Who would have dreamed it? 
Certainly, I could not have!

As a young girl, bored to death
in a geography class that spoke of sultans, straits, and seven continents, I
could never have dreamed where I would be six decades later. 

But there I was…sitting in a
genuine Ottoman Sultan’s palace on the continent of Europe, overlooking a
panoramic view of the majestic Bosphorus
Strait, and gazing at the coastline of
the continent of Asia, an almost veritable
stone’s throw away.  Yes, moments after
checking into the incredible Ciragan Palace Kempinski that is exactly what I
was doing.

The regal 5-star
Ciragan Palace Kempinski Hotel, situated on the European shores of the
Bosphorus and overlooking the ancient city of Istanbul, allowed me to fantasize about the luxury and
glamour of living in a genuine Ottoman Palace. 
With its splendid style, superb location, fascinating view, and resort
ambiance, the hotel gave me an unforgettable stay in the enchanting, mystical
city where East meets West, Europe meets Asia, and the past meets the present.
limitations kept mere mortals like myself in one of the 1990s hotel rooms
adjacent to the original palace. However, royalty, dignitaries and superstars
can opt for the Sultan Suite, one of 11 suites in the actual restored palace.
The Ciragan
Palace’s 4050-square-foot Sultan Suite
($50,000 per night) is one of the largest hotel suites in Europe.  The needs of those privileged to occupy the
Sultan Suite are met 24 hours a day by their personal butler.


its beautiful décor, decorative fireplaces, flamboyant chandeliers, artsy
columns, floor to ceiling windows giving an extraordinary Bosphorus view, the
magnificent Sultan Suite combines the best of today’s modernism (like 65-inch TVs) with classic Ottoman
architecture to recreate the splendor of the Palace.
When it came time
for my first dinner in Istanbul,
I chose to heed the advice of my colleague the late great author James
Michener.   The renowned writer, whom I
met many years ago on a trans-Atlantic crossing, said: “If you reject the food,
ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better
stay home.” Since I did not choose to stay home, I chose to take Michener’s
advice and headed straight to Tugra Restaurant in the historical Palace for a dinner of traditional Ottoman
Tugra served me a palate-pleasing, classic Ottoman dinner that included
traditional mezzes (appetizers), Mushroom Baklava, and
Mushroom-Lamb Cheek in Casserole.  The
dinner culminated with a lovely young lady wheeling out a a “Macun” cart
from which she made the traditional fruit-flavored Ottoman candy.  Formerly sold by street vendors, this
Turkish-style lollipop is now served to Tugra guests to end their evening with
sweet dreams.


And, as if this was not enough
to make me yearn to return to Ciragan
Palace, I would eagerly
go back just for a swim in the hotel’s heated year-round infinity swimming pool
that appeared to overflow into the Bosphorus, or to indulge myself with the
Laledan Restaurant’s incredible buffet breakfast.   Both of which are among the finest in the world.

After a night’s rest it was
time to explore Istanbul,
a city of more than 13-million people and approximately 3000 active Muslim mosques.   Formerly known as Byzantium
and Constantinople, it is the only city in the world that straddles two
continents (Europe and Asia) and is embraced by two seas (Aegean and Black) and
the connecting Bosporus
Don’t even think
about renting a car and driving yourself in this vibrant, colorful city, where
some consider traffic lights as mere street decorations. On a previous visit,
my guide told me: “Our traffic is better than in Cairo,
but worse than that in Rome.”
The best way to go
is on a tour…a Plan Tour.  Plan Tours, Gray Line’s Licensee for Turkey,
is Istanbul’s
local expert when it comes to touring.
On day one, I opted
for the full-day Byzantine & Ottoman Relics tour. On day two, I hopped on
Plan’s HO-HO (hop-on, hop-off) double-decker tour bus and circled the city a
couple of times.  Once around was not
enough to soak up the atmosphere of Istanbul.
Highlights of my tours in Istanbul included the
following not-to-be missed sights:
Sultan Ahmet Mosque,
also called The Blue Mosque, takes its name from its walls that are adorned
with more than 20,000 blue Iznik tiles. Its six minarets pierce Istanbul’s skyline.  The low-hanging chain across the entrance to
the courtyard was put there so that only the sultan could enter the court on

Hagia Sophia, once a Christian
cathedral, and then a Muslim mosque, is now a museum. Its awesome massive dome,
exquisite mosaics, and huge lustration marble urns carved from a single block
of marble, are among the museum’s memorable features.
Topkapi Palace
Museum is one of the most impressive
monuments in Istanbul.  A visit to
The Treasury (Hazine) is a must.  Here
you will find the bejeweled Topkapi Dagger as seen in the 1964 movie Topkapi; a
6.5-pound emerald, the largest uncut emerald in the world; and the 86-carat
Spoon Maker’s diamond.

The Grand Bazaar (Capali
reveals the largest shopping center in the world.  The diverse atmosphere of the bazaar, with
all its hustle-and-bustle, is a maze of stalls and overlapping aromas of
spices, leather and food.
After a long day of touring in Istanbul, it was time for
another memorable dinner. From Cipriani to Cipriani was my plan!
My friend Harry
(Arrigo) Cipriani, of Harry’s Bar fame (in Venice) had recently opened the Cipriani
Istanbul Restaurant in the Istanbul Edition Hotel.  What fun, I thought,
to end my stay in Istanbul with dinner at
Cipriani Istanbul, and then to end my Crystal Serenity Aegean Dream Cruise
(that was sailing the next day from Istanbul to Venice) with dinner at Cipriani’s Harry’s Bar in Venice.  And so I did just that.
I do not need a menu when I
dine at any of Harry Cipriani’s restaurants around the world.  Just start me out with Harry’s traditional
Bellini aperitif.  Next, serve me some
Carpaccio Cipriani, and a plate of Black Risotto.  Whatever follows, really doesn’t matter.  I’m already in heaven.  Cipriani Istanbul combines the Cipriani
heritage along with the relaxed joie de vivre of Istanbul’s café society.
Istanbul, the exotic intriguing city that has
been the capital of three empires and countless cultures, is “Istan-cool

award-winning Travel Writer and International Travel Consultant