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Review: Nish Palas Istanbul (Formerly Hyatt Unbound Collection)



In a nutshell: The Nish Palas Istanbul is an excellent boutique hotel in the upscale Maçka neighborhood. It offers well-appointed, comfortable rooms, an excellent breakfast, and lovely views of the Bosporus. Unfortunately, the hotel unexpectedly exited the Unbound Collection and World of Hyatt shortly after my stay. 

Call me crazy, but I booked three different hotels for my three nights in Istanbul back at the beginning of September. I considered booking all three at the Park Hyatt, but there were a couple other great options, and one only needs a single night to check off a brand as part of brand explorer. Looking back, I’m glad I chose to “hotel hop” among properties, as the Park Hyatt was in solid last place of the three. My first night at the Nish Palas Istanbul, part of the Unbound Collection by Hyatt (at the time) was excellent.

Booking the Nish Palas Istanbul

The main selling point of the Nish Palas Istanbul was its award rate. When it was part of the World of Hyatt program, it was only an award Category 2 property. Prices were around €100 per night before taxes, so this is pretty good value for an award stay. Other options included the Grand Hyatt (Category 3) and Park Hyatt (Category 4). Paying just 8,000 points for the night was a steal, especially considering that I would receive 2,000 points back as part of the ongoing Hyatt promotion.

With Globalist status, I’d be able to enjoy free breakfast and hopefully a solid room upgrade. The Nish Palas Istanbul does not offer any suites, but they do offer large rooms with a terrace overlooking the Bosporus.

Arrival and Check-In

The neighborhood surrounding the Nish Palas is very pedestrianized, and my taxi driver had trouble getting me to the front of the hotel. He couldn’t turn and head up the street, so I got out a couple blocks away near the Maçka Democracy Park. Airport taxis do accept credit card, but be aware that some Istanbul taxis do not accept plastic, something I found out later that evening. 

I entered the tiny lobby and front desk area of the Nish Palas. The hotel has a total of just 45 rooms. The other facilities include a first floor restaurant and top floor terrace restaurant. The hotel also offers a fitness center. 

The front desk staff was very friendly and warmly welcomed me to Istanbul. He informed me that they had upgraded me to one of their terrace rooms with a Bosporus view, the nicest room type offered at the Nish Palas. I’d hoped they’d offer this. Generally, I like to see how the hotel handles elite benefits and will only ask for a specific room type or upgrade if I have a real need (usually if traveling with kids).

Nish Palas Istanbul Terrace Room

First impressions are often everything. And the Nish Palas Istanbul certainly delivered. The terrace rooms are reasonably large, with a king bed, sitting area, and lovely bathroom. Plus the outdoor terrace, of course. I was immediately struck by how interesting and unique the lighting fixtures are.

The bed was comfortable, but softer than I like. It didn’t matter. I fell right to sleep that night, exhausted after 14+ hours of flying. The one thing that surprised me about the terrace room is the lack of a desk. It might have been a bit awkward to put a stool under the table to the side of the bed, but it could have worked. However, there would be no easy power outlets.

You can control all the lights in the room from the side of the bed, which is super nice. This, plus motion-activated lighting under the bed (which wasn’t present here), are two of the features I appreciate most in modern upscale/luxury hotels. 

The in-room coffee didn’t work the next morning when I went to make a cup. While I fell asleep quickly, it didn’t last. As is typical when traveling this far, I made it to about 3:30 AM before throwing in the towel and getting up for the day. Coffee would have been nice, as breakfast still didn’t open for hours. This was the only issue I encountered during my stay. 

The room also featured a number of snacks on the table and drinks in the minibar, all for purchase. There were also two water bottles (complimentary) in the corner next to the minibar price list.

I was traveling during a pandemic, and the hotel did offer a hygiene kit that included a mask and antiseptic wipes.

I had to request an adapter from the front desk since the one I’d brought didn’t work. Luckily the Nish Palas had a couple to choose from. I’d grabbed the three-prong European style outlet, but there were no hole for the center ground prong. I’m pretty sure the one I’d brought was from Italy, and I forgot that even though the dual-prongs are the same in most European countries, the ground prong is often different. But the hotel hooked me up with one for the duration of my stay. 

