There’s no better way to get to Istanbul than a direct flight in business class on Turkish Airlines. The 10 hour and 40 minute flight from Chicago went by in a flash and I was able to truly sleep for the first time in my life on a plane thanks to the lie-flat beds that slowly recline like the chair in a dentist’s office. I could do yoga, I had so much space. And with the hundreds of movies to choose from, I must have spent at least a half hour simply scrolling through the selection. Turkish Airlines is proud of its flying chef program, and the food was impressive to say the least, both in quality and quantity. A five-course dinner included appetizers from an elaborate trolley, my selection of an entrée and a dessert trolley to finish the night. Business class is definitely a splurge, but on Turkish Airlines the services and amenities really do surprise and delight.
My accommodations were at the grand Four Seasons Hotel at Sultanahmet, within walking distance of the majestic Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, right in the heart of the historic center of Istanbul.
Compared to the Four Seasons Bosphorus the Sultanahmet location is a more intimate, charming boutique hotel and more centrally located to see the main historic sites. Bosphorus is grander, with a sexier vibe, and a quarter of the rooms overlook the Bosphorus River. Both properties are elegant, with impeccable service (if you go out for a morning run, they’ll be waiting for you at the front door with a towel and water to cool off), so you can’t go wrong with either. Between the two, I like the traditional Turkish décor and vibrant colors of the Sultanahmet location more. The hotel was built to be a prison and detained political dissidents, murderers and thieves for much of the 20th century. Ironically, it’s now become a place to escape to instead of from. As part of my escape, I had the pleasure of experiencing the Sodashi mineral marine facial, complete with hand and foot massage. It’s a gentler facial than I’m used to, but still with nice results, giving me a natural luminosity sans extractions.
With our ideal location, I could look out my window and see the breathtaking Hagia Sophia. It’s the only place in the world that you’ll find Christian mosaics depicting Christ and the Virgin Mary alongside Arabic inscriptions. The Blue Mosque is another beautiful monument and free for visitors to enter, save for prayer five times a day. Women need to cover their heads with scarves before stepping inside, but the dome - The Basilica Cistern - is another must-visit stop and only a stone’s throw away. The cathedral-sized cavern was built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the sixth century and used to store water for the entire city. It could hold almost three million cubic feet of water!
Speaking of water, no trip to Istanbul is complete without a visit to Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı to experience the cleansing ritual of Turkish baths. I recommend the traditional full cleanse, which includes a body scrub followed by a relaxing bubble wash and massage while lying on a marble stone. Cool off afterward in the relaxation lounge while sipping sherbet, a cool drink made with rosehips and spices. Bachelorette party, anyone?
Art lovers can check out the Istanbul Modern, Turkey’s first private museum of modern and contemporary art. There are a surprising number of female artists, and several galleries dedicated to Turkish artists. Multimedia collage is interspersed with sculptures and more traditional paintings as well. I’ve really only touched the tip of the iceberg with the wealth of culture and I have so much more to learn about the Ottoman Empire.