Annoying salesmen, Aya Sofia, Grand Bazaar, Baths

Trip Start Apr 16, 2006
Trip End Jun 07, 2006

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Thursday, May 4, 2006

This morning I bolted awake at 3:30 am or so. See, the speakers from the minaret at Aya Sofia appears to point right at the window by my bed. On other nights I've taken a sleeping pill, but last night I didn't and so when prayer call began it rocked me out of my bed. At that split second I immediately thought, "Oh my Lord, what the HELL am I doing in Istanbul?" Sometimes this trip still seems like it isn't real.

My foot hurt a bit thanks to sprinting for boats yesterday, so I decided to take the morning a bit easy. Then this afternoon I walked through Aya Sofia since she calls to me all the time. Although they have prayer calls from the minarets, the building is now a museum and not a mosque so you don't have to take your shoes off to enter. Apparently it's the largest enclosed space in the world, and it's really pretty incredible. I'll let the photos do the talking when I upload them.

My hotel is about a half a block from the Istanbul Four Seasons so there are a lot of tourists around and the locals know this. On the way to the church, I was accosted by no fewer than 16 men in suits wanting to show me their shops or give me tours (this has little to do with me being a woman alone, by the way... they do this to pretty much every non-Turk in sight). It went from mildly irritating to really ticking me off after a while. I try to keep smiling and being good humored about things whenever I travel, but some things are difficult to endure & this, for me, is one of them. In Egypt, there are so few women on the streets that I was somewhat of an exotic animal so I could actually understand the occasional attention drawn to me. But here? It's ONLY about trying to get you to spend money and they DO NOT give up. EVER. After a while it has started to really gross me out and at times I have found it difficult to hide my impatience. Every time I hear "helllooooo!" or "where are you frooommmm?" I get a chill down my spine, because I know it has nothing to do with actual friendliness. Nobody really cares where I am from. Nobody REALLY wants to be my friend. They want to sell me a carpet. Honestly, HOW MANY CARPETS am I supposed to need!?!?!?!?

One handsome suited man this morning ran up alongside me (as they always do) and started trying to have a conversation. After trying to ignore him for a few minutes (and when he asked my name I told him I didn't have one) I finally said, "Ok, so do you want to be my tourguide or do you have a shop?" He said "I do not want to be a tourguide." I said "So you have a shop?" He replied "Yes, but I want to be your friend. Can I be your friend?" I said I didn't really want any new friends but thank you anyhow. He responded, "But I want to be your friend." I replied, "No you do not. I am a mean person. I am a very bad friend." This did not stop him. Apparently he likes mean friends. Leastwise if they look at his shop.

Finally I tried honesty and said, "Too many men trying to talk to me. I want to be alone. That is all. Please." He continued to try to be my friend, and at that point I stopped, put my hands together and in turkish I said "No thank you. PLEASE. No. Goodbye. Please." He said, "But I would be a good friend so I will walk with you. You can see my shop. We will be good friends now." With my sprained foot I cannot walk fast but I just kept walking and he followed me for another block or two. Finally I got a very angry look on my face (AGAIN! Twice in two days!) and said again in Turkish "PLEASE! No thank you. Goodbye."

At this point he turned on me. He said in a very angry tone with a very scrunched face (as though I'd just offended him to the very core of his being), "I do not want to sell you anything. I want to be friends. If you do not want friends then that is sad for you. I do not try to make you buy things."

At this point I looked back at him. When I did this, he instantly smiled and said, "So... do you like to see my shop?"

After Aya Sofia I walked through the Grand Bazaar. It's a wonderful thing that there are so many more salesmen in there calling out that they want to be my friend because it saved me a lot of money on shopping. I have developed a rule that if the salesperson asks me my name or where I'm from before I am anywhere near their shop then I cannot look in it. This is a great rule... I didn't buy hardly a thing.

Some of the stuff is pretty cool and some isn't... there are lanterns, jewelry (all kinds: cool, tacky, cheap, and incredibly expensive), ceramics, tiles, bags, clothing, shoes, fabric, water pipes, and of course... RUGS. I sat in a cafe and had some lunch and tea and wrote in my journal a while. Then I went over to the used book area of the bazaar and bought one as a memento. Because those of you who have been in my apartment know that if there's one thing I need it's MORE USED BOOKS.

