Istanbul – A Dash of Sugar, A Pinch of Spice
What are the right ingredients to creating an epic trip? Well, when considering this question, my mind immediately goes to of my most fabulous vacation to date, a “Single Girls Retreat” to Istanbul, for myself, recently single and my good friend, Adriana, just about to get engaged.
For me, the right mix started to fall into motion immediately after my plane took off from Boston. Arriving exhausted from a business trip allowed for very little planning and almost no expectations, yet knowing I was about to embark to an ultra chic and exotic land created the most fantastic anticipation ever. So as drinks were being served on this plane flight to Madrid…yes, I had a layover there first, I decided to take out my Istanbul guidebook to start the planning process. Only minutes into my research, and a glass of wine later, it was like music to my ears, when the young hip couple sitting across the aisle from me asked if I were heading to Istanbul, as that’s where they lived.
The rest of the flight passed in what seemed like a couple of hours, as we drank wine and shared travel stories, but most importantly they armed me with a fantastic list of insiders recommendations. As I walked to my connecting flight in the Madrid Airport, I almost had a skip in my step with this excitement of the wealth of knowledge that I’d just acquired, and perhaps brought on by my tipsiness from the wine.
Good thing my next flight was four hours long and I slept the whole way, allowing me to only be slightly jetlagged for meeting up with Adriana in our pimped out suite at the W Hotel. Having only been in town for a short while, I already loved what I had seen, mostly from the backseat of a taxi. This was an amazing bustling city almost surrounded by water and with such beautiful skylines dotted by the mosques, and the sun had yet to set.
Our first night out, we had all the intentions of rock stars, complete with pre-partying in the suite, but really just hit a wall almost immediately. This was a good thing, so we could scope out the scene a bit, know that the recommendations from my friends on the plane flight were legit and we make our plans to return the next night.
Round two was a Friday night, so the crowds were even greater at the nightspots that lined the Bosphorus in the Ortakoy area, and starting off with drinks and a small bite at The House Café was a no brainer. Here we were really able to see how chic this town truly was, and how attractive the local male specimens turned out to be.
Another plus, we happened to be a couple of the very few Americans in the area, then going on to Anjelique night club with some local friends we had met, we were quickly the center of attention by many. Oh, how lovely it is to party all night, not spend a dime and be the admiration of others to the point of them dueling for your attention! Ok, so some of this red-blooded drama is definitely better left for vacation, but what better way to end a truly magnificent night than by kissing the self proclaimed “Vinny Chase” of Istanbul goodnight before he hops down from the club into his boat and speeds of across the river, and might I mention, the sun was already shining.
The only way to top this off was heading to brunch immediately with our local friends at the waterfront restaurant Sutis in Emirgan and enjoying the food and the company while soaking up the alcohol.
Making our way to sleep back at the W Hotel around noon, as the haze had finally worn off, was also when I came to my senses and realized that I wouldn’t be up for meeting with another one of last night’s Prince Charmings later that day, who had invited me to Suada, the club located on it’s own island in the Bosphorus.
With a few hours of power napping accomplished we quickly got ourselves together and headed across town in time for a couple of hours of shopping and negotiating fun at the Grand Bazaar. This was one of the main attractions of focus for both Adriana and I, being the slaves to fashion, that we were. Well, myself a bit of a shopaholic as well.
As we navigated the aisles of this domed structure, stopping to look here, bargain there, and drink a bit of Turkish tea over a purchase, I couldn’t help but think that our looking a little “worse for the wear” from our marathon night before, was a bit of an advantage in our favor. We were some of the most unassuming guests to enter many of these fine jewelry stores, and often exited with a small treasure that in our minds, was a great deal.
For me, that underdog advantage in this massive arena of shopping quickly turned to a disadvantage when we walked into Neva Jewels, #49 Vezirhan St. in the Bazaar and I met Selim, the owner. We stayed in his store, trying on some of the most gorgeous pieces of jewelry I’ve ever seen, massive diamond encrusted dome rings for myself and engagement rings for Adriana, while chatting, sipping tea and discussing our travels, nearly until the Bazaar was closing. Of course in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but worry a bit about my less than stellar appearance, while speaking to someone so cute, kind and cultured, and all this within our first 48 hours in Istanbul.
The rest of the trip followed suit much as the first two days had gone, with amazing people, sights, nightlife, food and shopping. I guess in the end, my look of a walking hang over wasn’t as bad as I imagined, since Selim has remained a very special friend to this day.
If you’re looking to create an epic trip of your own, it’s a very fine balance of seeking out the exotic, being prepared, but not overly planning, mixing with the locals, traveling with amazing company, enjoying the local fare and having a posh place to lay your head at night. Too much attention to one ingredient or not enough to another can easily tip the scale. For me, if I’m never able to create this perfect mix again on a journey, well, at least I’ll always have Istanbul!