I have a serious confession to make- as many of the world's glamorous 5-star beds I have had the pleasure of laying myself on- I am actually always wary of sleeping in a hotel. Why? Because I have always pondered on who actually was there before I. Though I do try not to divulge too much on those thoughts, and it's perhaps the last thing on anyone's mind when they just want to have a rest after a 12 hour flight (as was in my case after arriving in Istanbul).
The 12-hour night time flight from Guangzhou to Istanbul gave me enough time to ponder on a million thoughts of what to expect upon landing in the country, to which I was a complete virgin. Unfortunately, it was raining on the morning I arrived in Istanbul, but with the positive courage I decided to face the challenge that the gods had thrown upon me. It was slightly colder than back in Guangzhou too. Thankfully after the 12 hour flight with Turkish Airlines, and the ease with which I managed to pass through Turkish customs (Visa for British passport holders is available upon arrival, costs 15 Euros and is valid for 90 days), I was greeted outside the arrivals hall by a pre-arranged limo by The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul.
My first impressions of the country on the way to the hotel surpassed by exceptions of the country's image in my mind (somehow it always happens). The roads were modern, I could see a skyline full of concrete and glass towers, plenty of Western shopping malls, and a clean infrastructure. All of this was blended in with thousands of Minarets of mosques in the horizon- a reminder that I was in a Muslim country.
Having arrived at The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul within half an hour from the Ataturk airport, I was welcomed with a glass of warm Turkish tea, and some delicious Turkish delight. After which I was escorted to my VIP suite where again, a long-stemmed red rose, and a bottle of fine Turkish rose wine (Kavaklıdere, Egeo Rose 2010), awaited my arrival- this was all to ensure that my Turkish journey had truly began in style.
The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul, complete with its 244 guest rooms including 22 suites, 57 Club Level rooms, and The Ritz-Carlton Suite, stands towering on the European side of the city, overlooking the border between the old and new city, and providing eye watering views of the Bosphorus River, and the Dolmabahçe Palace.
All the rooms are lavishly decorated to the best of their ability, with a good portion of them providing the creature comforts that most of us can only dream of, such as plasma TVs that are disguised as mirrors, oversized marble bathroom decorated with Iznik tiles, and heavily comfortable duvets stuffed with 300-thread cotton lines, & dove feathers. I must say that though the days of the high spending Turkish sultans are long gone, they would no doubt feel right at home at a place such as The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul. You can just imagine an Ottoman Sultan walking into the lobby in a grander fashion with his entourage and checking-in. Everything at the hotel, including the with its enormous bedrooms complete with vaulted ceilings, the Club Lounge, and the Blue Restaurant overlooking the Bosphorus, is made to make one feel just like a Sultan.
And not to forget the Ottoman style Laveda Spa, which features an indoor pool, sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi, and the hotel's very own Turkish Hamam. Though, I am not sure what the Ottomans would have made of this artificial example laid out in its finest possible surroundings in a luxury hotel. Nevertheless, the Turkish Hamam is in a 5-star hotel so understandably it's not quite what one would expect from a real experience. Just as well as I was a virgin to Istanbul, I also happened to nervously lose my virginity of experiencing a Turkish Bath. Before I had my Turkish bath ritual at The Ritz-Carlton Istanbul, my impressions of a Turkish Bath were somewhat limited to being derived from movies and TV documentaries.
I was expecting myself to be slapped and kind of beaten up by a huge masculine and hairy Turkish man with a Ottoman style mustache. Thankfully, to fade away my demons, in contrast I was greeted with a gentle smile by a native Turkish lady. During my Turkish bath, I actually felt like a baby sitting on the middle of a large marble stoned bed, and being washed, and scrubbed (gently), and then having warm water poured over me. Throughout the bath she inscribed deep spirals in the muscles of my back, then pouring the soap over by squeezing the contents of the wet towel. It wasn't as painful an experience as I had imagined (well, not at The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul anyways. My experience of a real Turkish bat will be written about later on in my blog!). Yet I felt like I was being christened. The experience makes you fall into a deep sleep. Dare I say I felt like I was re-born. Lounging in Istanbul's bath houses, whether they are in hotels or not, is certainly a relaxing way to spend your time, but be prepared for an unusual charm offensive.
Other parts of the hotel seemingly waiting to the explored by people from far away lands include its beautiful new restaurant, Bleu. Overlooking the Bosporus river the restaurant provides one to relax in an open air environment, tucking into delicious Turkish cuisine with the wind breezing past- ideal for the summer months. Live Western and Turkish music prevails. The best part of the hotel has to be the presentation of Turkish hospitality and the rich Ottoman style cuisine which presents a variety of smells and tastes consisting of flavors taken from as far back as 1539 in some of the dishes.
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