Istanbul will be most fondly remembered for the morning Beverley and I spent at the Ayasophia Hammam. OMG! First the building itself has been stunningly restored; all warm woods and elegant marbles, then there is the program we chose and then there are the attendants. We started by changing into little (really little) paper panties and wrapped in cotton robes, then led by hand into the women’s side by our attendants. The robes disappeared and we sat on heated marble benches while the women sluiced us down with scalding hot water and proceeded to thoroughly scrub every – and I really mean every – part of our bodies – modesty be damned! Embarrassingly, all these long ropey bits of skin sloughed off and the scrubber mitts got rather dirty looking. However they gave us to understand that that was quite normal – I think – as I have no Turkish and they had no English. We were then painted from head to foot in a fine grey mud and left to bake on our heated benches. Twenty minutes later just as I was slipping into a blissful sleep the attendants came back to sluice us off again and dig all the mud out of various body parts – I’m actually referring to ears by the way!
We were then walked over to another heated slab of marble, laid down, covered in the most delicious cascade of bubbles made of olive oil soap and given a vigorous massage. Sluiced off again, and bundled up in our robes we were walked/floated up to the third floor for our proper massages. I came back down to rest on the divan to find Beverley blinking gently, nibbling on fresh fruits and drinking tea. A thoroughly delightful experience.
Another highlight was a sunset cruise on the Bosporus – we splurged and hired a private boat, drank a very nice white wine from Anatole and were dropped off at a local seaside restaurant. Beverley and I worked our way through an enormous crab and another bottle of local rose with great pleasure.
A great deal has been written about the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace so I won’t elaborate except to say that I enjoyed them immensely. The coolest thing I saw were the Basilica Cisterns. Built by Justinian in the 6th c.it holds 80,000 cubic metres of water. Some say the”Weeping” column represents the tears of the estimated 7000 slaves who built it. By far the best spot to visit was a smallish church/mosque/museum called the Chola. Its off the beaten path to be sure but that only adds to its charm in my opinion. Beverley had visited it about 10 years previously and was determined we should see it.
So off we set – Mel (B’s soon to be husband) forging ahead on the other side of the street and Beverley and I chatting along on the other side “admiring” all the wedding dresses. We were obviously passing through the marriage district – stationary, tuxedos, jewellery and of course dresses both traditional Turkish/Kurdish and western and some pretty wild interpretations in between! We had a lot of fun envisioning Beverley in some of the more elaborate and outlandish getups!
After walking a very long way with the aid of GPS we found the church – The Chola Museum and it was worth the walk just for the stunning mosaics. Unfortunately major restorations are underway and most of the church was blocked off – c’est la vie!
Tomorrow off to Tehran and we’ll see if my hijab lessons pay off – can’t say I’m looking forward to wearing it really. Its one thing to choose to wear a certain type of attire – I wear Indian clothing all the time in India – its entirely another thing to be told you must wear certain attire because you are female….