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The Call of Istanbul

It was the afternoon of our first day in Istanbul. We emerged from the cool comfort of the gleaming and glamorous Divan Hotel into a high-end neighborhood of late 20th century buildings and crossed a wide boulevard teeming with traffic. On the opposite side in a municipal park the size of a large city block, rose bushes were abloom and the fragrance of  honeysuckle was so strong it was almost dizzying. As were the crowds of pedestrians. Long-legged young women in mini skirts and high-heeled shoes strode by ageless women, their heads covered with babushkas, who shuffled along in black coats that reached down to their ankles. A woman in a chador peered out from the secret interior of her shapeless black garment. Serious looking men in business attire were trailed by noisy shoe-shine boys. Vendors steamed ears of corn in big pots, sold ice cream, proffered cherries from big wooden crates reclining in wheelbarrows, hawked lottery tickets.

This is Taksim Park named for the city’s water distribution system which used to be piped to various quarters from the small stone building with an odd cone-shaped roof that stands adjacent to Taksim Square at the head of the park.  We stopped to admire an imposing monument in the center of the square that commemorates Turkey’s War of Independence. Beneath it, a boy of about twelve, wearing a cape and feathered hat of “Three Musketeer” variety was posing for a photographer while a woman standing alongside beamed with maternal pride. What was the occasion, we asked our guide Hasan. The celebration of the young man’s circumcision, he told us, an event that typically ushers in puberty in this democratic, but largely Moslem land.

Taksim Square leads to Istiklal Street, a broad and lively byway of shops, restaurants and cafes, offices and embassies housed in an assortment of nineteenth century buildings that stand shoulder to shoulder along an avenue closed to all traffic save a one-car trolley that winds its way up and down the single track in its center. This is the heart of Beyoglu, a neighborhood that a century ago had been the mercantile center of European Istanbul where a multitude of nationalities lived, conducted business, and frequented the area’s sophisticated hotels, theaters, cafes and shops. To this day the diversity of the region’s churches, synagogues and mosques cannot be equaled anywhere in the world.

The smells of coffee and tobacco and a melding of music wafted out from doorways. We heard the strains of “Tumbalalika,” a Eastern-sounding lullaby a favorite uncle used to sing, blaring American rock, Arabic and Greek songs all competing with street musicians playing accordions and different kinds of pipes. Then suddenly in the midst of the all the cacophony, a high, unaccompanied voice pierced the air with an Oriental melody sung with great feeling and vibrato. Around us, people continued about their business seemingly unmindful of the song that seemed to be floating above the rooftops. Once again we turned to Hasan. “It is the call to prayer,” he said, indicating the mosque at the end of the street. Looking up to the minaret, we saw a man in a white robe surrounded by four loud speakers into which he sang sequentially. “This happens five times a day in every mosque,” he added. “But if you don’t hear the call, you can find the prayer schedule in any newspaper.” 

In the week that followed, the call to prayer would accompany us, stopping us from whatever we were doing, compelling us to listen. It punctuated our days with the reminder of how strong a current of spirituality runs through the veins of this fascinating, many faceted city.

The Moslem story is but a latter chapter in the history of this part of the world where civilizations are layered like strata of stone. From the terrace outside our eighth floor room in the Divan Hotel we could see the Bosphorous, the strait that Jason and the Argonauts had sailed in search of the Golden Fleece. Istanbul was Byzantium then, named for Byzas, leader of the Megarians, who founded the city in the seventh century B.C. some two hundred years before myths like Jason’s had been incorporated into the standard Greek repertoire. Myth and history blend artfully in any account of Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul.

View of the European side of Istanbul from where the Bosphorous meets the Golden Horn - Click to Enlarge
View of the European side of Istanbul from where the Bosphorous meets the Golden Horn
In cleaving the land mass between the Black Sea to the north and the Marmara Sea to the south, the Bosphorous separates Europe from Asia. Istanbul is on its southern banks, and is itself  divided by a winding inlet called the Golden Horn -- after Keroessa, the granddaughter of Zeus and mother of Byzas -- which flows into the basin where the Bosphorous and Marmara meet. Our first night in Istanbul, we stood on the terrace looking across the midnight blue water to Asia and  tried to position ourselves in this complicated locale that stands at the crux of so many civilizations. 

