Bülent Karademir is a partner at the Nomade Hotel, which is a lovely boutique hotel in the middle of Sultanahmet. He has worked in Sultanahmet for about 25 years so he is a true insider. We met with him on the deck of Nomade to conduct this interview.
SoUL: Can you tell us about yourself?
BK: I’ve worked in Sultanahmet for the last 25 years or so. I used to own a pension before that I sold after I got married. It used to take 24 hours of my time and I needed a better schedule than that.
SoUL: Is that when you started with Nomade Hotel?
BK: Yes, I first started as the manager and then when the building went for sale I became a partner. Two ladies own it. Nomade is one of the oldest boutique hotels in Sultanahmet, established in 1984.
SoUL: How did it look back then, has it changed a lot?
BK: When I started the street we’re on had no end. It was dark and you wouldn’t want to enter it. Now, it’s so different, clean, full of hotels and restaurants. Back when we started the concept of a boutique hotel was unheard of. Of course, now it’s different.
SoUL: How do you differentiate?
BK: We always think our guests prefer us because of the ambiance we created here. It feels like home away from home. I was talking to one customer a few minutes ago. They were on vacation and her husband got sick on the way from Paris. We took care of him for three days. We cooked special meals so he felt better, we brought him over to the American Hospital, and we even left one of our guys with him at the hospital. They appreciated that a lot, and said no one would do this where they came from. That’s the difference between boutique and large hotels. And, every time we go on vacation we also prefer boutique hotels to stay at.
SoUL: So as someone from the industry how do you choose a hotel?
BK: Because I know the difference of boutique hotels I always look for one. For me, what matters is the service. And that’s what we try to excel at here, as well. Rather than spending money to advertise I rather enrich the breakfast we offer, for example. We have a buffet type breakfast here, and every item is freshly purchased daily from Eminönü. And when you do that, you don’t need to worry about finding customers since they find you…
SoUL: And you have a lovely terrace…
BK: Yes, people love the view. We show our deck to our customers when they come and everyone falls in love with it. Our rooms are simple, not luxurious. The location is close to all the historic sites. So, for people who are in town for a visit and culture this is the ideal place to stay at. They don’t need to deal with cabs or transportation. Everything is within the walking distance.
SoUL: Do people come back to Istanbul again?
BK: Yes, absolutely. One time is never enough. Many come back for a second or third time. A lot of people who come to Sultanahmet stay here as there is so much to do.
SoUL: What’s a good time to stay here?
BK: Four to five days should be minimum. Three days is not enough. Just the Topkapı Palace takes half a day. It even takes time to get in before you even start visiting the site.
SoUL: Cost wise where does Istanbul stand? Would you call it cheap?
BK: No, it’s actually quite expensive. In the old days Istanbul was cheap. But nowadays, the prices are high. Plus the crisis in Europe impacts travel. People still travel but they try to spend less and try to stay within a budget. 2 people spending 100 TL (about $60) for lunch would be expensive. Then people start cutting back on drinks etc.
SoUL: What do you recommend a visitor who is here for three days to do?
BK: We typically draw circles on the map. First day would focus on the immediate vicinity, then a larger circle and the third they even larger. So, first we recommend to see Topkapı Sarayı, Yerebatan (Basilica Cistern), Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) but one day is not sufficient to see all so we split them into two. Then we recommend the Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque) and İslam Eserleri Müzesi (Museum of Islamic Art) that is just opposite. Then the Arasta Bazaar and if they have time left the Archeology Museum which is absolutely amazing. So, those would take 2 days. Then I would suggest taking a Bosphorus tour, the one operated by the ferry lines is great. It takes a whole day but offers one so much to see. And you could also have fish at the Anadolu Kavağı, which is the last stop before coming back.
SoUL: Any recommendations you make for dining?
BK: We typically do not make a lot of suggestions for restaurants, as personal styles and tastes differ. I always tell my customers to check the menu and if they like it they should try it. We own four restaurants in Sultanahmet but we don’t direct our customers there. I personally like the appetizers cooked at our restaurant, called Horasani. There are other places in the neighborhood such as the Puding Shop, the köfte (meatball) restaurants at Sultanahmet for example. They are all good.
SoUL: How about other neighborhoods in the city?
BK: There are great places in Taksim, restaurants and bars. Eyüp and Balat have a lot of history and culture. You have synagogue next to a church and then next to a mosque. A lot of people cannot believe it but that’s Istanbul. We tell them about our cultural mosaic and that people accept one another here. It may look different from the outside, but that’s the case here. I have Armenian friends and Jewish friends. I have Kurdish roots.
SoUL: What comes as a big surprise?
BK: As you know, we are friendly people. We want to take care of our guests. A lot of people try to be helpful to a visitor. And not everyone is trying to sell them stuff. As an example, when our customers sit here we offer them tea or coffee. Some get nervous. First, they may think we want to charge them for it. But we don’t. That always comes as a surprise.
SoUL: What do you enjoy doing in the city?
BK: We work hard during the week. I spend a lot of time with my family over the weekend. I have two daughters. Sometimes we come here for breakfast over the weekend. The deck gets real nice in the summer. We spend time in Galata or Tünel. We like going to Otto for example.
SoUL: Can you fill in sentences?
To eat well go to…
BK: Hamdi for kebab. Balıkçı Sabahattin for balık…
SoUL: Don’t leave town without drinking…
SoUL: Don’t leave town without buying…
BK: Gifts at the Spice Market.
SoUL: If you have time for just one activity…
BK: Go to Bosphorus and take the ferry tour. Seeing the old houses and buildings along the strait is a once-in-a-lifetime activity.
SoUL: Anything else you want people to know…
BK: Yes, actually there is one thing people should know. We had an American couple stay here a few weeks ago, and the husband got sick. Their insurance did not cover Turkey so they ended up paying thousands of dollars for the hospital and medication. Especially Americans should check with their insurance company and if they are not covered they should make sure to extend it to cover their costs here. I heard it costs only an additional $10 or $20 to do that. It is certainly well worth the effort and the cost considering how much it may cost without the insurance…