When traveling the world, you are bound to come across weird and wonderful stories. I love to collect them, sometimes turning them into a short story, more often relating them in my travel blog for the enjoyment of other travelers.
Enumerating facts about a place is all well and good, even necessary, but the true essence of travel is to look behind the scene, find the local lore and gossip and aspects, no guide book will ever tell you.
A case in point: the legendary Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul. Being a traveling glamour granny, I could of course not resist the urge to pay one of Istanbul’s most luxurious hotels a visit.
In the 1800 when Istanbul was the final destination of the Orient Express, a fashionable crowd was drawn to the mystic city. Sadly, she lacked a luxury European style hotel to accommodate the writers, journalists, artists and other well heeled travelers and that’s how the Pera Palace was conceived.
Overlooking the Golden Horn, the hotel opened its doors in 1892 and boasted the first electrically operated elevator in Turkey as well as hot and cold running water, but only up to the second floor. The upper floors were reserved as quarters for the maids and man servants.
Elaborate art deco furniture, fixtures and fittings were of the highest quality and many a flute of champagne was consumed in the Orient Bar, by the likes of Hemingway, Atatürk, Churchill and…Agatha Christie. The first ever fashion show in Turkey took place in the Pera Palace in 1926.
Agatha loved the place and always insisted in being given ‘her’ room, number 411. It was in this very room that she wrote one of her most famous crime novels: Murder in the Orient Express. During recent years, the Pera Palace has undergone extensive restorations and finally opened its doors again to the public in September 2010.
I was fortunate to have been given a pre-opening private tour conducted by the hotel’s PR and that’s when I learned the amazing story about Agatha’s key. In 1979, Warner Bros. decided to make a movie about Agatha Christie. Naturally, like everybody else who is an Agatha fan, they were intrigued by her mysterious 10 day disappearance in December 1926.
She left her home in England in her car which was later found damaged and only surfaced in a hotel in Harrogate 10 days later. Agatha never revealed where she was and what had happened and speculations ran from temporary amnesia to a nervous breakdown to a tryst with a secret lover. To shed light on the circumstances, Warner Bros, reverted to Tamara Rand, a medium and clairvoyant based in LA. She went into a trance and described that she saw Agatha Christie traveling to Istanbul on the Orient Express. She was sitting in her compartment, writing in a diary, then locking the diary with a key and putting it in her bag.
On arrival she walked along Mesrutiyet Caddesi, which is the address of the Pera Palace pushed open the door, went up to room 411, took out the key and proceeded to hide it behind a lose floor board.
After cutting through much red tape, Warner Bros. got permission to search the premises and, to everybody’s surprise, a 3inch key was found in the exact place Tamara had seen in her trance. Unfortunately, this is where the story ends, because it was never discovered were the key fit nor was Agatha’s diary ever found. So, the queen of suspense managed to create yet another mystery surrounding her own life and the Pera Palace has a great story attached to it.
Room 411 has been redecorated in black and burgundy and, in case you feel like searching a little more or just want to feel the aura of a great writer, it’s now available to guests.
Check out the hotel’s website: www.perapalace.com.