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Mar
25

Istanbul, a Safe Perfect Getaway

Calling all Women Travelers:

Istanbul is not as scary as you think!

For some reason, people, and especially women, are scared to go to Istanbul alone, which is crazy, ask any Turk, it’s safer than most Western cities. In fact, they’re scared of our cities. Yes, people, Istanbul  has evolved into a twentieth century city with sophistication that rivals Paris but with a friendliness of a small city.  And it’s so close to the rest of Europe that when I saw how cheap Istanbul flights were, I thought, you know what why not!

Here like most great European cities, you have the old and the new, but Istanbul takes it to a whole new level. It’s a feast for your stomach and your eyes to treasure. Start your day looking out over the Bosphorous Sea, at the Pierre Loti Café, famous for it’s flaky croissants and incredible views over the Golden Horn. Take your time with your maps, make lists, there’s not much time to unpeel this city.

pierre-loti-cafe
pierre-loti-cafe

To start with Turkey’s population is young, trendy, modern and seriously hip. Many of them, if not most, speak at least two or three languages, English being the most common second language. They are highly educated and feel very European but are also very much connected to the East, which is just one of the many reasons they were honored with the 2010 European Capital of Culture award. Here you’re struck by just how welcome you feel.

topkapi palace
topkapi palace

Now because I only gave myself a weekend away from dreary London, I decided to hit the big ones first: Topkapi Palace. Part command centre for a massive military empire, part Eastern harem, the gorgeusly decorated Topkapi Palace was the seat of Ottoman power for over three centuries. If you have time for only one museum, spend it here. If you’re pushed for time, the must-see features are the Harem, Imperial Treasury and the views from the innermost courtyard.

On to the breathtaking Haghia Sophia. This was first a Byzantine church, then Ottoman mosque and now a Turkish museum. I was struck here by how  shabby it looked when you compare it to the rest of the city and wondered if this was a sign that the Turks were leaving their past behind and embracing the new.

Istanbul Hagia Sophia
Istanbul Hagia Sophia

With that in mind, I was in the mood for art and decided to look at the new instead of the old, so off I went to the Istanbul Modern. People call it the Tate Modern of Turkey. Housed in a former customs warehouse on the waterfront in Karaköy, the two-storey Istanbul Modern is huge. And the work is huge as well, like the shattered glass staircase that’s hung from steel chains and the vast installation of books suspended over the library. The museum’s restaurant, with its stunning views across the Bosporus to the minarets of Sultanahmet and out to the Marmara Sea, is the ideal place to stop and take a moment to absorb it all.

Grand Bazaar
Grand Bazaar

Everyone told me not to miss the Grand Bazaar. Part entertainment, part tradition, part business, here everything has a price, and of course the price is not written down. I fell in love with the jewelry, and the multi-colored glass lights. I found myself I had an enormous suitcase because not only was everything so beautiful, the prices were less than half of what they are in London. I vowed to bring on the next time I came. Here you spend hours, you can literally buy something for everyone and they’ll all be blown away. Next time. With tickets so cheap (the ones I found by the way were on bts-travel)

I took a pre-dinner ferry around the Bosphorus and it’s good for the soul, let me tell you. A truly relaxing way of getting across one of the world’s busiest waterways is to take one of the half-hourly commuter ferry services up the Bosphorus from EminönĂĽ. At the concierge’s suggestion I got off at BeĹźiktaĹź, Ortaköy and Bebek to take in the lush parks, palaces and exquisite yalıs (waterside mansions).

I had dinner plans with an old college room mate of mine who was from Istanbul. She told me to dress well. Apparently here people dress the same as they do in Milan, Rome and Paris. And let me tell you, they do. Bling is seriously on display here and so are tans. No matter the temperature, here everyone is tan and they look like they’re dressed for mid-August.

I’m a vegetarian and was originally worried about food options, but my God! The food was so great for me.  Turkish food is also so sadly misunderstood, it’s  clean, healthy and natural. For an early dinner, we hit the Istanbul Modern  in a converted warehouse on the Bosporus. This restaurant has not only two floors of contemporary artworks by local artists, but also a sculpture garden, library and restaurant. On the walls were works by Mubin Orhon and Fahrelnissa Zeid, both top sellers this past March when Sotheby’s held its first major auction of contemporary Turkish art.

istanbul modern
istanbul modern

Next time she promised to take me to the Galata House, this very fun restaurant inside an old British Jail. Run by a husband and wife duo, its home-cooked food is supposed to be absolutely delicious.

And then it’s on to after-hours. Man, do they party here. Rooftop bars and restaurants are springing up everywhere, desperately trying to outdo each other with the most sweeping skyline and exotic cocktail list. First we hit Leb-i-Derya Richmond because of the view then we dropped down to the Reina club on the water. Reina and Sortie remain the superclubs of choice for the summer months. Anjelique is also a great place to watch the endless array of Channel and Prada.

On Sunday morning, I was happy to be alone, and I yearned for a little peace and quiet. So I decided to get the Herald Tribune and set off for Fransiz Sokagi for pastries and coffee. Known as French Street, because seriously if you close your eyes and nibble on your croissant, you feel like you’re on the left Bank. Open them and it’s even better.Especially if you have a day like I had, bright blue sky and hovering above seventy degrees.

French Street
French Street

That afternoon I went to the Princess Islands in the Marmara Sea just off Istanbul’s Asian Shore, where Istanbul’s mainly non-Muslim elite built their summerhouses. Today, they are one of the last places where you can see the old ethnic mix of Istanbul, where Greeks, Armenians and Jews rub shoulders with Turks in the local squares, and churches are more numerous than mosques.

princess islands
princess islands

On my last night, I had dinner in my hotel, then took a late walk through the twisted streets where there is practically no crime for a last look at the skyline of Europe’s most unique city.  Change your life this weekend. Book your trip to Istanbul.

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