The next day we took a taxi from hilly Beyoglu down to the waterfront neighborhood Galata and crossed the Golden Horn over a long bridge lined with fishermen to Istanbul’s Old City. Beyoglu and Galata, which have buildings dating back to Byzantine times, can hardly be thought of as new communities.  Still they belong to a more modern social and economic order than the Old City which appears rooted in an older kind of commercial world. At the foot of the bridge, an enormous multi-domed mosque spreads out with masses of people circulating about it. The waterfront is filled with peddlers, bands of blind musicians, boats unloading fruits and vegetables. Shopkeepers set their good on stalls outside the doorways; streets are labyrinths winding upwards, abruptly turning and disappearing into sudden alleyways.

Spice Bazaar in the Old City - click to enlarge
Spice Bazaar in the Old City
Our taxi drove along the waterfront to the southeast tip, a peninsula at the end of  the Old City where Hasan was waiting for us at Sultanahmet Square. This is Istanbul’s most ancient section, the place where, legend has it, Byzas founded Byzantium. History tells us Emperor Constantine ruled from this district after he re-named the city for himself and proclaimed it capital of the Eastern Roman Empire in the fourth century A.D.  

The Milion Stone that marked the “zero point” where all roads of the world began was erected here; we were able to see its remains.  After Constantine adopted Christianity, the region became the spiritual and administrative center of the new faith and then the Eastern Church until the Ottoman conquest of 1454.  Thereafter Sultanahmet was headquarters for the ruling Turks, the site for palaces, mosques, monuments, and the city’s largest bath. What better place, we thought, to begin our exploration into Istanbul’s past.

“I have surpassed you, O Solomon,” declared Emperor Justinian in 537 at the inauguration of the largest church in the world. It has subsequently been surpassed in size by St. Paul’s in London, St. Peter’s in Rome and the Duomo in Milan, but for sheer grandeur and majesty it remains  unsurpassable. Although the Ottomans converted the church into a mosque, whitewashed its Christian paintings and mosaics and removed its ikons and statues, the structure remained undisturbed through the centuries. In 1935, it became the museum that to this day visitors from all over the world throng to, exerting an appeal that extends beyond any specific faith. 

Interior of the Haghia Sophia - click to enlarge
Interior of the Haghia Sophia
Interior of the Haghia Sophia - click to enlarge
Interior of the Haghia Sophia

The morning of our visit, hundreds of people were roaming through its vast interior, international tour groups, bands of traditionally dressed Turkish women, crowds of families. Yet despite the multitudes, the immensity of the place made it possible to feel alone. Light filtered into the cool darkness through what seemed like hundreds of arched windows rimmed with patterns of colorful stained glass. The enormous central dome seemingly soars up to heaven from its rectangular basilica, surrounded by pairs of semi domes and six smaller domes. Looking up, we experienced an overwhelming sense of space. Later, having climbed the massive stone steps to the upper galleries, we looked down on the nave for an equally spectacular perspective.

One hundred seven columns brought from all parts of the ancient world support the domes’ great weight; some came from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Their carved decorations, the church’s great bronze doors, the painting and mosaics depicting Biblical scenes and Byzantine royalty, including a tenth century mosaic panel of Constantine and Justinian presenting Constantinople and the Haghia Sophia to Mary holding the baby Jesus in her arms, represent Byzantine art at its most exquisite. 

Standing in the central nave, we had a sensation that something was off kilter; the altar was not quite centered. Later we learned an error in the original design was detected after it was too late to do anything about it and resulted in the structure being slightly off. Having lasted for nearly a millennium and a half, however, the Haghia Sophia must be on sure enough footing. To us, the less than perfect balance only added to its majesty and charm.

A long plaza separates the Haghia Sophia from the Blue Mosque named for its magnificent interior of blue and white Iznik tiles. On both sides of the Bosphorous, the Istanbul skyline is dominated by the graceful domes and pointed minarets of mosques. Each one we saw beckoned as each call to prayer exerted its particular tug. But time would allow us only a visit to this one built by Sultan Ahmet I in the early seventeenth century. Positioned with its back to the shore of the Golden Horn, the Blue Mosque’s exterior with its six minarets and multitude of domes is an enchanting vision while its interior is a study in serenity. Floors of the huge open space are covered with patterned rugs, domes are painted red, white, blue and gold, the many arched windows have stained glass panels of vivid blues and golds.

The long stretch of greenery that runs alongside the Blue Mosque was once the Hippodrome where chariots raced in ancient times. We stopped to admire its three remaining monuments: a tenth century stone pillar, a bronze column from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and an obelisk commemorating a Pharaoh’s victory in 1550 B.C. -- enough to immerse anyone in the past.

Suddenly Hasan broke the spell by suggesting we stop for lunch at a place on Sultanahmet Square directly across from the Tourist Office. “It’s a favorite of ours,” he said. “The proprietor, Mr. Colpan, is a wonderful man. We turn to him whenever a tourist has problems, and he always helps us out.”

No sooner did we approach the bustling deep and narrow restaurant with the leg of lamb roasting on a spit in the doorway and took a look at the name: “The World Famous Pudding Shop” than the proverbial bell went off.  We’d heard of this place.  In the 1960’s and 70’s, people we knew who backpacked across Europe and Asia used Istanbul as a midpoint. They’d talked about a Pudding Shop where they got together to drink Turkish coffee, sing along to guitar music, collect mail, plan routes. They’d talked about the owners, a pair of brothers who helped out kids embarking on the search for nirvana in India and Tibet or crashing upstairs in the rough hostel on their way back. If they were broke, the brothers loaned them money. If they had run away from home, the brothers helped them establish contact with their families. If they got into trouble, the brothers interceded on their behalf.

Hasan introduced us to the younger brother, Namik Colpan, a warm and garrulous man who told us his brother IDRIS Idris had passed away in the mid 1980’s. From Namik we learned how their father opened a pastry shop on the site in 1957 whose specialty was the sweet soft puddings that gave the place its name and is still served to this day. Once the routes to the east became less safe and Istanbul ceased being a transit point, the Pudding Shop ceased being a hippie-haven.  But it has since expanded into a self-service style restaurant serving all manner of Turkish delights. Namik muses, “Sometimes middle aged Americans, obviously successful, well dressed, come up to me and say ‘What did you do to the place? It used to be such a nice café.’ They want to see it the way it used to be. I tell them ‘You have moved on in life; so have I.’” 

Nakim Colpan (right) and his nephew at the World Famous Pudding Shop - Click to Enlarge
Nakim Colpan (right) and his nephew at the World Famous Pudding Shop
Namik also has moved in the direction of hotel ownership. Forty years after the Pudding Shop first opened for business, he purchased the five-family apartment house where he had raised his family and transformed it into a four-star twenty six-room boutique property, named -- appropriately enough -- the Blue House Hotel. We visited the Blue House Hotel that night and were shown around by Namik’s son Faruk who as general manager is continuing the family tradition of hospitality. 

A small garden restaurant is near the entrance, but we chose to dine at the Blue House’s rooftop restaurant that had just opened for the summer season and commands stunning views of the confluence of the Golden Horn, Bosphorous and Marmara Sea. From our table on the roof’s edge protected by a plexi-glass wall, one of us faced the Blue Mosque, the other the Haghia Sophia. It was still light out when we arrived, and from this enviable position we watched darkness fall, the moon rise, the Blue Mosque become illuminated by blue and white lights in turn, and the red stone of the Haghia Sophia become bathed in gold. 

The Haghia Sophia from the rooftop of the Blue Villa - Click to Enlarge
The Haghia Sophia from the rooftop of the Blue Villa
The Blue Mosque from the rooftop of the Blue House - Click to Enlarge
The Blue Mosque from the rooftop of the Blue House
Directly below us some five stories down, we saw people at tables in what looked like an outdoor café. Later we learned it was a smoke shop where visitors smoked water pipes and drank Turkish tea. A trio composed of a kind of tom-tom drum and two long and flat string instruments was playing traditional Turkish music. Suddenly three men dressed in white caftans with cone-shaped head coverings stepped onto a little patio, crossed their arms, placing each hand on the opposite shoulder, and began to slowly spin around.  Looking down at the whirling dervishes - Click to Enlarge
Looking down at the whirling dervishes

As the music’s tempo quickened, they raised their arms above their heads and twirled faster and faster until they looked like spinning tops. When it seemed they could go no faster, the tempo began to decrease as did their rate of spinning until both came to a halt. Unexpectedly we had witnessed the dance of the whirling dervishes.

Faruk Colpan at the Blue House’s rooftop restaurant - Click to Enlarge
Faruk Colpan at the Blue House’s rooftop restaurant
Between the spectacular view and the equally spectacular whirling dervishes, we thought it might be difficult to concentrate on food, but the Blue House’s traditional Turkish offerings proved to be their own attention-getters. Faruk suggested a full bodied red wine called Yakut to accompany an excellent dinner of thyme seasoned grilled chicken and eggplant baked with cheese. Produced by Kavaklidere, it was one of several Turkish wines we sampled during our stay, all of which led us to believe in the great promise of the nation’s fledgling wine industry.

The next morning prompted by memories of the movie where Melina Mecouri plans and nearly succeeds in a fantastic jewel heist, we returned to Sultanahmet to see the actual dagger and jeweled treasures of Topkapi Palace only to discover the Treasury Room was among those sections closed for renovations. But we did get to see enough of  Topkapi to understand why so many consider it one of the wonders of the world.

Set amidst gardens on the top of gently sloping hills surrounded by Byzantine sea walls on one side and Ottoman land walls on the other, this complex of pavilions, apartments, courtyards, and kiosks served as royal residence, seat of government, and symbol of the Ottoman Empire for four hundred years. Its construction began in 1472 during the reign of the conqueror Sultan Mehmet with additions and alterations made by successive sultans through the mid nineteenth century. The imposing entrance to Topkapi Palace - Click to Enlarge
The imposing entrance to Topkapi Palace.

Accompanied by Hasan and, for the second time on this trip, the intoxicating aroma of honeysuckle, we wandered through a setting unlike any European palace or castle. Arranged around a vast open space are a multitude of buildings that lead into courtyards, domed pavilions framed by arched pillars, and octagon-shaped kiosks – all of great detail and beauty. Each had its own purpose from the rooms displaying the sultans’ collections of Chinese porcelain, to the kiosks reserved for doctors and pharmacists, to the kiosk holding the relics of the prophet Mohammad where a man in a small glass booth ceaselessly chants passages from the Koran.

The largest crowds lined up to tour Topkapi’s harem although only a small portion of the labyrinth where the sultan, his mother, wives, children and all their attendants lived is open to the public. Here are perhaps the most beautiful and elaborate examples of sixteenth and seventeenth century Turkish craftsmanship: walls of Iznik tiles, doors and cupboards inlaid with mother of pearl, floors covered with exquisite rugs, domes painted in elaborate design, arched windows outlined with vivid stained glass panels, deep sofas laden with cushions of luxuriously embroidered textiles.

The knowledgeable and efficient guide who addressed her remarks in English and Turkish to a group of about 100 people, prompted us to move along. But how we longed to linger, to absorb the moods of mystery and intrigue, to speculate on what went on in these rooms.

“Oh to be a sultan,” one of us said.

Looking up in one of Topkapi’s harem rooms - click to enlarge
Looking up in one of Topkapi’s harem rooms
A tour of Topkapi Palace provides an interesting insight into the direction of the Ottoman Empire over time, how as the centuries passed, the sultans became more enamored of European tastes, how Arabic design gave way to western arts and artifacts – particularly in the latter-day affection for crystal chandeliers. Surely this shift had something to do with the decision to ultimately abandon Topkapi and relocate the imperial residence and offices to the other side of the city, the more modern, more European part of Istanbul. Coincidentally or not, the move coincided with the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Empire.

In step with the imperial chronology, we taxied back across the Golden Horn and followed the shoreline north to the site of Dolmabahce Palace, which was completed in 1854 at a cost of five million gold pieces. Unlike Topkapi, this structure so obviously belongs in the tradition of upper-end European palaces, it is often compared to Versailles. The chandelier hanging in its great reception hall, a gift from Queen Victoria to Sultan Abdulmecit, is the largest in the world, weighing 4.5 tons. And it is but one of 36 fabulous fixtures of Baccarat, Bohemian, and Murano design in this palace of  285 rooms and 43 reception halls whose interior décor was, in large measure, the work of the man who designed the Paris Opera.

The entrance to Dolmabahce Palace - click to enlarge
The entrance to Dolmabahce Palace
A series of interlocking white stone buildings stretching along the Bosphorous shore, Dolmabahce combines classical, Baroque and Rococo themes although in the intricacies of design, it reminded us of the Manueline structures we had seen in Lisbon.  After passing through a great wedding cake-like gate, we strolled through beautifully tended gardens adorned with fountains and statues before joining up with a tour led by an earnest young man whose voice was giving out as a result of lecturing to so many visitors. 

He led our group  down hallways decorated with paintings of Istanbul scenes by Italian artists and through state offices into a great meeting hall with entrances on either end: on the European side it led off a roadway; on the Bosphorous off a pier where boats arriving from the Asian side docked.

We climbed the famed stairway with crystal spindles that divides in two at a midpoint landing. “People tell us it’s like the staircase in the movie ‘Titanic,’” our guide joked as he escorted us into the Ambassadorial Hall illuminated by a one-ton Baccarat chandelier. In this gold-plated hall where the sultan received visitors from other lands, the floor is three types of wood laid in a star pattern. Its central portion is covered by a large Herkimer carpet and, in stark contrast, two bear rugs -- gifts from Czar Nicholas II. 

Gardens of Dolmabahce face the Bosphorous - Click to Enlarge
Gardens of Dolmabahce face the Bosphorous
Furnishings in this palace are largely European – chairs, tables, cabinets in the style of Napoleon and Louis XV. But the carpets and textiles are made by Turkish artisans, and the prayer rooms which face in the direction of Mecca have only carpets, low stools and sofas.

Again, the biggest crowds lined up to see the harem. Here the apartments of  the black eunuchs, the only men permitted in the complex where according to our guide “not even male flies were allowed,” were open to the public. Like the rest of Dolmabahce, the harem’s opulent furnishings and arrangements were far more European than Topkapi’s with canopied beds and dressing tables in rooms of private apartments.

In 1922, the last of the Ottomans was installed in the palace as caliph but with the end of the caliphate, he was removed and ordered to leave the country. Two years later, Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic, directed the passage of a law that declared Dolmabahce and all the imperial palaces, mansions, and lodges property of the nation. Ataturk himself  resided in the white marble palace towards the end of his life and died there 1938.

The gate to Dolmabahce Palace - Click to Enlarge
The gate to Dolmabahce Palace
From the Dolmabahce, it is a ten minute drive up along the Bosphorous shore to Ciragan Palace which at the time the National Palaces Trust was formed was a neglected ruin. In its long but checkered history that began in the late sixteenth century, it had been a waterside villa for members of the royal family which over the centuries was successively torn down and rebuilt before finally succumbing to fire in 1910. 

Some seventy five years later, the Kempinski Hotel Group from Germany decided to lease and refurbish the palace, build a five star luxury hotel on adjoining property, and out of the two create the extraordinary Ciragan Palace Hotel Kempinski

We walked with the young and enthusiastic public relations manager Evren Kaya through the sparkling lobby of the modern hotel into the gardens at the rear that leveled off before an immense swimming pool whose waters seemed to flow right into the Bosphorous.  It was an optical illusion of sorts. Nearing, we saw there was a terrace on the far side of the pool; umbrellas that  appeared to be bobbing in the water actually shaded lounge chairs.

“When the Ciragan Palace opened in 1991 after four years of renovation, it was one of the first of the luxury hotels in Istanbul,” Evren told us. “ The owners saw the city’s potential before others did.” We were walking across the gardens now in the direction of the palace past a cobblestone deck on the water’s edge furnished with small tables and white deck chairs where a jazz combo performs nightly. 

Ciragan Palace (left) and the new hotel forming the Ciragan Palace Hotel Kempinski - Click to Enlarge
Ciragan Palace (left) and the new hotel forming the Ciragan Palace Hotel Kempinski
Just beyond stood the palace in all its architectural grandeur, a white marble structure lined with classical pillars and great arched windows.  The interior repeats the nineteenth century Ottoman palatial themes like crystal spindles in stairways, a wealth of huge chandeliers, inlaid wooden floors and Turkish rugs, extensive use of blue and white Iznik tiles. But the color scheme takes leave of the traditional warm hues in favor of riotous sherbet shades of  apricot, shocking pink, and chartreuse. The look is altogether festive.
The Hamam (Turkish Bath) in the Ciragan Palace often used for cocktail parties - Click to Enlarge
The Hamam (Turkish Bath) in the Ciragan Palace often used for cocktail parties
Evren showed us the vast ballrooms, the Blue Room where a performance of “Sultan’s Night” features exotic belly dancing, and the hamam (Turkish bath) that has been carefully restored to its very bathroom fittings and is a unique and favored setting for cocktail parties with its tiled and marbled alcoves and star-shaped skylights. 
Waiters in formation beneath the balustrade of the Tugra Restaurant, Ciragan Palace - Click to Enlarge
Waiters in formation beneath the balustrade of the Tugra Restaurant, Ciragan Palace
But our ultimate destination was the Tugra Restaurant which specializes in Classical Ottoman and Nouvelle Turkish cuisine. Here Evren took her leave and put us in the hands of the gracious maitre d’ Malhud Bakmakci who suggested a table on the balcony this beautiful evening overlooking the grand balustrade that led to a terrace fronting the Bosphorous. 