The terrace rooms at the Nish Palas Istanbul have lovely bathrooms. I thoroughly enjoyed the rain shower after a long day of travel.

Then there is the view. This was definitely my favorite feature. You can see the Maçka neighborhood around you, the minarets in the old city off to the south, and across the Bosporus to the Anatolian side of Istanbul. The Princess Islands (center, in the distance) are a favorite option for a day trip from the city. The tall building just to the right of the stadium at the center is the Ritz Carlton. If you’re looking for the best views in Istanbul, it might offer it, considering its placement.

The outdoor terrace included a small table and chairs. I enjoyed the morning watching the morning light creep into the sky. Given that it was the first of September, the lows barely dipped into the 60s.

Overall, I was extremely satisfied by my comfortable and stylish room. It was an absolute bargain at just 8,000 Hyatt points. I guess with cash rates around $100-120 USD, this is the correct pricing. Turkey is an inexpensive country to visit in general, and there are several points hotels in Istanbul that are a real bargain. 


Breakfast in the morning starts at 7:30 AM. As someone who is nearly always up early and usually at the office working before that time, this is a bit late for me. But this is (still technically) Europe and its part of the lifestyle. Jet lag also throws everything off. 

Breakfast didn’t end up starting until more like 7:45, as the hotel staff did not have the restaurant ready. But they were warm and welcoming once they opened.

The Nish Palas Istanbul breakfast menu offers a variety of choices. There is the Turkish breakfast, continental breakfast, eggs Benedict, scrambled eggs, sausage, pancake, and a few other options. It’s a a bit a la carte, aside from the Turkish breakfast, although a single plate of some of the items might be enough. One chef special is warm dates filled with goat cheese. I’m open to a lot of new foods, but given that neither of those are on my “like” list, I passed this up.

The full Turkish breakfast would do just fine. The waiter made it clear that everything was complimentary as a Hyatt Globalist, and he even suggested that I order some eggs. So I ended up getting the eggs Benedict and the Turkish breakfast. If you’re thinking that this sounds like it would be way too much food, you’d be right. 

The Turkish breakfast spread is fantastic. There were like 27 plates. I felt like a glutton. You have tomato, cucumber, dried fruit, cheese, olives, fruit spread, potatoes, pastries and börek (I think). 

The eggs Benedict came later on a bed of salmon and greens. Everything was absolutely delicious, and I managed to finish the bulk of the food.

The craziest part is that everything I ordered came to just 105 Turkish lira. This is about $16 USD. Add the service charge, and you’re talking $18 USD. Even without status, this is a very good price for what you get. But still relatively expensive, given you can find breakfast for less than 20 lira. 

Other Hotel Facilities

Rather than venture out for dinner after arriving in Istanbul, I decided to eat at the hotel restaurant. I could have found a cheaper restaurant, but it would not have been one with lovely views of the Bosporus and city all around me. Sure, my room had a nearly equal view, but it was nice to enjoy eating on the terrace. The weather in Istanbul during my early September visit was perfect.

I ordered a starter, fish and Turkish wine. Everything was quite good, although it didn’t compare to breakfast the following morning. 

The total came to 209 TL, which is around $30 USD. Hysterically, it was more expensive than my 50-minute taxi ride from the airport. Food prices in Turkey can vary considerably, and this was definitely on the high end. I’d buy a sandwich for lunch the next day for 9 TL (~$1.20 USD). 

Other Notes on the Stay

As the Nish Palas is a boutique hotel, there isn’t a dedicated concierge, business center, pool or other features that you might expect from a 5-star hotel. The property does have a fitness center located on a basement floor.

The front desk bailed me out the first night after I had my first mishap. I headed out after dinner, walking across the Maçka Democracy Park and over to Taksim Square. I enjoyed walking along the Istiklal Caddesi, finding myself at the Galata Tower after a total of 2.5 miles. By this time it was fully dark. Rather than spend an hour heading back on foot, I hailed a taxi. 

