8.13 Edition

What I Did Last Week - Version 17

Monday Tuesday were a blur. For the annual Women’s Leadership Lab sail, I’ve done a buyout of a yacht. In Turkey, its known as a “gulet,” a construction native to the country. Wooden on the outside, modern on the inside. Its been a year in planning.

It’s a smaller group than last year, but this brand of retreat includes people’s families, so ensuring there is a high chair, pack and play, Tanqueray gin for the guys, etc etc was the usual due diligence.

I had hosted two back-to-back VIP Days with clients and was also in a dead heat to get their notes on their thought leadership strategy to them before I left.

Tuesday night we flew out.  Americans ARE traveling this year! but not to Turkey. Its a touch too exotic for those I sold the idea to. 

Wednesday, we arriving in Istanbul and I was thankful NOT to hear American voices all around me, having been to Sicily, Florence and Paris this year, where every 4th voice was English. I marvelled at how the approach to the city isn’t too different to the approach to New York from Newark. The skyline reveals itself suddenly and at the same time, slow like a mirage. The terrain is very different. The steppes look dry and arid.  Cranes lazily rested on them, 20 in a row.

Even through the haze of jet lag, we were appreciative of our beautiful hotel, a former French primary school.  They gifted us a bottle of white wine, native to Turkey, with a handwritten note about the grape varietals. We enjoyed it on the balcony before heading to the rooftop at Alaf for dinner. In all my research, nobody mentioned that the traffic is bonkers in Istanbul. Takes an hour to go 5 miles. It’s like LA. 

Thursday was the event filled day. We started with a full Turkish breakfast spread at our hotel in what was the former back yard of the church St Pierre. Today its been renovated into a modern and plush eating area, replete with the industrial sized restaurant umbrellas to shield patrons from the Istanbul heat. The arugula, with the spicy bite on the back end. Wow. I always wonder why produce just doesn’t taste as flavorful at home as it does in Europe. Fresh cucumber slices, plum tomatoes, a merguez meat, beautiful goat and cow cheeses that crumble to the touch. 

With full bellies, and sneakers strapped to our feet for comfort, we braced for our walk to the largest mosque in all of Turkey: The Hagia Sophia. While admission is free, I signed up for a tour so we could an oral history of the building. I was fully expecting mayhem since you are required to remove your shoes before entering the mosque. It was probably my residual PTSD from a visit to the Taj Mahal. but I was surprised to see the shoe situation was quite orderly. We put our sneakers into a box on shelf, with a clear plastic door that lifts up. Each has a number on it, so its easy to remember when it comes time to retrieve them.

While we read about all the draconian rules on dress code at the mosque,  I noted that people took quite a bit of artistic license with it. An Asian woman showed her utter disdain for the rule on covering one’s head by wearing a bucket hat, jaw jutted out, daring for anyone to challenge her fashion choice. Another tied her full sleeved blouse to her head. Another just pulled up the hood of her sweatshirt. 

A man, whose shorts were ‘too short’ (not covering the knees) wore a sarong over his bottom half. I did my due diligence months in advance, so I had bought a linen scarf while in Italy in May, and brought this blue Jane shirt from Doen in my bag. 

Hagia means ‘holy’ and Sophia means ‘wisdom.’ The building was a church, a mosque, a museum, and a mosque again.  In its original iteration, the building was a monster of a church, even before Mohammed the Muslim prophet was born. Our tour guide explained that the central dome is supported, architecturally by several smaller domes for stability. When the Ottoman Empire took over, all elements of Christianity were effectively ‘erased’ by plastering over the Jesus in the cupola of the main dome, and the Virgin Mary over the altar.  In each corner is a huge disk, that reads in Arabic, “Allah” and “Mohammed” and the 4 caliphates , the original people to join the religion of Islam.  I squatted down on the plush teal carpet and took in the joyful moment. As Dr. Joe Dispenza writes, “If we can stay awake just a little longer than we normally do, and be curious, open, and playful, we’ll be free of our attachment to any outcome. Already in a state of gratitude and wonder, we’ll no longer be preoccupied with “finding the door.”

The Uber and tax service in Istanbul is one and the same. Reminiscent of the old Seinfeld episode, “you can reserve a car, but you can’t hold the car.”  The car might show up. It might not. It might cancel.  Upon delivery, your driver may haggle on the price with you. Rain was unexpectedly falling in Istanbul and our Uber wasn’t gong to show. So we bought “Istanbul cards” and took the tram.

It was 4 stops to Arasta Bazaar where I would pick up my Turkish towel robe, from Jennifer’s Hamam. Of course, once at the showroom, I couldn’t resist a beautiful ecru throw for the end of the bed. (We’ve just changed our duvet covers and sheets to beige and dark olive)  Jennifer, originally from Edmonton, Canada, is preserving the tradition of Ottoman Empire style of weaving with her wares. Machines have replaced the looms today in making towels and throws. 

We also got two towels that will need soaking for 24 hours to train the cotton to absorb water. We decided to ship all of our spoils and plunder home. It was too much to carry around given our 6 transfers. 

We used the tram to go 4 stops to the “Tophane” stop. There we ambled over to the the family-owned Cukurkama Hamam, renovated in 2018 and one of the few mixed gender hamams in Istanbul, stopping to have a freshly-made carrot juice on the way. The massage was bliss. She climbed on top of me and was applying full body force into my back. I fell asleep and felt like rubber afterwards as they served us tea and raisins in the ‘relaxation area.’ The ‘tired’ really starts to kick in around 3pm. We went home to change and get ready for dinner. We left an hour and a half before our reservation, having been burned the day before.  Traffic is a b*()tch in Istanbul. 

The restaurant Feriye came recommended by a friend for its stunning views. List of restaurants we will eat at. Set on the Bosphorus Strait,  its been host to luminaries such as Jennifer Lopez, Bill Gates, and Bill Clinton.  The food is okay. I liked the squash blossoms and the pistachio, carrot baklava.  The Rock bass (fish) and the wine uneventful. 

Friday we headed to the south of the country, where we board the yacht for the week. 

What am I looking forward to

The sail of the Turkish Coast Aug 12-19th. Itinerary here. Being in joy. While I love coordinating these trips, its also hectic and my nervous system never gets a break. When I board the boat is when I will truly exhale. 

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