Monday, October 4, 2010

Visit Turkey with Travelife Magazine!

So there I was, facebooking at a rather ungodly hour as usual, after a bout of indigestion kept me up, when a skype chat popped up on my Mac. It was from an old friend who'd heard that Travelife Magazine, with the help of award-winning Turkish Airlines, was organizing a tour to Turkey this November at an incredible price. Non-profit and prices starting at US$1999 for a one-week all-inclusive tour to Istanbul, Ephesus and Izmir -- to be exact.

Yes, $1999. It's not terribly cheap but it's not expensive either. I'd call it incredibly good value for what you're paying for. Five-star hotels, most meals, all tours, all flights. And just to show you we're not taking you for a ride (no pun intended), we're even going along with you.

What's so great about the Travelife Magazine Turkey Tour?

First, unlike a typical commercial tour, we created a schedule we ourselves would like, but within the parameters of our one week trip. You see all the major sights so you don't end up feeling it was too quick a trip and you've got to return sometime just to see the things you missed, but we don't leave you breathless either. The latter is very important as we ourselves completely believe in leisure travel over mindless touring. We take you everywhere you should go, and throw in one or two more things for good measure.


Given a choice, I'd stay three weeks in Turkey and spend at least five days in some very nice hotels, sightseeing at a leisurely pace (which means breakfast past 8 am and out of the hotel around 930 AM). But most people don't have the luxury of time so instead we've tried to include almost all the major sights in two general areas (Istanbul and Izmir) within a week of travel -- but without the killing pace and the feeling that all you're doing is spending too much time in a bus trying to cram a hundred things in a hundred hours. There's enough time for touring, but also some time for shopping and just for fiddling around on your own if you so wish.

Being Travelife, we've also been to every single place on the itinerary -- and in some cases, we've been four or five times -- so we can guarantee that every place is worth seeing and worth including vis-a-vis other places.


Anyone who has traveled with us will tell you we're quite finicky about where we stay. We'll always stay in the best luxury hotel in the country we're visiting, if we can -- just because we love great linen and a spacious bathroom, flawless room service and a spa to visit at 6 am. But this isn't a perfect world and we don't have an unlimited credit card, but we do try to travel in style whenever possible. In keeping with our penchant for the good things in life, the hotels on this tour are five-star class and in good locations -- certainly not your typical tour package hotel in the middle of nowhere.

And just in case you think you'd prefer to save a few dollars and stay in the tourist dive, let me tell you why we tried so hard to give you good hotels. First, everyone wants to come back to a decent place after a long day of sightseing. And more importantly, no one we know wants to spend hours traveling to and from the hotel and the city because the hotel on the package tour is near the airport instead of near the palace. Yes, the airport hotel is where most tours would put you because it's cheap and decent, but the Travelife tour books you right in the old city so you can walk around on your own on a free afternoon or even run back to the Grand Bazaar if you wish. Logistics becomes terribly important when you only have three nights in a great city.


Well, there's lots of them. First, we've asked the Turkish ambassador to host an evening with all tour participants to give everyone an idea of the country and the people. Then we've thrown in lots of things we would like to do, and again, you'll never find this in a typical package tour at this price: we've arranged a private dinner cruise along the Bosphorus, and shopping excursions to places tours won't take you to because there's no commissions involved: a local's bazaar in Izmir and a high-end outlet mall in Istanbul that offers the best of quality Istanbul stores like Vakko (my favorite!). And just in case you're looking for even more special experiences, we've organized a couple of optional tours to some of Istanbul's most fabulous restaurants.

"Of all the countries in the world, why Turkey?" My friend typed out via skype.

And right there and then, I found myself thinking about all the wonderful times I've had in Turkey ever since I first started going there about 20 years ago. Two decades ago, Istanbul was truly an ancient city that I almost dare to say was completely untouched by modernity. I can never forget my first glimpse of the old town with the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia visible in the distance -- I'd arrived in Istanbul at night and I saw them properly for the first time walking down from Galata Hill, and across Galata Bridge and the Bosphorus.

* * *

Must-read before a visit:
Orphan Pamuk's memoirs of Istanbul

* * *

It was an incredible sight. The remnants of the old town are much more recent than the first centuries, but for some reason I felt that someone had opened a page of the Bible and I was now walking through it. The colors, sounds and smells of this incredibly historic city filled me with wonder.