The ride was fine, and the driver even made it all the way to the hotel. However, I had failed to withdraw any cash. So far, I’d only used my card for the airport taxi and dinner at the hotel. My plan was to withdraw cash using my SoFi debit card, but I hadn’t yet called to unlock it. I was at the airport when I realized that there was some fraud alert on the card, as it simply refused to work (long story short, I’d entered my PIN wrong too many times trying to withdraw cash back home in California).

I spoke to the front desk, and they covered the taxi fare. I withdrew cash and settled with them the following morning.

Nish Palas Istanbul Review: Final Thoughts

My stay at the Nish Palas Istanbul came to an end after breakfast. I checked out and headed to Park Hyatt, which is just a few blocks away. Dropping my bag, I headed out for my first full day in Turkey’s largest city. The upside of hotel hopping is getting to try new properties. The downside is having to leave behind ones that you really enjoy. 

And the Nish Palas Istanbul is a hotel I really enjoyed. I generally prefer boutique hotels with more character, although I can appreciate solid chain hotels as well for other reasons. With its comfortable and stylish rooms, great views, and excellent breakfast, the Nish Palas is a hotel I’d certainly revisit. The only bummer is that it has since abruptly exited The Unbound Collection by Hyatt and no longer participates in the World of Hyatt program. This is especially sad, as it was the first Unbound Collection property in Turkey, opening in 2018. Still, with cash rates of $100 per night, it’s a bargain for an upscale option.

By: Family Flys Free
Title: Review: Nish Palas Istanbul (Formerly Hyatt Unbound Collection)
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Published Date: Sat, 10 Oct 2020 15:09:27 +0000

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Witnessing Peru’s Enduring, if Altered, Snow Star Festival




Stubbornly unfazed by warnings of “soroche,” or altitude sickness, I swung my legs up onto a donkey and began to ascend the steep trails. After trekking for a few dizzying hours alongside hundreds of others, I approached a glacial basin. The scene began to unfold before us: an immense valley flooded with so many pilgrims that it seemed to be covered in confetti, each tiny speck representing a huddled collection of tents and people.

The altitude sickness began to overtake every inch of my body. Even my eyeballs ached. But, undeterred, I slowly navigated through the throngs of people trying to take in every sight and sound.

Each year in late May or early June, thousands of pilgrims trek for hours on foot and horseback through Peru’s Andean highlands — slowly snaking their way up the mountainous terrain — for the religious celebrations of Qoyllur Rit’i, held some 50 miles east of Cusco, once the capital of the Incan empire.

Practiced annually for hundreds of years, the celebrations mark the start of the harvest season, when the Pleiades, a prominent cluster of stars, return to the night sky in the Southern Hemisphere. The syncretic festival, which is on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, interweaves Indigenous and Incan customs with Catholic traditions introduced by Spanish colonizers, who sought to undermine Andean cosmology.

Celebrations were suspended this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, with the route to the valley completely blocked off. But when I attended in 2013, the crowds were remarkably dense.

The festival takes place in the Sinakara Valley, a glacial basin that sits around 16,000 feet above sea level. Celebrants swarm in colorful droves with costumes, enormous flags, instruments and provisions in tow.

The festivities begin with the arrival of a statue of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i, transported from the nearby town of Mahuayani, to the valley’s small chapel. For three days, from morning until night, amid the nonstop sounds of drums, flutes, whistles, accordions, cymbals and electric keyboards, the air is filled with billowing clouds of dust kicked up from twirling dancers; it settles on the sequins, neon scarves, ribbons, tassels and feathers that adorn people’s traditional costumes and attire.

Pilgrims here are divided into “nations,” which correspond to their place of origin. Most belong to the Quechua-speaking agricultural regions to the northwest, or to the Aymara-speaking regions to the southeast. The delegation from Paucartambo has been making the pilgrimage for longer than any other.

“It’s important to maintain this tradition, because we have a lot of faith,” said a young Paucartambo pilgrim dressed as an ukuku, a mythical half-man and half-bear creature. Costumed in red, white and black alpaca robes, the ukukus are responsible for ensuring the safety of the pilgrims; they act as intermediaries between the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i and the people.

Other participants include the ch’unchus, who wear headdresses and represent Indigenous communities from the Amazon; the qhapaq qollas, who wear knitted masks and represent inhabitants from the southern Altiplano region; and the machulas, who wear long coats over fake humpbacks and represent the mythological people to first populate the Andes.

