Istanbul offers the best of Asia and Europe

Jannie Chan, co-founder and executive vice-chairman of home-grown watch chain HourGlass. She is also president of the Singapore Retailers Association.
Jannie Chan, co-founder and executive vice-chairman of home-grown watch chain HourGlass. She is also president of the Singapore Retailers Association.PHOTO: JANNIE CHAN

Jannie Chan’s Travel Black Book 

Who: Jannie Chan, 68, co-founder and executive vice-chairman of home-grown watch chain HourGlass. She is also president of the Singapore Retailers Association.

Favourite city: Istanbul, Turkey

Why: The bustling city is a melting pot of cultures. It reminds me of Singapore 30 years ago, when we were a trading port and everyone was flocking here to buy something.

I love Istanbul so much that I went there four times last year, twice for business and twice for pleasure. I keep going back because there’s so much to discover.

The people are wonderful too. They are warm, friendly and make me feel right at home.

During one of my trips, my male friend had a sudden bout of food poisoning. Two people whom we had just met immediately took him to a private hospital and accompanied us all the way until he was discharged. I was so impressed by their kindness.

The people there make time for others, whereas I find that people here are just too busy for anything or anyone, including their loved ones.

Favourite place to stay

I was so impressed by the service I received at Swissotel The Bosphorus (Bayildim Cad. No. 2 Macka, 34357 Besiktas Istanbul, Turkey, tel: +90-212-326-1100) on my first trip to Istanbul that I stayed there on my three subsequent visits. Room rates start from €290 (S$500) for a standard park view room.

This five-star luxury hotel sits atop a hill, overlooking the Bosphorus Strait, and comes with a great view of the 19th-century Dolmabahce Palace, a major tourist attraction and once the main administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire.

Purovel Spa & Sport, located within the hotel (open 8am to 10pm, tel: +90-212-326- 2990), is also a good place to have a Turkish hammam, a traditional Turkish bath, where your body will be soaped and scrubbed. You will be shocked by the amount of dirt that is scrubbed out, but it’s a fantastic, pampering experience. An hour-long session costs 300 Turkish lira (S$173).

Favourite places to eat

I find Turkish food extremely fresh and the meals are a delight.

For good fish, I usually head to Sur Balik, a seafood restaurant with a few branches. I go to the branch at Arnavutkoy (Bebek Arnavutkoy Caddesi No. 52, tel: +90-212-257- 2743, open daily from noon to 1am), which has a view of the Bosphorus Strait. I always have its fresh catch of the day, some grilled octopus and the flavourful salad with tomatoes.

To satisfy my meat cravings, I go to Gunaydin Steakhouse which, like Sur Balik, has several branches (www.gunaydinkasap.com, tel: +90-216-489-1805). I have either a steak or lamb dish. The meat is really juicy and comes with rice or eggplant and cheese. It’s not expensive either. A meal for two people, with generous portions of meat, costs about 100 Turkish lira.

Favourite places to shop

I enjoy shopping at Istinye Park shopping mall (Istinye bayiri Cad., Istinye, tel: +90-212- 345-5555, opens daily from 10am to 10pm), where I frequent a women’s fashion store called Nu. It’s a local clothing brand which showcases simple, flowy designs in comfortable cotton. The average price of an item here is $200. I also browse at Boyner department store, one of the leading department stores in Turkey.

You cannot go to Istanbul without walking around Nisantasi, one of the city’s key shopping districts. One can find both foreign brands, such as Chanel, Hermes, Rolex and Patek Philippe, as well as local labels there.

I make sure I pick up some nuts along the way too. A shop that allows you to sample Turkish nuts and organic dried fruit is Guven (Tesvikiye Caddesi No. 22, tel: +90 212 291 8596, open Mondays to Saturdays, from 8am to 11pm, and Sundays from 9.30am to 10.30pm). I always get a bag of fresh almonds and dried blueberries from the shop.

Must-see places

You can get just about anything from the Grand Bazaar (www.grandbazaaristanbul.org) in Sultanahmet. It’s a place with so much energy and I find myself buying things each time I go.

I have scarves, cushion covers, shoes and leather jackets from there. I recall that I had to ship back about 100kg of purchases from my trip there in September last year. A cushion cover cost about $30.

On the cultural front, the Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmet Mosque (free admission, open from 9am to 7pm daily, with restrictions during prayer times, www.bluemosque.co), is very interesting. It is a place of worship that also brings together architecture and history.

Another place that does so is 15 minutes away on foot from the Blue Mosque - the Ayasofya, also known as the Hagia Sophia (admission Turkish lira 25, open Tuesdays to Sundays, www.ayasofyamuzesi.gov.tr/en/).

It was previously a church, which was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman era, before being turned into the museum it is today. I’m not a Christian, but after visiting this place and Istanbul in general, the people and places in the Bible have come alive for me.

As I walk about, I feel myself going back in time, experiencing a bit of what Istanbul was probably like in the past. It’s a great feeling.

I would love to buy a place there where I can get the best of both Asia and Europe.