Firstly, not related to the hotel but in my journey to it, I must give a warning about Istanbul taxi drivers. I have visited Turkey dozens of times over the years and have been ripped off as least as many times. I think there is something about being English which, even when knowing that we are being ripped off, we still go along with it then whinge about it later. I had intended walking to the hotel but the rain started about 2 minutes after the Havas airport bus dropped me at Taksim Square. Just a spot at first and then heavier and heavier. I found a waiting taxi and gave him the directions in Turkish from the hotel website. The driver told me that traffic was a "big problem" when it rains and we had to go a longer route. When I was asked if this was my first time in Istanbul the warning bell sounded. He eventually dropped me well short of the hotel. Instead of the expected 5-10 Lira, the fare was 28 Lira. I protested but he pointed to his meter and it clearly said 28. I realised I had been had but I didn't want to risk violence or look mean and there was always an outside chance that the meter was right and his tale of avoiding the rain traffic was true. I gave him two 20 Lira notes. He turned away then straight back to me and said "twenty-eight". He was now holding a 20 and a 5. Then, I assumed it was my mistake. I apologised took the 5 off him and gave him another 20. His downfall was that he repeated the same trick again - "twenty eight!". I did a quick calculation, managed to snatch the one 20 note he was holding, explained to him politely that I thought him a crazy theif and made my escape. Still, he managed to obtain a net 35 lira from me for a 5-10 lira journey. Beware!
To the hotel. While many reviewers mention its faded elegance, few mention how small the hotel is. There are just 12 rooms per floor giving a total of 48 rooms. I have seen five staff on duty at any one time including the chef in the kitchen (who I sought one morning to ask if it were possible to have some coffee in the coffee - he looked surprised but I have since noticed that he looks permanently surprised) and the very charming chamber maid (who doesn't speak a word of English - and perhaps not of Turkish either). I suspect the name 'Grand' must always have been at least a little tongue in cheek. It reminds me of the cinema of the same name in the Peter Sellers film "The Smallest Show on Earth".
Most of the double-height ground floor is occupied by the splendid bar (just as it appears in the hotel website photos) although it has lost all of the caged birds mentioned elsewhere. Otherwise there is just a hallway from the front door with a 'one person' reception, and a tiny, but significant lift ('elevator' in US English) off. The end of the hallway turns into a very cosy second bar under the stairs which I have not seen open. It may not be economically viable to operate such a small bar. Breakfast is served in the basement which features windows with fluorescent light tubes behind for that 'always daytime' effect. The breakfast is Turkish, i.e. continental plus olives, sliced cucumber and tomato, cake and Turkish tea. The rooftop bar was closed during my stay but I can testify that the view over old Istanbul across the water is superb. The rooms at the front of the hotel (x01, x02, x03 and possibly x04) must have similar views and also, to the left, of the the hotel we would all be staying in if we could have afforded it - the Pera Palace.
My room is a rather small single, about one and a half single beds long by two single beds wide (i.e. approximately 9 feet by 6 feet). The ceiling height is certainly greater than the width of the room and, curiously, the door is around two-feet taller than the length of the bed. I assume this room was originally intended for single giants who like to sleep with their feet out of the window. However, the worst aspect of the room, and the other room 12's below it, is that they are next door to the only lift. It is not just the usual issue of hearing people get in and out of the lift with a clanging, hinged metal door, but that the deep buzzing sound of the lift operating pervades the whole room and seems to make my brain resonate. The dividing wall vibrates as do two of the light fittings. Each time the lift starts up it feels and sounds like the occupants of the neighbouring room have fired a photon torpedo. The effect of the lift stopping is even harder to describe - something like being hit by a photon torpedo. Rooms 112, 212, 312, and 412 are probably best avoided, unless this is your type of thing. The receptionist asked when I was checking-in whether I had been to the hotel before. It may be part of the hotel's collective sense of humour to allocate these rooms to unsuspecting, 'virgin' guests.
I have a tiled shower room with barely space to turn around, no shower curtain or tray just a drain in the floor. There were also a few ants on the bathroom floor but none have reappeared since I expelled them to the ground below my window. I imagine it will take them a few days to travel back, even walking briskly.
The walls of the room are wallpapered with an 1930's reproduction, embossed art-deco wall paper in tobacco brown. I know that it is reproduction because it has been applied with only the lack of skill that a modern amateur could possess. The curtains are co-ordinated in a similar shade of tobacco. The carpet is a faded red colour with a huge green and brown leaf pattern - again fitted without without compromise to any degree of professionalism. There are some fraying rough-cut edges and the occasional lump under foot. There is a small, free standing single wardrobe, just large enough for the bellboy to hide in, thankfully it features a door that doesn't close. There are also half a dozen hangers sponsored by Karecelik Dry Cleaners. Above the wardrobe is an antique, 12" cathode ray tube television mounted on a wall bracket. I haven't tried this for fear of annoying the occupants of the lift. The bed is single with the headboard right next to the door. Consequently, it is possible not only to hear people leaving and entering their rooms but, after a few days, to determine exactly which room they are leaving or entering and to construct their whole life stories from their conversations outside the lift.
There are no tea and coffee making facilities, but the chamber maid boils a huge kettle in the corridor immediately outside my doorway several times a day. I had brought my own cup and coffee on spec. When I asked her nicely, she let me have some boiling water. I think she likes me.
Prices in the bar are very reasonable by Istanbul hotel standards - a glass of wine cost me 6 Lira, around £2.80 or €3 at current exchange rates. There is no price list however - the only way of knowing bar prices in advance would be to ask the bar man. I think he liked me too, so don't be shocked if the bar prices you pay are not quite as reasonable as this.
On my second day the rain still had not stopped so I asked the receptionist if I could borrow an umbrella. Sadly none were available. However, an umbrella salesman magically appeared just outside the hotel selling disposable, polythene umbrellas. At 10 Lira each, I chose to get wet.
Others have mentioned the excellent location and I must agree. Beside being a two minute walk from the pedestrianised section of Istikal Street which in the evening is unbelievably packed with shoppers, promenaders, musicians, street entertainers, charming touts and skilled pickpockets. It is only slighter further away from the new Sishane metro station. The main entrance is on the same street as the hotel, around 200m down the hill past the Pera Palace. I feel a longing pain as I pass that hotel. I was here to attend a conference at Istanbul Technical University, which has its own station 20 minutes the opposite way. Trains run approximately every 10 minutes. It is currently necessary to change at Taksim square as the line to/from Sishane is operated as a single track shuttle. For those trying to pinpoint the hotel on Google Maps, it is opposite and facing the large TRT Studios building on Mesrutiyet Cad. one building down from the corner with Kallavi Sokak. On satellite view, the Grand Hotel de Londres is in a dark shadow extending little further than the hotel.
Choose this hotel for its location, its elegant bar, old fashioned values, a latent sense of humour and moodestly concealed elegance. The economy rooms are very economical by Istanbul standards but be warned that the singles are best used only for sleeping in and only then when everyone else has gone to bed.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Hotel Buyuk Londra is one of the few establishments managing to survive from that era to our time. Passing through many renovations, the hotel still graciously reflects the atmosphere of the 1900's. With some of its rooms overlooking the Golden Horn and a lively bar, Hotel Buyuk Londra is the meeting point of many people – local and foreign- looking for something different and special... ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Buyuk Londra Istanbul
- Buyuk Londra Hotel Istanbul