Istanbul: the city that welcomed us into Turkey was the city that would bid us farewell. Travel weary and with not a fresh piece of clothing left in our suitcases, we were ready for home. Sydney, Australia.
Our accommodation for our last night’s stay in Istanbul was a last minute decision. Having never heard of the establishment before, we viewed it as nothing more than a place to rest our heads before departure the following day. The name of the hotel was Neorion. It was to be our final, and most unexpected, Turkish delight.
From the moment we stepped into the Neorion, we were embraced as guests rather than customers. It was the endless little examples that knocked our socks off, the constant attention to detail from the moment we walked through their doors. Instead of being made to stand at reception while our keys and room were sorted, we were invited to take advantage of the complimentary mezes and drinks on offer in the lobby seating area while the check-in came to us. Mentioning to a front-of-house staff member a particular Turkish Cookbook that I was interested in buying but was worried that I wouldn’t be able to obtain them due to the Eid al-Adha Muslim festival, the staff member promptly asked me how many copies I needed. 15 minutes later, he was knocking on our door with the cookbooks that I needed in his hand, saving me the search. It was also about the warm hearted waiter who playfully wrapped his arms around Peter when Peter mentioned that he was cold while we were having complementary drinks with the other guests at Neorion's outdoor Terrace, on the top floor. From the bright and spacious rooms with the huge, comfortable beds and great pillows, the wide balcony off our room that overlooked the roofs of Istanbul, to the L’Occitane toiletries in the bathroom, and the silk scarf on the bed, a gift from management. The 5-star standard at 4-star rates.
When I think of Neorion, I am reminded of traditional Turkish hospitality when one steps into a Turkish home. One becomes that home’s “Misafir” (guest). The host then does everything that they can to make that guest happy, inviting them to sit on the most comfortable sofa, offering them best Turkish coffee and Turkish delight, little gestures that make one feel welcomed and valued. Neorion takes the business of hospitality very seriously and do everything possible to make it personal. Little wonder that TripAdvisor have voted it the No 1 hotel in Istanbul.
Back to our last day in Istanbul… Being the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha (at the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca), Muslims all over Turkey were giving thanks to Allah for His bounty and mercy, celebrating the holy days, and wishing each other well. While the streets of Istanbul were busy, many businesses were closed. With not much more to do but walk the streets and imprint the wonders of Istanbul in our mind’s eye before we departed for Sydney, we walked towards the Bosphorus and sought out one of Istanbul’s iconic restaurants for lunch, Hamdi.
Hamdi’s owner, Hamdi Arpaci, came from Urfa to Istanbul in the late 1960. Opening shop in a little corner of the parking lot with little more than a grill and portable counter, next to the Eminonu Mosque, he offered delicious kebab specialties to the public and trades people. After a few years, Chef Hamdi’s kebabs had developed a following. He established the Hamdi Meat Market on the corner of the same parking lot. Shortly afterwards, he expanded his operation by purchasing 5 floors of the same building, a matchless landscape with uninterrupted views of the Bosphorus, Mosque, and within a stone’s throw from the spice market. Specializing in Southeastern Turkish cuisine, Hamdi remains an Istanbul institution.
It was from the 3rd floor window at Hamdi’s that Peter and I said goodbye to Istanbul, and to Turkey. While we would have liked to think that we would return one day, the reality was that there were still so many places in the world we had yet to discover. And so we leave Turkey with this traditional Muslim wish on the festival Eid al-Adha: “Eid Mubarak” and "Kul 'am wa enta bi-khair!" Blessed Eid and may every year find you in good health!