Because of the language difference and unfavorable media coverage, Istanbul isn't on many American's vacation destination lists. As noted by our tour guide (the well versed Gamze Artaman), most American's are unsure of the unknown so they opt for the likes of Paris, Rome and London instead - which is unfortunate. These doubters are missing a city bustling with amazing sightseeing attractions, beautiful acommodations and budding high-end and specialty shopping.What We Saw
The Blue Mosque's
exterior isn't actually blue, but rather is named for the tinted tiles lining the inside walls. The interior is rather simple compared to churches throughout Europe - but that's exactly how it's supposed to be according to the Islam tradition. There are no images of people. Only understated stained-glass windows, painted ceilings and a newly carpeted floor where shoes aren't allowed. Good to know I'm not the only one who doesn't like shoes to be worn inside. Have you ever stopped to think about what you're stepping on as you walk through the city? Ick.
First a church, then a mosque and now a museum, the Hagia Sophia
is quite impressive indeed. Fortunately for us, our tour guide pointed out one of the most interesting aspects of the attraction - the fact that an image of Jesus lies between two Islamic symbols (and even in the same direction as the Muslim's pray).
Home of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years, Topkapi Palace
is the number one tourist destination in Istanbul. I wish we could have visited the Harem portion of the palace, but because our day was full, we briskly saw other points of interest including the museum where an 84 carat diamond is on display. Look for the palace to be featured in a new sequel to the Thomas Crowne Affair
starring Pierce Brosnan in 2009. Of course, that caught my attention real quick.Where We Stayed
I hate spending too much money for hotel, but sometimes it's necessary. So, if you want pampering in Istanbul, chose the Four Seasons
. For starters, the staff is very helpful - and even remembers your name. The former prison is also located in the heart of the Old City so it's conveniently located next to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace. Just don't order a soda while waiting in the lobby for dinner. It will cost you over $10 for a small bottle of Diet Coke. Boy, would my mother croak.Where We Shopped
Of course, we visited the high end district just to see what's new in fashion. But the most interesting shops that won our dollars were located in the Grand Bazaar
. Sure, it can be overwhelming walking into this mega mall of Turkish vendors. But settle down and take the time to investigate those stalls that interest you and you're likely to find both engaging people who look forward to your conversation and good deals as well.
Ilyas Mehmet from Sehrazat
helped us not only to select scarves for ourselves and family but also to understand why most shoppers don't get his attention - they're rude. "Don't just ask how much," he said. "Say hello. Look around." Because as he describes, those who simply ask "how much" most likely won't buy anyway. They don't care about quality, only price. And as we sat in the back room drinking Turkish coffee, we witnessed this all first hand - over and over and over again.
And further back, hidden in what once was a sleeping quarters for those working in the bazaar, is a Turkish rug vendor who's worth the many hours it will take to just find him. Featuring antique rugs from the heartland of Turkey, Sisko Osman
and his son will offer you apple tea while you sit back, relax and enjoy the show as they unroll rugs that are 50, 60, 100 and 200 years old.Where We Ate
Strangely, not once did we eat at McDonald's! We normally have at least lunch at the restaurant that affords us the luxury to live in Munich and go on trips to Istanbul. But while in Turkey, we found ourselves absorbing the kebab mentality (like at a hotel recommended restaurant up the street where I also sampled chewy meat balls made from mystery meat) and Changa
- where Turkish and Thai cuisine collide in a gay friendly atmosphere.
So how do you gauge if your vacation was a success? I ask myself, "Would I go back." In the case of Turkey, the answer is yes. And with a new Four Seasons opening up next year, well, why not?
Gamze K. Artaman
Tel.: 90 212 560 74 90
Four Seasons Hotel - Istanbul
Tevkifhane Sokak No. 1, Sultanahmet-Eminönü
Tel.: 90 (212) 638 82 00
Kalpakcilar Caddesi Takkeciler Sokak
No: 4/6 Kapali Carsi
Tel.: 0212 526 13 56
Tel: 90 212 528 35 48
Siraselviler Caddesi 47
Tel: 90 212 249 13 48 249 12 05