CEO Kristina Bouweiri shares her Istanbul experiences

In early May, Reston Limousine CEO and President Kristina Bouweiri traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, to take part in the 2011 Global Summit of Women. The annual event drew more than 1,000 women business and political leaders from around the world to share strategies to improve women’s lives economically.  At the summit, Kristina was joined by three other female CEOs in presenting for a panel titled “Entreprenuerial Track: Business Downturns and Second Chances.”

While in Turkey, Kristina kept a diary of her experiences and adventures; we asked if we could share it with you, and here it is!

Day One

Monday morning I flew to New York City to catch my Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul. With a layover in New York,I decided to catch a ride to ground zero to pay my respects especially after the death of Osama Bin Laden. The place was mobbed. The media, tourists and NYC residents were everywhere. It was quite emotional. From there I went to an Italian restaurant for lunch and then I headed back to JFK for the overnight flight to Istanbul. Turkish Airlines was fantastic! They serve food every few hours, free wine and very cute, young, male flight attendants! I was truly comfortable on the plane even though I was in the last row next to the bathrooms. The seats have interesting pillows that let your head rest comfortably even though I was in the middle seat.

Once in Istanbul, a driver met me at the airport in a brand new Mercedes and drove me to the hotel. I immediately went to bed because I was basically up all night. Six hours later I woke up and walked outside the hotel to a patisserie, had a cup of coffee and then went to explore the city near the hotel. I found this amazing road filled with stores and restaurants; it went on forever. After a 2-mile walk up and down the shopping I went to the top floor of the hotel for dinner with a panoramic view of the city!

A Turkish friend in Virginia arranged for me to have a car and driver for three days. I am going to see this entire city in the next three days. Tomorrow night he made me a reservation at a famous Turkish restaurant that has belly dancers.

So far my impression of Turkey is that it has the best of both worlds. It has the beauty and class of Europe mixed with the enticement of the middle east. It is both modern and old. It is clean and dirty, hot and cold!

Day Two
I started my day with breakfast at the Panorama restaurant at the top of my hotel. The view was spectacular. I could see the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus strait, the old city, mosques with their minarets, skyscrapers and more.

The driver picked me up at 10:00 a.m. We went straight to the old city. There I saw the historic Blue Mosque built in the 1600s, the Hagia Sofia which is now a museum, and the Topkapi Palace, home to the Ottoman sultans. A guide approached me and promised me a guided tour if I would visit his souvenir shop after the tour. I agreed. It was really nice having a guided tour but very awkward when it ended and I was sipping tea at his family’s business! The smallest carpet of handmade silk was $2,900 and about large enough for my small dog to sit on! I respectfully declined to make a purchase and went on my merry way! Three hours of intense sightseeing ended with lunch at a beautiful seafood restaurant on the water.

The weather here has been quite gloomy, cloudy, rainy and humid but not too warm. My hair has been uncontrollable! I finally went to the hotel beauty parlor and said “Straighten my hair!” The guy was so funny, he started touching my hair and telling me I needed color and this and that, and I had to be extremely assertive and insisted, “Just a wash and blow dry.” About seven staff members were surrounding me and watching my wash and blow dry!

After a nice afternoon nap, I had a special dinner planned at Nomad, an authentic Turkish restaurant with belly dancing. The décor was amazing, dark and smokey with a wall that had 100 different lanterns hanging from it. Dinner doesn’t even begin until 9 p.m. in Turkey. The room was half empty when I arrived but by 10 p.m., quite full.

The menu was a fixed price feast that included 11 cold appetizers, 3 warm appetizers, a basket of bread and garlic pita, side dishes of yogurt and potatoes, and then an entrée of grilled meats. An added bonus was that they never let my wine glass get half empty before they filled it up. The entertainment that followed was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I have lived in the world of Arabic music and dancing for 20 years and yet I never saw anything like what was coming.

The first act was two beautiful female belly dancers that came out to tease us a little bit. They were beautiful, exotic and extremely talented. About 20 minutes later another belly dancer appeared. This time it was a MAN! I never saw a male belly dancer before and the entire room was literally captivated by this man. He had a naked chest and a long very frilly skirt. All of a sudden, a female arm lifted out from under the skirt and a woman appeared and they danced together. It was amazing. Then, he picked her up and she danced while on his shoulders!!!

The entertainment was not continuous. Dancing would last about 15 minutes and then there would be a break. Throughout the evening, the next act was better than the last. The second-to-the-last act was another man. This time (a different man) danced alone. The final act was four women who danced at the same time. It was truly an experience! The music, food, wine and ambiance was just magical!

Day Three
I figured out why my hair has been so out of control. Turns out the hotel conditioner was really hand and body lotion, and I was soaking my hair in it daily!

