The Great City” of Istanbul, despite its recent upheavals, remains a testament to harmony. This cosmopolitan favorite amongst Europeans, sadly overlooked by most Americans for whom the region and any connection to a predominantly Muslim culture conjures fear of impending risk, fuses the ancient and modern, east and west, so graciously, that we could all learn a thing or two, including tossing our paranoia aside.
Straddling Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul, which has continued its reincarnation from Byzantium and Constantinople, remains a timeless city that strides confidently into the future without forgetting its dazzling past. While it may feel like a world away, getting to the fabled city, is surprisingly easy thanks to many direct and connecting options including American Airlines via Heathrow (from Los Angeles). Roughly fourteen hours of travel time may seem intimidating, but no adventure comes without the investment of time.
Upon arrival at the highly efficient Ataturk International, replete with Duty Free shops which allow you to shop upon landing, we caught a 45-minute taxi ride to the top-rated Marmara Pera Hotel in the trendy neighborhood of Beyoglu on the European side. This sleek yet intimate high rise hotel boasts the most spectacular 360 degree view from its rooftop swimming pool and lounge, and domiciles the the uber-stylish penthouse restaurant, Mikla. Here you will find comfortable rooms, some of which offer a view of the sweeping sea and old city with its majestic mosques. Seamless free wi-fi throughout the hotel and genuine hospitality from the staff makes all the difference when you’re looking for a home away from home. Room service delivered top notch meals from a menu that includes both American style burgers and Turkish Kebaps in under thirty minutes every time. Another major benefit is the location, literally steps away from the serpentine and infinite Istiklal Street where shopping, boutique restaurants, and even a Dervish Museum will provide convenient entertainment and wonder.
It’s advisable to reserve at least two days for a tour of the city. Reform Tur company can customize an itinerary, provide English-speaking guides and even a private vehicle so you can do it all in style. The first day, we hit breathtaking attractions like the Byzantine-Ottoman Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the intoxicating Grand Bazaar with its carpets and lamps, its spices and honeyed Turkish Delights. We highly recommend lunching at Konyali Lokantasi which has been open since 1897 and overlooks the Bosphorus, Asia, and even remains of the fortification walls built by the Romans. The second day, hop onto a short Bosphorus Day Cruise which will sail you past ornate Ottoman palaces and sprawling new clubs and residences for the rich set. In the afternoon, travel back in time and 500 feet underground to the Basilica Cistern constructed in 476 by more than 7,000 slaves under Emperors Constantine and Justinian.
You may decide to take excursions outside of Istanbul to places like Ephesus (Troy) or Konya (where you will find the tomb of Rumi), all of which can be arranged from the hotel, but it’s worth hanging your hat and just enjoying the modern side of Istanbul. While there are still innumerable historical sites within the city that are worth seeing, like the Galata Tower (also walking distance from the hotel), the range of restaurants, clubs and shopping is mind boggling. Instead of constantly being on the move and getting frazzled from covering more ground, we recommend you take some time to sit back, at a cafe with a little glass of tea, or one of the rooftop bars with a chilled martini, and just watch the world go by. After all, the best part of a vacation is breaking away from a rigid schedule and allowing spontaneity. Where else can this happen, but in Istanbul, where the ancient and modern have been waltzing since the beginning of time?
— Ghalib Dhalla
The Marmara Pera Hotel Asmalı Mescit Mh., Meşrutiyet Cd No:93, 34430 İstanbul, Turkey
tel: +90 212 251 4646
Çamlık Mahallesi , Şahinbey Caddesi Nr. 80 Zirve İş Merkezi Kat 3 , Daire 6
Tel : +90 (216) 640 20 13 Fax : +90 (216) 640 20 14
A convenient route to Istanbul for those who prefer to fly an American airline is American Airlines, which connects through the U.K. Given that it’s an almost 20-hour trip, be sure to pamper yourself with their Business and First Class treatment. For more information, use the official banner below.