Incredible Istanbul!

Friday, 23 August 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A city located on two continents – Europe and Asia – and the capital of three empires with over 8,500 years of civilisation, Istanbul is nothing short of incredible. It ticks all the boxes, offering a rich history, fabulous culture, stunning sights, world-class dining, huge malls featuring top local and global brands, heaps of entertainment and so much more. Turkish Airlines hosted a tour of Istanbul for local media including the Daily FT a few days ago, treating its guests with a fully-packed exciting itinerary that showcased the sights and sounds of Istanbul in all their splendour. Following is a breakdown of the first two days of the memorable tour Text and pix by Marianne David DAY 1 Having left Colombo the night before, we reach Istanbul at around 5:30 a.m. on 15 August and receive a warm welcome from Turkish Airlines Marketing and Sales Specialist Mehmet Tiryakioglu. Given the early hour, we head off to our hotel to check in. During this tour, we are based at the Novotel Hotel, which offers stunning views of the Marmara Sea. Unwilling to waste time resting, we have breakfast (which boasts a splendid selection of cheeses and olives, which turn up on the table during almost all our meals in the subsequent days), freshen up and head out to see the city as it awakens. Spice Bazaar With visits to its more famous sites scheduled for the upcoming weekend, we choose to visit the Spice Bazaar, the centre for spice trade in Istanbul, and after passing the ancient Byzantine-era City Walls, we soon find ourselves walking down cobblestone streets, gaping in wonder at the rows of spices, dried fruits, nuts, cheeses, Turkish delight, ceramics of vibrant hues, jewellery (with most featuring the symbol believed to ward off the evil eye in bright blues) and other interesting items on display. Meh-met stops a vendor walking by and treats us to some crisp and tasty Simit – traditional Turkish bread shaped in a circle and covered with sesame seeds. We purchase plenty of Turkish delight and nuts, which are quite reasonably priced, and wander about for a few hours more, before heading back to the hotel. Interview with Turkish Airlines President and CEO In the afternoon we prepare for our interview with Turkish Airlines President and CEO Dr. Temel Kotil. According to Dr. Kotil, Turkish Airlines wants to conquer the world. “We are very ambitious,” he asserted, launching into a comprehensive presentation on the airline and its growth. “We are a mid-sized company working hard with big ambitions. We work very hard – 25 hours a day – to be a winner. There is a global shift and a huge opportunity for airline companies to shift existing capacities. Right now there are enough seats but not enough passengers. 25% of seats worldwide are empty. If we try we know we can do better than others, so we are trying very hard,” he explained. Commenting on what makes the airline stand out, he stated: “We give customers more than they are expecting. We believe in what we are doing and that we can be one of the largest airlines on earth. We are experiencing continuous success due to the global shift. Right now we are flying to more places than any airline in the world, with 103 countries and 239 destinations.” What makes the airline successful is that none of the markets it is flying to are saturated, he emphasised. With 235 craft today from 85 in 2005, the airline also has a host of awards to its credit, including that of ‘Best Airline in Europe’. Stating that the Sri Lankan operation is profitable, Dr. Kotil revealed that Turkish Airlines intends to commence daily flights here by December. Grand Bazaar In the evening we visit the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world and a major landmark in Istanbul, with over 4,000 shops. The Grand Bazaar attracts between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors a day and we visit around two hours before closing time (7 p.m.), which doesn’t give us much time to wander around such a massive complex, although we do find plenty of interesting shops, featuring everything from books, leather, carpets and ceramics to clothes, bags and jewellery. It’s worth visiting even if you’re not into shopping because the place and the people – from stores filled to bursting point with all kinds of things to grandmothers calmly knitting away on the streets and young men peddling perfumes with a whole lot of perseverance – are sure to grab your attention. Dinner turns out to be quite the Turkish ‘delight’ at the famous Hamdi restaurant, which serves up delicious kebabs and the best baklava we tasted during our stay, and also offers stunning views. Reservations are a must here; the place is immensely popular. DAY 2 First up on day two are visits to Turkish Do&Co and the Aviation Academy. Turkish Do&Co boasts an expanding portfolio of successful relations with quality-focused airlines and high profile event clients, such as Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Cathay Pacific, Euro 2012, Formula 1 and many others. It has 21 gourmet kitchens in eight countries on three continents. A 50/50 joint venture between Do&Co and Turkish Airlines, Turkish Do&Co produces a staggering 150,000 meals a day. It also features perfect gourmet entertainment with its flying