As we continue to explore Istanbul and do many (perhaps too many?) tourist activities, we have also had experiences that are a bit less standard than visiting the Hayasophia, going on a boat tour of the Bosperus (check out the name of the tour boat on the right!) and walking around the top of Galata Tower. Only five days into this two month adventure, the days are blending together to some degree. I keep saying to Thomas, “Was it yesterday that we…?” or “When did we do…?”
Of all our recent (aka, two days worth) activities, here’s the scoop on three experiences that I am thinking about this morning.
1. Mob at Spice Market: At around 4:30pm yesterday we were walking back to our hotel after going on a boat tour and I told Tom we should cut through the Spice Market so I could show him an amazing bird store I had discovered earlier in the day when I went there on my own. I quickly realized there were FAR more people in the Market than earlier, but I was confident I could find this one shop again (silly Erika!!). As we turned a corner, we were suddenly swept into a literal crush of people, all attempting to move through an intersection of passages. I found myself growing anxious as we moved (or were moved) along in one direction, and then pushed into another direction. I grabbed onto Tom’s backpack so I did not get separated from him as we were jostled along. I could not see the ground and was concerned I might stumble on the cobblestoned street, or that someone else would do this and then get stomped to death. After what felt like an hour (but was probably closer to 10 minutes), we managed to get to an outer edge of the intersection and break free from the chaos. Whew! As we walked away, I watched others head towards the area, totally unaware (as we had been) that they were about to encounter such a throng/mash/ocean of people. As we discussed the experience, Thomas admitted he thought it had been sort of fun. But I had moments during the crush in which I really worried we would not get out without being injured.
2. Cağaloğlu Hamami (Turkish Bath): The written description we were provided about the Turkish bath could in no way really capture what I experienced during my hour long visit to Cağaloğlu Hamami. The experience certainly confirmed to me that I can ‘roll with the punches’ and get naked among other women. The woman who bathed me was named Aijan–a name I had not heard before, but now think is one of the most beautiful names I know. After I undressed and wrapped a towel around myself, I went into the hararet (a large heated marble room). There is a large hot raised marble area (called the göbektaşı) at the center of the hararet where you lay. So I lay on my towel there and sweated and stretched for about 20 minutes. Then Aijan came and introduced herself and asked me my name. She then instructed me to lie on my back and proceeded to pour warm water over my body before scrubbing me vigorously all over with a rough silk glove. Then she instructed me to stand up and she took my hand and led me to one of the marble wash basins at the edge of the room where she poured lots and lots (and lots) of water over me before she took me back to the göbektaşı. Again I lay down and now she massaged me with soap. Lovely. Then back to the basin for another rinse. Then back to the göbektaşı where she used this huge sponge to massage me with foam. Then back to the basin for more rinsing. Then she washed my hair, braided it, and declared me ‘done’ before leading me out of the hamam and wrapping me in a towel. I have never felt as clean as I did after this bath. And I encourage anyone who needs a name for a child to consider Aijan, because it’s a lovely name.
3. Kitten at the Hippodrome of Constantinople: Two nights ago Thomas and I had dinner at a lovely restaurant near the Blue Mosque. As we started to walk back to the hotel we realized we were near Sultanahmet Meydanı (Sultan Ahmet Square), where the Hippodrome of Constantinople is located, so we headed over to see this. The area is beautifully lit at night and many people were gathered in the square. As we approached the Walled Obelisk, we heard the sound of a kitten meowing and saw that this poor cat had gotten trapped at the base of the monument, which is about 10 feel below street level. A group of people of various nationalities was gathered and motioning to the kitty, clearly concerned that it could not get out. I felt concerned, too, but what could be done? I stood at the side of the monument, feeling rather sad–would the cat die down there? Would some brave person break the rules and climb over the fence surrounding the obelisk to try and get the kitten out? Then suddenly a firetruck approached the square and drove right up to the obelisk. Three firemen climbed out of the truck and we concerned world citizens pointed down to the kitten. And then, quite heroically, the firemen took a ladder and one of them went down into the base of the obelisk and caught the cat and brought it up and out where it leapt from the arms of its savior and ran off from the square. And we all cheered and clapped and some people hugged and it was just a totally fabulous moment to be part of.
We will be leaving Istanbul tomorrow to go to Canakkale, a smaller city on the coast of Turkey. I have enjoyed Istanbul but am ready to be in a less urban place, where we hopefully can slow down a bit. Today we may go across the water to Uskadar to explore, and I am quite keen on walking over to Balat, the Jewish quarter of Istanbul. And then there is the Dervish performance this evening, and eating a balık-ekmek (fish sandwich). Is it really only day five??