Today’s postcard is a flashback to a special trip taken earlier this year. My mum and I visited Istanbul in March to celebrate my birthday, and despite the chilly weather, we had an incredible time. Known as the magical meeting place between the East and West, Istanbul has been a traveler’s dream for centuries, and so I am pleased to share with you our enchanting experience. So let’s start from the beginning!
Our flights arrived to Atatürk International Airport at around the same time in the early morning hours. We hopped on the metro and approximately 45 minutes later we arrived at Taksim Square where our hotel is located. InterContinental Istanbul is the definition of opulence, majesty and elegance – overlooking Bosphorus Strait on one side and Taksim Square on the other. Despite arriving much earlier than the usual check-in time, the team welcomed us with a smile. Extremely friendly and helpful, the front desk team immediately recommended the best sights and were genuinely informative (not in that robotic/reading from a manual kind of way). Our room was very elegant, spacious and overlooked the Bosphorus – even on a gloomy day, we couldn’t have imagined a better view! A knock on the door surprised us, however an even bigger surprise awaited me, as the Concierge team brought up a vase of flowers and birthday card to make my special day even more memorable. I can tell you, it brought me the biggest smile and set the tone for an incredible day! As it was still very early in the morning, we decided to start our experience with a traditional Turkish breakfast. While the hotel offers an extensive array of dining options, we wanted to experience Istanbul like the locals, so we walked around Taksim Square until we found a cute cafe opposite the river. We ordered menemen (scrambled eggs with peppers and tomatoes), Turkish coffee (strong and dark), and chai (Turkish style of course, with a lot of sugar). With our energy fully recharged from our rich breakfast, we decided to explore the area, and thanks to the hotels’ perfect location in the centre of Taksim Square, this was easy. Considered as the heart of Istanbul, the square is a major tourist destination, filled with hotels, restaurants and boutiques, while historical buildings from the Ottoman Era surround it.
A short 5 minute walk later, we ended up in Istiklal Street, the most famous street in Istanbul which is visited by approximately 3 million people in a single day (during weekends). This pedestrian street stretches 1.4km and is filled with boutiques, art galleries, cinemas, theatres, libraries, cafes, patisseries…. the list is simply endless! Cheerful shop owners try to entice you with their best delicacies, ice cream sellers impress tourists with their shows, a historic tram with a rock band playing live music passes through the bustling crowd – Istiklal Street is by far the most interactive street I have ever visited!
To escape the noise for a few minutes, we discovered several hidden passages filled with open seafood markets, souvenir shops and intimate restaurants. Çiçek Pasaji, which opened in 1876, is the most popular covered passage filled with historic cafes, winehouses and restaurants. This is also a great place to catch up on your souvenir shopping and to practice your bargaining skills! Colourful Turkish delight, freshly baked baklava and authentic Turkish ice cream shops throughout the street catch your eye ( and nose), all day long! With so many choices, we were attracted to a beautiful three story building bearing the name Saray Muhallebicisi. Upon entrance on the ground floor, countless displays of freshly baked baklava made our hearts glow, however it wasn’t until I tasted the best kunafa in my life, that I truly melted. To officially celebrate my birthday, we decided to pamper ourselves with a spa experience at the Spa InterContinental Istanbul, where we enjoyed a relaxation session in a traditional Turkish hamam- the ultimate retreat of serenity and calm. Feeling warm and energised, we headed to City Lights Restaurant & Bar located at the top floor of the hotel which overlooks the majestic skyline. With Istanbul at our feet, it was the perfect place to end our first day and enjoy fabulous pomegranate cocktails!