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Paul Klein

Istanbul & Maldives by Russ Wagenaar

Turkish Delight

&

And a slice of Paradise

Turkish Airlines & Shangri-La Hotels

 

To say this was a unique and interesting combination is an understatement.  Pairing the exotic bustling streets of Istanbul with an ultimate secluded paradise resort in the Maldives was a great idea brought to fruitionby Corporate Sales & Marketing for Turkish Airlines (New York City) and Account Director of Global Sales for Shangri-La Hotels also based in New York City.

The trip began with our small group of 5 agents and one media writer meeting together at JFK Airport for our non-stop flight on Turkish Airlines to Istanbul.  Using Boeing 777-300ER equipment, Turkish Airlines Business class cabin is configured in 2x3x2 seating.  They must be one of the last international carriers who have this configuration however the open feeling in the cabin made the (dreaded) middle seat in the center of 3 seats not a factor from a comfort standpoint.

 

Service onboard is magnificent.  An amazing array of mezzes, starters and main courses.  All plated individually with fine attention from the flight attendant.  The chef even makes sure all is ok too !

A comfortable night sleep having left on the 1  am departure from JFK landed us into Istanbul late afternoon just past 5 pm.  We were whisked through immigration and met in baggage claim area by our guide and two staff members from Crystal Concepts, a local DMC, which handled all of the transport for us during our short stay.   Traffic is always an issue in Istanbul and Saturday at 6 pm was like any other rush hour during the week although we did make good time to our hotel and arrived shortly before 8 pm.  The Shangri-La Bosphorus with 186 rooms and suites is located next to the Presidential office and just beyond that is the Dolmabahce Palace so no question about being in a safe area here !

The hotel has a beautiful lobby/reception area with comfortable lounge seating to one side.

Our convivial group in the hotel Lobby before dinner one evening.

The hotel offers meeting and banquet facilities one level down from the lobby.  There was a wedding reception taking place on our arrival Saturday night and I swear, I thought we were in Hollywood at the Oscars.  The Turks really go all out dressing to the “nines” for a formal wedding.  What a perfect setting that was for the happy couple.

The rooms are pretty much neutral colors throughout, very comfortable beds with comforters.  Nespresso machine with coffees and teas by the TV and mini-bar.  Entry level (Deluxe) rooms look into the atrium of the building and the other categories have partial Bosphorus view or full on view of the river.

My room offered an exterior view angled toward the Bosphorus.  Bathroom had only a big walk-in shower and single vanity.  Other rooms DO have a separate bathtub and double vanities.

All bathrooms have black marble walls and white marble floors.

 

 

 

Sunday began with a visit next door from the hotel to the Dolmabahce Palace.  The palace is the last residence of the Ottoman sultans in which the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, also lived until he died in residence.

It is a beautiful building ( no photos inside are allowed ) decorated in European baroque and Ottoman styles with lavish chandeliers throughout.  Located on the shores of the Bosphorus and simply stunning on a gorgeous sunny day.

 

On to lunch at a local restaurant and then to the famous Spice Bazaar.

Returning to the Shangri-La to freshen up for dinner this evening at a seafood restaurant overlooking the Bosphorus.

Dinners in this city are no quick and easy affair!  Each evening was at least 3 to 4 hours with mezzes to start, then a starter, then a main course, then dessert, then coffee ……. then coma !  Sorry but I am not a foodie so no pics of the feasts, I guess you will just have to experience for yourself one day!

 

Monday we were out of the hotel by 9 am after another spectacular buffet offering for breakfast at The Shangri-La Hotel.  A short 5 minute walk from the hotel brings you to the Besiktas pier to catch the local ferry across the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul.  Here we enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the Kadiköy district.  Teeming with open air markets this was fascinating!  It is a laid back residential neighborhood famed for its lively fish and produce market which date back to ancient times with historical and cultural structures.

View of the Dolmabahce Palace from the river crossing over to the Asian side of Istanbul.

Our guide Elizabet was so charming, knowledgeable, engaging and fun.  She has worked with both Nurdan and Sea Song before and is basically free lance with several different companies.  I have her contact details if you would like to have for any future inquires you may receive.

Crossing back over to the European side of Istanbul we were met by our private yacht for a 2-hour cruise on the Bosphorus.  A great way to see the scope of the city and also the activity on the river.  The Bosphorus is still one of the busiest seaways in the world for commercial traffic of tankers.

Dinner tonight was at a wonderful riverfront restaurant, Rana by Topaz ….pretty night view of the river but better during daylight!

