieces. Her intestines were coiled tightly and very hard, probably because something was caught along her digestive tract and bunching up within. This gorgeous creature had plastic in her. Lots of plastic. And do you know what the worst thing is….. I wasn’t even shocked. I was half expecting it. What kind of a world is it where I’m not even shocked to find plastic in a turtle. I won’t rant much more, but please, please, if you do anything today, just think about one way to reduce your plastic usage.

Have an amazing week everyone!

Xx

Sunshine-y days

Another week has gone by and I’m still as happy as ever.

I have never been in Cyprus at this time of year before, but I am glad I’ve had this chance! The flowers are incredible! I didn’t realise there were so many shades of yellow! The birds are further ahead than back home in Britain. Great tits are already breeding. The house sparrows near sleepy house are constantly finding nesting materials. Barn swallows are making repairs on last years mud huts. Most wetland sites we visit have a gang of frogs ribbeting away. The sun is constantly shining and the weather is warm and joyful. My freckles have come out in full swing!

It’s been quite a birdy week this week! We have a new volunteer called Fran. I’ve taken her out on a few trips. We had the opportunity to go out with a man called Doug! He’s a proper adventurer and helped me a lot with some tricky ID questions! I’m know pretty confident at telling apart a green sandpiper from a wood sandpiper!!

A few of us joined Damla, Robbo and the kids for bird ringing this morning. I got a few ringing ticks which was exciting! My first ever black redstart and linnet! We also caught a red-fronted serin! The second sighting ever for North Cyprus!!!

I’m loving the flow of life over here. I have amazing field work that I get to do in between my PhD! My down time consists of drawing. I’m a bit addicted at the minute. I have a lot of practice to do, but it completely takes my mind off of anything and everything !!!

Another amazing week in one of my favourite places!

The week I held a shark

This past week has been full of mixed emotions. Pure elation, extreme weirdness, unwanted sadness.

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The sadness came with the departure of the lovely Mat! His stint at Sleepy House came to an end this week. He’s off to go on amazing adventures in Madagascar and Mozambique! Although it is weird not having our Belgian boy around, I always try and find silver linings for situations. And I am so glad that I have a new friend who I get to miss. That’s a nice thing to gain I think. Even though it is rubbish to say goodbye!

Before Mat left, we had an extremely exciting encounter! We were on a fishing observation trip together and had two surprise catches. The first was a beautiful marbled electric ray. Mat handled it carefully and showed me the steps of what body measurements to take and how to sex it. The one we had was an adult male. The sex can be distinguished through the presence or absence of claspers. I won’t go too science-y, but thought it was an interesting fact! He explained the differences between sharks and rays to me. There are a couple of intermediate species you see… The Guitar fish is one of them. And so is the Angel shark. We had not long released the ray back into the sea when an Angel shark was on board. Again, Mat talked me through the measurements and how to sex them. This time we had a female. No claspers present! She was utterly beautiful. She was released successfully back into the Mediterranean sea. We looked into the conservation status of the Angel shark. They are considered extinct in this region, so a record like this is so important!

I am still loving my Cyprus life. Office stints for my PhD work are broken up by field work. Perfect life really! The birds are getting more vocal each day. I was walking home from Goat Shed (the office) the other day and just stood for a moment to watch two Sardinian warblers hopping along the fence.

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This morning we were putting up more Great tit nest boxes. The view from the mountain road was breathtaking. The forest itself was like something from a fairytale. Delicate orchids have started emerging from the carpet of pine needles. I imagine they’d be a lovely home for a fairy or two!

I am loving my Cyprus family. I’m smiling every day!

We make amazing cake. We have amazing group cuddles. And they fully embrace my weirdness!

Catch of the day

What a full week! It has been non-stop with one thing and another. We temporarily adopted a dog (I named him Leonard). Visited an animal sanctuary. Monitored lots of beautiful wetlands. Patrolled beaches for stranded turtles. Ate freshly caught fish. And I started my stint of fisheries observations.

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I won’t go into too much detail about everything. I will try and keep it short and sweet.

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The main task for me this week was to go to lots of wetland sites to do the monthly survey of the various birds that can be found there. I did 10 this week. Pretty chuffed with that. The sites are beautiful, especially now the weather has decided to get a bit nicer. Each wetland contains a varying diversity of birds which keeps the excitement up! I think my highlights this week are pintail, marsh harrier, kentish plover and the many, many kestrels. There are stonechat’s everywhere at the minute, they are always a nice sight as I don’t often see them back home. There is also a black restart that has a favourite perch outside of the office window. He can be quite distracting sometimes…. One of the wetland sights me and Stacey visited ended up with us having a deep hatred for mud. We very nearly got very, very, very stuck. Thank goodness for four wheel drive hey! The colours on the various drives have been incredible. The sky is a perfect blue against a vivid green lushness. So beautiful.

