I don’t always have the most noble intentions when choosing which country to travel to. For instance, I chose to visit Istanbul because I wanted to get my hands on reasonably priced Turkish towels and to eat as much baklava as I possibly could (I can happily say that I succeeded on both counts). Couple that with the fact that I had several friends that visited Istanbul that raved about their trips, and I didn’t want to miss out on a similar experience so I booked a trip as well.
Reflecting on my trip, my visit to Istanbul left me with mixed emotions. On the one hand I really enjoyed seeing all of the historical sites and mosques and some of my favorite photographs to date are from that trip. However, when I returned home and people asked me about my trip I wasn’t filled with my usual excitement and when people asked me about my trip I really wasn’t sure what to tell them.
With that said, here’s a small taste of my trip to Istanbul and a few stories that I’m ready to share with you dear readers.
The Turkish Ritual Bath aka Waterboarding Lite As I Like to Call It
After a long international flight we eventually arrived at our hotel pretty beat from our travels. However, we only had time to freshen up and take a brief nap because I had booked services at the Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami prior to leaving NYC for later that afternoon. So, we rested a bit and grabbed a taxi to the hamam. After arriving, we checked in with the attendants and I thought I had booked massages online but it turns out we were going to experience a traditional Turkish bath ritual instead. I had to mentally switch gears and prepare for my first hamam which wasn’t such a big deal because when in Turkey right? After checking in we were guided to the changing rooms and since I’m a bit prudish I opted to change into my bikini instead of entering the bathing area topless. Once changed we were escorted inside of the official bathing area. Step one, sit on heated marble stone for 10 minutes. Seemed harmless enough except I couldn’t help but feeling like a pet iguana basking on a heat rock. Ten minutes pass, I’m still alive and it’s time for the bathing part. My attendant came over and instructed me to sit on a marble stool with a faucet behind and with almost no warning she started to scrub my skin with a special exfoliating mitten. I’m almost certain at least five layers of my dead skin cells ended up on that mitten. Step three was the sudsing process, now I don’t know what kind of soap they used but it had unearthly sudsing properties. Along with the sudsing was more scrubbing and I shed an additional five layers of dead skin. When that was all done it was time for the rinsing and by this time the woman had warmed up to me slightly or so I thought. As I was sitting there she asked me where I was from and when I replied that I was from the US I had an ice cold bucket of water poured over my face. Now I’m not saying she was anti-American but the timing of it makes me wonder because it almost felt as if I was being waterboarded. There were more and more buckets of cold water until I was finally suds free and at which point I was wrapped in a cozy Turkish towel. The whole process was pretty humorous and intense and I’d totally do it again because I walked out of there with the softest skin ever.
On our second day in Istanbul we had a pretty aggressive schedule which included visiting the Basilica Cistern, Blue Mosque and Hagia Sopia. The visit to the Cistern was interesting yet uneventful and then we headed to the Blue Mosque. As we were approaching I heard someone call out “my chocolate” which I ignored for many reasons. Many reasons! However, the yelling of “my chocolate, my chocolate” didn’t stop and the culprit quickly approached us and offered his services to give us a tour of the mosque for a fee of course, which we politely declined because a) he called me “my chocolate” and b) I wasn’t looking to pay for a guided tour.
After sightseeing for the day we headed back to our hotel and passed a shop along the way. And once again I hear calls of “my chocolate, my chocolate” this time I couldn’t feign ignorance because it was the second time it happened that day. The culprit was one of the shop workers who went on and on about how beautiful my complexion was and how he was looking for a woman exactly like me. Uhm, ok! I entertained the banter as long as I could and had to promise to stop by the shop the following day just to be able to leave.
This situation played out daily for the duration of my trip in Istanbul. It got to a point that I started to avoid the main road back to the hotel so I wouldn’t have to deal with the men and shop owners on that strip. Don’t get me wrong, the men weren’t aggressive but I had no idea that someone with my complexion in Istanbul would garner such attention.
The Grand Bizarre
It was day four or five of our trip and it was time to visit the Grand Bazaar because no trip is complete in my book without visiting the various markets. The one exception being the meat market again, because, reasons. So when it comes to visiting a market I usually have the endurance of a trained athlete, the sense of direction of a GPS system and the haggling skills of a professional. However, I was off my game almost as soon as we entered the Grand Bazaar and soon started to not feel well. So after a brief visit to only a few shops we started to make our way out of the bustling marketplace. On our way out a much older woman wearing all black with a hijab covering her head walked up to me and grabbed my face. She didn’t say anything but I was taken aback by the experience and after she walked away I turned around to look at my mother and noticed her doing the same thing to her. My mother claims that the woman said “pretty, pretty” as she touched her face but I’m still a little skeptical. We finally made our way out of the bazaar and stopped at the much calmer Istanbul Pashmina Mollafenari Mahallesi, Çarşıkapı Caddesi 24/A, 34126 Fatih to recuperate and after a good while walked out of there with one of my favorite scarves to date.
Later that evening as we were strolling around a man came up to me and handed me his phone as if to indicate he wanted me to take his picture which didn’t seem too unusual because people often ask me to take their photo. To my surprise however, he wasn’t interested in me taking his photo but instead a selfie of the two of us together. Say what now? A selfie with a stranger nah fam I’m not about that life.
That pretty much summed up my trip to Istanbul. My reception in the south in Antalya was more muted and for some reason people kept asking if I was French which I didn’t mind in the slightest. Will I go back to Istanbul? I would because I’d know what to expect for one, and maybe stay in a different neighborhood to see what effect that would have on my trip.