Little known secret: I was meant to be in Istanbul in December to accept my “Blogger of the Year” award at the Elle Style Awards. I know: shocking! I read the invitation letter a few times, scrutinizing every syllable against embarrassing misinterpretation. I even had my mom and my sister read it, just to be sure it wasn’t a joke or wishful thinking. But no, the Turks were serious. Previously awarded to the likes of Garance and BryanBoy, the honor was about to be bestowed upon little old me. (What’s ironic though is that I’ve always fought so hard against the title of “blogger”. I don’t consider myself a blogger in the fashion sense of the word. But maybe I’d have to come to terms with it now, and accept the idea that the term is broad enough to include a veteran vintage fiend like me.)
Then the Ankara bombings happened; the deadliest attack of its kind in modern Turkey. More than one hundred people died, and many more were injured. I won’t get into detail about the why and what and how of the atrocities, because the matter is too political and too sensitive at this time, and all too evocative of the world’s current state of emergency. All I will say is that life in Turkey would be unstable and insecure until the elections on November 1st. President Erdoğan’s leadership has not been without controversy and opposition. Some might say the very freedom of the press is at stake, as we noticed when he visited Belgium and refused to answer questions during a press conference. By all accounts, the atmosphere in Turkey was and is not optimistic nor jubilant, and Elle magazine, for good reason, decided to cancel the event. And with that, my award.
But somehow I did end up in Istanbul, the very day after the elections, on a two-night lay-over to Georgia. I had discovered this gorgeous Turkish girl – her identity won’t be revealed until publication – to photograph for my book. So I quickly scrambled to set up a sitting. I had visited Istanbul twice before, but as I would soon come to realize: there will never be enough time to see every little corner of this incredible city. It’s massive for starters, spread cross parts of Europe and Asia, with a population of over 14 million, but also culinarily interesting, commercially vibrant, culturally rich and so replete with history and tradition that all your senses are occupied at once. I’m definitely going to spend more time there, but here’s what I can recommend thus far:
1. Fly Turkish Airlines! It’s very chic. They’ve received countless awards for their onboard catering. A chef – hat, apron, the works – greets you when you get on. Then you’re served a five-course, candle-lit (I kid you not!) meal with a choice of appetizers, desserts and wines served from one of those fancy old rolling carts. I also recommend visiting the lounges at the airport. The one at Ataturk has a grand piano with a live pianist, a waterfall and food stations with different cuisines throughout. It’s almost like a destination in itself!
2. Stay at Soho House! It’s situated in a renovated palace in the old city and it’s absolutely gorgeous. The rooms are beautifully decorated, true to the authentic character of the city, and you can watch the most intense sunsets from the rooftop bar. The renowned Mandolin Bistro Miami opened a Turkey branch there this summer.
3. Go running on the Bosphorus! Tell your driver to drop you in Bebek and start from there. The morning sunlight reflecting on the water and bouncing off the thick, white fog is unreal. It probably sounds really stupid (or American) but there’s a Starbucks that sits right on the water and has these insane views. (They have almond milk – that’s why…) Or cross the street and walk up the stairs to Mangerie for a spectacular breakfast overlooking the rooftops. Speaking of breakfast. The Turks take it very seriously. It’s like a poetic ritual. Definitely try a Simit, their version of a pretzel with sesame seeds.
4. Get lost in the old city! Soho House is right smack in the center of it and in walking distance to most of the old sites. I particularly loved roaming the small streets with the antique stores. Besides interesting clutter, there seem to be more cats than people, and they are well taken care of, not dirty and sick like your usual street mongrel. And thankfully there’s vintage! Here’s a list of stores I found on-line but I only managed to shop at Pied de Poule, a tiny space stacked to the rafters with pieces from all decades. The owner will help you sift and choose through the maze of plastic garment bags.
5. See the sights! Visit the Aya Sofya Museum, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern. Walk across Galata Bridge. Get your baklava and Turkish delight at Spice Market and your souvenirs at Grand Bazaar. Go shopping in Nisantasi.
6. And when all is said and done, and you’ve carried your dapper tourist self to every mandatory locale, get your tired body scrubbed at a Hammam! It’s so gratifying and relaxing you may want to adopt your masseuse. The best baths are supposedly Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami and Aya Sofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami ideally located on Sultanahmet Square. I got a 50-minute package for about €100. It includes a wash with soap bubbles, a detoxing scrub – you won’t believe how dirty your skin is – and an oil massage. The lady who took care of me had stripped down to a sarong herself and held my hand up and down the marble steps. It was super sweet and I felt soft like a baby’s bottom afterwards.
Just like the time I went to Cuba and advised everyone to visit before the country started changing, I would do the same with Istanbul because things might not be the same anymore in a couple of years…