Category Archive for Turkey

Travel bloggers at Istanbul World Tourism Forum! W Hotel, Ciragan Palace brunch, cats & dogs of Turkey.

w hotel istanbul entrance

Sometimes, I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone. For years, I wanted to visit Istanbul, but the opportunity never arose.

Then, I got an unbelievable email: I was one of about 20 international travel bloggers invited to the World Tourism Forum in Turkey! Needless to say, I replied yes and packed my bags.

I dreaded the 13 hour flight from LA… until Turkish Airlines generously put me in business class. On the plane, I ate like a queen and slept like a baby. Then a driver picked me up, and deposited me at the intergalactic entrance of the W Hotel Istanbul.

istanbul w hotel review

The trip kept on getting better, as the W Hotel — known for its modern, nightclub vibe — upgraded me to a fantastic suite.  The stylish W Insider concierge even left me a welcome bottle of champagne and snacks on a turntable.

(I’m wearing a kimono-style coat by Alice’s Pig, a vintage-inspired brand from London. I also own this blue zig zag coat from their collection.)

turkey cat sitting on motorcycle

The W Hotel was well-located in the city center of Besiktas, surrounded by hip art galleries and the designer boutiques of Nisantasi.

On my first walk, I was pleased to find healthy-looking cats everywhere, even lounging on motorcycles.

istanbul stray dogs

Why are there so many stray dogs and cats in the streets of Istanbul? I’ll get back to this at the end of this post, so read on…

Istanbul Congress Center ICC

Day one. I filled up on stringy Turkish cheese (dil peyniri) and circular bread with sesame seeds (simit) at the W Hotel breakfast.

The World Tourism Forum provided shuttle buses to the ICC (Istanbul Congress Center). For several days, tourism industry leaders would be meeting inside this gigantic venue.

world tourism forum travel blogger

The World Tourism Forum takes place four times a year, in different global cities. Business executives, politicians and influencers gather to present and discuss topics related to travel. (Let’s just say that I was the only one there with purple hair!)

world tourism forum istanbul turkey

In the main auditorium, I heard the President of Turkey and other leaders speak frankly about combating terrorism and maintaining trust in the tourism sector.

I was glad that the presenters recognized the importance of experimenting with new concepts (such as community-centered hotels) and technologies (virtual reality).

top travel bloggers conference event meetup

Such fun to meet up with both local and international travel bloggers at the Forum. Thumbs up to Blogger Casting, the digital marketing agency that made these arrangements. They took care of every detail, and even put together a “blogger night” cocktail party mixer for us.

istanbul travel influencers bloggers forum

There were more than 100 speakers, panels and exhibits throughout the two-day event. I went to presentations on intriguing topics, such as the enormous growth of Uber, and how movie locations can drive tourism spending.

(Outfit of the Day: I’m wearing a dark purple velvet dress by Alice’s Pig, and designer tights.)

turkish airlines first class food

One of the halls had hundreds of exhibition booths. I visited the representatives of Turkish Airlines, and told them how much I loved my flight with them. As they say on Seinfeld, “Once you’ve flown first class, you can’t go back to coach!

I reminisced about the “candlelight” dinner prepared fresh by chefs, followed by a push-cart of desserts and all the wellness tea I could drink. There’s free WiFi, and the staff turns your seat into a full-sized bed. After Turkish Airlines’ luxury, it’ll be hard to fly economy again…

tourism conference booths exhibition

Some of the stalls had interactive displays. At this archery station, I did my best Hunger Games impression. (And I did hit the target!)

travel blogger panel, speech

Time for the Blogger Panel, which had a spectacular turnout and lively participants.

We discussed the business of travel blogging, working with tourism boards and PR, and all the unseen details that go into this seemingly glamorous job.

ciragan palace kempinski hotel

Later, everyone let loose at the World Tourism Forum gala, held at Ciragan Palace Kempinski hotel.

The grandiose staircase looked like it was made for the Queen of the Damned!

istanbul 5-star luxury hotels

The hotel was once a 19th century Ottoman palace, on the shores of the Bosphorus.

world tourism forum award dinner gala

We had dinner with guests in ballgowns and tuxedos, and watched the World Tourism Forum awards ceremony. 

grand istanbul hotel balcony

Crystal chandeliers and gilded ceilings. Doesn’t this look like a scene from the Grand Budapest Hotel? 

(All photos by Joey Wong, who accompanied me to these events.)

ciragan palace sunday brunch

W-fingers for the World Tourism Forum! Thank you for bringing me to Istanbul; it was an honor to be chosen to take part in this global meeting.   

ciragan palace restaurant

On another day, we tried the epic Sunday brunch at Ciragan Palace Kempinski. I headed straight to the fresh juice bar — after all, the Turkish word for breakfast (kahvalti) means “before coffee.”

ciragan kempinski hotel dining chef

I did a little dance when I stepped into Laledan Restaurant. Imagine rows upon rows of international food — Turkish mezzes, fresh sushi, saffron curry — made from the highest quality ingredients.

(My black bat-wings dress is from Kill Star, who also makes a Gothic Egyptian fringed vest.)

ciragan palace dessert room

At stations throughout the restaurant, the chefs will whip up eggs, pasta, risotto and other favorites exactly the way you like.

I’m the type of diner who likes to take a bite of everything. I sampled everything from borek (Turkish baked filo pastry) to salmon caviar in a martini glass, to waffles.

breakfast brunch laledan ciragan palace

Willy Wonka’s factory comes to life in the Chocolate Room: a royal dome piled with desserts of every variety!

The pastry chefs served up plates of sweets: Turkish delight, cake pops, macaroons, chocolates…

best desserts istanbul turkey

… and beautifully decorated mini-cakes, with flavors like mango and Earl Grey.

Now I’m sure you can understand why I literally leaped in the air! I’ve had a lot of impressive hotel brunches, but Ciragan Palace takes the cake.

turkish fat cat streets

It seems I’m not the only one eating up a storm in Istanbul… I saw quite a few plump cats, roaming the streets.

istanbul cats everywhere

There are a lot of feral cats and dogs in the city, yet they generally look well-fed and friendly. What makes this such a cat paradise (or Cat-stantinople)?

Istanbul’s diverse residents have historically been kind to street animals. Among Muslims, the Prophet Muhammad is known as a feline-fancier — and a popular saying says “If you kill a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.”

istanbul stray cats dogs

Animal welfare groups help keep these furry friends healthy and manage populations. Many stray dogs have tagged ears, signifying they were part of a trap-neuter-release program.

istanbul street dogs ears tagged

Istanbul’s laws help protect free-roaming animals, and volunteers are doing a great job. Still, there are always dogs and cats in need. Perhaps on my next trip to Istanbul, I can help out at one of these rescue organizations. 

galata tower view istanbul night

I leave you with this view of a glowing mosque at night, taken from the top of Galata Tower.

There’s still so much to share from Constantinople! Next, I’ll show you how Walks of Turkey took us all around the historical Sultanahmet district, on a custom tour.