Merhaba from Istanbul –

Yes, I arrived safe and sound.  And it’s been non-stop until this moment.  I am wrapped in my down comforter at the W Hotel and catching up with my LA life.  “Ellen” is playing on TV and keeping me company.  The shows are all from America on this channel and the promos in Turkish.  I can’t figure out when anything is on.

We arrived Saturday.  I say “we” as I am here working with a media group that is launching a new channel.  They want an American look and feel and so have hired the fabulous team of Troika for the project.  Dan, Kristen, Earl, Robert and I landed early evening Saturday and were anxious to get out and see a little of the city.

As many of you know, I spent a great deal of time here 10 years ago.  The travels I

The Mosque at Ortakoy

The Mosque at Ortakoy

enjoy the most are the one’s that introduce me to a completely exotic and different culture.  I was fascinated with the mosques and palaces that ranged from 326 AD to the mid 1800’s.  Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman – the layers are rich here.  Sultans, harems, water palaces, ancient baths, the Muslim call to prayer broadcast over loud speakers 5 times a day from every mosque across the city, covered markets with mounds of spices, goat heads, sheep stomachs, roasting spits of meat, colorful pottery, fabrics, carpets, carpets and more carpets all with the the non-stop call from vendors to “help me spend my money” create a dizzying array for the senses.

All of this still remains, but the city has a whole new spirit and liveliness to it that was not evident before.  Ten years ago there were few hotels and slim pickings on the restaurants.  The city was struggling to recreate itself and was quite nice but quiet.  Now, it explodes with ritzy 5 star hotels, roof top terrace bars, international cuisine and trendy beautiful people who like to party until all hours.  Currently, the fundamentalists make up about 8 – 10% of the population.  I’m not sure if that is the same, or less however, when I was here last the population was about 7 million.  Now, the official population is 11 million and the unofficial is 15 million and many believe it is closer to 20 million.  They all live in the same city space that has been here for thousands of years.  The traffic here makes the 405 look like a speedway.

Saturday night, we had reservations at a fish restaurant on the Bosphorus called Feriye.  The Bosphorus is the seaway that connects the Black Sea and Sea of

Suspension Bridge Over The Bosphorus

Suspension Bridge Over The Bosphorus

Marmara.  The restaurant is right on the edge – it almost feels like lakeside dining – except for the fact that HUGE tankers, cruise ships and ferries glide by all night long – just yards from our table.  Above us is a beautifully lit suspension bridge that connects the European and Asian sides of Istanbul.  Under the bridge, a small mosque with delicate minarets is bathed in white light and glows beautifully against the dark night – the small area is called Ortakoy.  We don’t really know what anything on the menu says but the food on the other tables looks quite good.  The waiter speak English (sort of) and we just tell them to bring us yummy things.  Cheese with Yogurt, Octopus Salad, dough covered meat balls, Hummus, Sea bass and Chicken with Pistachios.  We did OK.  We even tried some Turkish wine.  Not bad.  Needless to say, this was a big concern of mine but rest assured I have found a few fab wines to get me through my time here.  My favorite is called Karma.  How funny is that?

Although tired from the long flights, we managed to keep going until midnight which made our 9am tour of the city a bit of a challenge.  The gang was very excited

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

to see the sites and I was thrilled to re-visit them.  We had a terrific guide who understood that trying the local food was just as important as the history.  Kebaps in a local dive was perfect!  Develi is where the locals go. The entrance on the ground floor was a little scary with  dirty walls, dripping water and a small man sitting on a chair with his legs crossed smoking a cigarette and fondling his prayer beads.  The elevator was so small and rickety only two people at a time could ascend to the third floor.  When the door opened it revealed large bright room with white table cloths and waiters running madly about to the hundred or so people loudly talking, smoking and drinking the lunch hour away.  We told them to just bring one of everything and we relished sampling the variety of kebabs, fresh pita and vegetable dishes.

