A California-based Indagare member recently returned from a birthday trip with her husband, which took them to St. Petersburg and Istanbul. Here she shares her discoveries and suggestions for other travelers planning a similar journey.
Wow! Still digesting everything from this incredible trip.
After an ordeal over canceled flights at the Russian airport, the VIP service provided by our travel specialists that welcomed us in Turkey was a great start. Yesim, our guide, and Ilham, our driver immediately began telling us about Istanbul on our way to the fabulous Four Seasons Bosphorus.
You were right—this Four Seasons is wonderful. Upon arrival, we had a fantastic birthday cake waiting for us along with some fruits. We were also upgraded to a junior suite with a partial view of the pool and the Bosphorus. They call it a partial view, because we were on the side of the building, but I call it a great room with a terrific view. Loved it! We ate the cake and fruits after arriving late, and then went straight to sleep.
Yesim was a wonderful person and a terrific guide for us. We laughed a lot and really enjoyed all of the time we spent with her. She definitely knows all about Turkey—the history, current events, religious history, art, architecture, food, etc. Our driver, Ilham, was always right where he was supposed to be and he was always smiling and helpful. I can’t say enough nice things about Yesim, Ilham and our travel specialists. We will definitely utilize their services again. We have a plan to visit some other parts of Turkey, and they are a big part of that plan!
We ate at some local places with Yesim that were wonderful, but we also loved the nearby House Café. The Turkish and Continental-themed Ulus 29 has a similar location as Sunset Grill, but less of a California feel—no sushi. We can eat California style at home, so we think it was a better choice. People eat late in Istanbul (think NYC), and many places turn into clubs for dancing after midnight. The pistachio kebabs at Hamdi are a must! And definitely get the breakfast included at the Four Seasons—wonderful.
Note: At the hotel, there are a lot of outdoor weddings in June/July and they like their music loud until midnight. If that’s an issue for someone, they may want to stay on the other side of the hotel, although they will likely sacrifice the view. This was only a problem for us on the night we had to get up early for our flight to Ephesus. (We didn’t know there would be a wedding, and it was like a disco in our room that night.) Otherwise, join in the party. The weddings look like a lot of fun! Apparently, it’s okay to partake if you’re a guest—and we would have, had we known. I’d check that with the front desk staff. We just stayed out late and had fun ourselves.
We shopped far more than we expected, but the craftsmanship and prices were fantastic. We loved the Spice Market for shopping, and quite a few other shops as well. Again, Yesim was invaluable: we just had to mention what we were looking for, and she took us to the best shops with wonderful products, where they treated us fairly during bargaining. Bargin you must!
One highlight off the beaten track was the incredible preserved mosaics at Chora church (or Kariye in Turkish), which date from 800 AD. There’s a great shop near there where we bought some ceramics. You can’t miss it: look across from the exit and to the left.
We loved everything we did…you know how wonderful Istanbul is. The Underground Cistern and Topkapi Palace were incredible. At Topkapi, be sure not to skip the room that holds the relics of Mohamed. If you do, you’ll miss the staff that Moses used to part the Red Sea.
One special thing we did which should not be missed is a day trip to Ephesus. We flew down at 8 AM with no problem and returned on the 7PM flight, which, although a little delayed, still got us back to the hotel in time for a late dinner. We weren’t worried. Again, our guide was fantastic. He had studied Archeology and History, and had even worked as intern on a dig at Ephesus. He loves Ephesus and shared all of his love and knowledge of it with us. It was incredible to walk down the marble walkways that Caesar, Anthony, and Cleopatra once frequented. We also went to the Temple of Artemis (now called the British Pit because most of it is in England), and saw where Mary lived out her last days up on the hill, which was very peaceful. Ephesus was seriously special, a wonderful part of history, and a very meaningful part of our trip.
Tip: The hammam at the hotel is a wonderful experience. The massages are more variable—we each had two, two were good, two were OK. Loved the energizing massage after the hammam—I really did feel energized.
We love history and art and appreciate religious history. Our trip was full of these things and more. Wow! Still digesting everything from this incredible trip. Thank you so much for all of your recommendations and help. We are very happy that we joined Indagare and we look forward to traveling again soon now that we have found you. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to ask. I’m happy to share any information I have left out or answer any questions you have.
Read a postcard from another member about her first look at the Four Seasons Bosphorus
Read a postcard from Elena Bowes about five days in Istanbul with her two daughters
Read an interview with art consultant and Istanbul Insider Isabelle Icoz
Read our Istanbul cheat sheet
Read our report about sailing on the Turkish Riviera
For travel advice or to learn about special trips or preferred rates at hotels, contact our booking department by calling 212-988-2611 or by sending an inquiry