 

Out and about on Tuesday in Istanbul found us touring in the Old City where we visited the Suleynamiye Mosque rather than the Blue Mosque which is undergoing renovation and therefore most of it is closed off to the public.  A walk around the Hippodrome took us to the masterpiece of Byzantine architecture, the Hagia Sophia basilica, aka St. Sophia Museum.

The Suleynamiye Mosque:

After this it was on to the Serefiye Cistern.  This is smaller in size than the Basilica Cistern which is huge however this also is under some refurbishment at present so not all areas are accessible.

This is the interior of the Cistern which while not as big as the Basilica Cistern is still quite a sight to see.

We returned to the hotel in the early afternoon and I opted to have a Hamam treatment in the hotel’s spa.  For those of you who have not had this done it is a must while in Turkey!

Dinner tonight was at a traditional restaurant with belly dancers and Turkish musicians ….

We left from the restaurant at about 10:30pm back to the hotel where we had a couple of hours to finish packing before our transfer from the hotel at 1:00 am to the airport …… pulling an all-nighter is not something I make a habit of any longer but with the excitement and anticipation of the Maldives coming up as our next destination time flew by.  The Business class lounge at the Atatürk Airport in Istanbul is amazing so time there until our 4:25 AM departure was very pleasant.

Flight time from Istanbul to Male, the capital city of The Maldives, was approximately 8.5 hours which was lie-flat bliss!  Our mid-afternoon arrival into Male found us being able to change our flight from Male to Gan an hour earlier.  Time spent in the Moonimaa Lounge waiting for the flight to Gan was OK and turned very special when we were greeted by the GM of Turkish Airlines operations in Sri Lanka and his assistant who flew in from Colombo just to say hello to our group!  Wow!

Little blips in a vast ocean.

After a 1 hour 10 minute flight from Male to Gan, we were all more than ready to get to the Shangri-La Villingili resort …. Just one more step to take and that was an approximate 5 minute boat ride from the Gan Airport across the lagoon to the private island resort.

Arriving in the dark of night to a small speck of land in the middle of the supremely vast Indian Ocean was a little intimidating but calm seas made for a nice ride. Sunrise eagerly anticipated…

 

Perched on its own private island in the heart shaped Addu Atoll, Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa is a tropical sanctuary beyond the equator. An exclusive all-villa hideaway with endless recreational activities, unforgettable dining experiences and the only 9-hole golf course in the Maldives, there’s adventures to be had on every corner of the island. Go from air-side to poolside in 5 minutes by speedboat from Gan International Airport.

  • 132 villas with private pool or over the ocean
  • 6 restaurants and bars with stunning Dine by Design locations
  • 9-hole golf course surrounded by pristine beach and unique jungle settings

 

 

The waters and beach here are insanely gorgeous!

The hotel has an amazing buffet breakfast every morning with local Maldivian specialties …. Yellow-fin tuna is a staple of the diet here so I was in heaven !!

Our late arrival on Wednesday night to the resort meant we were not able ☹ to enjoy the spicy regional cuisine in the dinner only restaurant Dr Ali (serving dishes from Indian Ocean, South China Sea and the Arabian Gulf 😊) so I guess I need to go back sometime to enjoy!

 

 

 

Thursday was an active day … after breakfast we were taken across the lagoon to go snorkeling.  About a 20 minute boat ride out in the waters from the shore of the resort.  We had an absolutely perfect sunny day for snorkeling which was awesome in the clear waters.

After lunch back at the resort, in Javvu Restaurant, we then went back out on the boat on a spinner dolphin watching excursion.

After this excursion we had about 45 minutes back at the resort to change and ready for a sunset cruise around the lagoon.  The resort has their own boat, HORIZON, which we had for our exclusive use.  Other water sports available include jet-ski, paddle boards, parasailing, glass bottom boat, catamaran sailing, kite surfing, kayaking and banana rides.

 

The resort has “Dine by Design” which offers remote locations on the island for private dinners and lunch.  We had our dinner tonight at the Golf course BBQ pit.

Was a beautiful setting and sunset.  The chef team prepared steaks, chicken, seafood, salads along with cocktails.

 

 

 

Grow big and strong little guy!

On our last day at the resort we enjoyed a morning session to plant coral in the hotel’s artificial reef which is located in the shallow waters between the beach and the over water bungalows.  The hotel has “cages” submerged in about 10-15 feet waters which you snorkel out to and dive down to secure the concrete block into the cage.  With good conditions it takes about 7 years for the coral to really start flourishing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After this we were treated to a wonderful luncheon at Villa Laalu the 2-bedroom Presidential Suite at the resort … stunning beachfront location !

Not enough time in the day today to enjoy a late afternoon spa treatment because unfortunately we were on the transfer boat at 6:00 pm back to the Gan airport where I began my trip back home.

So long Maldives !

 

 

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