by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC
Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence is a long and sometimes tedious story of love gone wrong, told in the first person by an intensely annoying, socially privileged narrator whom, most of the time, you want to slap. It’s also a deeply engaging account of an evolving city, capturing Istanbul at a crossroads, caught between a glorious Ottoman past and an ambivalent future deeply influenced by the West. It led me to another Pamuk book, Istanbul, Memories of and the City – a stunning evocation of a city in flux – and, ultimately, influenced my choice of location for this year’s summer vacation.
Books can do that and I intend to dedicate at least one future blog post to this.
Today, however, I want to share 5 new discoveries I made in one of my favourite cities.
1. The Gran Tarabya
Istanbul is endowed with an immense variety of international hotel brands from Four Seasons to Ritz Carlton, Shangri La to Jumeirah . There are also many local properties that compete to the best global standards and Grand Tarabya is one of them. Located outside the intense heat of the summer city, Grand Tarabya stands majestically at the water’s edge in the eponymous village. With 248 guest rooms and suites, vast banqueting and meeting spaces and a choice of three restaurants, Grand Tarabya offers a real 5 star alternative for meetings and incentive groups in the breezy, less congested city suburbs. Staff are friendly and engaging and breakfast there is a culinary cornucopia of fresh local products and your favourite international dishes.
I highly recommend it.
2. Istanbul Modern
We spent a deeply rewarding half day at Istanbul Modern viewing a small but beautifully curated collection of art which chronologically traces the history of contemporary art in Turkey from 1900 onwards. The collection includes pieces across a variety of media including computer animation, video and film. Among the standout pieces and installations are Olafur Eliasson’s Red Emotional Globe (2010), Hale Tenger’s deeply poignant video projection, Beirut (2005 – 2007) and Handan Borutecene’s Bring Yourself to Me (2009), an interactive installation involving 19 suitcases, 19 chairs and 30 magnifiers on wheels. A striking leit motiv of the collection is the prominent role of women as subject matter protoganists going right back to Ibrahim Calli’s Women on the Beach (1927). This is a highly accessible collection presented in a stunningly converted warehouse astride the Bosporus.
3. Istinye Park
Our previous shopping expeditions in Istanbul have pivoted around the uniqueness of the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar or the artisan markets at Ortokoy. This time we discovered the urban chic of Istinye Park, a newish mall located relatively close to our hotel in Tarabya. Istinye Park is owned by Dogus Group, a Turkish conglomerate of some 122 companies and almost 30,000 employees. Besides over 300 stores, a 12 screen movie theatre and a 30,000 sqm health spa, Istinye Park also features a luxury goods section with trophy-style retail space for the likes of Prada, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana. My girls loved the local Turkish retailers, however, and spend much time in Yargici and Boyner while I sat in Starbucks, vainly, hopelessly surfing the internet for news of a marque summer signing by Arsenal’s manager, Arsene Wenger.
Istinye Park was voted Best Shopping Mall in Europe in 2009.
4. Evolving City
Istanbul has seen more re-incarnations than a Hindu family dynasty and the renaissance continues apace with development happening all over the sprawling metropolis. Byzantium became Constantinople became Istanbul and Istanbul is now transforming itself ,Shanghai- style, with cranes visible all over the suburbs and along the highway arteries. The highway system and support infrastructure around Atakoy, close to where Ataturk International Airport is located, has changed immeasurably since I first visited Istanbul in the late 1990s and presents recently arrived visitors with the new emerging Turkey of tall contemporary structures, all glass, steel and concrete softened by beautiful verdant landscaping.
5. The Bosphorus
The Bosphorus connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and onwards to the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. In this regard it has played a seminal role in the social, economic and political history of the world – controlling the Bosphorus was crucial in both world wars, for example. Today it’s a stretch of water dividing the city of Istanbul in two, one side located in Asia, the other in Europe. There is heavy traffic 24 hours a day on the 2 bridges over the Bosphorus and a never ceasing zig-zag of ships and boats traversing from side to side or journeying seawards along the busy strait. It’s a mesmerising dynamic of relentless comings and goings with tiny fishing vessels, huge container ships, packed car ferries and colourful leisure cruises all vying for space on this never-ending aquatic conveyor belt. Kavanagh’s lines about an entirely different stretch of water, the 3m wide Grand Canal in Dublin, kept coming to mind:
And look! a barge comes bringing from Athy
And other far-flung towns mythologies.
The shoreline, too, has its own tales to tell. Close to the centre the waterfront has largely been commandeered by former Ottoman palaces, luxury hotels, and night clubs but from Ortakoy onwards it’s open, accessible and fully exploited 24/7 by at least one half of the local population. You’ll find huge numbers there walking, jogging, fishing, swimming, standing in small groups chatting but you’ll struggle to find a single girl or woman amidst battalions of boys and men.
Padraic Gilligan works for Ovation Global DMC. Ovation is proud to be associated with MEP Destination Management, our strategic partner in Istanbul and Turkey. For further information about organising meetings, events and incentive travel experiences in Turkey please click here.