There probably is no better word than exotic to describe Istanbul, Turkey. Geographically it straddles two continents, Europe and Asia, yet it refuses to be defined by either. Parts of it are reminiscent of the Middle East and yet it is a distinct city with a feel and flare of it’s own. The landscape and buildings are breathtakingly beautiful with a rich and alluring history. With bygone eras piled in archaeological layers one on top of the other, history overflows from every corner of the city.
We stayed at a lovely hotel named the Ibriahim Pasha in the Sultanahmet district.The Blue Mosque was our neighbor and each night we would sit out on the terrace with a glass
We fell under the spell of the city at night. Chestnuts roasting on open fires, Turkish coffee or apple tea with Turkish delights freely offered by restaurants and pubs in the neighborhood. It is alive and exciting.
One evening we indulged ourselves with a visit to one of the oldest hamans (Turkish bathhouse) in Istanbul. Cemerlitas has been in continual use as a bathhouse since the 1500’s. A natural floor heating system heats marble slabs. Pipes were inserted in to the marble blocks and steam runs through the pipes to heat the marble slabs. All this so one can be bathed and pampered like never before. The baths are separated for the men and women. Nothing in the experience has changed over the last 500 years. There is an unspoken language that informs you of what is to happen next; hopefully you don’t miss the queue. The massages are deep and penetrating. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish the pain from the pleasure. You are washed richly and deeply from head to toe. For the women we were rinsed with alternating cool and warm water infused with lemon. It felt like a wonderful dream. We reveled in the thought that we too were partaking in what Sultans centuries before us had enjoyed on a daily basis. We loved it but certainly not an experience for the modest or easily intimidated.
We met every Turkish carpet storeowner in town. Soon we developed an identity that would usually get them to leaves us alone. Instead being a retired American couple enjoying the Mediterranean for a few months, we became Electolux salesmen who had won a trip for high volume vacuum cleaner sales. We then informed them that our kids had chipped in the $200.00 we had for spending money for the week. It was a little hard for Tom to bluff his way through but after awhile we both got pretty good at this façade and almost believed it ourselves!
We experienced and indulged in the rich culture this city has to offer.
Forever in our minds the infamous skyline will be imprinted along with the smells and sounds of this exotic city.