Rebecca Haddad, a full-time journalist for a luxury travel magazine, some-time rambler at The Scenic Route which is a collection of stories about life in Dubai and of her adventures abroad. “If you like travel tales with slightly blurry pictures and a healthy dose of pop culture GIFs, then do stop by and say hi.”
A Diary in Turkey with Rebecca Haddad
Destination Turkey – specifically lstanbul.
Usually Lebanon, though, if I had to pick a second-favorite child, it would be Turkey – specifically lstanbul, which is where I recently returned after five years.
Let’s bore you all with a bit of background, shall we? Istanbul is truly a rare city. Not content with sitting on one continent, it crosses both Asia and Europe. It can also boast about being a popular former capital, being the center for the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. While it isn’t the capital of modern-day Turkey, it is still the most popular place to visit in the country. Take that, Ankara.
Stayed in The beautiful Raffles Istanbul
The beautiful Raffles Istanbul. I was there for a work assignment (tough job, but someone’s gotta do it). The hotel is unique in its location, tucked away from the historic heart and banks of the Bosphorus, in a quiet and largely residential district of Şişli, which overlooks the Golden Horn. It’s also attached to the Zorlu Center shopping complex, so if you’re the type who regularly gives your credit card a punishing workout, maybe forget this last point
I checked into one of the Urban Suites on the 21st floor (don’t be hating guys). It was a spacious, but still very cosy, with a lounge area, bedroom and marble bathroom with a freestanding tub. I love a good balcony view as much as Kim Kardashian loves a selfie, and this suite delivers. The floor-to-ceiling windows of the lounge, bedroom and bathroom all open out on to the wraparound balcony with views of the neighbourhood on one side and the Golden Horn on the other. In warmer (and less windy) months, this would be the perfect place sit back with a (Turkish) coffee.
But, the thing I love most about this place is the art – specially commissioned paintings and sculptures can be found on the walls, shelves and even embedded into the lamp posts in the bedroom. The works are part of a 220-piece collection of paintings, mosaics, sculptures and video installations that can be found throughout the hotel including the lobby, restaurants (Rocca and Arola) spa, Writer’s Bar and Long Bar. Basically, you could spend your whole time in this hotel quite happily, but you shouldn’t, because Istanbul is amazing and there is so much to experience
Month October, which meant that there were rainy patches during the day and it was a little cold, but Istanbul is oh-so-romantic in the rain.
In your suitcase All the usual suspects for trans-seasonal weather, plus some stretchy pants because Istanbul and food go together like Batman and Robin (see below). I also packed plenty of extra space – Istanbul’s shopping is hard to resist
Diary My three-day trip was a blur of walking, eating, photographing, eating, hammam-ing and eating. There is so much to take in and Istanbul really offers plenty for every kind of traveller. You can begin, as I did, with a bit of history at Topkapi Palace, which is a fabulously preserved Ottoman complex. From there, you can wander across to Haiga Sophia museum and then down to Sultanahmet Square and the incredible and serene Blue Mosque. Istanbul Modern in Beyoğlu is the place to go for some amazing modern art and the cafe boasts some of the best riverside views in town. After you’ve fueled up, it’s a short walk (promise) up Boğazkesen Caddesi and right onto Çukur Cuma Caddesi to a fairly ordinary maroon home, better known as the Museum of Innocence. It’s based on the book of the same name by Orhan Pamuk and tells the story of the love affair between the book’s two protagonists in one of the most creative ways I have ever seen. Each exhibit coincides with a chapter in the book, containing objects, photographs and other mementos that appear in the book. Here is where it gets confusing: the story is entirely fictional, and Pamuk actually wrote himself into the story as a character who promises to create this museum for the male protagonist, thus blurring the lines between fiction and reality. Yes, it is confusing but even if you’ve not read the book (I still haven’t), the collection of artefacts offer an interesting insight into Turkish life from the ‘70s to the early 2000s.
Also don’t forget to cram in some downtime in the way of a traditional spa treatment. Istanbul is the capital of hammam culture, which, for the uninitiated, involves being scrubbed and massaged with natural exfoliants that leave your skin fresh and smooth, and is definitely a lot more enjoyable than I’ve just made it sound. Hammams are as common here as coffee shops, and you can choose to visit more traditional, historic places like Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam or more modern spas in the hotels.
Dined in Anywhere and everywhere. It is a truth universally acknowledged that the best food in Istanbul is found simply by wandering. The streets around Taskim Square are a good place to start, as is the pedestrian street of Istikal Avenue – both are lined with charming little cafes and traditional eateries. While touring around the old town, I lunched at Matbah Restaurant at the Ottoman Hotel Imperial, which is tucked away in a quiet street behind Hagia Sophia. The cuisine is based on traditional Ottoman recipes, with mezze plates and meat dishes spiced with cinnamon. The views from the terrace make you really feel like you are in the heart of Turkish bohemia. If you, like 90% of the folks I’ve met, believe Turkish delight tastes like congealed washing detergent (you’re crazy), then go for the other national sweet: dondurma, a stretchy, mastic-based ice-cream not dissimilar to the Arabic version. I was also treated to dinner at Arola back at Raffles, the brainchild of Michelin-starred chef Sergi Arola. The tapas-style menu is pretty seafood heavy but absolutely delicious – make sure you pack some stretchy pants, because the paella is a highlight.
Shopped The word “shopping” is synonymous with “Grand Bazaar”, a covered market of some 58 streets and 4,000 stalls. It’s the place to go for, well, everything – coffee sets, teas, jewellery, sweets, leather goods, silks, ceramics and friendly arguments (bargaining is 100% expected and encouraged here). The only advice I have is to exit through the gate you came in, lest you find yourself wandering the market until closing time. If bargaining isn’t your thing, the city has plenty of places to wander, including Zorlu Center, Istikal Avenue and the neighbourhood of Nişantaşı
Tips Like any place, come to Istanbul with an open mind. It is a cosmopolitan city, but one also steeped in tradition. For many first-timers, it can be a daunting place to navigate, so I’d suggest sticking to the European side. And don’t listen to anyone who tells you Turkish delight tastes like soap – it is fifty shades of delicious.
Mode of Travel I flew on Turkish Airways from Dubai. Food was great, but entertainment was a little bland – bring a book instead. I recommend Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories and the City. His way with words only serves as a reminder of why he won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature.