One of the best things about living in Zurich is its proximity to other fabulous locales. In a matter of just a few hours, one can be immersed in incredibly diverse sights, sounds and smells.
Every few months, we get a little itchy for adventure and crave a new color palette but don’t want to spend days getting somewhere. When this particular itch needs to be scratched, we head east – to the city situated on two continents – Istanbul.
If you’ve never been, we implore you – grab your weekender, fill it with caftans and sandals (we are in love with our new Chloe Fringe Flats) and get there!
You may be familiar with the song “Istanbul (not Constantinople)” made famous in the early 90’s by the American band, They Might Be Giants. It highlights a long-going confusion about the name of this city, which was the capital of not one, but two of the most powerful empires in history – the Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire.
During the Roman Empire, Constantine the Great declared the city as capital and renamed it after himself, Constantinople. (Before him, King Byzas led Greek colonists there because of the strategic locale along the Bosphorus and named it Byzantium after himself.) Men . . .
Many moons later, after Constantine XI died while defending his city, the name was changed to Istanbul. One of the theories about why the name became Istanbul is that the Greek for ‘to the city’ is ‘Stanbulin’. In the 19th century, the city’s large expat population took to calling the old city Stamboul. There is also a theory that because of its sheer size, the Byzantines referred to it simply as ‘Polis’ (the city) and when they wanted to say ‘to the city’, they said ‘eist enpolin’ (is-tin-polin), which is not such a far stretch from Istanbul. Got it? Good.
It’s always so interesting to learn these things, but now we’d like to get back to the important matters of Business Class flying, eating baklava, staying in fancy hotels and shopping!
There’s only one way you should go – Turkish Airlines. Business Class. We couldn’t believe we’d never flown Turkish Airlines but we promise it will not be our last time. We had our very own chef serving us our far-from-standard airline fare (catered by famed Do&Co) of homemade yogurt with muesli, fresh seasonal fruits, gorgeous cheeses and a never ending supply of freshly baked bread. And to wash it down, we had Mimosas with freshly squeezed orange juice. It was perfect. And then there was more. More? Yes! More! A perfect omelette, more bread, more Champagne. We were more than sated (stuffed really) and ready to stretch out on our roomy leather seats and enjoy the view flying into Istanbul, which was one of the most stunning arrivals we’ve ever witnessed. We asked our hosts if the clouds were always so breathtaking and they just smiled and said, “Welcome to Istanbul”. Welcome, indeed.
Zuri Girl Tip: Depending where you’re from, you may need a Visa to enter Turkey.
We were not aware that we needed one, and when we arrived were asked for ours. After a moment of panic and visions of dejectedly climbing back aboard the plane to Zurich, our handsome and charming Turkish Airlines host whisked us to the right counter and we were able to purchase one in less than 5 minutes for under 20 Euros. There are also ATM-like machines where you can buy them, so no need to panic. Still, planning ahead will save you the little headache and make your travel partners happy you haven’t wasted their time.
Istanbul is a huge city so be sure to plan what it is you want to see and do before choosing your hotel. We stayed at the Mövenpick Golden Horn for a few nights and then moved to the Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul. Both are five-star hotels with everything a girl could ask for. And, as is always the case with Mövenpick, the service is second to none. The brand new Golden Horn is in a quieter spot, only 16 km from the Atatürk International Airport with views of the private parks and famous waterfront. When we arrived, the grand piano in the lobby was being skillfully played by a smiling gentleman. It’s all in the details, isn’t it?
The Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul, located in Levent district, the heart of the city’s shopping and business district, feels a little busier and more lively. (There are two malls within walking distance . . .) Again, the service is unbeatable – this is why we always come back. They even have an ice cream cart in the lobby. Oh Mövenpick, you had us at FREE ICE CREAM! We did not want to leave. (And the beds are super-comfortable. Not your average European stiff, rigid mattresses, thank heavens.)
In Istanbul, there are the more touristy spots like the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and the Haghia Sophia, and while those are certainly worth your time, we always like to go off the beaten path and find out where the locals go.
We were fortunate to have a stellar tour guide from Beynar Travel who showed us sights on and off the path. We visited the world’s oldest Baklava factory – Güllüoglu, (a-mazing) and sampled more than our fair share of all the flavors. It’s quite an operation. Very impressive. The men who make the baklava must be trained for ten years before they are allowed to work on the pastry floor, rolling and stretching and layering. They are covered in flour while they silently dance around from station to station, as the dough must never dry out. It’s something to see.
We loved the hip areas of Ortaköy and Karaköy. We could have spent an entire day here, wandering from cool cafe to quaint shop to funky art gallery and just wandering, adding to our collection of street art photos along the way.
And a trip to Istanbul would not be complete without a boat trip down the Bosphorous. Nothing compares with being able to spy all the sights from the water. And though there are many tour boats you can hop on, nothing compares to being on a private boat, with lunch served on the stern and a never-ending supply chilled white wine. Try it. We did. One of the highlights of the trip. Relaxing and decadent with some history thrown in for good measure.
See (at night)
Don’t miss Istanbul by night. Twenty years ago, when we were last here, it was not advisable for women to walk the streets alone in the evening, but now, it’s quite different. It’s much like any other major, metropolitan city. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take care and watch your purse and be aware of your surroundings, of course, but we felt very safe being out past dark.
One of our favorite places to go in the evening was Su Ada, an ‘island’ between the two continents. After taking a quick boat launch over from shore, you walk up a flight of lighted stairs and are welcomed into this island club oasis, which feels a bit other-worldly. It’s a restaurant-night-club-bar-lounge with an Olympic-sized swimming pool sporting its very own ever-changing light show.
Sit on the throne fit for a queen and have your photo taken under the Asia/Europe sign. With a glass of bubbly in hand. Of course.
Zuri Girl Tip: Be prepared to sit in traffic.
The number of vehicles on the road is astounding and the traffic has become a real problem in Istanbul over the past 5-10 years. Pack a hand-held fan, make sure your phone is charged and chill out to your favorite podcast while taking in the sights as they go (slowly) by.
Fish is the speciality at Surbalik Arnavutköy, a beautiful, upscale restaurant with four floors and windows open to the Bosphorous, which is directly across the street. We sampled everything on the menu, all of which was delectable, but were happy we had left room for the grilled whole fish which was the highlight. Another meal, another happy, full belly.
The dinner we had at AzzuR, the panoramic rooftop bistro at Mövenpick Istanbul was one of the best meals we’ve had in recent memory. The roasted eggplant with burrata and pesto was so simple and so delicious, we would have been happy eating plate after of plate of just that for our entire meal. We were so enthralled with the wine pairings and course after course of deliciousness that we nearly missed the stunning view of the city. And what a view it is.
Zuri Girl Tip: Turkey is not on the Euro, its currency is the Lira, which you can easily get by using your Maestro card at the ATM in Istanbul. For 100 Swiss Francs, right now, you can get about 280 Turkish Lira.
The French writer and politician Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand said, “People were right when they say there is no other place on earth as beautiful looking as Istanbul.” We wouldn’t argue a bit.
Enjoy a trip to Istanbul ladies!
Contributed by: Zuri Girl Kristen Vermilyea, an American actor, filmmaker, writer and artist who has lived in Zurich for nearly 6 years. She hosts the Zurich Film Festival TV show and is a social media and film consultant. When not watching and writing about film, she keeps busy attempting to learn to play new instruments as her four year old daughter has insisted they start a band.
Hotel experience sponsored by Movenpick Hotel
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