That’s more than 500 years ago! The sense of time and history in Turkey was often lost on me as I tried to imagine what the world, and life, must have been like when this hammam was constructed oh-so-long-ago.
I wanted to experience a piece of that tradition and history while in Istanbul and so researched one of the oldest bath houses in the neighbourhood.
It was one of the most…ummmm…interesting experiences of my travels and, without doubt, spawned one of my favourite travel stories.
Read All Cleaned Up to hear more of the soapy tale.
We were outside of the tourist bus routes while traveling in Northern Turkey so hopped on the commuter buses that run from town to town. Not only do these buses travel slower (and skip the mandatory tourist rest stops along the way) but they allowed us to see parts of the country we might not have otherwise.
I spotted this guy from inside our bus as we waited at a small depot for the bus to fill up with passengers before leaving. It’s one of my favorite photos.
Sinop, in northern Turkey, was a pleasant surprise. The fresh, salty air was a nice reminder that we were back on the coast and the ability to enjoy a pint in one of the seaside bars made it clear that we weren’t in the heart of conservative Turkey any longer.
We followed the ancient wall around the outside of the city for a while and then climbed the most prominent hill to get a birds eye view of the peninsula. There is nothing like being up high while the call to prayer wafts up on the wind from the various mosques below like a round robin of ethereal beckoning.
Definitely worth the climb.
Have you heard the call to prayer; with its lilting tones and dramatic pauses? Here is a YouTube video of the call from the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. I wish I had recorded it myself while there but this will give you an idea of the music that filled the hillside that day.
A small side walk cafe. A single merchant market. People just making their way.
It’s perfect; reminding me of home and yet also uniquely exotic.
Locals set themselves up for hours at a time fishing off the upper deck or tucking themselves away in the lower decks cafes and restaurants. Tourists stop off at the boats selling fish sandwiches on one side and stroll up the hill on the other side to the Galata Tower and Istiklal Caddesi; the pedestrian mall filled with fashionable shopping and great dining.
It is always lively and interesting and affords some of the most stunning views of the city.
Have you read our review of The Long Term Traveler’s Guide? It is the most comprehensive guide on the subject that I have seen anywhere and, at$25 it’s a great value for those of you looking to get a leg up on researching and planning. The digital package includes resources and planning tools that are worth the price alone. If you are planning a big trip you should definitely check it out.
We’re giving a copy away!! Jeremy has given us a copy of the book and the digital package for us to share with you. All you have to do is ‘Like’ our OneGiantStep Facebook Page. It’s also a great resource for travel articles and great conversation. So come on over, give us a ‘Like’ and be entered to win a copy of The Long Term Traveler’s Guide.
We’ll be drawing a random name from all the ‘Likes’ (whether new or old) on March 15th.
I have never felt so close to religion as when in Turkey. The call to prayer wafts over the landscape on a strict schedule in tune with the sun; five times a day the melodic urging beckons the faithful to pray. There is a quiet adherence to centuries old tradition as markets and tea shops empty and people make their way to the local mosque to start their ablutions and prayer ritual.
The mosques are nothing short of stunning. Every single one of them. Built as testaments to faith they transform prayer into personal messages; an undeniable beauty accompanies the process and I was often, probably rudely, transfixed as I watched.
It’s Thanksgiving today in Canada so I thought I would share a picture of where we were on Thanksgiving during our RTW trip.
Traveling around in Cappadocia Turkey is like traveling in a different world. The ‘fairy chimney’ geology creates a surreal scenery that is unlike any I have seen before. The underground cities and deep history tell a fascinating story of marauding invaders and innovative residents.
One way to enjoy the scenery is to view it from the air. We got up super early one morning to watch the balloons slowly, quietly rise into the sky. Stunning.
One quintessential Turkish thing to do is to visit a hamam or Turkish bath. Our hostel recommended one near the Blue Mosque but, after visiting it, we decided it was too expensive and touristy so we set about finding one that was more ‘original’. In the end, we paid the same price as at the touristy hamam…but I’m sure the experience definitely was not one that tourists get.
Traditional hamams have separate areas, or sides, for men and women so Jason and I parted ways and each tentatively stepped into our respective entrances not entirely sure what lay ahead.