On my way back to the hotel, I had one last stop. Time for my very first Turkish Bath! Wooo hoooooo! (I am fully aware that this is a story that both the male and female readers will enjoy for totally different reasons.) ;)

I walked up to the Cagaloglu Hamami and immediately was drawn in by the hideous mannequins guarding the door (I took a photo... you'll see for yourself). When I walked inside, the man at the door spoke very good british english. He asked which bath I wanted and I said the complete, to which he responded "Ah, the full monty!" and I laughed and told him he was very british.

I told him I have a broken foot (easier to translate than "it's sprained & hurts like hell) and he said it would be fine, and I was guided to the woman's area. Before that, he asked if I would like to buy a silk scrub so that the woman massaging me wouldn't use the same one used on others. I said ok, thinking I could have it as a souvenir. Good thing, since the truth is they used everything else communally so one little private scrubber wouldn't have made a real sanitary difference.

Obviously I don't know what this experience is like in the men's area, so I'll just describe my experience, okay? Let's just say if you are modest or shy in any way shape or form, or if you are freaked out by nudity... a turkish bath ain't the place for you.

First I went upstairs into a private room and disrobed (ok, quit with the catcalls, people), put on a towel that looked like an italian tablecloth and slipped on some ugly orange plastic bath sandals. Then I walked downstairs where I was met by my masseuse who led me into the main bath area. In a way the washroom feels almost like a mini-mosque because of the high multi-domed ceilings and echoes inside. It's a big marble room and in the center there's a wide octagonal marble platform about a foot off the ground. Then around the perimeter of the room are various alcoves which have marble washbasins on both sides and little platforms for sitting.

The women who work in the Turkish baths? Apparently they're all supposed to be fat. Not sure why, but that was definitely the case. They were all wearing one piece bathing suits most of the time. They're all incredibly maternal and sweet, and speak just enough english to tell you exactly what to do and every once in a while they look into your eyes and say, "Nice!? Nice?" because they want you to be happy.

First you have to go to one of the washbasins, you take a metal bowl and pour water from the basin all over yourself, or she pours it over you. You do that for about five minutes. Then she leads you to the octagonal platform. Basically, it is space for eight women to lie head to toe along the perimeter of the platform. The masseuse tells you exactly where to be & you have a little bath pillow for your head.

The first thing is the scrub, where they take every single bit of dead skin off of you. I mean, they REALLY scrub you like a baby and massage you (using that silk glove I bought). The soap they use smells like coco butter. And then you go back to the washbasin and pour water all over yourself again for another five minutes or so.

She comes back to you and tells you to lie down on the platform again and it's time for a salt scrub thing. They use some kind of strange loofa ish rug thing, I'm not sure what it was really. At this point I noticed that they were sharing the same loofa rug thingy between me and the german lady next to me. Since everyone and everything is obviously getting very clean at this point it didn't bother me... but this is when I realized the point I made before about the personal silk glove being irrelevant.

After they do all of this for a while and they massage you for a while longer, they take you back to rinse again. Another five minutes.

Then you sit on the floor and they wash your hair. They pour water all over your head and massage your face. You have to time your breaths so you don't swallow anything. Then they comb your hair way too hard and massage you some more.

And then you rinse off for another five minutes and you feel like the cleanest human being on the planet. My fingertips are still like prunes and I left there an hour ago.

It was really a pretty cool experience and although there were mostly foreigners in there during the time that I went, locals do still go there. I ran into a Turkish woman as I was leaving because we had dressing rooms next to eachother. As she put her headscarf back on, she gave me the warmest smile and said, "Good?" I smiled and said "Yes" in Turkish as we walked out together and she headed to the mosque, all clean to pray.

P.S. -- When I woke up the next day and looked in the mirror, I was having the best hair day I've had since forever! I don't know what she washed my hair with but wow, is it shiny. First time I've worn it down during the day in ages, it just looked too good to mess up by putting it into a ponytail.
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lynnster on

Men washers!?
Oh Judy Judy Judy! That sounds much kinkier than my experience. Wow. I can't even picture little you needing two Turkish men to do the job. One lady did a fine job on me by herself... and you're probably half my size! :)

I actually asked if the washers were women and the guy seriously answered, 'Yes, I am sorry.' I probably wouldn't have done it if the masseuses were men because I really needed to be surrounded by some good old fashioned estrogen for an afternoon. (BTW, the fat Turkish women were semi-naked at times too so I got glimpses of things I really didn't need to see, but they were very very sweet ladies.)

NoreenCummings on

All people deserve good life time and home loans or just short term loan would
make it much better. Because freedom relies on money.

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