A Charming, Cultural and Crazy City
Our World | On 17, May 2013
When putting together any programme for a client, the term ‘culture’ is often used. Clients often want their groups to be immersed in a local culture that is a real contrast from home. This normally then leads everyone to think Asia, Latin America or even the heart of Africa. However, last week I discovered a little gem of a city that in comparison is right on our doorstep, where I hear you ask?…Istanbul.
There are three elements to Istanbul that make it perfect for any event wanting to incorporate the culture of a distant land. The people, the places and the food of this city will certainly achieve this.
Let’s get the tricky parts out of the way first of all, the traffic is bonkers. There is just no way to sugar-coat it, however in a strange way you start to get used to it. Our scheduled 30 minute airport transfer took longer than it should. Like any major city, there are alternatives; the Metro for example could happily accommodate the needs of a group. Another possibility is to utilise the Bosphorus, plus let’s be honest, there is something cool about hopping on and off a water taxi.
The warmth of the locals
So traffic aside, you can begin to fully enjoy the (Turkish) delights of Istanbul. The people first of all, are warm, friendly and kind. Broken English is common and all you need is the name and address of your hotel written down and you’ll have no problem getting a taxi back there. Go to the Grand Bazaar and experience the locals haggle and barter. Don’t be afraid of being hassled, as the government have tough laws on shop owners being too pushy. Shopping there is a must and bartering will give your group a buzz – in fact it would make a great, fun challenge for guests to have to come back with a list of items at the cheapest price. Embrace your inner Arab and make sure you get the best deal you can. Remember this is how they conduct business, so don’t be shy, get stuck in. In Istanbul you do feel safe, being with a majority female group I can honestly say that none of us felt concerned about being out and about on occasions without our guides. All you will find the locals to be is charming and kind. For me, the true beauty of Istanbul though is that you don’t know where the tourists end and the locals begin. The mix of Europe/Asia creates an incredible diversity that is unique to the area.
Places to visit
Well you are spoilt for choice to be honest, whether you want old culture or ultra modern clubs. Visit Topkapi Palace (Sultan’s Palace) for an eye opener into a forgotten age where it’s hard to comprehend that everything you see use to belong to a single individual. The glamour and luxury of the Palace is truly amazing, so take a good camera and plenty of memory cards. The Blue Mosque and St Sophia Museum are wonderful attractions however some other gems, such as the magical tranquillity of the Basilica Cistern or the Chora Museum, should be on your list. Here you will experience a building that has been used both as a Mosque and as a Church with mosaics that are out of this world. If all of this sounds like too much culture, don’t worry as there is amazing nightlife too. Clubs like Nomads and Reina (right on the Bosphorus) give you the chance to party hard with the young, extravagant and insanely attractive younger generation of Istanbul. Try not to look too surprised (or jealous) when they start arriving on their yachts though.
Finally, the food…you may wonder why/how the food is a key factor but trust me on this you will not be asking that question after your visit. Turkey in general takes meal times seriously and Istanbul is no exception. Firstly a few ground rules, salad and fruit aren’t even regarded as part of a meal. You can eat more here in a couple of days than you will for the remainder of the year!
When your itinerary includes an evening meal that is a kebab, don’t worry. This will be so far from the standard you are used to from the local van after a night out (it may even make you think twice about that next doner!). At the Ottoman Cuisine Restaurant we visited (Asitane) we even got to sample their taster menu. When I say taster menu it was ten courses that included two soups and an onslaught of other dishes to try. Joking aside, Ottoman cuisine is different to anything you will have ever tried. The strong flavours will make you feel you’re on a Master Chef challenge, as your taste buds discover the depths of each dish.
So there you have it, the people, the places and the food of Istanbul. Three elements that we all notice whilst away on trips. In my opinion though only a few places in the world leave such a lasting impression as Istanbul. Istanbul has a position that is unique and therefore gives you a totally different feeling. The Bosphorus has a magic quality that will hypnotise you.
Maybe it is the Asian flavour, maybe it is the European feel…either way this city has something that you cannot put your finger on but at the same time blows you away. All I can say is definitely get out there.
Ash EL Menshawy