I went up the stairs, opened the door and entered into a small room containing a desk and some glassed in cubicles along one wall. The sounds of a television came from the next room and I could hear some ladies chatting. I called out…’merhaba’…and out popped a mu-mu wearing older woman to see to me. We discussed the different options, or I tried to discuss them anyway….she just kept pointing to #4 and so it seemed that it was #4 that I would be having.
She handed me a thin cotton ‘Turkish towel’ and pointed to one of the cubicles…I was to get changed. I closed the door and then realized that the door was all glass…there would be no privacy while changing.
I had read about hamam etiquette and had decided that ‘kitting down’ would be appropriate, especially in a non-tourist bath, and so I removed all my clothing and draped myself in the towel. I had also read that the towel was used throughout the process and provided any modesty that a client required. I’m guessing the ladies in the bath had not read the same books I had.
I was led through a door to a small, ‘cool’ room – all marble, lined with marble wash basins with brass fixtures – but we did not stop there. We continued on through the next door to the ‘warm’ room. A larger room, again lined with marble basins and brass fixtures but, dominating the center, was a large marble platform…a large heated marble platform. Large enough for 8-10 ladies to comfortably lounge on, hot enough to make me sweat in no time.
I would not be alone during my bath. Three young girls in the room when I arrived. Wrapped in towels, they were lounging, rinsing, chatting and giggling away. The lady pointed to the platform and motioned that I should lie on it so I made a move toward it before she called to me…’Madam…Madam’…and indicated that I should remove my towel. I was just thinking to myself…’but the girls still have theirs on’…when she took it from me and disappeared with it. And there I stood…naked.
Trying to look as comfortable as possible, and trying not to slip on the wet marble floor, I made my way to the platform and lay down. The marble was hot…not uncomfortable, but hot. In no time at all I was hot, hot, hot and dripping in sweat.
I lay there for what must have been half an hour…turning over occasionally and even managing once to get up and casually stroll (naked, people!) to one of the basins to rinse off and cool down a bit.
Just when I thought they might have forgotten about me, a woman entered to attend to me. I opened my eyes to see a larger, older woman clad only in her knickers…all belly and boobs right at eye level. She was to scrub me and rinse me and massage me. Nice.
She started with the loofah mitt, scrubbing away all the dead skin and most of the tan I’ve been working on so diligently. Both sides, up and down, head to toe. Then, after another death defying trip to the basin for a rinse, she washed me with a soapy mitt until I must have sparkled. After piling on more and more suds, she then massaged me lightly with the softest hands imaginable. Walking to the basin all soaped up would not have been a good idea…so she brought the water to me, bucketful by bucketful.
At this point I thought we were done so I sat up, hoping a towel would be produced. But no, we’re not finished yet. She is now sitting on a low stool and is indicating that I should sit on the marble step between her legs while she washes my hair, which she does with great efficiency, shampoo flying everywhere. Another quick rinse and now we’re done…I am smooth and clean and ready to face the (clothed) world again.
She leaves me to relax some more on the marble platform and then, when I am ready, I poke my head out and finally receive the towel I have been wanting all along.
Jason is already finished and I find him at a barber shop down the street enjoying a traditional Turkish shave…wet lather, straight blade, twice shaved, face massage, lemon oil. Clean, smooth and smelling good…what more could a girl ask for?
I’ll probably stick to cleaning myself from now on, but the hamam is definitely a Turkish experience that I’m glad I didn’t miss.
Sorry about the lack of pictures…I was naked!…where would I have kept the camera?
[box border=”full”]Looking to get connected to your trip to Turkey? Here are some great books to try.
My Name Is Red A fantastic puzzle of a book by Orhan Pamuk, one of Turkey’s most prominent writers.
Sailing Acts: Following An Ancient Voyage Come aboard as this modern couple retraces the ancient route of St Paul with Turkey being one of the many stops.
Istanbul: Memories And The City A memoir of growing up in the only city to straddle Asia and Europe.
The Global Bookshelf….Connecting Travelers To a World Of Stories[/box]
We’re led to the shop by the owner of the hotel we’re staying at. He’s offered us a ride to the ruins outside of town and we can just wait here until the shuttle arrives. Uh-oh, we think.