 

Beach patrols were done by everyone. We headed to the west coast and walked the beaches looking for any stranded turtles. ┬áThis is because they might have perished due to bycatch and then washed up. We didn’t find any, but it was a nice day out for us all. Even if there was torrential rain… One of the nicest parts of the day for me was the noise of the pebbles tumbling over one another in the swell of the waves. It was so peaceful. The sounds of the sea hypnotises me. Why anyone would want to talk over such a noise I do not know?!

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The two boys have been out on fishing boats doing observations and brought back a parcel of various fish species for us to try. You can’t get it much fresher really! We fried them in a thin coating of flour and spices which made them perfectly crisp and a little bit too tasty!

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Now for the highlight of my week…This morning it was finally my turn to get out on a fishing boat. I headed to Bogaz harbour with Sav to meet a fisherman heading out at 03:00. It was a very early start, but so worth it. I was armed with my travel sickness tablets, a flask of coffee and a helumi sandwich. As well as my binoculars and waterproofs of course. We spent 6 hours out at sea in total and it was a delight. It was such an amazing experience being able to watch all the tricks of the trade. And, do you know, fish are actually really beautiful up close. When the sun was rising the world around us came alive. Gulls were calling above us, flying fish were skimming the water and we gained a bit more energy too! The sun emits a bit of magic to the world. We finally made it back to the harbour and were invited back to the fisherman’s house for breakfast. He steamed some of the fish from today’s catch and we ate it with a small sandwich. Nothing better.

 

Such an adventurous week. And I’ve bloody loved every minute. Loving my little Cyprus family too.

Have a glorious week everyone. And if you feel a bit rubbish then listen to a black redstart call, they are really weird! x

New friends and rats

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Sat in the office in Cyprus at the Turtle Project base. I have Whitney Houston blaring. Good day.

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Been back in Cyprus for a week now and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve met the first 3 volunteers who signed up for the project. I’d exchanged various emailed and messages with them before hand. But it has been amazing getting to know them all! There is Stacey, who is just a little package of loveliness. Sav who makes the most delicious aubergine lasagne I think I will ever eat. And last but not least, the amazing Mat, who is the only person I know that has been bitten by a shark!!!!

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We’re living in sleepy house. An old bungalow in Alagadi village. We have made it super cosy, it’s like a mini paradise now. We share sleepy house with a gecko called George.

So, what have we been up to….

The main project at the minute is a rat eradication project on a small off shore island off of the tip of Karpaz. We have been spending a lot of time there trying to get everything running smoothly. We get a small propeller powered boat over to the island from a beautiful little beach. Our driver Jamil is lovely, but I don’t think he trusts me and Stacey much around his beloved boat. We can’t seem to master the art of getting on and off it. We end up face first! We have acquired very bruised knees. The whole purpose of the project is to eradicate the rats from the island so the Audouin’s gulls might return and breed. This would be fab! The rats were introduced to the island and have caused the gulls to move to a very small, rather unsuitable island. Rats eat the eggs and chicks….

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On the way back from the first Karpaz trip we stopped off at Nevzat’s house. He is a local fisherman in Karpaz. I’d already met him in my stint at the turtle project in 2013. We all sat around a fire and were given shots of local spirit. It was super strong, heated you right through! We also had some fresh hazelnuts to munch on. I’ve never had them fresh before, they were lovely. We stayed there for a while and just enjoyed the local chattering. Everyone is so welcoming here.

Seen lots of lovely things in this past week. Lots and lots of rainbows. Probably the best rainbows I have ever seen actually… One ended in the field just next to sleepy house. We were unable to locate the pot of gold unfortunately! We have seen wild Karpaz donkeys. Audouin’s gulls, mediterranean shags, black redstarts, stonechats, kestrels. I think the most beautiful sight though is the night sky. There is no light pollution at sleepy or Karpaz. Or hardly any….The sky is absolutely bursting with stars. I keep finding myself becoming slightly hypnotised by them. Pure beauty and magic right above me. If that isn’t a reason to smile then I don’t know what is!?