Hundreds of ceremonies are held throughout the three-day festival. But the long-awaited main event is carried out by the ukukus in the early morning hours of the last day. Carrying towering crosses and candles, ukukus from each nation ascend the Qullqipunku mountain toward a nearby glacier, regarded as alive and sentient. (The snow-capped mountains circling the valley are also believed to be mountain gods, or Apus, that provide protection.)

According to oral traditions, the ukukus, after scaling the icy slopes, once partook in ritualistic battles that were eventually prohibited by the Catholic Church.

Another tradition was also recently put to rest, this time by Mother Nature.

Up until only a few years ago, ukukus would carve slabs of ice from the glacier, whose melted water is revered as medicinal. Pilgrims would eagerly await the ukukus, backs bent from the weight of the ice, who would place the blocks along the pathway to the temple, to be used as holy water. Sometimes the ice was even transported to Cusco’s main square where, as Qoyllur Rit’i draws to a close, Corpus Christi celebrations kick off with comparable religious zeal.

Many believed that carrying the ice was a penance for sins, and that fulfilling this ritual meant the Apus would offer blessings.

But because much of the glacier has melted, significantly reducing its size, the tradition of carrying chunks of sacred ice down the mountain has been banned.

Climate scientists say that glaciers in the tropical Andes have been reduced by nearly a quarter in the last 40 years. Some scientists predict that such glaciers could disappear entirely by 2070.

These changes have not only affected agricultural practices in the Andes, but also, as witnessed by Qoyllur Rit’i pilgrims, cultural ones, too.

Although the ukukus now carry only wooden crosses back down the mountain, they’re still met with great jubilation — a testament to human resilience in the face of destruction caused by climate change.

By: Danielle Villasana
Title: Witnessing Peru’s Enduring, if Altered, Snow Star Festival
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Published Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2020 09:00:33 +0000

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British Airways updates interim catering with – gasp! – hot food




British Airways have been offering an extremely abbreviated on board service during the pandemic. Only passengers in first class received hot meals, with everyone else relegated to cold food. The interim catering has received a mixed reaction, especially as other airlines continue to offer full on board service.

All of this was wrapped in the safety banner, to reduce touch points and protect people. While perhaps admirable in its intention, frequent flyers have pointed the finger squarely at cost cutting, due to various inconsistencies in the approach. Either way, things are now moving back towards normality.

Updated Interim Catering

Hot food is back on British Airways long-haul services. First class continue to have theirs, and now everyone else on the plane gets to experience it too. That means business class passengers flying Club World, premium economy World Traveller Plus and economy World Traveller people can all chow down on something a little more fitting.

The Club World meal will be hot and served on a meal tray with a table cloth, with the second service a chilled item delivered the same way. The second service will come in a box as it does now on some return catered flights.

Those at the back of the bus will also get a hot meal, served on a half tray for the interim catering period. The second service will be chilled and be issued in a box or bag, depending on how lucky you are.

What About European Flights?

There are no changes to the current interim catering for European flights. This means that Club Europe continue to get a meal in a box or bag, and EuroTraveller customers receive a small complimentary on board snack.

The previous buy on board menu from M&S won’t be coming back, as the agreement expired this year and is not being renewed. A replacement British retailer is in the process of being recruited, so we will see a totally new buy on board menu on BA in due course.

Overall Thoughts

It is great to see some changes in the long-haul interim catering offering at British Airways. Not too soon either! Emirates return to their usual pre-Covid service on board from 1 November for example, so competition is afoot.

No doubt we will see further changes from BA as time passes on. Until the catering changes, I see no value in booking a flight with BA in a premium cabin. All my future travel is booked in economy with BA, as the value proposition for me in the higher classes has a lot to do with the food and drinks, which anyone who has read a flight review of mine will well know.

What say you? Are you happy with the improvements to the interim catering at British Airways? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

To never miss a post, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
All my flight and lounge reviews are indexed here so check them out!

