Day 5

Trip Start May 19, 2008
Trip End May 28, 2008

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Our plan for the morning? No alarm clock. Sleep in.

So we skipped the hotel breakfast, bought some groceries and took the Tunel (subway) down to the Golden Horn (river). Right along the river, next to the Galata Bridge, we ate our feta, bread, tomatoes and cukes and wondered (again) about headscarved women who wear tight jeans and shirts and are openly affectionate with their very modern looking boyfriends.

Then we took the tram across the river and back into Sultanahmet (the old city) for a little shopping and then, to meet Nicole and Hakan at a Hamam (Turkish Bath). What a wild experience.
(these pix are from the web) Once in the door, Hannah and Nicole go one way and Hakan and I go another. (Hannah will have to tell you about their experience).
Even though Hakan goes to hamams regularly, he had never been to this one, which is especially old and picturesque. So when the attendant pointed upstairs we followed orders, not knowing quite what lay ahead. Upstairs in an open balcony around the entrance
"lobby" were a couple dozen little rooms where you disrobed, wrapped yourself in a towel and locked the door. Then back down into the lobby, where sat men and women sipping tea and fresh squeezed OJ after their baths. We walked through in our towels as
though it were completely comfortable and then were directed to another door, into a little room occupied only by a Brit in a towel who looked more confused than us. There were some little spigots and basins and metal bowls, but before we had time to figure it out, another guy came in and directed us into the main room. (the picture here is from the web) Now Hakan was in familiar territory and he explained that we use the bowls to pour hot or cold water on ourselves to rinse off. The we lie down on that huge round slab
of stone and sweat for awhile. Then an attendant arrives and says "speak English?" I took this as a conversation starter, but it was only a way to determine which language he would use to bark orders at me. "Turn!" "Sit!" "Lie down!" What follows is an amazing combnation of washing, massage, chiropractic and wrestling. He scrubs and soaps and kneads and cracks, periodically pouring hot or cold water over me, "firmly" pushing me this way or that so all the soap is rinsed off. (This is probably much more detail than you want to know, but we have about 45 minutes on the Underground on our way into London to visit the Queen... but more about that on Day 7).
Anyway, next we go to a another room where he washes my hair and rinses me again. "Everything good?" "No Problem?" "Give service tip." I had heard that tips were definitely expected in the hamam (not true everywhere else), but I had no money on me of course and how would I give him a tip later? I hardly ever saw his face... the one thing I could remember is that he had the exact same moustache as every other attendant.
Out to another room where the towel guy give me one towel for my waist, one over my shoulders and with another he makes a turban (is this just for the tourists?). But then, all toweled up, you're sent back out to the (co-ed) lobby/café, and upstairs to the little room where no amount of towel drying makes you feel really dry. Hannah and Nicole join us back in the lobby/café and we all have a good laugh. And then I see how they they make sure to get a tip... while you are relaxing in the lobby/cafe, the attendants come out to "say goodbye."

Now Hannah: As for the ladies, it was also quite the experience. After changing into our bathing suits in the locker room, we wrapped ourselves in a thin little towel and headed into the main room. We laid our towels down on the huge marble center and rested for a bit, waiting until we got really hot before heading over to the faucets to pour refreshing cups of cold water over our heads. Not long after, one of the attendants, a Turkish woman who was probably about 60, came over and said, "Scrub?" at which point I nodded and followed her to where she had cleared off a spot on the marble (Nicole wasn't there for the scrub option, just the sauna/bath, so I was in this by myself). Without saying much more than "Turn!" and "Sit!", the woman spent the next 10 minutes scrubbing me down with a special little scrubber followed by a soft, soapy cloth. It was some sort of combination of a massage and a bath, and it really was quite relaxing. I should add by the way that this woman, along with most of the other women in the room, was completely topless. But I guess that's just part of the experience, right?
After the scrub was over, she directed me towards one of the faucets where she shampooed my hair quite vigorously while I struggled to keep the shampoo out of my mouth (my nose was stuffed up from my cold, so this was a difficult task).
Finally, she doused me with water and sent me on my way feeling very clean and refreshed. After spending a little more time lying on the marble with Nicole, we went out to meet the guys.

After the hamam, we continued our day of ancient Turkish relaxation with a visit to another café where we drank tea and shared a water pipe (nargilah).

"We" = Hakam and me, with minor participation by Hannah. This was a cool place... tons of people in a mostly outdoor garden with lots of shade and seats, and almost no tourists.
(I read later it is very popular with students at nearby Istanbul University).

Then lunch. The restaurant had good food, but it was overpriced and clearly geared for tourists. But we went in because there was a gypsy trio playing inside. Not the greatest musicians, but fun. We stayed just long enough to refuel and then parted ways with Hakan and Nicole who were headed back to Taksim (the newer area).

We weren't entirely sure of our plans for the rest of the day, but we started walking towards the Grand Bazaar to see what that was all about. When we reached it, we entered in what was clearly the clothing section and started through it, expecting to be overwhelmed by what was to come. But a few minutes later, we reached the end a strip and found ourselves back on the street feeling quite confused. What was so Grand about that? Where's all the noise, the hustle and bustle, the endless supply of jewelry, scarves, bread, spices, ceramics, carpets, hats, toys and gold that we were expecting? We asked a man walking by where the Grand Bazaar was, assuming we had just made a wrong turn, at which point he pointed back to where we had come. "That's it?" we asked. "Yes," he said, "but today, closed." Ooooh. Although bummed that we didn't get to experience it, we were perhaps a bit relieved, since we knew that there was only so much bazaar-style shopping we could have handled anyway.

So off we went, deciding to head towards the New Mosque (from Day 3) and on the way, Hannah paid her first visit to one of Istanbul's many public bathrooms, which, in addition to being plentiful and staffed, are also toilet-less (think hole-in-the-ground).

We arrived at the New Mosque as the sun was low in the sky and gave a beautiful glow to everything.

We sat in the courtyard of the mosque and could see the sun setting though the courtyard door.

People came and left, to pray or to visit.

Some others just sat, like us.

Once the sun had set behind the nearby buildings...

...we walked onto the Galata Bridge where we could watch the sun set again behind a different mosque.

On the other end of the bridge, we came upon movie lights, a camera on a boom and a crowd of people pretending to be celebrating after a Turkish soccer vistory. This little movie is fun...
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