And then there is Istanbul the place where Europe and Asia collide and you can see a whole other continent just across from you! Istanbul is a trip that brings back incredible memoreis- a city of contradictions much like me… fiercely traditional in so many ways, yet modern and forward thinking in so many others! An unplanned trip to combat ridiculously high stress levels and no plan at all we arrived in this gorgeous and friendly city and checked in straight into our hotel the Grand Hyatt. We had chosen this hotel because of it’s proximity to the bustling and wonderful Taksim square , a universal hub of activity every day, through the day and through most of the night!
The Grand Hyatt was disappointing. A business hotel with many rooms, it lacked the warmth of the city and the professionalism of a hotel. The staff seemed underpaid, overtired, curt and inhospitable. IT IS DEFINITELY NOT WORTH STAYING HERE. The room we had been given (despite Aditya being a Gold card member and having requested non-smoking) was a smoke filled mess. It took ages to get ready and though we’d paid for a view- we only had a view of the top of the hotel porch! I have yet to stay in another Hyatt after this horrendous experience!
I would recommend highly the fabulous Ciragan Palace which I recommended to my parents who had a fabulous time there or the converted prison on the banks of the Bosphorus which is now the Four Seasons!
Luckily we were determined to make the trip amazing, so we just dumped our bags and off we went exploring. The first thing we realised about turkey is that the street food- the kebabs were amazing. Fresh , delicious and easy to travel with -we set off to discover Taksim square. With its incredible shops, cafes and restaurants- this lively walking street has a taste of Istanbul that keeps bth the locals and tourists hooked! Lots to do…lots to see…lots to taste! We even found a cafe that we loved, loved, loved- The House Cafe with the most glorious turkish coffee!The afternoon went far too quickly and after a quick change , we headed to a branch of The House Cafe(yes we loved it that much!) which overlooked the Bosphorous! The city was glorious at night and after drinks and dinner , we bundled off into a cab and the chatty cabby took us around the city showing us some of the sights and the football stadium (to aditya’s great delight) where a match was being played! We had a long day the next day and so we quickly headed to bed!
The next day , we headed out to explore the Old City- the historic centre of the city. From the columns of the Byzantine empire, to the Hague Sofia,the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace, our private tour guide was exceptional. She made us walk fast and she talked even faster and there seemed more information that we could absorb because all of it seemed so incredible, so beautiful, so historic. It was wonderful going with a private tour guide for just the 2 of us because Turkey is a stop over for many cruise ships and when the cruise ships dock in Istanbul, scores of tourists descend on to the city and try and see all the historic sights and try and get a little bit of Turkish flavour all in a few hours- so if you don’t start quickly and don’t move quite fast , you will be caught behind one of these huge groups.
The Blue mosque is still a place of worship so please dress appropriately here. It is also wise to avoid ‘Namaaz'(prayer) timings and Fridays as the crowds do build and it is difficult to see how beautiful the architecture and the tile work is here.
The Hague Sofia has a column with a hole where if you can place your thumb in the whole and rotate your hand the full 360 degrees you are supposed to be granted a wish. Many people were in line and despite bending , turning and body contortions they still couldn’t do it! Aditya tried to….! I was very lucky though and on the first try , my hand did the full rotation and I received some amazed applause from bystanders… My wish? Well it keeps coming true..? Huh? Well you’ve gotta guess!
And then we were off to the Bazaars- the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar… Like the names suggest…the Grand Bazaar is filled with more curios, maps, knick-knacks and the Spice Bazaar filled with the most incredible, warm spices and flavours…. You can get lost in walking thru these bazaars and in case you’d like to buy something- bargain a little- they expect that!
After an entire day in the Old city -we were off to a romantic dinner to G by Karaf a restaurant on an island a few minutes away from the shore. A boat picks you up and in 5 minutes you are at the restaurant!
After a delicious dinner it was back to Taksim square and the incredibly lively bar 360! With views of the entire city , this buzzing night spot is always full. Great music, great drinks and great food keeps it a favourite with locals, expats and tourists alike!
The following day we explore Istanbul on our own using local transport, trams and discovering new hidden corners of the city. With the friendliest locals we’ve ever met- we always managed to find our way ,minutes after we were lost thanks to some incredibly helpful souls!
Istanbul is a land steeped with tradition and culture , yet gloriously modern, incredibly forward thinking and magnificently proud!