Sunday night we were pretty tired.  We wimped out and walked the 50 yards down the street to a little Italian place to have some pasta.  Our client who we had not met called and suggested she join us for a drink.  While we waited for Seda to arrive we played a game on what she would look like after speaking with her numerous times.

Robert:  In her 40’s, a little dumpy and “manish”.  Ouch!!!!!
Me:  Mid-30’s, thin, wealthy, fashionable and hot

The debate was funny.  We had such different interpretations from the same conversations.

I won.  Robert – 40 and single was happy to be wrong!

Seda is New Istanbul.  She is funny, smart and most importantly knows all the hot spots to go.  I am taking notes  Her energy convinced us to follow her through a small courtyard behind our hotel and into an office building.  At the top was a beautiful restaurant and bar called Vogue.  Again, beautiful views, beautiful people and a beautiful vibe.

Monday we spent the day in meetings – well, part of it.  We met Gorkem (General Manager), Ahmet (CFO), Bahadir (Art Director) and Cem (CEO).  All are under 40 and they love to have a good time.  We raced through the meetings to get to lunch.  Our hosts picked another fantastic place on the Bosphorus.  An old wooden restaurant that juts out over the water with huge windows that open to the breeze.   Numerous bottles of wine were poured as we devoured tomatoes with arugala and mint, grape leaves, pureed eggplant, calamari and more fresh fish.  Lunch was three hours!  It’s a good thing they are providing drivers!

After a few more meetings and a quick stop at our hotel to freshen up we arrived at a restaurant called Sunset.  Stunning.  Set up in the hills above Istanbul this place is beautifully designed, has an amazing wine cellar and a huge patio that looks more like an outdoor living room that hangs over the edge of the hill displaying the Bosphorus and the beautifully lit palaces that line the seaway.  Dinner was a repeat of lunch.  Non- stop wine and food.  There were 9 of us and I think the bill was easily $ 2,000.  And that wasn’t all.  Although it was Monday, they wanted us to see another hot spot so back into the cars and down the hill we went to the shores of the Bosphorus again where we went to a neighborhood bar that was mobbed with people.  Lucca is in the little town of Bebek which is the trendiest village of the city.  Of course, our hosts knew half the people there and we were besieged by their friends wanting to speak with the Americans.  No wine here.  Cocktails and many of them.  I nursed one vodka as I watched our clients put down shot after shot of god-knows-what along with a variety of cocktails.  They seem very excited to be working with us.  Hope that’s not the booze talking.

We arrive back at the hotel around 2am and really feeling the jet lag!  Our clients wanted to meet at 10am the next morning but as I crawled into bed I received a text that said “how about after 11am?”.  Yippee.

Regardless – the “after 11am” meetings were still too early.  At least our clients looked worse than us.  We struggled through the remaining meetings and were thankful to get back to the hotel for a small disco nap.  Seda had suggested we check out an area called Istiklal.  It’s a very long pedestrian zone with shops and restaurants that run for over a mile.  In addition, tons of small alleyways and streets wind off the main drag.   Fish and vegetable markets are everywhere.  Although exhausted, we loved everything about it and walked endlessly looking for the one place Seda recommended amongst the hundreds that were in the area.  It took about 12 people to direct us through the winding streets but magically we found it.

It was another fabulous evening as we sat outside under an awning at Flamm while it poured rain.  Our energy returned as the wine flowed and we tried each other’s dishes.  We are excited about the project and hope it will continue to be fun.

The others left today and after a nice wander through the Spice Market I crawled

Spices at The Egyptian Spice Market

Spices at The Egyptian Spice Market

in bed for a nap.  As you can tell from the opening of this note, I have not gone far.  Room Service and re-runs from American series are on order for tonight.  I am on my own for the next 10 days and look forward to doing some more exploring.

I’ll keep you all posted.

2 Responses to “The First Days of Istanbul”

  1. I’m not that much of a internet reader to be honest but your blogs really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your website to come back later. All the best

  2. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You obviously know what youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something informative to read?

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