Today was another adventure. We took a day trip to the Black Sea. We decided to get out of this busy town with 13 million people and lots of traffic and head to the Black Sea for a relaxing day by the ocean. The drive was very scenic and gave us a good flavor of the countryside. We saw lots of resorts, outdoor venues for weddings and barbecues, and to be honest, it looked a lot like Virginia wine country!

We arrived in a cute town called Cile on the Asian side of Turkey. The weather is still gloomy, rainy and dreary and reminded me of Seattle, Washington. We had a delicious lunch of tomato salad and grilled sea bass. By the way, the Turks eat tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The tomato salad was outstanding. It had chopped tomatoes, chopped onions, jalapenos, herbs, spices, oil and lemon juice. The garnish on the fish dish was more tomatoes!

After lunch we headed back to Istanbul and I settled in for a nice nap. I woke up twice. The first time I woke up because I was only half sleeping and realized my mouth was open! The second time I woke up because I was snoring and my snoring woke me up! How embarrassing!!!

When we arrived back in Istanbul we all went to our rooms to take a nap. Have you detected a pattern here? We are either sleeping or eating! LOL

After my nap I tried the spa. I wanted to sample a Turkish bath but found out it was unisex! I tried to get a Turkish bath scrub but found out the therapist was male and decided to just have a massage with a Thai female therapist. Before my massage I did wander into the “unisex” Jacuzzi area and felt very awkward. I had to walk by a lounge full of large Turkish men relaxing in bathrobes and then when I was in the Jacuzzi all by myself, a bunch of men walked in to go to the Turkish bath in the next room. Yes, we were all wearing our bathing suits. For a Muslim country I was very surprised at this custom.

After the spa we walked down to the busy street near the hotel and looked for a nice Turkish restaurant for dinner. We found a fish restaurant that specialized in Cassoulet. Our appetizer was a jumbo prawn stew, followed by a tomato salad, followed by white fish cooked in a clay pot with mushrooms, tomatoes and sprinkled with cheese. It was actually delicious! Dessert was Turkish ice cream, which is several flavors of ice cream on a cone. I had chocolate and coffee! YUMMY!

Days 4 and 5, Final Thoughts
On day 4 I slept in until 11 a.m. (jet lag finally kicked in,) and then headed over to the Grand Bazaar for shopping. Traffic was terrible, I could see tour buses everywhere and about four cruise ships were docked, letting thousands of tourists off to go shopping. I must say that Istanbul was filled with tourists during my visit and the road infrastructure is not designed for the heavy traffic.

The Grand Bazaar was truly Grand! It is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, with more than 58 covered streets and 4,000 shops that attract 250,000 visitors a day. They had jewelry, pottery, spices, carpets, leather coats, antiques, etc. If I knew the quality of the shopping I would have budgeted to buy a nice ring or piece of jewelry. I saw emeralds, opals and more in very unique settings. After several hours of shopping I was exhausted and very hungry so I went to lunch. That evening dinner was at an Italian restaurant called El Beso. It was very good, was right on the water and had a beautiful view.

The next morning was the day of my speech. I woke up at 6 to catch a taxi to the convention hotel, where I had an appointment to get my hair done at 7 a.m. Breakfast with the convention was at 8 a.m. and my speech followed an hour later. There were four ladies on the panel: two Americans, a Turkish woman and a Jordanian. I was nervous about going first but then so glad I did! I got it over with!

Our panel was very well-received. We took lots of photos afterwards and exchanged business cards. We all had unique businesses: transportation, textiles, financial planning and an elder-care franchise concept. What I have noticed at these international conferences is that the women are very engaged, and networking takes on a new meaning. Everyone just seems to be trying to get the most out of the event. They want to meet everyone and exchange cards. Everyone is super friendly. It is so interesting because the people you meet are from all over the world, and their lives and experiences are so different.

One conversation that I had with a French woman sticks out in my mind. She was at the conference on behalf of the Malaysian Government. I asked her why she moved to Malaysia. She told me that it is very depressing in France. The people in France are negative and unhappy and know the best was in the past. They are not excited about the future. She and her husband decided to move to an emerging country to be surrounded about positive, excited people and where the best is yet to come!

My final comment on Turkey would be that it was a fantastic visit and opportunity. The country was clean and interesting. Food was outstanding but expensive. A glass of house wine was $15. Women are definitely treated differently than men but it wasn’t painful! There was a lot of political unrest including an incident where a bomb went off near our hotel. They are used to it there; it was all cleared and business was back to normal in about one hour. There are many opportunities in Turkey, the economy is not doing badly, they have vast resources and smart people. I highly recommend a trip to Turkey!

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