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!
So when nothing in our lives was working out and when we were down but not yet out…we decided to take a break! A new show had been sucking the life out of us and for the first time …in ever were the both of us tired and low about theatre! When life brings you downs….sometimes you have to create your own highs! And that’s what we did!
Emptying our bank accounts with no idea how we were going to figure the show or the sponsorships out- we escaped….to Turkey!
Our first stop was Cappadocia… a land of Fairy chimneys and tales untold. Magical and surreal we were looking for this short escape from life and this seemed the perfect stop!
To get to Cappadocia , you must fly to Kayseri. A small airport in the middle of nowhere, we were glad we’d arrange transport to our hotel! Getting outside, the landscape looked nothing like what was promised to us. Barren , flat and boring it was like luck was just not on our side! Infact as we headed off in the car, driving through what looked like dessert we saw the most incredible sight- Mc Donalds! Well that was as un-Turkish as the rest of this miserable trip ! The car ride took about 1 hour and suddenly in the final 15 minutes or so, everything changed! Chimneys appeared from almost nowhere and the land looked like a fairytale come to life! Rock formations in crazy shapes and the car now seemed to be going up and down hill and there was suddenly too much to see and not enough time!The incredible cave dwellings still had people living in them , we were told, and I was really excited now to see where we’d be staying!
And before we knew it we were at our hotel – the exquisite Museum Hotel. Now we had specifically chosen a Luxury Cave Hotel to get the real Cappadocian experience and wow we were in for a treat! Our room was gigantic and our bathroom even larger. We had a small , oddly shaped cave window and every possible luxury you could imagine. Traveling all night and most of the day we were exhausted and we decided to head to the pool to relax. The pool, perfectly placed on the edge of a Cliff almost melted into the blue sky and one quick dip and we were refreshed and relaxed! Suddenly we heard the pitter patter of little feet on the stone and there were two glorious pups frolicking in the hotel. They are the owners dogs we were later told, though they often commanded a great deal more attention than the owners did!
Dinner was pre set and I was worried. This hotel in the middle of nowhere may not really be able to cater to my very difficult tastebuds and I was FAMISHED! I was wrong! The chef was the winner of International food Awards and the food just melted in my mouth! The turkish cuisine was fabulous and I wished desperately that our 5 course meal would last forever! The meal ended with some fabulous Turkish apple tea and we called it a night!
Turkey is approximately 2.5 hours behind us so getting up the next morning at 5 am (equivalent of 7:30 am) worked out okay! I was even to have a quick wash to get ready for our champagne balloon ride above Cappadocia! Now in most cities I would warn against doing anything remotely touristy but in Cappadocia if you don’t do the balloon ride, you’ve really missed on quite an incredible experience! We watched as the balloons got fired up and then headed up, up and away above the glorious Cappadocian landscape- taking hundreds of pictures and photographing what looked like Google map images of earth! So high in the sky all our troubles were forgotten and as we bobbed in the balloon looking at the tens of other balloons that dotted the sky…life had never felt more colorful and I felt the incredible lightness of being!
Back on ground as we finally got our land legs back we went back to the hotel to have the most sumptuous breakfast ever! Local cheeses, fruits and every possible breakfast delight with some bubbly made the morning perfect! After that Aditya and I decided to do some exploring of our own so off we headed via ATV. Now anyone who knows me or knows my driving knows that an All Terrain vehicle is probably the safest thing for me to drive except when your driving over cliffs and driving down steep roads. I almost lost balance of the heavy vehicle more than once trying to keep up with our enthusiastic guide…. but luckily for me that despite a few near misses and one where the ATV had a wheel over the edge…I survived! This was the coolest way to explore Cappadocia and after dropping our guide back to the town aditya and I continued exploring the narrow lanes and numerous caves ourselves! Stopping every so often for an incredible photograph this is the ONLY way to see Cappadocia and is an absolute MUST DO!
In the afternoon we headed to the Goreme Open Air Museum and visited some ancient 10th, 11th and 12 th century churches. This was fascinating as you could still see the paint on the walls and scenes from the nativity, crucifixion and the Last Supper were painted in glorious detail. Then we marveled at some astonishing rock formations. My personal favourite was the camel because it looked so incredibly natural!
And After that we were off for a quick cup of rich turkish coffee and a fabulous photograph under the Evil Eye Tree!
Dinner was glorious as usual and before we knew it our 3 days in Cappadocia were over! Lighter, happier and calmer we were ready to take on the world. Sometimes all you need in life is a little Fairy dust from Fairy chimneys perhaps to make the whole world seem bright again!
Now that you know what i’m writing about and I am getting such amazing feedback – I’m going to now make this a weekly blog and update it with a new destination, new hotel, airline review on Wednesdays! So mid week get ready to travel…. even if it’s only via a blog and only for a few minutes! after all any adventure starts first with a little dreaming!
Also please vote on what you’d like me to write about next!