chefs, introduced on board with the aim of increasing quality and achieving new standards. The Do&Co Academy in Istanbul is the most modern cabin crew training centre in Europe. The Do&Co visit begins with a delicious business class meal in its A340 Business Class mock-up which serves as a ‘classroom’ and ends with a tour of the kitchens and we then take off for our tour of the Aviation Academy. With many awards to its credit, the Turkish Airlines Aviation Academy – an Approved Aviation Academy by all international bodies that accredit companies providing such training – is a state-of-the art academy offering the very best in terms of technology and high-quality training. During our tour of the facility, we see many simulators and also get to watch cabin crew being trained on how to deal with an emergency situation. With 60 highly experienced instructors, the company has been offering professional aviation training since 1982. It was selected as a Regional Training Partner and IATA Certified Training Centre in 2011, becoming IATA’s first and only strategic partner in Turkey. With around 2,000 courses and seminars offered annually, the centre trains around 35,000 people per year, while 50,000 people receive training opportunities via distance learning. During 2012, training was provided to 4,068 cockpit personnel. Bosphorus cruise At 4 p.m. we reach the banks of the Bosphorus – the straits that divide Europe from Asia – and get on board a vessel packed with lots of people for a highly-anticipated two-hour cruise. As we sail past ancient and modern villas on the banks of the Bosphorus and under the bridges that connect the European and Asian continents, it’s hard to believe we are actually in this incredible city, enjoying the spectacular view and being lulled by the beautiful Bosphorus, which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. Galata Tower After the cruise, it’s time to climb the nine-storey Galata Tower, a medieval stone tower in the Galata area which is 66.90 metres tall and one of the oldest towers in the world. This isn’t hard to do since the tower has been renovated and features a lift up to the seventh floor. It is believed that the tower was built in 507 CE. The panoramic views from the balcony that encircles the tower at the top take your breath away – the best being the shimmering sight of The Golden Horn as the sun sets. An inlet of the Bosphorus which divides the city of Istanbul and forms a natural harbour, The Golden Horn has sheltered Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and other ships for thousands of years. Afterwards we enjoy a traditional meal of freshly-made pita oozing with cheese plus various toppings and then it’s time to take off on our individual outings. Museum of Innocence Two of us choose to visit Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence – yes, there is an actual museum carrying the same name as the book. According to the museum’s website, from the very beginnings of the project, since the 1990s, Pamuk conceived of novel and museum together. It is the world’s first museum to be inspired by a novel. Our visit has a frantic element to it when we find out that the museum closes at 9 p.m. and we rush there, heaving sighs of relief when we find it down a little poorly-lit street and we run in, eager to explore without wasting precious time. The museum exhibits the objects and images that make up the story, while the website states that the biggest and most authentic object in the museum is the building in which it is housed, where the Keskin family once lived. With three floors connected by a wooden staircase, the museum displays 83 boxes which correspond to the 83 chapters in the book. The pieces on display start with a wall of 4,213 butts pinned inside a glass case like butterflies (Kemal kept one of Fusun’s stubs from every day of their relationship) along with handwritten notes under them and go on to include thousands of items, from clothes and photographs, to jewellery, food and various other items – porcelain dogs, old radios, telephones, combs, baby shoes and much more. As you climb each floor, you find yourself wandering deeper and deeper into the novel, unable to believe your own eyes, given the thought and detail that has gone into each display. In the attic, which features the room where Kemal spent the last years of his life, there is a wall with the handwritten pages of the manuscript plus doodles – a wonderful surprise and a perfect ending.  (The Museum of Innocence pictures on this page are from the museum website.) Day 3 and 4 On day 3, we visit the key tourist attractions in Istanbul: The Hippodrome, Sultan Ahmed Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque), Hagia Sophia (first a church, then a mosque and now a museum), Basilica Cistern (featured in Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’) and Topkapi Palace. On day 4 we take a trip all the way to where the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea and visit the Yoros Castle there, then return to the city and visit the Suleymaniye Mosque, walk around Taksim Square stopping at stores all the way, visit the beautiful St. Anthony of Padua Church and end our day at the mall to get in some last minute shopping before saying goodbye to Istanbul. Read all about day 3 and 4 in the Weekend FT tomorrow.