The trip I am loosely defining as the "Eastern Mediterranean" has officially begun. Prior to departure, we spent a fantastic 24 hours in one of my favorite U.S. cities – Chicago, walking up and down Michigan Ave., stopping for some Garrett's Popcorn (a must), and meeting up with our son, Zack, who recently started his MBA at Northwestern.
After a nice, yet uneventful flight on Turkish Airlines, we arrived in Istanbul Sunday afternoon and made our way to our hotel for the next three nights – the Ciragan Palace Kempinski. Upon arrival, we immediately changed into our swimsuits and took in the fresh air poolside overlooking the Bosphorus Straight. Such beautiful views. We were still full from the overindulgent food service on our flight, so we retreated to our room and relaxed on our balcony a while longer. We aimed to stay awake until 8:00 p.m.; we made it to 8:30 p.m.!
Here's a little about Istanbul. It's the largest city in Turkey and it's the most populous European city. It's the only capital city that sits on two continents – Europe and Asia. The Bosphorus Straight runs between the two and provides gorgeous views from either shore. Istanbul was initially named Byzantium when founded by the Greeks in 657 BC. It was reestablished as Constantinople in 330 AD and for nearly 16 centuries following this, it served as the capital of three major empires: Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman.
And now about our hotel. The hotel sits on the grounds of the original Ciragan Palace, home to many reigning Sultans dating back to the 17th century. The actual palace building has been rebuilt many times over the centuries – either by order of a Sultan to make it more oppulent and grand than the previous, or due to fire. The current building was rebuilt in the 1980s and houses the hotel's grandest suites. One such suite is known to be the largest and most expensive in all of Europe. Needless to say, our room – while lovely – was not quite in this category!
We try to keep our first day rather light following a long, international flight. For our first morning, we scheduled a service at the hotel spa. You know the saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." Well, the same applies in Turkey! We decided to forgo our typical massage appointment and instead opt for a Hammam, a traditional Turkish bath ritual during the Ottoman period.
Our treatment began with five minutes in the hottest steam room I've ever experienced, followed by five minutes in a sauna. Our therapists then led us to a quiet marble room with water flowing around the perimeter. We proceeded to lie flat on marble slabs while our bodies were scrubbed from head to toe with what I can only assume, by the sound and feel of it, was a fine grade of wet sandpaper! I'm thankful I asked for "light" pressure! Our skin was cleared of "scurf" (who knew that was a thing!), followed by pitchers of warm water. Then the foamy, bubbly massage came – heaven! Next, a moisturizer of rose water, honey, and milk was applied, followed by another massage from head to toe. After the warm water rinse, we were shocked with a full-body cold water dousing! What an experience and one I highly recommend!
After our spa adventure, we returned to the hotel pool for more R&R. For dinner we ventured off-property and into the bustling city center (on the Europe side) to Michelin-star Sans Restaurant. The highlight of the meal was the Pazi Dolmasi – Swiss chard filled with minced lamb and beef, served with Greek yogurt, and Mark's entree, Saslik – slices of marinated beef tenderloin, cooked in Shish on charcoal with grilled seasonal vegetables. Delicious!
Tomorrow, we explore many of the sights, sounds, and flavors of this beautiful city!