Saturday, May 03, 2008

Taking a bath in Ankara, and taking Istanbul by storm

We spent all day Tuesday in Ankara, checking out Atatürk's very impressive mausoleum and the city's not-so-impressive old walls. In the afternoon, we split up: Uğur took my dad, aunt and uncle to the civilization museum, and Margaret took Mom and I to the hamam, or Turkish bath. It was great! We entered into a big room with a large table in the middle, occupied by women chatting, smoking and doing their hair. We were ushered into one of the dressing rooms that surrounded the common space and stripped down. We stripped down, wrapped up in towels and teetered into the bathing rooms on the awkward little wooden sandals they provided. The bath rooms had pearly grey marble floors and walls, and the domed ceilings had star-shaped windows cut into them. We were the only foreigners there but felt totally at ease - Turkish people are so welcoming. The bath can be as leisurely as you want it to be. You can sit by a spigot and pour warm water over yourself, or you can lie in the sauna, or you can lie on the big marble slab that covers the fires that heat the entire complex. The highlight is when it's your turn to get washed. One of the women who works there has you lie down on a mat, where she exfoliates you and then lathers you up and gives you a brief, soapy massage. Wonderful.

We spent most of the day Wednesday busing from Ankara to Istanbul. We settled into our hotel near Taksim Square (the most Western part of the city), and then Mom and I went out for an exploratory stroll. Dad joined us for a nice dinner at an outdoor table on a narrow, busy pedestrian street. We enjoyed lamb brain as one of our mezes.

Since Thursday was our last full day in Istanbul, I wanted to see and do as much in as I could. Fortunately, my parents were amendable to my ambitions. We hit the streets at 8 am and walked south, through the New District, across the Galata bridge spanning the Golden Horn, to the Old District. We bought all kinds of great things at the Spice Market - pomegranate syrup for salads, chili pepper paste, a spice grinder and tulip-shaped tea glasses. We poked our heads into the New Mosque (completed in 1663) and took our time in the Rüstem Paşa Mosque (1561) which is small and has the most beautiful İznik tiles of all the mosques in Istanbul. We really wanted to see the Süleymaniye Mosque as well, as it's one of the most important and most beautiful mosques in the city, but it was closed for renovation. Grr. We walked south the the Grand Bazaar where we stopped for lunch, and then continued to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. It has a great collection, but I was disappointed that nearly all of the tiles were off being restored. We stopped at a café for chicken breast pudding (surprisingly tasty!) and then taxied to the Istanbul Modern (2005) - a contemporary art museum that was, disappointingly, closed for May Day. We walked back along the north shore of the Golden Horn and made our way to the Galata Tower (6th century origins). We scraped together the cash required for three tickets to the top and took in the panoramic view of the city, marveling at the ground we'd covered. We walked back to our hotel and enjoyed a relatively quiet night - drinks in the bar with Aunt Flury and Uncle Mel, dinner close by, and some pretty impressive packing maneuvers to get our souvenirs all tucked away.

(Rüstem Paşa Mosque)

We woke up at 2:30 a.m. on Friday morning for our 5:30 flight to Amsterdam. We had a celebrity on the flight - The Enigma and his partner Serana! My parents sat right behind them on the Amsterdam-Minneapolis flight. My Amsterdam-Portland flight was really empty, so I stretched out and watched four movies (27 Dresses, Mad Money, Peepers and Cars) over the course of 10½ hours. Scott picked me up in Sacramento, and I got home safe and sound by 5 pm - about 22 hours of traveling, door-to-door. It was a wonderful vacation, and it's wonderful to be home. Photos coming...

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