Where History meets Luxury – Pera Palace Hotel Istanbul

There are plenty of 5 star hotels to choose from in Istanbul. But nothing beats the combination of modern day comforts with the flair of history, intrigue and romance which seems to linger in every corner of the fabulous Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul, overlooking the Golden Horn.

The Golden Horn

The Golden Horn

History

Several years ago, the hotel underwent a complete restoration which not only unearthed hidden treasures but also added amenities indispensable for a luxury hotel today. One of the treasures was a huge set of Christoffel silver from Paris, still in its original packaging. And the amenity is the dreamlike spa and hamam bathed in soothing blue light.

silver

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.

peralamps

oreitbat

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

Staying there

By modern day standards, the Pera Palace is not a big hotel, ‘only’ 115 rooms and suites. Stepping through the front door, I immediately felt at home. The plush lobby could even be called cozy, due to the lack of size. Your eyes meet the famous elevator, flanked by two sweeping staircases which lead to the upper floors. On your right is the equally famous Orient Bar, adjacent to the reception desk you are tempted by the delicacies of the patisserie or you walk straight ahead to the lobby with a terrace overlooking the Golden Horn.

käfer

Antiques, paintings, carpets, chandeliers, wherever you look you find something to admire. Sadly, the Agatha Christie room wasn’t available, but I got the Greta Garbo room. I have to say, that I am not a fan of minimalism, I don’t want to bash my knees on sharp corners and sleep on a rock hard mattress. Neither do I fancy needing an engineer’s degree to be able to work the tabs in the bathroom.

I want to sink into an armchair, relax and enjoy and that’s exactly what the Pera Palace is all about.

The service is immaculate, attentive people are everywhere to help you with whatever you need.

For starters, a glass of champagne in the Orient Bar was called for. It was easy to evoke the spirits of all the famous people who have done just that in this iconic place. Ataturk, Agatha, Greta, Hemingway, Jackie Kennedy and countless others have partied here.

The hotel features two excellent restaurants if you don’t want to go out and eat. The kitchen is open, so you can see the chefs toiling over their creations. You eat with silver, but not the one which was discovered during restoration. This treasure is beautifully displayed in glass cases along the wall.

And finally, there is the spa and pool. Three treatment rooms, a pool with loungers, a steam bath, Turkish bath and sauna await to spend an hour or two in utter bliss, bathed in the magic blue light. And as the hotel is relatively small, it’s never crowded.

For reservation and further information please consult www.perapalace.com.

Disclaimer: I paid a reduced press rate but my opinion and observations are my own.

 

 

 

 

Hamdi – a fine place to dine in Istanbul

After our pleasant boat trip on the Bosporus, my girlfriends from Beirut and I were hungry.  Water travel, however brief, will do that to you every time.

Us on the boat

We came off the boat in Eminönü and were faced with the question where to fill our stomach, in style and with great food. By chance we bumped into some other sightseers from Beirut, like us in Istanbul for the Madonna concert. They warmly recommended Hamdi Restaurant, located right next to the impressive New Mosque, Spice Market in the back, glorious views of the Bosporus in front.

New Mosque right next to Hamdi restaurant

And what a great recommendation it turned out to be. In the late 1960, chef Hamdi Arpaci came from his native Urfa in Turkey’s southeast to Istanbul. I have fond memories of Urfa, one of my absolute favorite destinations in Turkey, because of the fabulous sites, mesmerizing views of the plane of Mesopotamia, silver filigree and cuisine. Influenced by nearby Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, Urfa cuisine’s food emphasis lies on kebabs and köftes with special spices and rich combinations of ingredients such a crushed walnuts or pistachios mixed into the meat.  The fillings of böreks (pastries) are juicier than anywhere else and melt in your mouth as your teeth crack the paper thin pastry.

One of Hamdi's specilalities

All these delicacies chef Hamdi brought to Istanbul where he started out with a humble food stall at the edge of the parking lot in Eminönü where many of the Bosporus ferries dock. From there , fame spread and finally resulted in the 5 story building which houses the restaurant today, the quality of his southeast Turkey food undiminished. Not surprisingly, the restaurant is much in demand and you have to wait to be seated in the downstairs lobby. Who cares? Between us we sampled the menu up and down and even ordered seconds of the Urfa kebab.

Prices are neither cheap nor outrageously expensive, just average for Istanbul.

Disclaimer: this post has in no way been sponsored by Hamdi Restaurant. We paid full price.

Goodbye Turkey – hallo Spain!

The big move is just around the corner. After nearly six years, living on and off on Turkey’s Aegean Sea coast, it’s time to move on. My nomadic nature claims a radical change of scenery, country and culture and I can’t ignore that call any longer. I have been told that I’m crazy, that this is the kind of thing people in their 20s or 30s do, but not those in their 60s. I couldn’t agree less. What does age have to do with how you feel and what you want to do. I’m of course very lucky because I’m totally independent. No family responsibilities, no clinging husband, boyfriend or partner…been there, done that, thanks very much!!

On Saturday, I’m off to Spain’s Costa Blanca house hunting. It won’t take me long, as I have already set up plenty of viewings, opportunities are plentiful.

A time like this invites to retrospective and that’s what this post is basically about. I have had a good time in Turkey and I have seen many, many wonderful things and had great experiences. Here is an overview of what – for me – is Turkey’s best.

My preferred region is the Southeast, a part if this huge country not that many tourists go to or even know about. Mardin, Urfa, Harran and Hassankeyf, all overlooking the timeless and historical plane of Mesopotamia are my favorite. Enjoy the pictures.

Mardin

Hasankeyf

Mardin at night

Typical street in Urfa

Harran

The glamorous Kurdish dress

Next on the scale is Amasya and Turkey’s Black Sea region. I didn’t make it to Trabzon, but it should be included.

