Guides from around the world: Istanbul
A couple of years ago, Turkey and Lebanon signed an agreement allowing both populations to visit their neighbors without the need of visa. That opened a lot of touristic and business opportunities.
This year, I went to Istanbul for work at the beginning of the summer season and decided to return with my wife and a bunch of friends to enjoy this cultural and welcoming capital. Why should we travel so far for a holiday when you can enjoy a taste of Europe only an hour and thirty minutes away? Choosing MEA airlines was a perfect choice; they left at 8am and came back at 10pm, giving us plenty of time to enjoy our day. This time, and by chance, we were flying on the new Airbus A320 5000, MEA’s latest arrival. Istanbul is full of surprises, action, activities and life.
Where to stay:
The W Hotel: The W Istanbul is one of those places where you cannot leave with indifferent feelings. The technology used, the colors infused into the interior and the music played around the hotel make each and every moment a special and memorable one. When you arrive at the hotel, a big W welcomes you outside of the normal wooden door where only black exists behind. After entering the lobby, the darkness becomes understandable — trendy indeed with pink lights breaking the dimmed effect and rounded yellow lamps directed at the wall signs. The elevator has the same feel as well as the rooms’ corridor and rooms themselves.
Rixos Pera Hotel: The hotel is located in the heart of the city: Beyoglu, Istanbul, Turkey. It’s the perfect place to have fun and experience the nightlife of the famous Isteklal Street. Isteklal, with its 19th century metropolitan character, hosts one of the most important historic pubs and wine houses, and is just a 5-minute walk from the hotel. Also, its close proximity makes transportation to the shopping and entertainment centers, and cultural and historical places easy. The Rixos Pera Istanbul is one of the best hotels around the city, and I was one of the first to have the chance to try it since it opened few weeks ago.
The Plaza Hotel: Located far away from the touristic area, the plaza is just what you need for a business trip to Istanbul. It’s a few minutes from the business area, the skyscrapers and the two biggest shopping malls around: the Kanyon and Istinye Park. The best part about the Plaza Hotel is the really nice and relaxing view you get from the Piano Bar enjoying the changing colors of the famous Bosporus Bridge.
What to do:
You breath culture around the city. Even-though none of the signs are written in English or any international language, Istanbul is a city easy to get along with. I would recommend downloading the “Word Lens” application from the “Appstore”, as it translates all road signs and writings from any language to English instantly and allows you to start discovering.
I suggest taking the metro to avoid the traffic -Istanbul is a very busy city indeed with a huge amount of cars blocking the roads specially in the early morning and late afternoon- and visit the Ataturk Museum, the Dolmabahce Palace (the Palace of Ataturk located on the Bosphorus shores), the Galata Tower, which is the highest point in the old city of Istanbul located at the end of Istiklal street with its 360degrees view from the top, the famous Haghia Sophia, now a mosque, once a church and still has the Christian writings and icons inside, the Sultanahmet, known as the blue mosque, and the famous Topkapi Palace with its charming architectural details and where the world’s biggest diamond is located.
Where to shop:
Everyone knows the famous Istanbul and their famous fake goods markets. It’s a market where you can find any possible item copied from its original design using the same materials. Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton are some of the big names you can find along the Egyptian Bazaar - the colorful spices market - , Taksim Square, Istiklal Street or the famous Grand Bazaar. Interesting fact: There are 5,500-odd vendors in the Grand Bazaar and shopkeepers cajole and entreat passers-by in a dozen languages. A 31,000 sqm area with more than 61 streets. Shoppers will find a plethora of gold, silver, spices and many other goods; it’s an impressive and colorful souk, where all languages of the world unit. Other important areas like the Arasta bazaar, the fish market, the flower market and others are as interesting as the Grand Bazaar.
Where to eat and dance:
The Winston Brasserie: The Winston Brasserie is one of the nice restaurants that are attached to the “W Hotel” complex in Istanbul. Located on a calm stone pavement street, The Winston is a very nice and tasty restaurant, and one I enjoyed the most around the city. Their menu is listed on double-sided paper and offers a huge and very diversified selection, which includes: breakfast, toasted sandwiches, ice cream, cakes, tea, milkshakes, soft drinks, coffees, soups, starters, salads, crepes, burger & wraps, pastas, noodles, risotto, pizza, chicken, beef and fish. Their wine list is very interesting as well. The discovery: Strogonoff Salad.
The Emporio Armani Ristorante: Same quality and same taste around the world. I’ve been visiting many of the Armani restaurants in different parts of the globe during my worldly journey and my search of all the locations continues. Following the Armani Caffe in Paris, the Emporio Armani in Milan, the Armani Caffe in Dubai and now, the Emporio Armani Ristorante in Istanbul located in the huge and luxurious Istinye Park Mall has been the latest addition to the list. A mouthwatering experience. From the Safran risotto, to the crunchy pizzas and the aldente pasta, a unique experience I would recommend.
Enstitu: The Istanbul Culinary Institute: I wanted to try Enstitu simply for the name. I have not read any reviews about it, and didn’t even find it in any of the tourist magazines around, but as I passed by it while I strolled down the sidewalk, I was intrigued by the name. At the Enstitu, each plate served is a testimony to the care and passion of the dedicated chefs and talented students. After completing their comprehensive foundational training, the students sharpen their skills and gain invaluable hands-on experience in the apprentice kitchen of the Enstitu Restaurant.
Wagamama: The special thing about it starts with the nice red and black logo, the active waiters, the open kitchen and the long tables where everyone sits together. After ordering, waiters write down the plate numbers on the paper in front of each one like they do at the “Entrecôte de Paris” marking how the client wants their meat to be cooked. On my second visit to Istanbul, Wagamama, the Japanese food place was my favorite restaurant during this trip and on my third visit as well. I wanted to make sure my wife tastes it with me so we ordered a large number of choices from the menu that we enjoyed a lot. Wagamama, the international franchise is located at the entrance of the Kanyon Mall, a couple of minutes from downtown Istanbul.
Reina: It's not an option to visit Istanbul without passing by Reina for a dinner or a night out dancing. Reina is the Turkish version of Lebanon's Sky Bar with a more developed dining option. At Reina you have the choice between five different restaurants, or five different cuisines to be more specific. If you are craving Italian, Turkish or French fine dining, Reina has them all serving food until 12am since a transformation occurs at midnight where everybody stands up and joins the dancing experience that lasts until dawn.
So, would you be visiting Istanbul this summer?