8th Stage: Istanbul - Cultural melting pot on the Bosporus

Istanbul is a city of contradictions; in this global metropolis, a blaze of color meets desolation, tradition meets modernity, and Europe meets Asia. Its streets are polished to a high gloss or run down, its inhabitants young or old, hip or conservative, free spirit or strict believers. Opposites attract, as is well known, and so cultures, interests and ways of life merge into a harmonious unity that exerts a magical attraction on travelers from all over the world.

This is also true for our migratory bird, which sets off from the Aegean Sea for one last time to the north to experience late summer in the fairytale city on the Bosporus.

Flying high

The best view of Istanbul is during the landing approach - there the Golden Horn glitters, there the Bosphorus, which meanders over a length of 30 km from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea and separates the European from the Asian mainland. Proudly, countless minarets tower skywards and blend in seamlessly between magnificent domes and skyscrapers. No wonder, the city dwellers are drawn high up. A restaurant without a rooftop bar seems unthinkable in this city, too captivating is the view from above of the teeming and bustling streets and alleys.
For a particularly spectacular 360-degree panoramas in a luxurious ambience, a visit to the restaurant of the same name "360Istanbul" in the noble district of Beyoğlu is worthwhile. When the sun sets behind the Bosporus, the gourmet restaurant is transformed into a hip nightclub where the international jet set meets night owls from Istanbul's high society. Beyoğlu is one of the most western-style districts of the city; on the main shopping mile "İstiklal Caddesi", local and international boutiques line up side by side and countless side streets and passages invite you to explore. If your feet get heavy, the nostalgic red streetcar will take you up and down the street. And it's worth taking a break, because in the street cafés, restaurants and rooftop bars people dance until the early morning hours.


Hidden cultural treasures

Travel guides count the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia or the Sunken Palace "Yerebatan Sarnıcı" among the most impressive sights of Istanbul. They are all just a few steps away from each other in the historic old town "Sultanahmet". But while strolling through this district, many other mosques and museums catch the eye, whose treasures remain undiscovered by most visitors. The former Great Palace of Constantinople, which was decorated with the most beautiful and colorful mosaics from mythology, is one of these hidden beauties. Unfortunately the palace was destroyed, but the paintings are mostly undamaged and of inestimable artistic value. The museum is located at the Arasta Bazaar, an oriental market that offers traditional handicrafts and a wide variety of delicacies from the Orient. A beguiling scent rises to our nose, of fresh figs, aromatic spices and seductive sweets. But there is something else that mixes into the exotic mixture of scents: Sultanahmet is home to the oldest shisha bars of the Ottoman Empire, the most authentic one is called "Çorlulu Ali Paşa". This 300-year-old former school is the most popular shisha bar, known beyond the city limits for its irresistible apple tobacco. Here hipsters and tourists puff next to seniors with deep furrows and wise eyes that give them an omniscient aura and contribute to the mystical atmosphere in the haze of tobacco. A centuries-old tradition that, despite its notoriously bad reputation, has become an integral part of the way of life of the locals.


A centuries-old ritual for body & soul

In addition to the shisha bars, a visit to a Turkish bath also invites you to let the whole magic of the Orient work its magic on you. Visitors to the almost 300-year-old traditional "Cağaloğlu Hamami" feel like they are in a fairy tale from 1001 nights. Vaulted ceilings, high columns, marble halls, candlelight and seductive aromas beguile all senses and open the gates to another world. Traditionally, men and women perform this ritual separately, it is supposed to be a place of complete relaxation where body and mind are purified. A visit to a hamam follows a ritual that is always the same. First, the visitor relaxes with a glass of tea in a room that is warm to the body, then he enters the hot room, where golden bowls are waiting for him. These are filled with warm and cold water, which is alternately poured over the body. After the ritual washing you make yourself comfortable on a warm stone. Finally, the real highlight follows, a pampering body peeling with a subsequent foam massage. The result is balm for body and soul, we are relaxed and feel much purer and more beautiful. With this feeling we go to the relaxation room and let ourselves be further pampered with tea and Turkish sweets. By the way, the "Cağaloğlu Hamami" is only a few steps away from the "Gülhane Park", here you can watch parrots and enjoy the silence so that the effect of the traditional bathing ritual lasts for a while.


The somewhat different city tour on two continents

Karaköy is one of Istanbul's most up-and-coming neighborhoods and embodies in miniature what makes the Turkish metropolis so charming. Here, suits sit at business lunches, fathers of families at the afternoon tea ceremony, mothers push baby carriages through the streets and street artists form the musical backdrop. The quarter is filled to the core with colors, smells and sounds that merge altogether. Especially charming is Hoca Tahsin Street, where we stroll under countless colorful umbrellas that magically draw our eyes upwards. A line of sight that is worthwhile. Since artists have been inviting to an international street art festival every year, impressive murals and graffiti adorn the once barren walls and facades. We find sightseeing of a different kind and let the works of art lead us through the streets. The intensity of these pictures, their messages and the sheer size of the works of art, some of which are several meters high, encourage us to marvel and reflect.
In the evening, the streets of Karaköy are filled with the sounds of jazz clubs, voices and the delicious smells of the local cuisine. We too are slowly getting hungry. One of the most popular snacks in Istanbul is "Balik-Ekmek" in English: fish in bread. Fish and seafood is available everywhere and for every budget, but for the truly authentic experience, you can buy the fish roll from one of the numerous fishmongers directly on the beach.


