Istanbul, Paradise City

Being pummelled on a slippery marble slab by a 45 year old man with a bald head, handlebar moustache, biceps the size of rugby balls and a belly the size of Mars certainly felt as if I was in a Bond film.
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And to be sure, I might well have been as the site of said exploit was, Galatasaray, the oldest Hammam (Turkish baths) in Istanbul that was indeed the location for that ever so famous scene with Sean Connery in From Russia With Love. Yet, built in 1481 by Sultan Bayezid II, from outside, said Hamman looks more like a working men’s club in Crewe than a national institution but, on entering, what one finds is a magnificent domed hall that, decorated with ornate mosaic tiles and filled with steam, is more reminiscent of something eminently exotic from that most bafflingly foreign of tomes, The Arabian Nights.

To be sure, such dichotomy is entirely indicative of Istanbul itself that, although inherently Muslim, fields enough alcohol fuelled, free minded, let’s get down and let rip shenanigans as any European city worth it’s onions. In fact, so impressed was I that, after just a few days enjoying it’s magnificent hospitality I was asking myself the question, ‘why on earth had I not visited Istanbul before?’

My first inkling of the cities worth was my hotel- the Ritz Carlton- whose Presidential suite, the size of a London infant school, proffered a Jacuzzi on its spacious balcony that over looked the Bosphorous, a dining room that sat twelve, a bed the size of Wales and a bath big enough to play water polo   while it’s concierge service was beyond reproach.

Next up was dinner at the incredibly stylish, Topaz, in Gumussuyu, which designed by   one of Turkey's top designers, Koray Ozgen, again over looks both the Bosphorous and Dolmabahçe Palace and proffers quite superb Mediterranean and Ottoman cuisine. I went for crayfish carpaccio to start, grilled neck of lamb and crushed wheat risotto with porcini mushrooms for main followed by poached apple and homemade mastic ice cream- all washed own with a quite superb Chianti- and so impressed was that I walked away on my first night in the city with a grin as wide as Morecambe Bay.

The next morning, I woke, pulled open my curtains and saw Istanbul in the daylight. A big, beautiful and extremely busy metropolis (it is the fifth largest city in world and home to 12.5 million people) that, full to the gills with cars, activity and more cars, is considered by many (including yours truly) to be the Rome of the Muslim world and as such proffers architectural wonders that put many a European city to shame. The Blue Mosque, built between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed, is a construction that more than equals the heady delights of Westminster Cathedral, the Topkapi Palace throws a curve ball unexpected by Western eyes while the Hagia Sophia, the world’s fourth largest basilica following St. Peters in Rome, Duomo in Milan, and St. Pauls in London, is a wonder to behold. And then there is, The Grand Bazaar  (parts of which go back to 1546) that, maybe the world’s oldest and most beautiful shopping arcade, is another domed masterpiece where antique jewellery and Ottoman artifacts go for a well-considered song alongside every spice known to man.

After a well executed schlepp around all of the aforementioned, on the second night of my stay, I had a trawl around the bars of Bebek, home to the young and trendy, after which I was taken to a restaurant called, Lipsi, in the up market shopping area of Nisnatasi, that serving a mix of Greek and Turkish food entertained a clientele that comprised of largely very attractive females who, up for a good night, after dinner grabbed hold of the venues plethora of tambourines and percussion and danced on the tables. Subsequently, dragged away kicking and screaming, my next port of call was the night club, Blackk that, as sharp as a butcher’s cleaver, was indeed black all over, played acceptable music and was again full of the cities beautiful peeps. We ended the night at Reina that, more of a small village than one of the one of the cities most famous clubs, is packed with Turkish celebs, millionaires, media players and bundles of models.

Another essential destination for any adventurer is Beyoglu. Built in the 1800’s the area, considered the newer European district of the city, is home to the tram line and the most incredible mezze restaurants that, on Nevizade Sokak behind Çiçek Pasaji (Flower Passage) on Istiklal Caddesi , have to be visited for an afternoon snack (just point at what  you want from the selection displayed) and the necessary libation. Subsequently you could do a lot worse than follow my lead and bowl up to the restaurant/bar Leb-i derya in Beyoglu, sip a cocktail at Ulus 29, where Turkeys affluent models, actresses, moguls, and tycoons hang tough and end up in the infamous 360 Istanbul- the venue that has long been synonymous with hep cat Istanbul and proffers a quite astounding 360 degree panoramic view of the city.

Once known as Constantinople, Istanbul extends both on the European and the Asian sides of the Bosphorous and as such is the only metropolis in the world that is situated on two continents and in it truth feels like it. A city that feels curiously Western, intrinsically Eastern yet still magnificently ‘foreign’ Istanbul is a splendidly sophisticated anomaly that needs to be enjoyed.

Chris Sullivan travelled on Turkish Airlines: +44 207 766 93 00 for more information, please visit the web site - and stayed at the Ritz Carlton Tel: +90 212 334-444  -
For bookings:
Galatasaray, Istanbul Phone +90-(212) 251 86 53

Topaz - Ömer Avni Mahallesi İnönü Cad. No. 50. Gümüşsuyu Tel. No.: + 90 212 249 10 <>
Lipsi - Abdi İpekçi Cad. Azer İş Merkezi No :40/C Nişantaşı / IST
Tel : (212) 296 95 <>  <>
Blackk -; tel: 0212/236-7256 <>
Reina 44 Muallim Naci Cd Ortaköy, İstanbul, Turkey
+90 212 259 5919
Leb-i derya - Kumbaracı yokuşu 57/6 Tünel, Beyoğlu
Tel: (0212) 293 <>
Ulus 29. Adnan Saygun Cad, Ulus Parki Içi 1, Ulus Istanbul Telephone: 212 358 2929.
360 Restaurant Istanbul   +90 212 251 10 42 – 43