Thursday, December 9, 2010

Murano chandeliers drip with crystals.

Glass domes over the lobby let sunlight dapple inside.

The foyer is lined with refurbished Carrera marble and gold-leaf decoration.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to dine in a place that has a unique, intriguing, and dare I say, almost boisterous history. The Pera Palace Hotel, recently opened after a 2.5 year+ and $30 million renovation, was the location for the Christmas Luncheon of the International Women of Istanbul.

When I received the invitation over a month ago, I immediately sent in my "yes" response. I wanted to peek inside the hotel and see what the fuss was all about. When I first arrived in Istanbul in July, the hotel still was under construction. I remember walking by, seeing the impressive marble columns outside and wondering what the place had been.

According to local history, the Pera Palace Hotel, originally founded in 1892, opened for the specific purpose of hosting passengers arriving on the Orient Express train. Over the years, the hotel was witness to many spy games and hosted several popular personalities in its time. (You can read more about the hotel's history here.)

Writer Agatha Christie is said to be inspired by the hotel and used it as a backdrop in her stories. It is rumored that she wrote “Murder on the Orient Express” here. Author Ernest Hemingway drank in the Orient Bar while possibly penning his next novel. King George V and Greta Garbo were regular visitors to this place. Alfred Hitchcock, and Winston Churchill also stayed here. Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish republic, stayed while he prepared for the Turkish War of Independence. “Ataturk’s Suite,” room 101, is now preserved as a museum. 

For our lunch, we started with a glass of hot mulled wine. It was fun to walk around and talk with several women I’ve met before and to meet new faces as well. It’s such a lively and welcoming group of women.

After an hour, we finally all sat down (imagine trying to get 180 ladies into the same room to sit down) and proceeded onto the appetizer of stuffed zucchini blossoms with goat cheese.

Before the entrée arrived, I switched to a glass white wine. The meal was a pistachio-crusted salmon filet on bed of creamed leaks served with fondant potatoes. The rich dish was fairly tasty, but the neon green pistachio dust, which also covered the chicken entrée, was a bit much.

Later on amongst all the gossiping, dessert – a baked cherry and almond tart - arrived. It was good, but I had three complaints. The tart’s crust was too thick and heavy. Two – cherries aren’t in season so I can only assume a canned filling was used. Three - I despise mint sprigs being used as a dessert garnish.

After my luxurious lunch, I walked through Taksim Square and Nişantaşı, and stopped at several places so I could finish my Christmas shopping. Yes, it was a rough day.

The hotel was decorated with Christmas trees and ornaments.
Outside view of the Pera Palace Hotel.
I wish I had taken more photos inside the hotel, but there were so many people milling about that it was difficult. 

Next time, I hope my husband and I can enjoy a drink at the famous Orient Bar or we can take in an afternoon tea.

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Jason said...

Looks like you had a particularly nice afternoon and I look forward to checking it out next time with you.