Best Times to Travel-:April to October tho April may be a bit rainy and October a bit chilly!
Cost-: Approx $500 a night! But stay close to either the old city or to Taksim square to cut down travel!
Amsterdam was the last stop on our best Euro trip ever and we were exhausted! Traveling had been incredible and exciting but we knew Amsterdam would give us the much needed down time that one often feels one needs AFTER a holiday…like the holiday from the holiday!
We were right!
Both Aditya and I had visited Amsterdam before… but when we were kids. This was our first time here as a couple and we were excited!
From Paris to Amsterdam we took the Thallys. Fun, fast, fabulous and modern- this train was a dream! With fast speed internet connection on board, comfortable seats this bright and cheerful train put all of our other train journeys to shame! Travel in Europe- Use Thallys!
After a fabulous, invigorating morning because of a super train ride passing through some fabulous places that I made note of to visit we arrived in Amsterdam! The hotel we stayed at was a Starwood property – part of their Luxury Collection- Hotel Pulitzer.
The hotel comprises of 25 restored canal houses which makes it so incredibly unique with no two guest rooms being the same. Each has their own character and a distinctive and personal. The rooms are small and cosy. Our suite overlooked the canal and was very special because of the large windows which allowed us the luxury of sitting indoors in the rainy weather and watching the beautiful city glisten and glimmer as it bathed in the quick shower! It rains in Amsterdam – it rained all 3 days while we were there. The rains are usually quick and windy but if you’re outside you can feel quite bitterly cold!
Amsterdam is a glorious city. Walk it and you can stop in the many small pathways and find the most amazing shops, the most vibrant of cafes and the most interesting of boutiques. The first morning was spent walking over bridges and stopping at cafes and finding this small , incredible cafe with the best fries ever and lingering over cups of coffee- the perfect unwind!
The mode of transportation is trams or in the smaller roads- bicycles or walking. But know that riding a bicycle in Amsterdam has lots of rules attached and bicycle riders are quite fierce and fast and can give you quite a scare making walking an often safer mode of transportation!
Later in the afternoon it was off to the centre of the city and for a shopping experience like none other. Small boutiques bordered large expensive stores and local cafes stood side by side to fast food chains. Something for everyone and colours everywhere!
The Coffeeshops in Amsterdam are easy to spot… In its spelling itself there is no space between coffee and shop and it is not called a cafe. They serve cannabis and hash brownies among usual coffees and soft drinks and snacks that you’d get at another cafe. I wandered into these more for curiosity’s sake and was pleasantly surprised to see the owner cum server totally knowledgeable and very cautious about what he was selling and even more so how much he was selling. He enquired carefully whether it was your first time and talked you through the entire range of products he had and didn’t push any when I chickened out and ordered a coke and chips instead and focussed on what seemed like a very stoned dog sitting with his master in the coffeeshop!
Anne Frank’s Home is an absolute MUST DO! I was never an ardent fan of the book. I had read it, enjoyed it, but never been really been overly interested in her life. I guess, being born in a different era made what happened seem so unreal, so frightening and a bit unreal to me. Our hotel was a building away from the Anne Frank Home and I decided I wanted to see it. Book tickets online as they only allow a few at a time and the lines outside the house otherwise are very long and to shiver in the rains is not appealing at all! We booked tickets and went in. Suddenly we were transported to an era gone by. With black and white videos, handwritten diary pages and even walls with height marks as to how tall she’d grown- suddenly her life became all to real. Her story told so perfectly and simply through simple diary entries came alive in the small , cramped rooms and the creaky flooring where she’d spent her life hidden in fear. We read about her arrest, saw the records , heard her father speak about her and I wept. Like the tens of others who had walked in with us, this experience became personal, became real and it stopped being about a book. It became about a life- a life lost too early. This was undoubtedly the most beautiful and touching experience that this trip offered me and I was glad I made time to do something that would offer me such a personal experience.
After all the tears I went back to our room for a nice hot cappuccino and we ended up at a fabulous local restaurant which was filled to the brim. With tapas and wine this became the perfect end to a perfect day!
Best Times To Travel-: June through to October ! But it does get chilly at night and be prepared for rain!
Price Factor-: $300- $500 a night and do try the Canal House Hotels . They are definitely an experience!
WILL GO BACK…STAY LONGER…SOON!