Inside, Yilmaz (Marco to his friends…of which I now count myself as one) welcomes us warmly, offers us a seat and quickly motions to his nephew to get us some apple tea. We chit-chat about how long we’ve been in Turkey, where have we visited and what else we must see before we leave. He tells us he is Kurdish, from the Lake Van region in Eastern Turkey (where we, sadly, did not get to) and introduces us to his three ‘Van’ cats, characterized by their white, white fur and different colored eyes (one is blue and the other yellow). They are striking and we get carried away playing with them.
Not long after we arrive, a Norwegian woman enters having also been offered a ride out of town. Tea is brought for her also and we settle into an easy conversation. She is well traveled, as is Marco (he travels to North America in the winter season to sell his carpets) and we talk mainly about travel and how easy it has been in Turkey.
The shuttle soon arrives and Marco bids us farewell giving each of us a nice guidebook to the ruins asking only that we return the book in the afternoon. Uh-oh, we think.
We enjoyed a nice day at the ruins, walked back to town and headed to Marco’s shop to return the guidebook. Although he was seemingly busy with a customer (carpets strewn everywhere), he greeted us as old friends and again we sat and drank tea while we listened to him discussing carpets and materials and weaving techniques with Michael from America.
Turns out Michael wasn’t in the market for a carpet…he had already purchased his limit at another store in Istanbul. Marco knew this the whole time…their conversation was not about Michael buying a carpet but a conversation about carpets in general…Marco just likes to talk, and a conversation about carpets is just up his alley. Soon, Michaels wife came and whisked him away but, before he left he stood up and said “Well, I am certain that I bought my carpets from the wrong place. I should have got them from here”. Uh-oh, we think.
Once Michael leaves Marco, Jason and I start talking about carpets and kilims and the differences between them (carpets have pile, kilims do not), and about the stock that Marco keeps (primarily nomadic designs from eastern Turkey). He tells us the carpet shop is a family business, run alongside the fabric shop across the road and the knick knack shop up the road (and, it turns out, the hotel we’re staying at). We learn that he he left eastern Turkey for Istanbul but moved to Selcuk a while ago and prefers its small town community feel (Selcuk really is a nice town…the friendliest we have visited here in Turkey).
We ask if he could show us some kilims. Uh-oh, you’re thinking.
He asks if we’re interested in buying and what our budget might be. We tell him we might be interested but that we are woeful backpackers with a teeny tiny budget and an inability to take anything with us. He understands and explains that it is his job to help people a piece of Turkey to take home. We tell him our teeny tiny number…he manages to keep a straight face and does not snort at the teeny tinyess of it.
He calls out to his partner and, together, they pull out kilim after kilim unfolding them and laying them out one after another. Do we like this one…no, the color is too purple. How about this one….no, the pattern is too ‘chunky’. Here’s another…yes, that one is nice. And over here…no, too big/too small/too long. I know you’ll like this one…yes, you’re right it’s very nice. Until the floor is covered…and they’re all beautiful.
Just then I heard a voice outside that I recognized. Briar, Debbie, Angela and Ella…who were all on the gulet cruise with us…were returning to the shop so that Angela could have one more look at the four kilims she was choosing among for herself. They had originally come to the shop on the recommendation from some friends from home who had purchased carpets from Marco the previous year on their trip to Turkey. It was the first time we have run into travelers that we’d met previously and we spent some time catching up and oohing and ahhing over Angela’s selections.
In no time there was tea in my hands again and the conversation had turned from carpets and kilims to travel and adventures to life in Turkey and Canada and all things in between. Two hours had easily passed as we all sat, like old friends, drinking tea, chatting and playing with the cats.
Once the girls left we got back to business and, now that Marco knew our style, he easily found 3 or 4 kilims that fit. How much, we asked. Triple our teeny tiny budget. Uh-oh, we think.
I explained that, although they were beautiful, there was no possible way we could stretch our teeny tiny budget to that level. Could he please show us some pieces that are closer to our teeny tiny budget? He does, and we find one that matches both our style and our budget. It is not as beautiful as the bigger, more expensive one but it is nice.
I ask again about the price for the larger one. Are you sure that is your lowest price? Could the price not possibly be closer to our teeny tiny budget? He moves a teeny tiny bit closer but explains that he paid more than that for the piece and could not possibly go any lower.
I understand and ask that he save the smaller kilim in back while we go for dinner and decide if it is the one for us. He asks if he should also save the larger one…no, I say. it is not a possibility and I do not want to get my hopes up.
