Days 5 and 6–ISTANBUL

It is official–I have fallen in love with Istanbul.

This is a city that entices from all angles. From the pulsing street vibe to the hospitality of its citizens to its wonderful cuisine and perfect gardens, Istanbul has captured my heart. And I will come back. Soon, I hope, because so much more beckons. There is so much more to see.

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Gardens in Gulhane Park

We’ve been fortunate enough to check out the Grand Bazaar and many side streets with small businesses offering everything imaginable. The Grand Bazaar was definitely–GRAND. Its tentacles reach into every direction. There appeared, to me, to be sections for jewelry and leather and glassware, etc.

Of course, these items are interspersed throughout the Bazaar. But, some sections seemed to focus on certain offerings.

We found the bazaar to be fascinating, but we bought nothing there. It came across as a tourist trap. While it was enticing and a definite experience, we were able to make purchases in kiosks near the Blue Mosque that catered to our wants–and to make good deals, too.

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Grand Bazaar

I purchased a bronze Turkish coffee pot along with matching coffee cups and a tray for $40. The price on the items were nearly $100. The manager of our little hotel encouraged us to visit this particular shop. Called IstanBlue, our manager obviously got a kickback for sending us there. We handed the proprietor of the shop our manager’s card and he immediately started slashing the prices on marked items that interested us. My traveling companion bought two scarves. We were both happy with our purchases.

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Inside the Grand Bazaar

I had no problem patronizing a shop that our hotelier referred us to. I felt it was better than taking our chances with relative strangers. Since we had booked our hotel through Booking.com, I felt comfortable because the proprietors knew that a bad experience would result in a bad review that would be visible for the entire world to see.

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We spent the rest of the day sauntering through neighborhoods and observing life. Walking back through Gulhane Park, we went for another round of tea and enjoyed the serenity of the opulent gardens full of impatiens and geraniums. Occasionally, the plaintive Muslim call to worship could be heard which superimposed over our experience a surreal quality.

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Silk market in Grand Bazaar

Storekeepers in Istanbul were less aggressive than those in Marrakech. To be sure, in the Grand Mosque, there were those who would pounce the second you looked in their direction or glanced at an item. Along the streets, shop owners were more relaxed, allowing potential patrons to gaze and browse. It made the shopping experience less intrusive.

The restaurant and cafe culture in Istanbul was impressive. As with so many cities in Europe, eateries abounded. Cafes were everywhere and the candy shops were a sight to behold. Pistachios and hazelnuts were featured in practically every type of candy offered. Pomegranate, orange, strawberry and raspberry candies beckoned in each shop.

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View of minarets from the Bosphorus

Various teas and spices were everywhere. I I had been returning directly back to America, I would have purchased a suitcase full of delicacies. As it was, I just bought a box of candies that I knew would serve as a sinful dinner upon my return to Italy.

We bought tickets for a two hour cruise on the Bosporus. The cruise boat was mostly full and took us up the waterway as an announcer described points of interest on the mainland. Military buildings, mosques, mansions and many other sites were visible along the shore. As dusk hit, the lights of the city shone brightly.

BOSPHORUS ISTANBUL SKYLINE

Istanbul skyline from Bosphorus cruise

After our cruise, we went back to our hotel, unloaded our stuff (backpack, cameras, phones) and walked across the street to Stone House Restaurant, which had become our hangout. Vefa and Esan had captivated us and the food kept us coming back. During the day, we would eat lunch at a restaurant somewhere else in town as we were out and about, but at night we could come back “home” to Stone House.

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Enjoying Stone House Restaurant food

Vefa and Esan and their crew were always there to welcome us and provide us with a delicious, hearty Kurdish meal. I had taken to cornering anyone who stopped to look at the menu to encourage them to eat there. Vefa commented that I was great for his business. Barry and I would stay until midnight and then crash in our hotel room.

The next day we slept in late. I was determined that I would hit a Turkish bath. With our trusty map, we trudged around, trying to figure out the street grid. Eventually, we found Geditpasa Hamami, a bath house dating back to 1475.

Upon entering, one walks down an outside corridor and through the entry into a two story courtyard ringed with changing rooms. A towel is offered. After disrobing and locking the changing room, one enters a marbled room with bathing sections and a large marble slab in the middle of the room. Off to the side is the steam room, the sauna and the cooling pool.

I had purchased a massage, foam bath and the sauna/steam room, my companion, just the sauna/steam room. We entered the sauna first. It was not as hot as the saunas I’ve frequented in my health clubs in Portland. Nevertheless, we were soaked with sweat. After  the sauna and steam room, my masseuse strongly indicated that the foam bath and massage were next. Barry went on to the pool while I went to one of the side areas for the rest of my treatment.

My Turkish masseuse had me sit on a marble bench. He then doused me head to foot with soothing hot water. Donning a glove, he scrubbed my arms, back, chest and legs. I could feel the dead skin coming off. It was relaxing.

After rinsing me off with more soothing hot water he led me to the huge marble slab in the middle of the room where I lay on my back. From there I felt the softest foam bath I’d ever experienced. Keeping one’s privates covered, the foam bath covered my entire body. After a rinse, my masseuse cracked my back and massaged my legs, chest, arms and back. Turning onto my stomach, the process was repeated.

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Sheik Bob after his authentic Turkish bath

The massage over, we walked back to where we had started and once again I was doused in warm, soapy foam. And, for the first time since my childhood, someone washed my hair. It was exquisite, relaxing. After another soothing drenching of hot water, I was ready to join my companion in the cooling pool.

Standing up, I almost lost my balance. I was so relaxed from the water, soapy foam and massage that my entire body felt like wet angel hair pasta. I walked unsteadily into the pool area. Stepping gingerly into the pool, I floated on my back from one end of the pool to the other with eyes closed. Upon opening them, I realized we were in an underground cave.

After we were finished, we showered, dried off and got dressed. We returned to our hotel room for our requisite old man afternoon nap and I slept like a baby.

Awakening in time for dinner, we went back to Stone House for another scrumptious meal and wonderful conversation with our hosts and patrons from Australia, Italy, Canada and Sweden. We then left for a performance by the Whirling Dervishes. Unfortunately, the performance had been canceled for the night because the dancers had been stranded in a traffic jam somewhere in the metropolis of twenty million. We were thus reduced to returning back to Stone House for the remainder of the evening. Our trip was ending the next morning and we were infused with melancholy. We will definitely return to Istanbul.

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