Istanbul

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A sight-seeing wonderland.
A cure for culture junkies.
An historian’s Mecca.
A shop-a-holics fix.
A theologian’s Rubic’s Cube.

A divine place to indulge the senses – the beauty of the palaces; the intricate architectural detailing; the kaleidoscope of colours; the centuries-old art – all a feast for the eyes.

The evocative wail of the call to prayer – a dozen or more mosques scattered throughout the neighbourhood beseechingly summon the faithful throughout the day – their call amplified through a network of speakers.

The flavours of the street food – tiny, salty fish plucked from the Bosphorus and fried within minutes of leaving the water; sweet, honeyed baklava in a thousand mouth-watering guises layered with nuts and air-light phyllo dough; spicy kebabs dripping in tasty juices; blood red, bitter, freshly-squeezed pomegranates on every street corner – these and so many more are the temptations to tingle the taste buds.

Tactile delights – stonework that looks like lace defies the onlooker to reach out and touch it; in the street markets mounds of jewelry just ripe for the plucking; silky-smooth, hand-woven rugs and textiles that are asking to be pawed.

An aroma fills the air… could it be from the multitude of parks and open spaces blossoming with trees and flowers? Or the rosewater-scented soaps and towels that grace luxurious bathrooms? Perhaps it’s from the spice markets exuding their heady mix of odors – musks and pungent permutations – all mingling with the briny mist rising from the mighty Bosphorus that divides one continent from the other.

Istanbul is fascinating! It is unique in the fact that east meets west so successfully with such a marriage of past and present, trendy and old. It seems familiar, but at the same time it tests you to venture further, to try something different, to push yourself to live up to its centuries of sophistication, to coax you around the next corner and explore whatever lures you in.

The Bosphorus River divides the European side (which is distinctly more modern in feel, with a greater number of skyscrapers, luxury hotels and smart shopping areas) from the Anatolian side where you find the heart of the old city and a multitude of fascinating sights. The traffic on the Anatolian side flows more slowly, the street life is a little more colourful, the buildings are older and life is definitely more chaotic.

GETTING AROUND

Ferries and busses run between the two parts of the city with incredible regularity. The subway (above and below ground) is excellent, clean and relatively easy to grasp. Taxis are regulated with fixed (very reasonable) fares in zoned areas.

Road traffic can be very congested with long waits on slow moving roads.

LOCATION

  • On the Bosphorus River
  • The city bridges the Black and Marmara Sea

EXPERIENCES

  • Bliss – There’s nothing like a Turkish bath – a unisex experience in a private or public bath which is not for the faint of heart. You sit naked on a warmed slab of marble and have hot, then cold water sloshed over you by your therapist. (In my last experience – my therapist was a lady akin in size and demeanor to a Sumo wrestler! Once I was wet and bewildered, she took a hard-bristled brush to me and exfoliated away as if she were competing in an Olympic sport!) Invigorating does not even begin to describe this sensation! The client is continuously doused with hot and cold water as the exfoliation takes place (remember you paid for this!) which adds to the nerve-tingling assault. Then, just when you think that blood must have been shed, you are carted off for a supremely-relaxing massage. Many upper-end hotels offer couples hammans. My experience took place at a well-renowned, five-star hotel – so I can only guess at how the local baths must leave their clients feeling positively reptilian!
  • Gastronomy – From street food stalls to 5-star dining, options abound in every neighbourhood and to suit every pocket. Try meze as a starter in one of the trendy Karaköy fish restaurants. You’re sure to love the tasty turbot from the Black Sea. Hotel breakfasts come with honey on the comb, thick ice cream and locally-made yogurts.
  • Shopping – There are plenty of deals to be had if you’re looking for leather goods, rugs, jewelry, ceramics, textiles, nuts and spices and desserts. Don’t miss the opportunity to wander through the street markets for an authentic Turkish shopping experience where you can haggle with the best of them.
  • Nightlife – Super-sophisticated clubs to suit all ages and tastes. Dance till the wee hours or chill out with an exotic cocktail in a hip rooftop lounge at sunset.
  • Boat trips – Boat rides up the Bosphorus all the way to the Black Sea with stops along the way at distinctive villages.
  • History – Istanbul is a UNESCO World Heritage site with a history that goes back at least 3,000 years. Palaces, cathedrals, mosques and museums – some dating back as far as the Byzantine Empire – showcase the magnificent architecture and rich history of this unique city.
  • Politics and Security – It would be remiss to say that the Republic of Turkey is not facing some internal political struggles. Nonetheless, the war in Syria is far from the tourist areas we are recommending which have not been affected in any way and morale remain high.