I can’t hold back my tears as I board a boat on the Bosphorous for an early morning sailing along the river. The sky is painted in the hues of dusk – oranges and purples creating a magical backdrop to an already magical setting. It might be the jetlag influencing these feelings, but more likely, it’s the joy of being back in the place I call my home away from home.
We arrived in Istanbul after a red-eye flight from Colombo, Sri Lanka – enjoying the luxury of lie-flat beds in Turkish Airlines’ Business Class meant our group was relatively well-rested, but if you asked me what the best perk of flying at the front of the plane was, that wouldn’t be my number one.
Rather, the opportunity to take advantage of the airline’s “Bosphorus Experience,” a special program whereby Business Class passengers with at least a seven-hour layover can opt to make the most of their time by exploring Istanbul.
The tour along the Bosphorus passes historical landmarks such as the Maiden's Tower, Topkapı Palace, Galata Tower and Dolmabahçe Palace. We disembark at the Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul, only to feast on a buffet of fruit, cheese, cured meats and breads in an iconic and opulent setting.
The Bosphorus Experience offers but a preview to one of the world’s greatest cities, though all international Turkish Airlines passengers (who fly through İstanbul and have a six- to 24-hour layover time) can opt for the Touristanbul program, whereby you’re picked up at the airport and guided through historical sites (like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia) and introduced Turkish cuisine along the way. It’s all about a quick immersion, though surely enough to convince travellers to return for more.
This is my third time in Istanbul, and while some might be dissuaded to visit at all because of Turkey’s undeniable political hardships, it’s impossible to overlook the culture here, which is one of community and kindness. It’s this spirit that gets in your blood and drives you to tears – the happiest kind.
Pick up the summer issue of Canadian Traveller, on newsstands now,
to read more about our experience in Sri Lanka with G Adventures!