Friday, May 2, 2014

Agatha Christie and Instanbul’s Pera Palace Hotel

ISTANBULMay 2, 2014 – In a city that is, by its very nature, filled with mystery and intrigue, the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul is a nostalgic journey into a bygone era.

Built in 1892, the Palace was created to host passengers traveling on the famed Orient Express, and it was here that Agatha Christie got the inspiration for her acclaimed mystery, Murder on the Orient Express.

Situated in the Tepebasi neighborhood of the Pera district of Istanbul, the property is the oldest “European hotel” in Turkey. Until some much-anticipated renovations began in 2006, the once grand establishment was fading from a century of elegance playing host to celebrity guests such as Alfred Hitchcock, Ernest Hemingway, Sarah Bernhardt, Greta Garbo, King Edward VIII and, of course, Agatha Christie herself.

Mata Hari, who also traveled aboard the Orient Express, even stayed at the Pera Palace a time or two, which only adds another layer of allure to the fascinating atmosphere of the hotel.

In 1981, the Palace was awarded the status as a “museum-hotel” when it converted Room #101 into the Ataturk Museum. When Mustapha Kemel Ataturk, the founder of modern-day Turkey, stayed at the hotel for the first time in 1917, he was accommodated in that room. As a tribute, Ataturk’s chamber is now filled with his possessions and painted in his favorite color of “sunset pink.” 

After countless delays, Pera Palace re-opened in September of 2010, fully restored to the classical style that made it famous. As you enter the colonnaded marble hall and view the sedan chair that was once used to transport guests from the Sirkeci Railway Station to the hotel, you have an overwhelming sensation that Agatha Christie really had no imagination at all because of the mysterious aura that pervades the interior surroundsngs.

So overpowering are the ghosts of the past that you are captivated by an eerie perception that Murder on the Orient Express literally wrote itself.

Today, guests are transferred to and from the airport in a maroon 1949 Plymouth which is usually parked at the entrance of the hotel when not in use.

One feature stands out amid the antique furniture, the famous kubbeli (domes), the wrought-iron balconies and the wood paneling, and that is the historic cast-iron elevator. Now returned to working condition, the oldest elevator in Turkey represents an innovation that, in its day, must have surely represented the ultimate luxury.

 Decorated with a red velvet bench and mirrors, as you ascend to the floors above, the elevator conjures omnipotent feelings of peering downward into the past.

Next to the elevator, white marble steps lead from the main lobby to the Kubbeli Salon located in the heart of the hotel. Carrara marble columns, Michelangelo’s preferred material for his sculptures, rise from parquet floors to six domed discs made of turquoise glass.

Add the music of a grand piano, and you have the perfect setting for English-style high tea, which would most certainly have met with Ms. Christie’s approval.

Ernest Hemingway, on the other hand, preferred the Orient Bar in another corner of the Palace where he could indulge in more manly drinking activities.

Christie stayed in Room #411 at Pera Palace while en route to Baghdad in 1928 to visit her husband who was on an archaeological dig in Iraq.

At that time, travelers would cross the Golden Horn of the Bosphorus Strait by the Galata Bridge, which has undergone numerous incarnations during its history.  Galata Bridge remains a popular site because of the fish market on one side where local vendors continuously hawk their fresh catches of the day and sell fish sandwiches to eager customers.

Christie fans should take the opportunity to dine next door to the hotel at the Orient Express Restaurant where photographs and other memorabilia can be viewed at different stages of her life.

Room rates are seasonal and vary according to currency fluctuations. One night in a twin or double room is approximately $400 per night during the spring shoulder season. Hair dryers, breakfast and other amenities are included.

Travelers interested in visiting Turkey may contact the Turkey Tourist Office.

For customized itineraries, CraneTravel Tours has been endorsed by Namuk Tan, former U.S. Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey who said, “I recommend Crane Travel Tours to anyone who wishes the cultural and historical riches of my country.”

Istanbul is a crossroads of civilizations filled with the cultural treasures of the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires plus magnificent mosques, palaces and bazaars that blend harmoniously with the sensual mysteries of an ancient world that pervades the city even today.

The Pera Palace is the ideal spot to immerse yourself into the essence of the city. Provided, of course, you are not murdered on the Orient Express before you arrive.