More Street-Art and unusual delicacies

Strengthened, we want to pay attention to the street art artists in Asia as well. From Karaköy in Europe, ferries take visitors across the Bosporus to Kadiköy in Asia. The crossing does not take long and with a little luck you will catch a glimpse of jumping dolphins swimming behind the ferry. And something else catches the eye of us bird lovers; countless seagulls glide screeching over the heads of the crossing passengers and snap greedily for bread crumbs in the air. "Simit" is the name given to the bagel-like bread with sesame seeds that is shared with the seagulls in the old tradition.
In Kadiköy, life goes round and round - when some get up, others go to bed; what starts at sunrise in the fish market ends at the same time in the bars and restaurants of the lively neighborhood. And yet everything seems a little more relaxed and peaceful here on the Asian side of the metropolis. We dedicate ourselves once again to graffiti; suddenly a larger-than-life tiger jumps at us, but portraits and floral designs also embellish the sometimes desolate buildings. Also on this side of the Bosporus one feels almost invited to just let oneself drift. While we sip our "Raki" with pleasure, we are told about another unusual tradition that unites the young and young-at-heart inhabitants of Istanbul. After a night of drinking, people in Kadiköy like to meet for soup at "Kimyon" - so far, so ordinary. But this is where the most diverse offal is served: tripe, liver or pig's trotters give the broth its powerful content and strengthen the night owls' spirits.


Four bridges between two worlds

Although the "Metzgete" is also a tradition in this country, slaughter cattle and offal are not on everyone's menu. But the culinary offer in the world metropolis is just as versatile and multi-faceted as the Istanbuli itself. Our hunger leads us back to Beşiktaş in European Istanbul. By the way - as idyllic as the ferry crossing is, if you want to get there quickly, the metro connects the two continents in just a few minutes' travel time. Our next destination is a club, restaurant and meeting place for high society in one. The "Ruby" is a hip place, popular not only for its exquisite food and cocktail creations, but also for the fabulous view over the Bosporus. In the wonderful ambience we enjoy the extraordinary creations from the kitchen and the view of the former "Bosporus Bridge". The imposing suspension bridge, which at the beginning of the 1970s was the first connection by land between the continents, was renamed "Bridge of the Martyrs of July 15" after the attempted coup d'état in 2016. Today, there are four bridges connecting the Orient and Occident, and one of them should be the destination of every trip to Istanbul. Although it is not nearly as long and mighty as the modern suspension bridges, it is absolutely unique. While eight lanes of traffic on the upper level take commuters across the Golden Horn, the cafés and restaurants on the lower level are bustling with activity. And anglers throw out their rods everywhere, hunting for freshly caught prey. The two-story Galata Bridge is a rare experience and a symbol of life in this city of millions.


The secret rulers of Istanbul

Istanbul has many special features and one of them makes the hearts of cat lovers all over the world beat faster. Among the almost 16 million inhabitants of the metropolis, there are thousands and thousands of cats. Street cats, to be more precise, but for these proud four-legged creatures this term would almost be an insult. They may live on the streets, but they are the secret rulers of the city. They are cared for and nurtured, they are given names and are looked after with indescribable care. Fishmongers share their catch, restaurant owners greet their four-legged regulars, and food and water bowls stand at every corner. Some people even build houses for the cats and take touching care of their mothers and their offspring. The great love of cats in Islamic Turkey is traced back to the prophet Mohammed, and many legends have grown up about him and his beloved cat Muezza. It is said that he once cut off the sleeve of his robe on which Muezza slept so as not to disturb her when he had to get up. Therefore, it is not surprising that in Istanbul's mosques cats are even allowed to pray! The elegant balls of fur also accompany us on every stage of our journey, sometimes they blink tiredly from the roofs, sometimes they stumble clumsily between our legs. A documentary film has been written about the street cats of Istanbul that has won the hearts of audiences around the world, and they even have their own Instagram account.



Balm for the soul...

... and sore feet. Some people run half a marathon on a city trip, because only on foot can you discover the hidden treasures of a foreign city. This is also the case on this journey, which has taken us to magical worlds and two continents and will remain in our memories with an unbelievable number of impressions. But before we turn our backs on Istanbul, we want to put our strained legs up for a while and let ourselves be pampered all around. Susanne Najid, our secret source for exclusive wellness stays, knows where this works best. The experienced expert for Premium & Lifestyle Services takes us to the historic "Çiragan Palace Kempinski". Nestled in a well-kept park with a view over the Bosporus, this beautiful hotel is located in an Ottoman palace from the 17th century. No less than four restaurants, all of which are among the best addresses in the city, an exceptional fitness and wellness center and a heated infinity pool ensure that we don't have to travel far and can still enjoy everything our hearts desire. Fulfilled and cared for, we allow ourselves to be enveloped by the magic of this historic environment, enjoy the spectacular views and feel the pulse of the enchanting metropolis for the last time.