Then we were homeward bound to JHB…but first, I have to take selfie…in Istanbul. We had a 12 hour layover in Istanbul and that is all it took to convince us that we had to return for a proper holiday. We thoroughly enjoyed the city. The people were friendly and helpful, it was super affordable, the food was tasty, the local beer, “Efes”, was great and the sights were amazeballs.
Apparently traffic is a nightmare so we used the Metro and trams from the airport to the “Blue Mosque” and “Hagia Sophia” area. It took about an hour and a half and a change from Metro to tram somewhere in between but you get to see a fair amount of the city on the way and the system was pretty simple to figure out. I wish we had reliable, simple and affordable public transport like this in SA.
We got lost in the streets and shopped quite a bit because it was really cheap. Then we walked down a little scenic lane of restaurants where we had lunch at “Huzar Café”. We had the “Testi Kebabi” which was not only yummy (fragrant, spicy lamb curry with veggies) but was served in the most unique way. It was in a clay pot which was covered in foil at the opening and the waiter heats the bottom of the clay pot in coals and then taps the bottom with a stick until it breaks and the food is poured into a plate. I tried “Raki”, the local liqueur, it was basically the clear version of blue Sambuca (yuck!) so I had cocktails instead. After our meal we were served complimentary apple Turkish tea which was delicious.
In SA, I pre-booked a Turkish bath at the “Ayasofya Hamam” between the “Hagia Sogia” and the “Blue Mosque”. What a weird but great experience. First I went to the main entrance and was told that this was the men’s entrance and that the female’s entrance was around the side, which got my feminist back up however I decided to let it slide and just go in with an open mind. I entered and was attended to at reception where I paid and was introduced to my lady servant. Just to note that the experience was quite expensive at R1800 for a bath and aromatherapy message but was worth it. It is a-once-in-a-lifetime experience after all. She showed me through to the locker rooms and gave me a sarong, a funny, little paper panty like in hospital but a T-string and a pair of slops. I waited in the lounge area for my servant to fetch me (I call her a servant because she called me a Sultana so I think that’s the relationship they imply). She returned, took my hand and showed me to the washing room. She made me sit near a basin with tap and she rinsed me with a bowl, the sarong was off at this time. There were lots of ladies in paper panties being washed so after a few minutes you get over the self-consciousness and it becomes the norm. I am glad that the round, marble slab where you were soaped was in the middle of the dome room and there were ladies being soaped and scrubbed so at least I knew what was coming. It was so weird but interesting. The servant tells you to relax and enjoy the warmth of the heated, sauna-like dome room, she will be back in 5min. She changes into a sarong and returns after a few minutes with an exfoliating glove and scrubs your entire body. I thought this was going to be incredibly sore due to my 3rd degree sunburn but it was actually quite pleasurable. I was then taken to the washing slab where I lay on a towel and I was washed and scrubbed with soapy bubbles. This in itself was an interesting technique, they take a big pillowcase and dip it in a bucket of soapy water, they then shake the pillowcase out to fill it with air and then trap the air in by placing their hand at the open side of the pillowcase and then move their hand down to squeeze the bubbles out onto your body, this creates a million bubbles that luxuriously cover your body in a foamy mountain. What an amazing feeling of a million bubbles caressing your whole body. Then they wash you with a sponge and you are escorted to another cooler room where you are rinsed off and your hair is washed. Then you are wiped and the sarong is placed back around you and you are escorted back to the reception lounge where you relax while your servant, goes to change back into her uniform so she can give you a massage. I am then led up the wooden stairs to the top level where the dome and pretty stained glass windows are and shown into a message room. I had a 20min full body aromatherapy massage which was great. I also had a collagen face mask, which was an add-on extra. I was shown back downstairs to the reception area in my sarong and served Turkish tea and Turkish delight and allowed to relax (SA Turkish delight is better, the original Turkish delight is like a hard square of sticky fruit covered in white dust). That was my Turkish bath experience done. Would I do it again? Probably not but it was a good experience to have had. I felt brand new after. The exfoliation really helped alleviate the sunburn as well. The Hamam was beautiful in its all marble glory with beautiful stain glass windows. Everything was clean, neat and sterile. The entire experience was done very professionally which eliminated most of the awkwardness.
Istanbul was also a lot cooler and less humid than Croatia. The day was still quite hot but bearable and the evening it cooled down so much that we actually wore jeans for the first time in 10 days. It was a welcomed change from shorts and the heat.
We then visited the Blue Mosque. The outside was beautiful. The inside was nothing to write home about, just a normal place of worship.
Then we went back to airport and realised just how filthy the toilets were. I was aware of this in general with airports in Muslim countries, I just forgot how bad it was. People squatting on the toilet seat making them filthy with water everywhere. There was no toilet paper too. I am actually quite shocked there were no eastern toilets at the airport which resulted in the normal toilets being filthy. There were actually signs in the male toilets saying “please sit down”. There were also people spitting in the basins and blowing their nose into the basins leaving there green snot behind…we nearly vomited.
We shopped at the duty free and then boarded our flight, all looked ok and like we were going to take off on time, when we got to our seats we realised the air-con in the cabin was not working, it was boiling and uncomfortable. A full plane of people and no air, there were people fanning themselves and babies screaming their heads off (I don’t blame them I wanted to scream my head off too). We were stuck on the runway for an hour with no real communication or update besides that there was a delay due to mechanical fault, the air hostesses eventually opened the emergency exit doors to let air in, thank goodness, we were about to pass out. Another one of many reasons why I won’t fly Turkish airlines again. This flight was as uncomfortable as the first flight. 9hrs later we were happy to be home.