Istanbul, Turkey Day 136

I think I had the most culturally rich day of my trip today. It was my last day in Istanbul. I had a laundry list of stuff I wanted to see and do, but to be totally honest, I haven’t really felt like rushing around too much trying to see everything. Just BEING here is a big part of the experience. You can just sit on a bench and watch the people go by and absorb as much as going to a museum for an hour. That’s kind of what I wanted out of Istanbul, and boy did I get it in spades.

I’ve never been around such amiable people before in my entire life. Everyone wants to stop and have a chat, and even if you make it clear you aren’t going to buy anything they still want to offer you a cup of tea. Some of the men are creepy and it’s clear what they want, but most have been nothing but friendly and respectful. The women are a little more reserved, but if you make an effort with them they’re usually happy to talk. Heck, they’re women, of course they want to talk!

I really wanted to try an authentic hammam while in Istanbul, so I did a little research to see which one was the most authentic and GedikPasa Hamami was the one that kept coming up as one of the oldest and most traditional. There are a couple of hammam’s in Istanbul that are much more stylish and spa-like, but I wanted the real deal (the bonus being that this place was actually one of the more reasonably priced ones as well.) I decided to do the scrub/massage package and paid my 55 Turkish Lira and following my woman into the changing room. She gave me a key to a changing room that was my own individual little cabin (with glass windows and no curtain, I’ll have you know!) I undressed and wrapped myself in the towel and followed her to the bathing room.
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She told me to wash myself and then go into the sauna. She didn’t speak much English and called me “lady.” Everyone seems to call you lady when they don’t speak English. There is one other woman in there and she is being scrubbed down by a half naked woman wearing only a thong… Hmmm, I wasn’t expecting HER to be naked as well! Ah well, when in Rome (or Istanbul!) So I went and sweat my face off in the sauna for 10-15 minutes until my lady came to get me. She had me put my towel down on the warm marble slab in the middle of the room and lay face down. Using a loofah type mitt she scrubbed the heck out of my back side, then turned me over and did my front. The dead skin rolls right off of you, she used quite a lot of force in her scrubbing! Oh, did I mention I was buck naked? Yes! 100%! So, every bit of me is scrubbed except for the little bit “down there.”
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Then she tells me to rinse off. You can’t believe the skin that has been sloughed off… it’s incredible! Then she has me lay back down on the marble and has a large washcloth that has the foamiest soap on it. She washed m down with it and gives me a full body massage at the same time. I’ve had a lot of massages before, and my neck, back and shoulders can handle it, but my legs? OWIE! It hurt! I’ve never had a breast massage either… until now. Very interesting to say the least! So this lasted maybe 10 minutes, then she led me back over to the water basins where she washed my hair for me. I can now say I know how my dog feels when I’m giving him a bath. I had soap and water pouring down my face, along with my hair all coming forward and making me feel like Cousin It from the Addams Family (or is it The Munsters?)
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After that she showed me the cool pool. From what I understand this is what makes this place different from many of the other ones as they don’t have the cool pool, and I have to say it was one of the best parts. I just floated around in there under the dome watching the sunshine come through the cut out circles in beautiful rays of light. It was incredible. I wasn’t sure if she was supposed to come back and get me or what, so I stayed in for about 15 minutes then started to wonder if it’s up to me to get out when I’m ready. The only problem was that I didn’t have a towel close by, so if I wanted to go and find my lady I’d have to do it naked as the day I was born. I hemmed and hawed for a while then decided I just had to get out, and of course as I did there were two women coming in all towelled up and I could see that they had their bras on still. I’m not really sure how well that’s going to work, but who am I to judge?
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Overall I would say it’s a once in a lifetime experience that everyone should try if you ever come to Istanbul. It’s a little embarrassing, but these women do this all day every day and I’m sure they’ve seen it all. I walked out of there with skin as soft as a baby’s butt and relaxed and invigorated at the same time!
Figs! There are guys who walk around with push carts of figs to buy.

After that I walked back through the Grand Bazaar again. This place is so incredible it was worth a second look. It’s like a labyrinth, you can find your way in, but you cannot find your way out! I had to ask directions 6 times to get pointed in the right direction to get back to the Blue Mosque area.

Did you know that Backgammon is one of the oldest games in the world? It’s hugely popular here.

Scarves of every size, colour and quality.
I love these shoes! Aladdin!
Embroidered boots, very funky!
That is the goldest jewellery I’ve ever seen. In the alley ways and doorsteps close to the jewellery district in the bazaar there are men talking furiously on the phones and yelling back and forth to/at each other…. I later found out that it’s a sort of stock exchange for gold. They’re constantly monitoring the price because most of the gold jewellery here is sold by weight.
Whirling dervishes.
Scary ass mannequins. Horror movie material, don’t you think?

I had been planning to go to the museum at Hagia Sophia, but by the time I finally wound up getting over here it was just closing, so I guess I’ll have to see it next time I come! As I was hanging around in the park area between Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia I started talking to some people. One of them had just been in Vancouver visiting his good friend Rick Hansen! He asked me if I knew him and I said no, but that I obviously knew OF him, he’s a local hero! After chatting for a bit they invited me to their Ramadan dinner in the back kitchen of their carpet shop that night. I was really enjoying our conversation so I didn’t hesitate in saying yes.

Because Muslims aren’t allowed to eat or drink anything between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan, the meal they have post sunset is an important one. They were telling me that sometimes they’ll have up to 50 people getting together for dinner. Tonight was special because they’d hired a woman who had come in to cook for them. The meal was exceptionally good! There was tomato soup, a tzatziki style yogurt dish that was much thinner so you ate it with a spoon, sort of like soup. Then there was a spiced meat with rice that was so flavourful and delicious and the bread… how do I describe the bread? It’s a special bread that they only eat during Ramadan. It’s sort of like a thick pita bread with a baguette texture. Some of us sat at the table, and some sat on a rug on the floor.

There were a couple of other “foreigners”there as well… a girl from Alaska, and another girl from California. She was interesting because she was 19 years old, and had converted to the Muslim faith a few years prior. She was one of the most well spoken, mature 19 year olds I’ve ever met. She had just been in Cairo on an archaeological dig (that’s what she’s studying) and it was kind of surreal sitting there having a conversation with Muslims about evolution, science, nature and religion. Very, very eye opening.

What being here has made me realise is that despite our differences, people are people. It’s truly amazing how travel really does make the world a smaller place. My evening ended just about as perfectly as I could have wanted because they pulled out the backgammon set (backgammon is HUGE here!) and we played a few games out on the front stoop of the shop with the sounds of live music playing in the background. Just about a perfect day, I think!

This woman has been working on this silk rug for 5 months and this is how much she gotten done in that time. They are so beautiful and the detail is unbelievable. These rugs are knotted silk and she worked so fast with her fingers and an X-acto knife. She spoke no English but was very warm and friendly and we had a nice non-conversation conversation.
Better view of Hagia Sophia.
Some Turkish boys doing an impromptu Turkish dance.

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2 Responses to Istanbul, Turkey Day 136

  1. Anonymous August 22, 2011 at 2:03 am #

    Max is beside me and when he saw the picture of the boots, he said, “What are those beautiful shoes?” Three years old – so vexing one minute, so heartwarming the next!

    Melissa

  2. Andrea September 9, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    God I love that kid… and they ARE beautiful boots, he has good tatse!

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