My most recent exploits took me all the way to Istanbul and it was quite the adventure. Founded in 660 BC as Byzantium, in 330 AD it became Constantinople when it was overtaken by the Roman emperor Constantine. Under that name it was the capital of four empires, most notably the Ottoman Empire from 1453 until 1922. In 1923 Turkey became a republic and soon after, in 1930, the city was officially renamed Istanbul. It sits strategically on one of the world's busiest waterways, the Bosphorus, which runs between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, connecting the countries on the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, a very rich route for commerce. And it's on a scenic boat trip around the Bosphorus that I recommend starting any visit to Istanbul. Not only do you get a chance to view the often staggering architecture of the many mosques, castles and palaces, hotels and homes but you get a sense of the unique perspective of a city that straddles the European and Asian borders.
After a wonderful excursion on the water, you'll have an enormous appetite and, of course, you'll want fresh fish. Luckily, there's a remarkable restaurant right in the marina for it called Vita Vita. The fish there is fabulous, I'd never seen anything like it. Another restaurant that I can't stop thinking about is Hamdi, located near the spice market and perfect after an afternoon spent there. When I was growing up my father was a chef in Beverly Hills and my mother made the best dolma I ever tasted so I'm a pretty tough judge and the dolma at Hamdi was stunning! Also, it's on the second floor and the views are so cool.
The spice market was a real knockout, a true inspiration. My haircare line is 100 percent organic and chemical free; I am influenced by the sights and smells of nature. And, wow! I have never been so inspired. I want to create a whole new line of shampoo based around a tea that I found! The colors, the textures, the smells... it was truly invigorating. Not to mention how much I love to cook and the obscene abundance there is for that! Just go. It's not to be missed. It's at the southern end of the Galata Bridge, near the ferry docks.
Another very cool site I explored was the Basilica Cistern. This underground cistern, built sometime between the third and fourth centuries, is capable of holding 2,800,00 cubic feet of water, though it holds only a tiny fraction of that now and that's really just to get an idea of it's prior use. Being inside of it is like being in a gigantic, creepy cathedral. It's lined with 336 marble columns, each one 30 feet tall. Strangely, two of the columns' bases are sculptures of Medusa's head, one turned on its side and one upside down. They are thought to have come from a late Roman building in the area and their peculiar positions are believed to reduce the power of her gaze.
Being there in April was a special treat as there were tulips blanketing all the parks. The city spends enormous amounts of money every year on these beautiful flowers because it is said that the tulip is the letter of Allah and the plantings are like an offering to him. The brilliant colors and patterns they make are a marvelous sight to behold, no pictures could do it proper justice but the memories of walking on the lovely paths in the park surrounded by gorgeous blossoms will remain with me as a hallmark of my trip to Istanbul forever.