When my favourite, Claire suggested we make a spontaneous trip to Istanbul, I was pretty excited (I do love an overseas adventure!). ‘It will be 12 degrees and sunny’ she said… Well, lets just say, her prediction was a little out (love you lady, but you/Google were wrong!), so wrong in fact, even the Turks were surprised. But we dug deep into our intrepid British spirit, stuffed on enough clothes to make Sir Ranulph Fiennes proud, and set about exploring the wonderful city. Here’s the first instalment of highlights from the trip, and my recommendations for adventure.
Cocktails at the Pera Palace Hotel
This luxury hotel is absolutely teeming with history, you can literally breathe it in as you cross the threshold. The Pera Palace has played host to some of the heavyweights of literature, including Ernest Hemingway and Agatha Christie. Although the property is now managed by the Jumeirah hotel empire, it has retained it’s individuality as opposed to becoming another faceless hotel.
The vast lobby is the perfect place to sit and have a cocktail, while soaking up the glamour of times past. Or, as this means for Claire and I, embarking on one for our random conversations, featuring topics such as ‘what did Jesus actually look like’, and ‘the concept of family in the Fast & Furious films’, seriously, we have the BEST conversations. A special shout out must be given to the Palace’s amazing cocktails that are brewed in a silver teapot and served in a beautiful teacup – divine!
Visit The Blue Mosque
Arguably the most famous landmark in Istanbul, and quite rightly so. I have been fortunate to travel to many places in the world, but the Blue Mosque, or to refer to it by it’s correct title, the Sultan Ahmed Camii, is truly breath-taking. It’s beauty is not just confined to the outside. Once inside, it is impossible not to be amazed not only by the building, but by the devotion and reverence of the worshippers. Find a quiet corner (not easy at certain times, I grant you!), sit against a pillar, and just be present.
Prayer occurs at the Mosque 5 times a day, so make sure you time your visit around these as the Mosque is closed to the public at these times. If however, you manage to arrive precisely when you aren’t supposed to (as we did!), I thoroughly recommend attending one of the presentations that are run by the Mosque Maintenance Association.
Our talk was led by Elif Zeynep Yilmaz, who is the first female guide in the Mosque’s history (TOTAL kudos to her for being such a pioneer), who explained not only the about the building so many come to visit, but also about the philosophy of Islam. In my book, every religion would do well to take note of the work that is being done here by the guides. The environment was warm and welcoming and as well as providing weary guests with refreshments, an open floor was given to address any questions they may have. Oh yes, and did I mention that this was all totally FREE. It was a place where preconceptions could be addressed, and evidence of a ‘living’ faith could be seen being worked into modern life.
Baklava at The Kybele Hotel
OK, so I’m not going to lie, this was one of those chance discoveries (my favourite!) that was dictated by circumstances. Just to set the scene, we had been out in temperatures of -8 degrees most of the day, in snow storms that where more akin to scenes from disaster film ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ as opposed to ‘White Christmas’, so let’s just say, we were a little cold and wet. Oh and did I mention that it had just started to thunder too… Yes, it can thunder and snow at the same time apparently, in fact this phenomenon had many meteorologists very excited that day! So, after walking around in the snow all day, broken up with intervals of stopping to record videos of us, (OK, Claire, me) singing ‘Do you wanna build a snowman..’ we decided it was time to head in doors.
Anyone who follows me on Pinterest knows how much I love a neon sign, and to be honest this was the initial attraction which led to discovering this little gem! Once inside, the riot of colour continued, with the ceiling covered in the most beautiful Turkish lamps. The hotel was so warm and cosy, it is just like sitting in someone’s front room. Especially as the staff were so lovely and welcoming. This hotel is not to be missed.
Order the best chocolate in Istanbul, and tuck into the Baklava. Take a moment to enjoy the renowned Turkish hospitality. Oh, and did I mention it’s just around the corner from the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia – perfect way to end the day!
Coming next… going underground, and visiting Paris… in Istanbul.
P.S. Big love to my photographer of choice, Claire xxx