A couple of weeks ago, Jason and I went to Istanbul with our friends Michelle and Ian.
Michelle is a renown Foreign Service blogger. You can check out her blog at http://www.globehoppers.us.
In Istanbul, I was able to cross an item off my Bucket List by seeing the Hagia Sophia in person.
Construction began on the Hagia Sophia in 537 A.D.
The interior of the Hagia Sophia is even more impressive than the exterior.
Built originally as a Greek Orthodox basilica, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque in 1453 and then a museum in 1935.
The Christian mosaics are spectacular!
Just across from the Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen.
The entire mosque was built in just 7 years; between 1609-1616.
The interior was just as beautiful as the exterior.
As amazing as Istanbul’s mosques are, my favorite cultural experience in the city was visiting a Turkish bath. Istanbul is full of Turkish baths. We chose the Suleymaniye Baths, built in 1557 by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
Suleymaniye Baths only allow couples, so if you want to go, bring a buddy. Here’s how things went down:
After enjoying the traditional Turkish ambiance in the lobby, we were taken by a middle-aged gentleman up the stairs to a table stacked with red and white plaid clothing. Jason was handed a towel and nothing else. I was first handed a pair of shorts. Then the middle-aged man took a sizable gander at my not so sizable chest and then started rifling through the stack of bikini tops. At this point, I sheepishly said, “Do you have a small.” To which he loudly replied, “Yes! You want a Japanese top!” Not sure if I wanted to join in any stereotyping of entire races of women, I quietly replied, “Yes. I’ll take the Japanese top.” To which he handed me a bikini top and a towel. I then followed my snickering husband into the dressing room. The dressing rooms are one per couple, so I would advise that you take a buddy that you are okay seeing naked, and visa-versa.
Our conversation in the dressing room when something like this:
Me (just after taking my shirt off): What are you doing?
Jason (pointing his camera phone at me): I’m going to take a picture of you putting on your Japanese top.
Me: Uh, no you’re not! (Turning around) Here tie this.
Jason’s camera phone: Click!
So, because insulting the Japanese two minutes earlier wasn’t enough, we were now contributing to the world’s soft porn problem.
After a quick discussion (with me doing all of the talking) about when it is appropriate to take pictures of one’s wife and when it is not appropriate to take pictures of one’s wife, followed by a photo deletion, we were locking our possessions inside our dressing room and then parading through the lobby in our plaid regalia.
We were then taken into a very hot and steaming room and told to lie down on our backs on a large marble slab in the center of the room.
Please note: The above is not a picture of me and Jason! This photo came from the establishment’s website. Proof: This woman is clearly not wearing a Japanese top.
Back to the marble slab. We were told to lie on the marble slab for 30-40 minutes. The slab was heated and it was extremely hot. We were to lie on the slab long enough for the toxins in our bodies to be released through our sweat and onto the slab. A number of other couples were also lying on the hot slab, releasing their own toxins. And I’m pretty sure that all of the toxins being released through the profuse sweat dripping off our bodies onto the slab, created an entire ecosphere of human filth on that single marble slab. Each time a couple got up to enter the baths, another couple would quickly take their place on the sweat and toxin covered surface. Trying not to think about all the filth, I focused my attention on the ancient cupola above our heads for the 30 minutes or so we spent releasing toxins.
At last it was our turn to enter the bath. The steamy room had four smaller rooms in each of the corners. We were taken into one of the corner rooms where we were told by two professional bathers, wearing the same towel as Jason, to sit next to a water basin. We were then dowsed with cool, refreshing water from the basin. Then our bathers rubbed our arms, legs, backs, shoulders, stomachs and chests with a loofah-like sponge. We were then told to lie down on our stomachs on smaller marble slabs along the walls; whereupon we were covered in about 10 inches of soapsuds.
Then, through all the suds, our bathers gave us relaxing massages. Afterward, we flipped onto our backs, then covered in another 10 inches of suds and the massage continued. The entire massage lasted about 20 minutes total. We were then brought back to the water basin, and doused in cool water again, this time to remove all the suds. Then my bather asked if I would like my hair washed.
After the hair wash and scalp massage, we were escorted out of our bath, past the germy marble slab and out of the steam room. We were then given new white heated towels and told to take off our plaids in a new dressing room and return wrapped in the towels. After emerging from the dressing room in our white towels, our bathers ceremonially wrapped our shoulders and heads in more heated white towels and then escorted us into a new room where we were offered a lovely beverage and told to relax for a few minutes in an ancient waiting room.
We were then paraded back through the lobby in our white towels and back to our original dressing room.
So, would I recommend going to a Turkish bath in Istanbul?
In a heart-beat! Just don’t let your husband take his camera phone into the dressing room.