Just got back
Istanbul and Venice
We stayed at the Ciragan Palace in Istanbul and the San Clemente Palace in Venice. The Ciragan Palace in Istanbul is divided by 2 buildings, one part once an Ottoman Palace built in 1860’s and the other building built in 1990. Located on the European shore, right on the Bosporus, there are spectacular views from the 284 Rooms and 31 Suites including a Sultan Suite – Elegance. The San Clemente Palace in Venice is on a private island approximately 10 minutes away from Piazza San Marco. A member of the Leading Hotels of the World, with 190 rooms, this hotel was peaceful and tranquil while still being close to San Marco with complimentary regular boat service. And this hotel is perfect for the celebrity type who want to avoid paparazzi as it is not accessible by public transportation.
In a nutshell...
While you can visit these cities on your own, to get the most out of your experience I recommend a guide/tour company. In Istanbul we used a company called Crystal Concepts. This company went out of their way organizing the cruise, the Galata Tower and the underground subway (called the Tunel) so that we had unusual experiences. Even the Turkish guide assigned to us had lived in Los Angeles so she knows the American market. In Venice we used a company called Leonardo Travel who, not only included the major sightseeing sites of Venice, but also added a side trip to Verona and Garda Lake. The local guides they hired were exceptional.
Get any souvenirs?
I helped many of my traveling companions purchase Turkish Rugs, Evil Eye souvenirs and scarves at the Grand Bazaar. In Venice of course we shopped for Venetian handmade masks, beautiful glass items at the famous Murano Glass factory and I bought some beautiful scarves on the lovely island of Burano.
What struck me most was…
How easy it was to visit both Istanbul and Venice on just a 6 night trip! With Turkish Airlines offering several nonstop flights a day, in just over 2 hours, we went from one country to the other with ease. Plus, both cities felt so safe for tourists. We never had a worry.
If you do one thing...
In Istanbul, when you go to the Topkapi Palace, constructed between 1460 and 1478, make sure your tour includes the Harem. It takes a separate ticket and is not included in all tours. You can even purchase tickets online in advance so don’t miss it. My favorite part of my tour. In Venice – Do NOT miss this fabulous view of the Grand Canal from above! The very first place we were taken was to the Rooftop Terrace on top of the luxury department store which opened in 2016 called the T Fondaco dei Tedeschi! It is located right at the base of the Rialto Bridge. As long as you reserve your 15 minute slot in advance, your visit is completely “free”. From this terrace you will see the most spectacular view of the Grand Canal you will ever see. A photographer’s dream.
In Venice - The island of Burano, so close to Venice. Easily reached by regular boat service. A slow paced colorful fishing village framed by an old church with a leaning tower.
Istanbul’s Mega-Airport officially opened just weeks before we arrived and it will be the largest in the world when complete. It is located on the European side of Istanbul, by the Black Sea and about 45 minutes away from Istanbul. Turkish Air would like travelers to consider IST for European connections rather than large airports like CDG & AMS and our tour showed us how easy connections can be made. Very impressive and a complete surprise.
Several come to mind in both Istanbul & Venice but the ones that stand out most would be: Istanbul – An evening river cruise on the Bosphorus and taking an elevator to the top of the Galata Tower built in 500 AD for spectacular views of Istanbul. A quick stop at the Pera Palas Hotel where Agatha Christie wrote “Murder on the Orient Express”, the Annual Tulip Festival and the Hagia Sophia, now a museum built in 537 AD and of course the Grand Bazaar. Venice – just walking through the streets of Venice are a treat in itself. But I enjoyed taking the water taxis and exploring the less touristy sites. We also visited and toured the Caffe Florian, in San Marco, established in 1720. It is the oldest in Italy and the 2nd oldest in the world. A nice stop if you have time.
Istanbul - One of my favorite experiences was being in Istanbul during the annual “Istanbul Tulip Festival (Istanbul Lale Festivali)” generally held every April for 3 weeks. Did you know that Tulips originated in Turkey and NOT in Holland? For centuries, Tulips have been depicted on everything from tiles, crockery and fabric to name a few. During my visit Tulips were visible everywhere in city parks, squares and hotels but it was our visit to Sultanahmet Square where we saw the largest carpet of tulips in the world and I’ve included pictures. Venice - my favorite experience was our Gondola ride. While some travelers may find them over-priced (approx. $100 for 45 min), I found out this cost can be shared with others and is a one-of-a-kind experience, not to be missed! Gondolas are the symbol of history, tradition and romance in this city. We were told there was once 10000 Gondola’s in the canals and now their numbers are less than 500. These hand built flat bottom boats are usually handed down from father to son for generations. Generally they do not “sing” or even “narrate” like you see in the movies, but just riding through the quiet, serene waters through a city more than 1200 years old is an experience not to be missed.
Istanbul the Tuğra Restaurant – is located in the Ciragan Palace Hotel, first floor historical palace section right on the Bosphorus. The Executive Chef Sezai Erdogan, has incorporated in the menu, recipes recorded in the archives of historic sites such as the Topkapi Palace and so it is a mixture of both ancient Ottoman Sultan and traditional, Turkish dishes. The back drop of the beautiful Bosphorus out the window was unbelievable. What a treat! In Venice the Ristorante Do Forni- one of only 5 Michelin star restaurants in all of Venice. Some might call it touristy but we enjoyed our dinner there very much. I particularly liked the Orient Express room. I followed it up with a Bellini at Harry’s Bar!