ISTANBUL - THE CULTURAL CAPITAL OF EUROPE
My Turkish Airline Business Class flight from JFK to Istanbul is a delicious Turkish delight. I am as impressed with the freshness, flavors and presentation of the meals served throughout the flight as I am with the friendly service of the flight crew. There is a very practical and attractive serving bar at the front of the business class section used for set ups; it is artistically arranged with flowers, crystal glasses, bottles of wine and other treats available to passengers throughout the flight. My dinner gets off to a mouth watering start with a selection of mezze (small plates of Turkish appetizers), served from a trolley cart: smoked salmon, humus, grilled chicken salad with fresh pineapple, spicy lentil salad with goat cheese, homemade cheese borek, and shrimp salad. My seat is spacious and comfortable; the seven hour nonstop flight passes quickly. One of the flight attendants tells me “Turkish passengers prefer the food, Americans the comfort”. Personally, I prefer both, and Turkish Airlines surpassed my expectations and passed my gourmet test with flying flavors.
Lucette, my friend and publisher of “Istanbul, Beyond Your Expectations”, sends a driver to meet me at the airport. My first impression of Istanbul is overwhelming; this is a city in perpetual motion; the traffic more than rivals New York. It is a complex city with many layers, intriguing neighborhoods, fifteen thousand taxi cabs and a population of 15,000,000 creative and energetic people. I will have to work hard and move fast to experience even a slice of its endearing charm.
Istanbul is a city of almost 3,000 mosques. Only sultans had the privilege of building a mosque with more than one minaret. The Turkish people, most of them Moslems, live their traditions in harmony with their Islamic beliefs. The wailing, yet melodious, call to prayer, piped into the streets five times a day from loudspeakers atop the mosques, competes with the honking of taxi horns struggling to crawl through bumper to bumper traffic. We pass a large mosque; the steps are filled with people praying. The energy level of Istanbul is both invigorating and exhausting. My guide, Cem Tas, accompanies me to the world famous Grand Bazaar; there are no bargains due to the weak dollar. Turkey is the only country in the world to span two continents, Asia and Europe; its wealth of rich cultural diversity finds expression in exquisite handicrafts.
The Four Seasons Hotel at Sultanahmet, once a century old neo-classic prison was converted into a deluxe hotel of astonishing beauty in 1996. Surrounded by meandering historic alleyways, lined with shops and restaurants, it is within walking distance from most of the main sights---including the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar. Executive Chef Mehmet Gok began his culinary career as junior sous chef when the hotel opened, expanded his expertise at the Four Seasons in London, Nevis and Cairo, then returned in 2007. Chef joins us during dinner; we feast on his favorite traditional Turkish specialties.
THE DESIGN SCENE
Erkal Aksoy, a passionate and obsessive rug collector and dealer welcomes me into his sumptuous showroom, housed in a restored house at #4 Filk in the Italian section. His inventory consists of 4,000 old and semi old hand made pieces from England, France, Belgium and Turkey. We have tea in his salon; he encourages me to taste his homemade sour cherry wine liquor.
Gunes, owner of Gunes Oztarakci’s Carpet and Kilm House in trendy Nisantasi has been buying and selling carpets for 29 years. She tells me: “I have a collection of rare carpets no other dealer has, and a carpet museum. Each carpet is different; the designs may be similar; weaving a carpet is more difficult than painting. Double knots are more durable and hand tied”.
Gaia & Gino, an award winning innovative design company makes home accessories; their new line of Gino the Dog canine products gives new meaning to “it’s a dog’s life” . . . from porcelain food bowls to a genuine leather doghouse.
Arzu Kaprol, the creative director of more than 60 stores, and one of the first Turkish designers to open a shop with her own brand, calls her style “Ottomodern”. She uses Ottoman details and themes on the inside of her garments. “Turkish women could not express ourselves properly, now we can in a good way”. Having designed camouflage uniforms for the Turkish army, she was able to experiment with new techniques and fabrics which won her the prestigious Aviva Award.
Aynur Iyigun, who likes to be called Moonlight, is a petite, delicate, sensitive and passionate artist with huge soulful blue eyes. Elart, her eclectic boutique, reflects her many talents and accomplishments as a painter on canvas and ceramics, and as a jewelry, clothing and accessories designer. We sit on exquisite little chairs in her charming shop sipping wine, and chatting about life and love. The next night we meet for a seafood dinner at a restaurant overlooking the sea; she surprises me with a gift of an exquisite silver and stone sculptured necklace and matching earrings I will wear and treasure for life.
Kaya Demirer’s new restaurant TOPAZ, the Jewel of Istanbul has recently opened; his designer arrived from Paris to supervise finishing touches. The three of us dine at the Tules Restaurant in the Kempinki Ciragan Palace Hotel, then move on to Jazz by Les Ottomans. Mehmet Ali Acilmus has been a jazz fan for years. His sexy jazz club, next to the exquisite Les Ottomans Hotel is a great place for an after dinner drink; we mellow out to the sultry sounds of the singer and back up trio.
The Sofa Hotel is vibrant, warm, intimate and happening. Designed by Sinan Kafadar with the philosophy “time is the most luxurious element”, the lobby flows from bar to café to library book store; artwork by contemporary Turkish artists add subtle touches. My apartment suite, ideal for a long term stay, has modern tasteful furniture, a compact kitchen, huge bathroom . . . and a dressing room closet the size of a small New York studio. I order a traditional breakfast dish, Menemem (scrambled eggs, tomato sauce and white cheese). The Sofa is a wonderful place to meet after a day of shopping in this trendy Nisantasi neighborhood.
I am sorry to leave Istanbul, a city that welcomed me into its embrace and treated me like an Ottoman Princess. Turkey rates an A+ in my notebook of “Unforgettable Places and Memorable Moments”,
NOT TO BE MISSED
Sadberk Hanim Museum - A private collection of Antiquities and Ottoman embroideries and costumes
Cukurcuma - Old, colorful, multi cultural parts of Pera; streets are lined with junk and antique shops, Turkish Bath Houses and the Cukurcuma Mosque.
Basilica Cistern - The biggest cistern constructed by the Roman and Byzantium Empire to store water during possible invasions.
Zeyrekhane - An Ottoman museum, Industrialist Rahmi Koc helped to restore in the Zeyrek District.
Pandeli Restaurant and the Spice Market.
Sahaflar Bazaar - 500 year old bazaar of rare books and priceless manuscripts;
GREAT PLACES TO SHOP AND EAT
The Grand Bazaar
Bursa Design Mall
Kanyon Shopping Mall
Akmerkez - 246 exclusive shops
Metro City - young dynamic shopping and dining center
Turkish Airlines Reservations: www.thy.com or 1-800-874-8875
Four Seasons: www.fourseasons.com
For info on Turkey: www.tourismturkey.org
The Sofa Hotel: www.sofahotel.com