Amasya

Bridge over the Green River

Home to the historian Strabo

Much more popular than the above two regions is of course Cappadocia. Nobody who sees the crazy tuff formations, the fairy chimneys and the fabulous valleys can escape the special fascination of this unique landscape.

Cappadocia

Caves in Aksaray

 

Pigeon valley

The Southwest and Antalya in particular is very different and my favorite spot in Antalya is the Düden waterfall.

Hadrian gate Antalya

Düden waterfall

 

Flames in Olympos

Archaeology museum Antalya

Of course, Istanbul cannot be left out in this summary. I’ll dispense with mentioning the world famous sites everybody knows about and instead draw your attention to Eyüp overlooking the Golden Horn.

Pierre Loti Cafe Eyüp

View over the Golden Horn

And lastly, I need to mention  Bursa, home of Karagöz and Hacivat, the original Iskender kebab and a green mosque and türbe which can easily compete with the Blue one of Istanbul.

Karagöz and Hacivat museum

Green türbe

One of the famous puppets

Iskender Restaurant

A mender of antique carpets

Will I be back? Probably, but not any time soon. Spain beckons. So much to see and do, it certainly will keep me busy until….it’s time to move again.

 

 

An ‘oops’ moment in Istanbul. Madonna in concert

Everybody who even remotely follows showbiz news will by now have heard about Madonna’s ‘nipple moment’ when she performed in the Turkish Telecom Arena in Istanbul last Thursday.  A two hour show, including the’ moment’, which yours truly witnessed, together with 55.000 roaring fans.

Comments about her performance differ widely. Surprisingly, in view of the fact that Turkey is after all a predominantly Muslim country, it’s the Turkish press which gave her no grief. To the contrary, the national paper Hürriyet salivated about her’s being the biggest show ever and Madonna herself the ultimate super star.

Other, including the New York Post, were not so charitable. Too old for such antics, cheap attention grabbing, past sell by date etc. were some of the comments I found.

But, you don’t want to hear a press resume, rather my personal account. I am not that big a Madonna fan, but I couldn’t let this opportunity slip by when I had the chance to see the concert.

Helicoptered in, she was only 45 minutes late, not like her 2 hour delay in Dubai. The arena was packed and everybody in a great mood. What had surprised me when I arrived in Istanbul the day before, was that there was hardly any advertising about the concert. I had expected huge bill boards along the road and posters everywhere, but no, not a trace. My way led past the arena which featured her name in rather bland black letters, along with the sponsor Doritos and not even a photograph of her.

Probably unnecessary since the tickets were sold out as soon as they were available. I must admit, I got caught up in the atmosphere. Madonna has a great voice, unbelievable stamina and charisma. And the show was breathtaking. Effects, lights, performers galore, reminiscent of Cirque Soleil, really all stops pulled out.

But she certainly gave her all too with plenty of songs, classics as well as new ones. ‘Human Nature’ was the one with the nipple incident. You want to hear my very personal opinion? I think the bra she was wearing and then – partly- pulling off for just under a second, was hideous!!! Too many straps cutting into her very muscular upper body, I thought  the undie was neither sexy nor seductive. She should have shopped at Victoria’s Secret. But, what do I know? I’m only a woman. I also think one has to admire her guts, not for the ‘act’ as such, but for daring to do it in Turkey.

What I found far more embarrassing and really not suitable for her age, was the cheerleader finale. A woman  well into her 50s prancing around like a demented teen and waving pompons??? I don’t think so.

So, here you have my report. My friends and I had a great time and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. It was an experience you can’t have every day, watching Turkey’s Madonna fans in action. I’m very glad I had the chance. Will I go to another Madonna concert? No.

I’ll dispense with photographs. I’m sure you have by now seen them bigger and better everywhere else, including the videos.

 

 

 

 

A fine place to dine in Istanbul

After our pleasant boat trip on the Bosporus, my girlfriends from Beirut and I were hungry.  Water travel, however brief, will do that to you every time.

Getting hungry on the Bosporus

We came off the boat in Eminönü and were faced with the question where to fill our stomach, in style and with great food. By chance we bumped into some other sightseers from Beirut, like us in Istanbul for the Madonna concert. They warmly recommended Hamdi Restaurant, located right next to the impressive New Mosque, Spice Market in the back, glorious views of the Bosporus in front.

Istanbul's New Mosque

And what a great recommendation it turned out to be. In the late 1960, chef Hamdi Arpaci came from his native Urfa in Turkey’s southeast to Istanbul. I have fond memories of Urfa, one of my absolute favorite destinations in Turkey, because of the fabulous sites, mesmerizing views of the plane of Mesopotamia, silver filigree and cuisine.

Urfa at night

Typical street in Urfa

Mesopotamia stretching out behind me

Influenced by nearby Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, Urfa cuisine’s food emphasis lies on kebabs and köftes with special spices and rich combinations of ingredients such a crushed walnuts or pistachios mixed into the meat.  The fillings of böreks (pastries) are juicier than anywhere else and melt in your mouth as your teeth crack the paper thin pastry.

A selection of böreks

 

Urfa kebab

All these delicacies chef Hamdi brought to Istanbul where he started out with a humble food stall at the edge of the parking lot in Eminönü where many of the Bosporus ferries dock. From there , fame spread and finally resulted in the 5 story building which houses the restaurant today, the quality of his southeast Turkey food undiminished. Not surprisingly, the restaurant is much in demand and you have to wait to be seated in the downstairs lobby. Who cares? Between us we sampled the menu up and down and even ordered seconds of the Urfa kebab.

Prices are neither cheap nor outrageously expensive, just average for Istanbul.

Disclaimer: this post has in no way been sponsored by Hamdi Restaurant. We paid full price.