This is a wonder that has not diminished, even if I've seen all the sights over and over, and modernity has now crept into Istanbul and brought with it luxury hotels, fastfood chains, and international retail shops. The old town is still a marvel to behold, especially to the first-time visitor.

* * *

Favorite shopping destination:
Grand Bazaar for trinkets and unusual finds,

the outlet mall for high-end Turkish clothing at half-price

* * *

In June, my most recent visit, I arrived very early in the morning of an almost perfect day of cool breezes and sunshine. I can still remember in the most minute detail that mixture of happiness, excitement, wonder and expectation I had all wrapped up inside me. My managing editor and I were still giddy with the same excitement we felt when we stepped out of the plane after the 10-hour ride from Hong Kong and realized we were now at the literal crossroads of Asia and Europe. On the right, as we drove into the city from the airport, the sea sparkled as ships of all sizes bobbed up and down in the distance. Meanwhile, on the left were the remnants of Istanbul's ancient walls.

"Those are the walls I've been reading about!" My managing editor had exclaimed. He'd brought a history book called 1453 about the conquest of Constantinople (Istanbul's old name) and had been reading it enthusiastically at Hong Kong airport when I met up with him at the Turkish Airlines lounge and all throughout the flight. (Meanwhile, I'd actually made up my mind to start a journal for the trip, and much of the flight had been devoted to scribbling observations and notes into my notebook. Unfortunately, once we reached Turkey, things turned out to be so hectic that I never had time to open my journal again! My managing editor apparently never progressed much beyond the first few pages of his book either...)

* * *

Favorite thing to do in Istanbul:
Take a boat along the Bosphorus

* * *

I smiled at his glee, recalling that this mixture of joy and amazement was what I felt when I first beheld Istanbul in its glory so many years ago; and that feeling had hardly diminished over time.

Then he asked our guide, pointing to a structure in the distance. "Is that the blue mosque?"

* * *

Must eat when in Istanbul:
Kunefe in Patisserie Saray,

even if it gives me a glucose attack midway

* * *

We were approaching the old town from the back, and for me, from a distance it was hard to tell one mosque from another. But our guide nodded, and so we both gazed at it in wonder. Istanbul has many incredible sights -- and in fact, later on my managing editor said that the most impressive thing he had seen in Turkey was the Aya Sofya -- but the Blue Mosque has always had a special place in my heart. The first time I went inside, many years ago, I think I sat on the carpet for an hour, looking at the ceiling and admiring the intricate artwork on it. I truly felt then that I had suddenly been transported to somewhere magical.

* * *

Favorite spot in Istanbul:
The sunbeds by the pool
of the Ciragan Palace Kempinski

* * *

And that's really where the charm of Istanbul lies. The city has that ability to transport you somewhere magical -- somewhere back in time to a glorious era of grandeur and fabled lives. Words can't really express the full awe I feel for this ancient city. You must see it for yourself. And there is no better time than in November, when Travelife Magazine and Turkish Airlines take two groups to Turkey for a one-week tour of Istanbul, Ephesus and Izmir at a price you won't find elsewhere. I believe we have two spaces in each group left -- if you'd like to experience some magic in your life, this may be the time!

* * *

To book a space on this once-in-a-lifetime Turkey tour with Travelife Magazine please call Rachel at 813-8400/ 892-2620 or email

* * *

Travelife's favorite memories of Turkey:

1) The fantastic hot-air balloon ride across Cappadocia. Nothing prepares you for the spectacle witnessed from above.

2) Walking along the sea on that first morning in Istanbul, observing the fishermen. The day was just beginning and our trip, too, was full of promises of amazing days and enchanted evenings.

3) Puttering around the town of Urgup one late evening, going in and out of shops and trying and tasting everything like excited little children. Everything we saw brought out some happiness -- whether it was the carpet shop, the pottery place or the candy store. I even remember what I ended up buying: a handkerchief dress made by a local artist, a vintage hand-dyed blouse, and bags and bags of apple tea.

4) A wonderful and perfect evening in Reina, Istanbul's hottest night club. We drank till the early hours right by the Bosphorus, its coastline all lighted up and boats of partygoers racing by.

5) Watching the World Cup while eating dry aged steaks and drinking cabernet sauvignon on the terrace of the Park Hyatt Istanbul -- this was after ten days of nonstop Turkish food. Don't ask me why as there is no particular reason, but I'm very fond of my memory of this lunch and afternoon on our last day in Turkey.


1 comment:

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