Malhud started us off with a perky aperitif of orange and lemon juice, a mango flavored liqueur and Baccardi to prepare us for the overwhelming menu of manifold selections organized into tasting, modern Turkish, and traditional Ottoman menus.

White contemplating the options, we were presented with labas, small pitas with white and dark sesame seeds, and a pair of  amuse bouches: a cone of bulgar stuffed with cardoman-seasoned chopped beef and an exceptional chicken pate with nuts and spices.

After some deliberation we made our decisions: (echoes of choosing one from Column A, one from Column B, one from Column C in the Chinese restaurants of our childhood): a yogurt soup with mint; a salad of grapefruit, shredded cabbage and mint; a sour soup with red lentil, chickpeas and eggplant; red mullet;  spinach ravioli; grilled turbot with carrot sauce served with saffron-flavored bulgar and to accompany this range of dishes the aromatic and fruity Chardonnay Serafin we had enjoyed several times during our Istanbul stay. Dessert was quince, pumpkin, figs and walnuts in a goat cream, baklava. Each dish was delicious, novel in its seasonings and combinations of flavors, meticulously served.

Night fell.  Lights came up along the edge of the Bosphorus and on the pleasure boats, ferries, and steamers plying the strait.  In the distance, just before Bogazici Koprusu, the bridge that spans the continents and looks a lot like the Golden Gate, an illuminated cruise shop twinkled like a palace’s crystal chandelier. Once again on this Istanbul journey, we were struck by unexpected music, this time coming from the dining room inside. We followed the melody to three beautiful young women playing traditional Turkish music on a piano, zither, and miniature cello. A thought crossed our minds: maybe this is the kind of music the “Iliad” was recited to – how easily it could  produce the kind of trance the ancient poets aimed at.

Maitre d’ Malhud Bakmakci (left) and chef Fabrice Zanelle at the Tugra Restaurant, Ciragan Palace - Click to Enlarge
Maitre d’ Malhud Bakmakci (left) and chef Fabrice Zanelle at the Tugra Restaurant, Ciragan Palace
Our reverie was broken by the appearance of  chef Fabrice Zanelle who joined us for coffee. We had no problem paying our compliments to a chef who has clearly mastered the intricacies of Turkish cuisine both new and old. Fabrice demurred. The Parisian native who came to Istanbul by way of the Russian Tea Room in New York gives credit to the local products.

“Importation here is rough; I think it is political,” he said. “But I have wonderful foods to work with. The grapes are beautiful here. In the next ten years, Turkish wines will be as good as Californian. The spice market is fantastic; the fish are plentiful – I go to the fish and vegetables markets every morning. We have the best dates I’ve ever seen, gorgeous melons, beautiful grapes and cherries. And I can find small farmers who will make the cheeses that I want. 

“Everyone says Turkish cuisine is similar to Greek, but it is also like Lebanese,” he added. “The Moroccan influence is there, the mixture of Arabia and Europe. I’ve been here for nine months, and one thing I’ve learned for certain is there is so much to discover in Turkey.”

Indeed. We had yet so much to discover in Istanbul alone. In a single week, we had seen many of its famed sites, traveled the legendary Bosphorous on a ferry boat crossing from points on the European to Asian sides, attempted to navigate the world famous Golden Bazaar, partook of the excellent cuisine, and in the process developed some sense of how this city is so much a product of its many layered past. More importantly, we think, we had gotten to know a people we’d had little contact with before who were warm, hospitable, gracious to strangers, anxious to share the wealth of their history and culture. But all this was just the beginning. The call to prayer we heard our first afternoon in Istanbul lingers – having become a call to return.

Turkish Tourist Office
821 United Nations Plaza (Ground Floor)
New York, NY 10022

Phone: 212-687-2194

Turkish Airlines 

Flies non-stop to Istanbul from New York, Miami, and Chicago

(The planes are Airbus 340’s with extra leg room and are immaculately maintained for the duration of the flight)

Phone: 800-874-8875


The Divan Hotel
Cumhuriyet Cad. No: 2 Taksim
Istanbul, Turkey

Phone: 212-231-4100

Ciragan Palace Hotel Kempinski
Ciragan Caddesi 84, Besiktas 80700
Istanbul, Turkey

Phone: 90 212 258 33 77

Blue House
Dalbasti Sk. No:14 Sultanahmet
Istanbul Turkey

Phone: 90 212 638 90 10

Photos by Harvey Frommer

#   #   #

About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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