Featured image by Rafael Luiz Canossa on Flickr via Wikimedia Commons.
With thanks to Inflight With James.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: British Airways updates interim catering with – gasp! – hot food
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Published Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2020 13:03:17 +0000

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4 Top Stargazing Places to Visit in 2020




Dark skies, bright stars are every stargazer’s main attraction spots. All around the world, people travel to experience the best spot the world has to offer. To most city dwellers, their experience with stargazing is bumping into the latest celebrity at the mall or grocery store checkout line thanks to air pollution and the city lights.

But there is nothing as magical as looking up into the dark skies dotted with constellations, planets, and shooting stars. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) recognizes over 130 spots that preserve the most star-filled skies. UNESCO recognizes several starlight reserves on its Astronomical Heritage sites list. These spectacular spots offer stargazers an opportunity to reconnect with the planet and learn more about the universe.

We believe you deserve to know the top spots that will give you the most magical experience, yet.  Here are 4 top places to visit in 2020 for stargazing.

The Best Stargazing Places to Visit

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Located in the remote Lake Powell of Utah, Natural Bridges was the first to be certified by the IDA as the international dark sky park. The IDA is the leading organization in combating light pollution, it is a big deal. The designation recognizes areas with some of the darkest and clearest skies in the world. It acknowledged darkness as a resource worthy of conservation and protection and appreciates the efforts extended to achieve this. The main attraction of the dark skies of Natural Bridges is a phenomenon that rises over the natural rock formation of Owachomo Bridge creating one of the most spectacular Milky Way you have ever seen. The bridge forms some sort of a window to the sky by beautifully framing thousands of stars, all of which are visible with the naked eye.

Plan to camp here overnight to have the full experience. Night photographers do get some of the most marvelous shots at the Natural Bridges National Monument, but always remember artificial sources of light for photography are prohibited.

Mauna Kea, Hawaii, United States

Located about 2,500 miles Southwest of California, Hawaii has evolved to be one of the leading astronomy destinations. The high volcanic peaks offer some of the most spectacular sceneries around the world.

Mauna Kea Summit is perhaps the most popular stargazing spots in Hawaii.

13,803 feet above the town of Hilo and close to Mauna Kea is the Mauna Kea Observatory, the largest of its kind in the world. It is a major astronomy hub.

What’s more, is that it is one of the few places on earth you can drive nearly 14,000 above sea level. Just make sure you check-in at the Visitors Station to acclimatize. You don’t want to experience altitude sickness. Still, the journey is magical with starry rewards. Make sure to bring the best telescopes as from this spot you get to see the celestial wonders of the Northern Hemisphere from bands of Jupiter to the constellations of Orion. Also because Mauna Kea is close to the equator, the stars of the Southern Hemisphere are visible, too. This means that over 80% of the earth’s stars can be seen from Mauna Kea.

Photographers have been known to capture the rare lunar rainbow from Mauna Kea. Lunar rainbows are essentially lit by the moon and not the sun, and occur under precise conditions.

Pic du Midi, France

Located in the Pyrénées Mountains of France, Pic Ddu Midi is good enough of a spot for NASA to take photos of the moon surface in preparation for their missions; it’s good enough for you.

A cable car from the La Mongie will get you to the summit, where an observatory is perched right above the clouds.

Also, the reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a major French national park. Plan to book an overnight stay to experience an unforgettable night under the stars.

Los Angeles, California

It is primarily known for another kind of star, the Hollywood star, and smog that is ever-present. To many, Lost Angeles does not come off as an ideal place to go stargazing. But those that have visited the iconic Griffith Observatory will tell you otherwise. Perched atop Mount Hollywood, it is one of the most astronomically intriguing places to visit. Depending on the time of the year, from Griffith Observatory you can observe assorted double stars, nebulae, Jupiter, and Venus. And with powerful telescopes, the incredibly detailed view of the Moon’s craggy surface can be visible.

The stars are accessible from most places and to everyone but some locations can get you the most from a night sky. Add these spots to your bucket list and start ticking. Once you do, you’ll be treated to an amazing view few people will even get to see.

The post 4 Top Stargazing Places to Visit in 2020 appeared first on Travel Experta – Family Travel Blog.

By: Marina Villatoro
Title: 4 Top Stargazing Places to Visit in 2020
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Published Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2020 15:30:03 +0000

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