At dinner, Jason and I discussed the small kilim (which is well within our teeny tiny budget) and the larger one also. What would we pay at home for a nice piece like this? Wouldn’t it be something we would treasure forever? Could we afford it? In the end we decided to try for the larger kilim. We adjusted our budget and talked about bargaining strategy. In the end, if it didn’t work out, we would take the smaller carpet and be perfectly happy with it (and the story of how we got it).
We return to the shop after dinner and are, once again, welcomed warmly. The small kilim is brought out and we talk about how it really is a nice piece. I ask if I could just see the other piece one more time. Marco finds it, lays it out and I remark again on how beautiful it is and how wonderful it would be to take it home.
I make the first move and soon Marco and I are waltzing through the steps of the bargaining process. It’s a dance that he is well practiced at and I feel I am graduating from the sock hop to the prom in one fell swoop. He is kind and generous as he leads me around the dance floor, allowing me to step on his toes once or twice and encouraging me when I’ve done well. When the music stopped and we had sashayed our way to the finish, we shook hands as we agreed on a price.
Did we, in the end, get a screaming deal on a kilim? No, but we did get a great piece of craftsmanship and a great experience at a great shop, for a good price. Marco and his shop (Eastern Anatolia Nomadic Art Gallery) can be found in Selcuk, near Ephesis, on the western coast of Turkey. I strongly recommend paying him a visit…tell him I said hello.
When I first imagined travelling around the world for a year, I imagined lounging around, reading trashy novels, having fabulous conversations, sunning, drinking and generally relaxing. The reality of long term travel has not been that…until this week.
This week we hit the southern coast of Turkey…where land meets Mediterranean…and the sun, surf and sand come together in a perfect three part harmony.
We started in Olympos, where ‘camps’ have treehouses and bungalows set amongst orange and pomegranate trees. In the height of the season this place must be humming…but now, at the end of the season, the music is set on low and the sound of backgammon stones can be heard up and down the one gravel road in ‘town’.
Our days were supremely lazy…rising late to have breakfast…reading, relaxing and surfing the net until the call of the beach was too loud to ignore…strolling the 10 minute walk to the beach through the ruins of Olympos…sunning, sunning, sunning…stopping on the return trip for a recharging beer and a quiet game of backgammon…back to camp in time for the dinner bell…some more backgammon and raki…and to bed we went. Seriously lazy!
The one outing we did manage was to the slopes of Mount Olympos where chimerae flames burn right out of the rocks. Although reportedly much dimmer than back in the day when mariners could navigate by them, they are still a wonder and an eerie sight in the jet-black night.
Our next stop was to be Fethiye/Oludenis…but how to get there? The absolute best way to travel along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey is by gulet, a type of wooden sailboat, and so we booked ourselves passage on a 4 day/3 night cruise. It was fabulous!!
There is always worry when joining a group that things might not turn out quite as imagined…but we lucked out once again. We were a large group of 18…Canadians, Americans, Australians, South Africans, Turkish/Germans…and we all got on famously. We talked, and drank, and swam, and played, and sunned, and read, and relaxed the entire time.
The first night saw us boarding a small boat and putt-putting up to the edge of the harbour where the Pirate Bar had a party in full swing. Right there, in the middle of nowhere, with the stars shining and the Mediterranean lapping at the dance floor, was a nightclub filled with sailors, new and old, grooving to the music and drinking the ice-cold beer. Definitely surreal.
My favorite day was probably the day we had the worst weather. The waves were high enough to rock the boat significantly and, as we sat in the back, I was a little nervous. Some of the guys were at the bow, holding the ropes, and surfing with the boat…it looked like fun. In no time the adrenaline junky in me took hold and up we went. It was amazing!! Waves would approach, the bow would rise and then the water would disappear leaving the bow to plunge into the trough (okay, I may be taking some artistic license here…but it was a little rough). I hooted and hollered with every wave and was slightly disappointed when we rounded the point and the waves calmed down.
Once we made harbour the clouds were still threatening but that didn’t deter us from jumping in the water as soon as the anchor was set. We pulled down a raft and spent the rest of the afternoon making up games, diving off the boat railings and generally horsing around like 12 year olds…we didn’t come out until we were exhausted and wrinkly. Too much fun! I think I had a smile on my face even when I was sleeping that night.
