Tom and I were told while we were still in Vienna about the hammams in Istanbul Turkey.
The Ottoman empire placed a great emphasis on the cleanliness of body and soul. That emphasis combined with the absence of bathrooms in people’s homes made the hammams an integral part of the culture.
We were told that in these Turkish bathhouses professional bathers would scrub us so clean that it would almost be frightening. I am not frightened by exfoliation so I was really looking forward to this. The hammams are separated into men and women’s baths, so Tom and I had to part ways as soon as we entered.
The bath started with 30 minutes in the sauna to soften the skin. this was followed by a rinse from one of the fountains spewing forth in the main, marble bath section. Then the assisted bathing began. I noted the big strongly muscled arms of the woman who would be bathing me with satisfaction. I was not disappointed.
She scrubbed me so hard even my soul felt squeaky clean and smelling like roses when I was done. I came out to greet Tom feeling like I had a brand new set of skin- like a baby. Tom also felt like a baby, but for a different reason. He didn’t feel born again, as so much as just identifying with a baby after being washed and put in different places by people that he had no way of communicating with.
I think that if we lived in Turkey we would become regulars at the ‘ol hammam. Absolutely wonderful.
We expected Istanbul Turkey to be much warmer than Bulgaria. It was definitely warmer, but not by much. To illustrate my point- it still snowed it just did not stick. The weather did not stop us from thoroughly enjoying Istanbul and some of the best food we have had this entire trip!
It was almost heartbreaking how quickly we would get full, and we spent much of our time there bemoaning the fact that one week is just not enough time to eat everything there is to enjoy in Istanbul! Our favorite was the fish market that is under Galata bridge. We went there nearly every day to enjoy grilled salmon steaks and the incredible fish sandwiches that the market is known for.
I could start just listing all of the amazing foods and desserts that we ate while in Istanbul, but I can’t even do that to myself or I may drool all over my keyboard! All I really have to say is two things; Baklava and Halava. Luckily there are so many beautiful things to walk around and see in Istanbul we were able to fit in a bit more food than usual. Strolling by the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia can really work up an appetite!
Even more luckily in between meals we got to enjoy glasses of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice on our walks. Tom was really happy about all of the fresh squeezed orange juice in Latin America, but Istanbul’s abundance of pomegranate juice was even better!
We went to a dance show to see a bit of typical Turkish dancing and I was amazed to learn that there are male belly dancers. The guy we saw was incredible! I had no idea that men could work it like that. I will never accept the excuse of not having hips from a dude who claims he can’t shake it again!
My favorite part about Turkish culture is the apparent kindness to cats that everyone exhibits. Istanbul is the first place we have been with more cats running around than dogs and people all seem to be pretty kind to them. Giving them food, allowing them to stretch out in hookah cafes and stopping to give them a pet and a scratch every now and then. None of the cats really seemed feral, they all seemed to just belong to Istanbul and were as ready for a bit of fish as they were for a good pet.
What’s not to love about a city where security guards bring plates of leftovers to work so they can feed and pet the local kitties while guarding their mosque or museum?!
After spending so much time tasting the local dishes and eyeing (and nosing) the piles of aromatic spices overflowing the buckets in the Egyptian Spice Bazaar we were ready to roll up our sleeves, slip on some aprons and start trying to make eggplant into magic!
Eggplant was definitely made into magic, but we can’t really take too much of the responsibility. The cook seemed a bit protective of his kitchen so we felt more like indulged children allowed to “help” than actual cooking students. Help should be said with a big grin and like we really are a big boy and girl.
He did let us chop some stuff and stuff some figs with walnuts, and we even got to stir! Most importantly we got to eat it all, so everybody went home happy 🙂
Though we left Istanbul super excited for the warmth of Thailand we are already looking forward to returning to the warm mother’s embrace of Istanbul so that we can spend some more time being fed, bathed and constantly delighted once again.