We arrived in Istanbul yesterday at around1 PM local time, after leaving San Diego at 6:30 AM to Washington, DC, then leaving there at about 6 PM for a 6-hour flight to Frankfurt, then leaving there at about 9:30 for our 3-hour flight to Istanbul. Simple, right? Except for the little matter of time zones, I have found that melatonin is very helpful, despite the very vivid dreams! Plus I have a little ambien on the side. I took 1/2 as the flight from DC to Germany was only 6 hours.
We arrived in Istanbul on schedule, and after retrieving our bags, we were met by a rep from the Cruise Line who directed us to the driver for our hotel. We are staying in the Pera district, basically across the street from The Golden Horn (a waterway in Istanbul.) Our hotel has a notable restaurant, called Hamdi, perched on its rooftop terrace which serves a huge variety of Turkish specialties cooked to order and served alongside a magnificient view. We were very fatigued by the time we made it to dinner, but, dontcha know, at about 2 AM we were bright eyed and bushy tailed! Managed to fall back to sleep until the breakfast room opened at 5:30 AM.
I had the opportunity to visit Istanbul once before, while my daughter was doing her study abroad program. During that visit I stayed at a hotel near the Marmara Sea and the breakfast was hearty but limited - sliced cucumbers, tomatoess, fresh bread, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, fruit and lots of cheese.
This hotel is clearly geared more to a foreign expectation, and the breakfast buffet was incredible, incorporating elements both of US and UK breakfast buffets, but with a decidely Turkish spin. There were FOUR separate areas - PIDE, (bread) featurimg not only bread and a toaster but also continental style pastries alongside typical Turkish baked goods. The most unusual item was a "sleeve" from a honeycombe, wax intact, for absolutely local honey (alongside about 9 varieties of honey/jam and Nutella, Peanut Butter, etc.) There was a salad stand with tomatoes, several varieties of lettuce, cheese, olives and lots of spices. After that came an impressive display of olives and coldcuts (no pork.) That moved along to beautifully presented fresh cut fruit, served with several yougurt flavors as well as dry cereal, granola and tons of dried fruit. There was a beverage station, too, with fresh squeezed OJ, water, boxed milk (white, chocolate, soya) and my favorite, a big pitcher of water spiked with persian cucumber slices, lemon slices, parsley and mint. So tasty and refreshing! Finally there was a hot bar with chef to cook eggs to order, including pork sausage and bacon on request, as well as baked beans, roasted tomatoes and potatoes, eggs cooked with tomato and scrambled plain, as well as hardboiled.
Upon arrival to the hotel, I had booked a slot at their lower ground spa, which is staffed mostly by immigrants from Bali. I had heard of "Turkish Bath" but was unfamiliar with the custom of Hammam, and made an appoinment on the recommendation of the desk clerk.
The Hammam Room was reminiscent of the Roman Bath ruin at Pompeii. It's a round room covered with white marble, with drainage holes along the meeting of wall to floor. There is a low round marble table in the center of the room, and large marble basins on either side. My therapist, stripped down to bra and short shorts, directed me to strip and lie prone on a towel and pillow situated on the round marble table in the room's center. I've had a LOT of massages/treatments where I was nude under a sheet or a towel - but never one in which I was totally nude. In my mind, I thought, "it's just like the doctor!" and went with it. What followed was an intimate but exquisite experience. The therapist started by getting bowls of warm water from the basin, and sort of sluicing it over my body. She then put on a sort of loofah mitt an scrubbed me all over. This was followed by an amazing velvety sensation - when I opened my eyes and peeked, she had large bags of soft suds which were loosed all over my body, followed by another scrub. Both Turkey and Indonesia (Bali) are predominantly Islamic, so I asked my therapist if she gives treatments to men as well. Oh No! There are male therapists for that.
After the bath, I chilled poolside for a few moments while she prepared the massage room. The massage was basic but felt wonderful following the Hammam treatment, and was followed by a facial. I swear, I have never been so beautiful :-D The entire cost for this 2-hour session was a little bit over 300 YTL, or a little bit more than $100 USD. I looked up Hammam and it's a very close relative to the Roman Baths of approximately 2,000 years ago. Makes sense; Istanbul (nee' Byzantinium) was once the Eastern Seat of the Holy Roman Empire, after being renamed Constantinople (after Emperor Constantine the Great, in AD 330.) It fell to the Ottomans in 1453; Istanbul is from the Greek "to the city" and the city was renamed Istanbul after the founding of the official Republic of Turkey in 1930.
While I was getting my treatments, Rich was working out in the adjacent fitness center. We met at the room and then caught a taxi (TAKSI in Istanbul) for Sultanahmet a/k/a the Blue Mosque. This was not our actual destination - we were headed instead to the Cistern, which was a water reservoir for the Tokapi Palace and "undiscovered" for hundreds of years - apart from the fact that residents overhead could lower buckets from their ground floor and pull up fresh water, sometimes with a fish!
|School Trip? All dressed up for a photo inside the Cistern|
|This is what it looks like in the cistern, without flash.|
|Cistern with Flash|
|The stone columns etc., in the cistern were "sourced" from ancient Greek and Roman buildings. Two of the columns are supported by heads, one of Medusa, deliberately placed upside down.|
|Fish in the Cistern|
From the cistern we returned to our hotel, to rest up and get ready for the start of our tour on Tuesday.