Wednesday, June 15, 2011

To the Black Sea and back


Today in Istanbul, I finally did something I've been wanting to do for a really long time: I rented a car and drove from downtown Istanbul all the way down to the very tip of Turkey, where the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea. It was a beautiful day for a drive through some of my favorite areas in Istanbul, including the neighborhoods of Bebek, which are among the most picturesque seaside spots in the world.

A WONDERFUL LIFE

It's truly a wonderful life here, especially in the early summer. Especially if you happen to be one of the lucky (and wealthy) Turks to have a posh flat or villa in Bebek with a yacht anchored right in front of the promenade so you can sail up and down the Bosphorus on a nice summer day at cocktail hour, or head off to Greece for a weekend. Then, when you're tired of sailing, just drop the anchor in a bay and head into a stylish seaside restaurant for an amazing meal of grilled fish caught that morning. After dinner, get your yacht captain to drop you off at one of the seaside nightclubs for a second round of partying.

Mind you, lots of Turks have boats because sailing is pretty big in the coastal cities; but you've certainly got to have major money if you're going to have a big yacht anchored in Bebek, several hundred meters away from Reina and the other fancy nightclubs by the sea that come alive in the summer.

JUNE IS A GREAT TIME TO GO

Istanbul too is great to visit in June as it's neither too hot nor too rainy. The one exception was perhaps last year, when it rained horribly in the first half of June, forcing everyone to dig into their closets for their overcoats and sweaters. I was in Istanbul too in June last year, but fortunately the rains had headed over to Europe by the time I arrived and it was perfect outdoor cafe weather. Just like today.

THE CLEAR WINNER

Everywhere is prettier in good weather, but few major cities can truly match Istanbul for the gorgeous factor, when the sun is smiling down on it. The combination of beautiful structures, a jaw-dropping harbor and peninsula, and hills and greens in between palaces and mosques makes Istanbul the hands-down beauty contestant winner no one wants to run against, in my opinion.

So I drove all the way down to the Black Sea today from the Golden Horn, which is not as hard as it sounds as it's basically a scenic one-lane road all the way from the Galata Bridge just off the Old Town of Istanbul to the very tip of Turkey, where it meets the Black Sea. It took me about 90 minutes to get there, and it was an incredibly pleasant drive past promenades, quiet harbours, upscale weekend towns, and lovey yali (which are the old Istanbul villas by the water). I'd love to own a yali and fix it up for spending every May and June in, by the way. Yes, that's on my wishlist.


Some of the yali have been abandoned and are in a state of disrepair, so I always imagine you can probably buy one for a song; but that's never the case and seaside yali do cost a fortune here. However, a lot of them have been bought and redone very fancily by stylish Istanbul residents -- at least judging from what I saw of their insides.

Driving along the seaside road, I thought I could go all the way to the very tip and gaze across the Black Sea towards Ukraine, which I visited four years ago by ship; but about a kilometer from the end of the Turkish coastline, the land around had suddenly been fenced off and turned into a military installation with sentries everywhere. Of course. This was basically the Turkish border, after all. But at least I made it until the gate of the military camp.

REMINISCING ABOUT REINA

On the way back, I pointed out the nightclub Reina to my friend. "We took 70 Travelife readers there," I said. Reina's great, even if some people think it's now becoming too much of a tourist attraction and less of a cool hangout. That feeling of being in that outdoor bar on a wonderful night with a beautiful panorama as backdrop and boats just dropping guests off at the private dock is just magical.

"How'd you get to know about Reina?" My friend asked, knowing fully well I'm not exactly the clubbing type of person. My idea of a good evening never involves standing around a crowded place with loud music and drinks, where people have to shout to get heard. This is the kind of instance when I start pulling out my Blackberry and looking for someone to message. The only exception has really been Peninsula's Salon de Ning when it first opened, as I think I was there several times a week and I loved it.

GIVE ME A COCKTAIL PARTY ANYTIME

As far as crowded events go, I like cocktail parties much more because they're short and sweet, and you can pack a couple of parties into one evening and still be home by 11 PM. I'm out practically every day of the year, but most of it is for work and it usually involves at least one cocktail party a night. But I almost never stay past midnight simply because there's too much work waiting the next day.

THE PERFECT EVENING


The perfect evening, for me, is actually a dinner for two, simply because it's only about one other person and I like having real conversations that don't need to be edited because other people are within hearing range. If you're eating with a group, courtesy demands that you tailor the conversation into things that are at least of mild interest to everyone. There are no such constraints if you're only sitting across one person.

I'll also do dinner for three, or join a table for two to three couples. Occasionally, too, I'll go to one of these events where you greet everyone as you come in and then sit at long tables and only need to make polite conversation with your immediate companions. But generally, two is my magic number and six is my max.

Put me in a group of ten, for example, and my mind wanders after an hour because the conversation is too diluted. It's usually all just gossip in our little town if you're trying to find a common topic among ten people -- and nasty gossip, at that. Too much gossip bores me and that's when I start wishing I was home blogging instead. Although ironically, it seems this blog has become the source of gossip lately, just because I've recounted a couple of witty but really harmless one-liners that were too funny or entertaining to keep to myself...

Today alone I had a couple of really funny long-distance exchanges; but I'm not going to be writing about those again anytime soon...

FOREVER 25

But back to Reina, which was great fun but so not my scene. My friend Nesli had taken me there for dinner over a year ago and we had stayed on for drinks afterwards, literally watching the place come alive. Someone was escorting us, but nevertheless a couple of young men newly graduated from Istanbul University started chatting us up for about ten minutes, thinking we were 25. How pleased we were at this misconception that we forgave them for trying to chat us up. They weren't too far off, of course, haha, and 12 months later I'm still telling this story to everyone with undisguised pleasure.

It had been a great afternoon. And driving back to Istanbul just in time for a sunset drink on the huge terrace of my suite -- it can easily host a cocktail party for 40 and it has a perfect view of the Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque in the distance...what a waste of a wonderful party venue -- and dinner, we decided to try a new and not very well-known (at least not yet) restaurant called which had been recommended by a friend. It's not really on the established foodie map yet, but I hope that one day it shall be. More on that in a future entry.

Just another day in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful, Travelife.


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