Sedat Nemli, 56, is general manager of the newly opened Marti Istanbul Hotel ( www.martiistanbulhotel.com). He has been a hotelier in several countries and has been back in his hometown of Istanbul for close to three years.
Q: Istanbul, like Boston or Charleston, is a city that outgrew its peninsula. How congested is it?
It’s a sprawling city which the Bosporus divides in two sections, as it does Turkey: Part is in Europe, part is in Asia. In Europe, the heart of the city is also affected by the Golden Horn, a historically important inlet that separates the more European part of the city from the Old Town, where most mosques, churches and museums are.
It’s not jam-packed with skyscrapers, as such, though there’s a lot of history relating to the last two centuries around us. It hasn’t gone the way newer parts of the city have. It’s dense, urban and busy – but walkable.
Q: What’s the best way to get around?
I don’t recommend getting your own car. There’s a metro-cum-bus program – a wonderful underground system that joins with bus and rail systems.
Q: Where in Istanbul are you from?
I was born and raised in Tesvikiye, a little neighborhood not far from the hotel. The hotel is within 10 minutes of where most of the conferences and conventions are. If you’re in the area to stroll, you can sample the nightlife, galleries, theaters and so on. It’s a five-minute walk to the most 24-hour part of the city.
To go the Bosporus from the hotel to hop a boat and cruise on the Black Sea, it’s a short cab ride. To the Old Town, where the museums are, it’s a 20-minute ride to Hagia Sophia (Byzantine church built circa A.D. 360, a museum since 1935) and Topkapi (Ottoman palace built in the 1400s, a museum since 1924).
Q: For visitors, how do the old and new balance or compete?
On the one hand, there are classical sites taking you back several hundred years. FXD On the other, there’s a new and funky side of the city – new galleries, exhibitions and music, and festivals galore.
Food is like that, as well. You have classic Turkish cuisine, but you also have young chefs trying to promote it in more contemporary ways. Old neighborhoods are being discovered anew – like how Chelsea and SoHo were redeveloped in New York.
Q: Name one neighborhood that visitors ought to know about... but may be under the radar?
That would be Istiklal Street, a pedestrian street around the corner from the hotel. There are several new museums, an incredible array of restaurant and café options, and very vibrant shopping. It has become indispensible if you want to sample all that’s new and old in Istanbul.
Q: How about a choice excursion?
Hop on a boat and go to the Princes’ Islands, which date to Byzantine times as a summer dwelling place for people from the city. It has incredible and timeless charm. There are no cars – horses, bikes and donkeys only. It has a quaint feel of the city but remains quite cosmopolitan and has always housed Istanbul’s minorities along with Turks. The largest island – Big Island – is worth visiting if you have a day. The Princes’ Islands are a 45-minute ride from the city, along the Marmora Sea.
Seeing the Bosporus may sound like a cliché, but take a boat and allow for a full day to go up to the Black Sea and back. You literally zigzag between continents on the trip, and ferries allow you to get off and have a snack somewhere. You’re not only crisscrossing between Europe and Asia, but you’re getting stunning views of a lot of beautiful architecture.
The ferries are just a few dollars to ride; a day trip like this is maybe $10.
Q: Is there a better season to go?
Istanbul is pretty much a four-season place. Springs are shorter now than I remember, but there’s a beautiful and fairly substantial autumn. It does snow in winter, but not for long spells. For climate, April through November are the better months in that the weather is more guaranteed.