Once the boat docked we were on our own again and made our way to Oludenis/Hisaronu. Here British tourists come by the plane-load for their one week holiday and time in the sun. Seriously, the place is like a mini seaside holiday spot for them…I think we may have been the only non-Brit tourists there. The food is all British (English breakfast, liver and onions, curry…all with chips) and the locals all speak English with a British accent. Seriously weird.
The beach is beautiful though, beer is served on the beach, and paragliders fill the sky doing tricks and landing right on the beach. So many of them that, at times, it looked like the sky was filled with mosquitoes. The best ones being the brave souls that jumped from a motorized hang-glider high in the air to free-fall and then pull their chute at the last moment.
We broke our sloth-fast here by finding the start of the Lycian way and doing a serious 16 kilometer hike on our last day. We hiked over the mountains and through the valleys of pine forest that connect the village of Hisaronu with the village of Faralya. It was a great hike that took us through some small villages and farms, waving and offering a tentative ‘merhaba’ to all the locals we passed.
And so comes to and end, our vacation from our vacation. Our tans are dark, our livers taxed and it’s time, once again, to hit the road.
ScooterBoy and ScooterGirl first came on the scene in 2004 when we visited the Greek Islands. There was no more perfect joy than scoot-scoot-scootering up and down whichever island we found ourselves on. We were easily able to explore far-flung beaches and tavernas and still be back early enough to enjoy the local sunset.
Cappadocia, in Turkey, proved to be a perfect place for ScooterBoy and ScooterGirl to once again take to the open road. Renting a scooter proved to be super easy…hand over your money and something valuable to ensure your return and there you have it. Buddy didn’t even ask if we had a license…never mind ask to see it! He gave us a map of the area…and we were off. Our goal was Derinkuyu, the underground city about 30km outside of Goreme where we were staying.
After a few minutes of re-acquainting ourselves with ScooterBoy and ScooterGirl and remembering the intricacies of scooter riding (lean together, don’t touch the muffler, front brake on the right…) we were on our way.
We headed out, maxing out the poor scooter on the highway, past rolling hills and melon fields, fairy chimneys and rocky cliffs.
We arrived to the current village of Derinkuyu and headed down into the labyrinthine underground city. Originally build in the 7th century BC, it was expanded in the 5th – 10th centuries AD…a seriously long time ago! This city is the largest of the many that dot the Cappadocia region, burrowing 11 stories into the earth.
It got cooler and cooler as we slowly descended into the city. The stairway was narrow and low-slung, the rocks making up the stairs had divots in them where thousands of feet had pounded them over millennia. Partway down, in a crevice in the wall, stood a massive disk shaped stone once used to close off the passage in the event of invading forces…it was huge and would have taken many men to close off the thoroughfare – the thought of it being closed, and being contained down there, made me feel a little claustrophobic.
Suddenly, the walls opened up, and we were in a huge, multi-roomed space. There were rooms for cooking and living, rooms for storage, and rooms for animal husbandry – all the rooms a city would need to conduct daily business. It was absolutely amazing to, not only think of the work involved in excavating such a space, but to imagine living down there with 9999 other people…this city reported held 10,000 people for months at a time!
The stairway continued down and down and down…we visited 8 floors all together…there was even a church carved into the bottom layer! A ventilation shaft stitched all the floors together…looking up (and down) it elicited more claustrophobic feelings as I realized how far down we were.
The bright sun and enveloping heat greeted us at the surface again…I can’t imagine what it must have been like to emerge after having spent months down there.
Back on the scooter we went, with the plan to stay off the highway and scoot-scoot-scooter through the country-side toward home. We passed more rolling hills, more melon fields, more fairy chimneys, more valleys, more villages and more scooter-people…all passing us with a beep and a friendly wave.
It looked like the last little bit to home was going to have to be highway again…until we spotted the dirt track that looked like it headed in the right direction…and off-road scoot-scoot-scootering was born. We passed fairy chimneys (very up close now) and bewildered hikers who must have wondered what the heck we were doing…until we got as far as we could go on a scooter and had to turn back to a more sedate, scooter friendly path. It was fun though, and a great way to spend the day.
ScooterBoy and ScooterGirl finished the day back in Goreme at our favorite local watering hole, enjoying beer, backgammon and the sunset on the low slung lounge seating…what a great return! We hope to do it again soon.