Months ago, my friends and I planned a trip to Istanbul, but then there was a bad terrorist action, so we ended up going somewhere else. Well, we still had active visas for entry… We figured we might as well go. And what better weekend than for Thanksgiving. If we couldn’t get a turkey dinner in Saudi Arabia, we needed to travel a little north to Istanbul for some Turkey.
Istanbul used to be called Constantinople. The city has remained an important stronghold throughout history. It is one of the few cities that bridges two continents: Europe and Asia. Each side has its own culture too.
There is more than I can list in a blog. Please read about the history. It is breathtaking.
The best flight time we could find ended up putting us into the SAW airport. On a map, this looks comparable, but plan for traffic… Istanbul traffic is nothing I have ever seen before. It is terrible. We finally made it to the hotel. After our awesome stay in Doha at the Ritz, we chose to stay at the Ritz Carlton Istanbul. This was a great decision. This hotel always makes me feel like I made a good decision. The service is right, the rooms are perfect, the location is good. It is exactly how a hotel should be: an escape. A place that allows you to experience a new adventure. The staff really help to make this place great. Oleksandra knew exactly how to take care of issues. and Begum in the hotel bar was fun and sweet.
Mit had found a good restaurant to try on Foursquare. It was called Karaköy Lokantası. We made our way over via UberXL. Sidenote… this service is awesome. It is basically limo-style Mercedes Sprinter vans. They are very clean. The drivers don’t speak English, but technology can help get over that hurdle. We walked into the restaurant and were informed that we needed reservations. We spoke with Secil, the hostess, and she said she could put us something together in 30 minutes. So we went around the neighborhood for a walk. It was beautiful. The city is vibrant and people seem happy. We also discovered that people in Turkey eat LONGGGG meals. Once we were sat, Secil gave us what seemed to be 1-on-1 personal attention, helping us with the best hot and cold mezzes as well as entree dishes. She made the experience so much better. It is awesome to see someone who actually cares about the experience of their guests.
This was a great experience. I recommend it strongly to any visitors.
After dinner, we headed back to the Ritz to the Bleu Lounge. They had some live music, and we were a little too tired to hit the town hard.
We had found information about an American styled, Thanksgiving brunch with all the fixings at the Hilton Bosporus Terrace restaurant. This was a big reason for the whole trip. Sadly, the meal was extremely underwhelming. The best part was the doner meat. After the meal, we took a ferry across the water to the Asia side. We explored several mosques and found the town to be a lot less fun.
We then came back to the European side. and wanted to go to a place called Cahide. It was popular for being a fun show, almost like a cabaret-type place. This place turned out to be a full-on four course meal with entertainment. I recommend it. We were pleasantly surprised. Also, it is the bachelorette party epicenter. Out of the 250+ people, we were 3 of 23 guys there. And let me tell you, Turkish women are BEAUTIFUL. Cahide does require a reservation, so get on that. Afterwards we tried to go to Reina and Sortie, but were turned away because we didn’t have any girls with us. They do not budge on that rule.
The next day was our big day of being all out tourists. We had booked a full day tour of all the historical spots in town through Viator. Sadly, they have terrible customer service, and we almost didn’t have our tour. Luckily Funny Tourism came through in the end. We were picked up from the hotel and taken to the old city.
This palace was the home of the Sultan. The crown jewels are beautiful beyond words. I really enjoyed seeing the weapons used in the palace. I find that this is often a way to learn about a culture.
This building is relevant to so many people. It was a pagan temple, then a church, then a mosque, then finally a museum. It holds millennia of significance and emotions. It is beautiful and cross-cultural.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is still a functioning building of worship. If you plan on visiting, dress respectfully.
The site of the ancient Roman Hippodrome is now marked by a pair of towering obelisks and a serpentine pillar.
Of all the things, this one was the least impactful to me. It was just a bunch of overpriced goods being pushed onto tourists.
After our tour, I was worn out. Ali and Mit decided to get an authentic Turkish bath, but I am not a fan of men scrubbing me, so I headed back to the hotel. We picked up tickets to see Phonique at Roxy Club. This is over near Istaklal Avenue. While we waited for the show, I wanted to make the full walk down the street, all the way to Galata Tower
Then I headed back to Roxy to meet up with the crew. We left the show a little early and grabbed some delicious doners and baklava. We headed back to the Ritz to catch some Zzz’s before we flew out.
Istanbul was a city that seems to be built on the dreams of a thousand years. The history amazes me still. The metropolitan mentality of the people is so uplifting. I love seeing the juxtaposition of history next to future.
I give a strong recommendation that you should be booking your ticket to visit as soon as you can. As an added bonus, our plane flew over Cappadocia and we got a good view of the fairy towers. Obviously I wish I could have seen the historical underground villages. But It was a life changing trip.
Until next time.