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On top of all the field work I have been sneaking away to the office for PhD days. Been very busy, but loving every minute! Life is treating me well. And I have made 3 new friends who are just fab!

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Tomorrow is the start of a new week. I’m well excited!

 

x

Cyprus Bird Project.

Merhaba!

A few months ago I was told I had been accepted to be project leader for a bird project out in Northern Cyprus. This part of the world is close to my heart, a second home for me. My Mum has a place there and I’ve been visiting for the past 8 or 9 years. I’ve done turtle work and a little bit of birding here before. I was thrilled to be chosen.

I’ve been in Cyprus for nearly a month now. My plan was to do a blog post each week with all the things I’ve been up to. My friend Louise came out to join me because the volunteers for this part of the year dropped out last minute. Her first day here was all go. We had a call saying a live turtle had been found at a beach in Famagusta and so headed there to check it out (the animal rehab group had taken it by the time we arrived). We went to goat shed to move furniture and what not. Non stop! The day didn’t end very well though. Louise ended up in quite a bad car accident. She has been such a trooper through the whole thing. Such a tough cookie! I’m so happy she is finally on the mend and we can even see some of the funny sides to the story. We have got the clothes changing routine down to a T! Needless to say, a lot of field work was put on hold and I stayed at the hospital with her to look after her and keep her company. We quickly picked up that the word for soup is Corba, and my mime skills came on leaps and bounds (trying to communicate medical terms with Turkish speaking nurses is a challenge). Finally we are back at my Mums place, we’ve hung up the tinsel and lit the advent candle. We are feeling as Christmassy as possible in the 20 degree sunshine.

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It’s not all hospital wards and soup though.. I have been doing field work too.

My second day in Cyprus I met with Damla, Robbo and Olkan to discuss my to do list. Check all the wetland sites at least once a month; walk as many beaches as possible to look for turtle strandings; conduct shore bird counts; do some bird ringing and finally, a bit of database work too. Robbo took me to pick up the truck, Hercules, and I headed off back home with a head full of excitement! Before Louise arrived I spent my days doing PhD work. It’s so handy that I can do it remotely!

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I have visited quite a few wetland sights now. Each one has its own unique beauty (even the sewage works site!!). There is a lovely chain of them in Famagusta, each having different species which is brilliant for a days birding. I have seen my first ever Bittern, Golden plover, Grey plover, Stone curlew, Moustached warbler, Sardinian warbler, Greenshank and Woodlark. I’ve seen hundreds of flamingos. They do a funny dance with their legs when they put their heads under the water, must be to get the best grubs in the silt! Birds of prey are fantastic here. Marsh harrier, pallid harrier, buzzard, kestrel and 2 gorgeous pairs of Bonelli’s eagles. Birding has been brilliant.

Aside from bird stuff, I have also been walking a few beaches checking for stranded turtles. So far so good, no turtles! I am going to be writing a separate post about the plastic issue on the beaches. It will probably end up as a slight rant and then a desperate plea for change.

Anyway…

One day I had a phone call off Robbo saying there was a dead turtle found near Lefke and that we should go and pick it up to necropsy. Robbo and I arrived at the persons farm. It was quite a strange situation, he had posed the turtle on a wheelbarrow. A bit odd. Robbo had to persuade him to give us the turtle and we quickly made our exit. In true Cyprus style, the necropsy was conducted on Robbo’s driveway. It was a huge loggerhead male. Very fat, stomach full of seagrass, obviously didn’t die of natural causes. We noticed a few lacerations where the flippers meet the body which were probably caused by fishing nets. It probably drowned. We got all the measurements and samples we needed and then took the carcass to a local University so they could do a taxidermy for a museum on the west coast. I smelt quite bad by the end of the day. A mix of fish and turtle poo.

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All of these mini adventures wouldn’t have happened without the amazing company I’ve had out here. A huge thanks to Olkan and Paul who have helped me in finding wetland sites. They’re both bloody lovely guys! Olkan also introduced me to these amazing biscuit/ bread things called Citlemek. They’re dotted with peppercorns and raisins and taste wonderful! If you find them, give them a whirl! Thanks to Robbo and Damla too for putting up with all the stress of hospital madness. I won’t lie, I had a slight breakdown, they cheered me up with amazing homemade kebabs on the BBQ.

In between all of this the car broke down. Robbo called it “teething problems”. My nana would call it “character building”. I call it a bloody nuisance. But at least I know where the mechanic is eh…..

That’s all for now.

x