Well, if you think you have seen everything in luxury travel, think again. Who would expect Batman to be sharing the elevator with the gal at Ciragan Palace Kempinski, here in Istanbul?
Goodness knows what he is doing here but perhaps he is part of the fancy dress party that is the culmination of a Europe-wide incentive. Down in the lobby of this historic hotel, there is a group of ‘English policemen’, obviously part of the same function.
The meetings and incentives market, at top level, really loves this historic hotel, right on the Bosphorus. It is based around an 1863 mansion, still part of the whole thing, built by architect Nigogayos Balyan for Sultan Abdulaziz. It has the past, it also has so much that is exciting about today and to listen to the big-boss, Ralph Radtke, he is going to come up with something new at least every day…
Swim here, and you are in heaven. The outdoor pool is just under a hundred feet long, and about 30 feet wide. It is heated to 31 degrees by the co-generation plant that provides back-up electricity. Even in the snow a couple of weeks ago people swam, steam rising above.
You are right next to the Bosphorus, watching tankers and cruisers go by (oh gosh, here is a submarine – is it Russian, perhaps?). The waterway is international so anyone can use it. Clever Ralph Radtke, has installed a stylish conservatory room at one end, with a powerful interior heater, so you can swim, whatever the weather, and then rush in and dress, in the warm.
The history of the Ottoman emperors, or rather Sultans, is so fascinating. Every guest at this 322-room hotel gets a card, at night turndown, with a poem by one of those guys, thoughtfully translated by the Divan Literature scholar Prof Dr Iskender Pala. I learn that 26 of the 36 Sultans were poets.
This one is Sultan Mehmet 1373-1421 and the English words of his chosen verse start with ‘If all the people in the world become your enemy do not become hopeless after asking for help from God’. Experience in luxury travel today is not only physical (which I get here from swimming in the steam, at early dawn) but mental.
A card in my room is covered in ebru painting, specially done by Hikmet Barutçugil. Ebru, or ebre, is marbling, and has been extensively used in Turkey as background and border for calligraphy. To do marbling you need a gum, say tragacanth, and dyes, and brushes of horsehair or rose branches.
You increase the density of water with your chosen thickening gum. Metal oxide dyes that do not dissolve in water are then prepared by crushing them together with cattle bile (what do you do if you do not have any oxen around), and then sprinkled on a water surface. The shape they then make can be guided with a brush. This one shows a tulip, a reminder of Turkey’s great tulip era, a time of peace that lasted 1718-1730.
More learning, courtesy Norman Stone’s excellent book, Turkey a Short History. Tulip, as a name, came from Persia, and means turban. Tulips, the flowers, came from Central Asia and they had actually reached the Netherlands by the mid 17th century. But the craze in Turkey was led by Sultan Ahmet III, who ruled 1703-1730.
Apparently he got so much revenue from selling tax rights that he was able to spend. He heard from his ambassador to France about gardens there so he took a spot at Kagithane known as ‘the sweet waters of Europe’, where two streams flowed into the Golden Horn, and he built a palace, Sadabad, with gardens stocked with tulips.
At parties, tortoises with candles on their backs lit up the tulip displays. All this came to an end when Ahmet’s successor, Mahmut I, who ruled 1730-1754, invited an Albanian, Patrona Halil to a banquet and massacred him and his retinue… oh well.
Stay at this lovely hotel and you learn, continually. The all-day restaurant is called Laledan, Turkish for tulip, and there are tulips on wall tiles, and table runners. (Do not miss the buffet breakfast here – there is one table full of individual carafes of juices and smoothies, and another table exclusively squeezes juice just for you, and, of course, do not miss the renowned Kempiski ‘ladies in red’ who make such lovely hostesses..)
But I had to miss a lot at this luxury hotel, this time. Next visit I will look at the Hall Of Fame, guests immortalised forever on a lobby wall. This visit was already over, and I was seen off the premises, with lots of smiles. There was even a gentleman in red.