by Mark Rae
, Music maker
Yes, I was to be shaved and wrestled by strangers. And yes, I would enjoy it. But before immersing myself fully in the culture of Istanbul, I was to be drenched in something quite different thanks to a last-minute DIY job. A high-speed floorboard-sawing game hours before our flight had me hitting a water pipe at home. Leaving buckets and towels in our wake, we scarper to the airport ready for our ...
Yes, I was to be shaved and wrestled by strangers. And yes, I would enjoy it. But before immersing myself fully in the culture of Istanbul, I was to be drenched in something quite different thanks to a last-minute DIY job. A high-speed floorboard-sawing game hours before our flight had me hitting a water pipe at home. Leaving buckets and towels in our wake, we scarper to the airport ready for our Near East adventure.
Pomegranates, flesh-pummelling and places of worship are a few of the thrills awaiting us in this exotic city on the furthest outskirts of Europe. Our feet on Eurasian soil for the first time, we hop into a yellow taksi at the airport. After what feels like a reenactment of the final laps of the Turkish Grand Prix, we are deposited at the doorstep of our lavish new residence.
If you’re into high-end consumer tackle, you’ll be excited by the House Hotel’s position: it sits pristinely atop a Prada store in the heart of Nisantasi. The whole street and surrounding area is awash with boutiques that would surely have footballers and their Mrs Smiths in spending raptures. While our hip abode fits perfectly among all of this, it outshines its rather more brash neighbours with a touch of class that has been finessed with great taste.
Styled by Autoban, the House Hotel Nisantasi is arresting, but in a low-key way thanks to its bespoke understated beauty. Walls, rather than being papered or painted, are finished with fine textures. Bookshelves bulge with coffee-table tomes and monochrome prints are from a local photographer. Olive furniture has a midcentury bent, alongside Sixties cut-leather sofas, but it’s Autoban’s signature hooded Nest armchairs that steal the show. They beg you to relax in them while the calm and elegant staff see to getting you settled. We’re informed on the way up to our room that the design takes its cues from Japan. Excitement really kicks in as I realise that from less than a mile from where we’re standing I could in fact swim from Europe to Asia. Well, if I warmed up properly. And I should probably warn my mum.
Our room is a cracker. All the mod-cons are here, but they’re fitted with imagination. As well as a cocktail-making kit, wine bottles protrude from the walls forming the most ingenious minibar you’ll ever drink from. iPod dock sand speakers keep the beats pumping as we let the view from the window do the talking. Craning our heads we see the Bosphorous sweep from the left then disappear down behind one of the hills that form the foundation of this cosmopolitan culture-clashing peninsula. As we lean out admiring the view across centuries of history, I spot a Turkish do-it-himselfer hauling bags of cement. Mrs Smith stops me from bringing us crashing back to modern day with my attempts to swap plastering tips.
So which direction to head in next? Kosebasi is a Turkish restaurant a few hundred yards up that comes highly recommended by the hotel for its traditional fare in chi-chi surroundings. Here we’re treated to artichokes the size of sink plungers alongside super-tasty kebabs. And then there’s the raki. 50 proof, no cement is needed to help this kind of plastering along and I’m soon talking nonsense to Mrs Smith as we amble back through Istanbul’s flashiest neighbourhood.
Breakfast in the lounge is a great start to any day that follows one ended with too much of Turkey’s national drink. It’s the usual self-serve drill with a cold buffet of cereals, nuts and fruit, while hot dishes such as eggs and potatoes are a shout-away in the kitchen. My tip? Slather on the Sarelle. It’s like Nutella but heavier on the hazelnuts. So delicious it soon has us pondering how to get an import license. Music schmusic – sign me up as the UK rep for this chocolatey spread and I’ll have found my vocation.
The plan is to head out on foot and aim roughly for the water, taking in whatever comes. Five minutes in, we’re at the stadium of Besiktas, one of the three most famous football teams. 10 minutes more and we’ve done the Dolmabahçe, an Ottoman palace. Half an hour on and we’re hanging on Galata Bridge watching locals catch bucket loads of tiny fish. How much more can this mighty city throw at us in so little time? If this trip were a medicine it would be a caffeine-injected Minibreak Max.
Heeding the advice of our knowledgeable hotel concierge, next up is a Bosphorus cruise from Eminonu. Soon, from a ferry down the Istanbul Strait, we’re marveling at those steep-sided hills carpeted with historic buildings as far as the eye can see. Back on dry land soon enough and we’re ready to hit Sultanahmet – the oldest part of town. The magnificent Blue Mosque confirms it is as awe-inspiring as structures get, with the added bonus of giving us an excuse to take off our shoes after all the walking.
The ultimate relaxation – so I am hoping – is yet to come, with a whirl in a hammam. Having never been washed by a man, I procrastinate with a haircut and wet shave at a barber shop first. Soon enough I’m in the marbled Cemeberlitas baths, being tossed about and scrubbed to within an inch of my life, then left to lie on a hot stone slab in a state of semi-meditation. Appetites surely don’t get a better working up than all that?
Rolling into a taxi, we get back at the hotel ready to sample the chef’s creations with gusto. Mrs Smith signs up for a Turkish take on spaghetti bolognese, I go for the steak. Both are as satisfying as can be, and off to our luxurious bed we go, ready to drift off in seconds. Our trip has been a crazy concoction that only Istanbul can conjure: cool and calming one moment, exhilarating and edifying the next. And best of all, no home-improvement headaches – only the ones we get from a certain aniseedy spirit.