Text by Joseph Jgn
Photo by Studio Orion – Dahlmann and Hystorical Archive Hotel Pera Palace
Cool and chic at Pera Palace Constantinople.
I remember meeting my good old friend, a historian, in Vienna some time ago for breakfast at Hotel Sacher. He was there for a conference and I was there to see my cobbler, whose atelier was a few blocks away from St Stephens Cathedral. We did not order the famous “ Sacher Torte”, a chocolate cake invented by Franz Sacher way back in 1832. But the eponymous hotel itself opened in 1876, and is now one of Vienna’s landmarks. As were were enjoying breakfast, we exchange some of our travel tales. He was going to have the cake later in the day, as he was lodging there. However I had preferred the “ Hotel König von Ungarn, operating since 1746, a luxurious house around corner from St Stephen‘s Cathedral.
He has traveled to some far places as a historian, with a magnifying glass in his pocket to find hidden treasures, as “ Sherlock” or Hercule Poirot in the famous stories. For me travel was more fun, to enjoy the comfort, fine cuisine and service. We were almost competing with each other, a sort of chess game, I was not very patient. Historians are always explaining and not only sharing anecdotes. Two passionate persons sharing the same treasures from tea to cricket, it sometimes has to turned into heated discussions. There were times I thought, if we were at the cricket pitch, I would have stumped him with my fast bowling.
But we two men had nice stories among us to share from beautiful hotels to eating places! We also had the same passion for fine grand hotels built during the 19th to 20th century, among them the Hotel Peninsula Kong Hong, The Raffles Singapore, with there world famous “ Singapore Sling”, The Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, Thailand, The Manila Hotel Philippines, The Taj Umaid Bahwan palace Jodhpur-India, The Galle Face in Colombo, Sri Lanka The Eastern and Orient ,Penang Malaysia. There was no end to our who is who list. I has a traveler and a hospitality man, had the opportunity to have stayed at some grand legendary hotels, like The Hotel Ciudad de México Mexico City or The Plaza New York.
We did not notice that time passed so quickly, with all this great stories to share. We decided for lunch at Vienna’s oldest restaurant, The Griesenbeisl with famous Beef Goulash and a Vienna Schnitzel “ and ultimately a “Kleiner Brauner“, the name Austrians give to an espresso.
We were almost saying good by to each other, but he said, boy I have an absolutely different recommendation: you must stay at least once in the Pera Palace Constantinople, He went there with the train, but not with the “ Orient Express”
Well I know, any recommendations we share will not be a disappointment, where good dining or lodging is concerned. Indeed, I was in Constantinople,I visited this magnificent metropolis few times, because my uncles, being tea merchants, who were frequently visited the Sultans to sell Ceylon tea, a drink shared by Ceylonese and Turks. These men would tell me stories, but not reveal their trade secrets. I was very keen, to know if all the stories were true, not that I did not trust an Oriental salesman, but I had had my doubts. The tea industry was the work of the British colonial rulers, who planted the famous shrub from Asia to Africa and dominated the world tea trade for centuries. Tea was a big money making commodity! Not only the English, other European nations, the French, Spaniards, The Dutch, The Portuguese also tried there luck on other raw commodities, like spices, cotton, tobacco and whatever made profits. These prosperous trade routes brought an influx of European habits to the East, to South America and the Oceanian countries. Those European rulers, also wanted their customers and habits to be transferred to those countries they ruled, adding comfort and luxury. The Englishman, the traveller par excellence, whether as tradesman, soldier, scholar or man of leisure took the British look in men’s dress to every part of the world as well as there social cultures.
I arrived on sunny morning in Constantinople to stay at the Pera Palace to enjoy there warm hospitality and friendly service. I was handed over the keys to same room like my last visit overlooking the Galata on the Golden Horn side , that gladly I appreciated. Staying at this institution, there is always something new to discover, the cupboard and drawers will reveal some serious memories. From legendary stories of Dame Agatha Christie and her detectives like Hercule Poirot or British agents and diplomats. I too was inquiring if there were any left letters. None, they were all gone. I got a tip from the room boy, I should specifically look in the room 411, where Dame Agatha resided. I am sure Mrs Marple would have not done a better job finding any letters either…
The opulent Pera Palace Hotel opened its doors in 1892 to welcome passengers on the Orient Express. The luxurious interior in velvety shades of pink and red, was one of the first buildings in Turkey to offer electricity and hot running water. Later, it was also the first to have an electric elevator, an ornate cast iron cage still on display in the Pera Palace lobby today. Agatha Christie wrote her popular mystery novel Murder on the Orient Express inside these walls. Some of the many famous past guests include European and Asian royalty, Jackie Kennedy, Greta Garbo, and Alfred Hitchcock.
Extensive restoration has brought this Istanbul landmark to provide upscale accommodations for travelers arriving on the Orient Express—back to its former glory, with beautifully outfitted rooms and plenty of period decorations and antique furniture. Bathrooms are done in carrera marble and some feature deep, old-fashioned claw-foot tubs; there’s also a small underground spa, sauna, and indoor pool. Few rooms and suites are inspired by prestigious former guests, while the “deluxe Golden Horn” rooms, many with tiny private cozy balconies.
Palace Hotel is more than just one of Turkey’s most elegant hotels; it is a historic monument that represents character, style and spirit at Pera ( Beyglu) in Istanbul. The Hotel is 36 km from Istanbul New Airport and 5 km from the Historical Peninsula, and walking distance of Istiklal Street and Taksim Square.
This hotel was a permanent residence for the founding father of modern Turkey, Kemal Atatuerk as well as political figures such as Tito or crowned heads like King Edward VIII of England, King Carol of Romania and Shah Riza Pehlevi of Persia.
With all these dignitaries, residing here over the course of more than a century, I feel, I have to be better than my uncles, to say how nowadays Constantinople was like.
There was no better place to listen to those legendary stories, than the Grand Bazar or the spice market. There spices are the stars, stacked high in mounds that are not at all like the boring little bottles sold In international supermarkets. Istanbul has several bazaars, but the Grand Bazar, also known as the Covered Bazaar, is by far the largest, oldest, and most famous. There’s plenty grand about the Grand Bazar. There are 4,000 stores, give or take, 65 streets, 18 entrances, and about 20,000 people work there on any given day. There’s a police station. There are restaurants. There are armies of tea servers hustling around delivering tea. And the Bazaar is spread over some of the prime real estate within the 5th-century walls protecting the heart of old Istanbul.
With all this bustling and loud atmosphere, I get hungry, as aromatic smells spread out from narrow allies, the tee venders and sesame bread sellers will encourage there delicious items. But I was only interested to have lunch at the historical Pandeli a culinary monument. Taking a closer look at its timeline dotted with ups and downs it has been more than century since founder Pandeli Çobanoğlu first arrived from Niğde in 1901. Çobanoğlu was making a living from selling meatballs and bean salad to Eminönü merchants, and he could never have imagined that—a few decades later—the same bean salad would be enjoyed by royals on the upper floor of the Egyptian Bazaar. After a hearty lunch, I need an espresso, like in Italy. I forgot Turkish coffee is equally good and tried a coffee from a street vendor. It was strong enough to wake me from my sleep. talking to some shop keepers I wanted to know, if they knew about Ceylon tea and black pepper or cinnamon? It seemed few knew about the past histories, but young men knew about Ceylon Rubies and moon stones, because their feature brides would certainly wear them. I was at least glad my uncles were real merchants. I was satisfied with my friend and my uncles.