I booked my flight to Cape Town on reward points, which was super awesome for my budget, but meant I had a long layover in Istanbul. Layovers are less than awesome except when you get to leave the airport and explore a new place! I had never been to Turkey and was really excited to take in some on the sights, enjoy a nice meal and relax in the hammam.
If you're travelling like a Canadian passport, like moi you'll require a Visa to leave the airport. It can be purchased in advance online. I would recommend this if you're on a time crunch like I was. The line to purchase Visas at the airport was hella long. Once I changed out of my flying clothes and my carry-on was safely stored, I ventured into Istanbul on the tram. It was easy enough, with only one change. The drawback. By the time I got near the city, it was rush hour and the traffic was horrific. The trip from the airport into Sultanahmet took a whole hour.
By the time I got near any of the historical sights, they were all about to close. I opted to head to the Instanbul archaeology museum instead of racing through the Hagia Sofia or the Blue Mosque. The museum is full of beautiful ceramics, stoneware and a number of tombs. It gave me a great overview of Turkish culture and history.
From the main square I was able to enjoy the majestic nature of the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. People bustled by, tourist stopped to take selfies and there was a hectic buzz from would-be tour guides. But then the sun started to set behind the Blue Mosque and the call to prayer was sounded over the load speakers and I found myself caught-up in the beauty of it all.
All that travel, sure works up an appetite and I couldn't wait to chow down on some Turkish food. Especially since I had successfully avoided all of those Turkish Delight shops. Thank goodness it was only a short walk to Mr. Cook's where I ordered the Sultan's dinner. Why the heck not? It was delicious and had quintessential Turkish ingredients like apricots and pomegranates. I didn't even mind the "is she gonna eat all that?" stares.
With a full belly, all I wanted is some relaxation, so I headed to the hammam. If you've been reading Stuff and Places you'll know that is wasn't my first time and that the experience in Morocco was somewhat of an eye-opener. My co-worker had recommended Cemberlitas so I was super excited to give it a go. It's easy to find and right next to the tram line, which was great for my return to the airport.
This experience was a lot different from my previous. They provided me with a towel and bikini bottoms. I opted for the full option which included a bath and a massage. My scrub down was a lot less vigorous than my previous, more relaxing than exfoliating. The baths take place in a large room with a domed ceiling. The sound of women singing echoed in the room. It was very calming. After my bath I was left to lay on the warm stone as I waited for my massage.
My experience was very nice and was much appreciated in the middle of a long travel day. None of the services were spectacular, but I felt rejuvenated. Next time, I want to go where the locals go for a good scrub down.
I can't wait for the chance to spend a few days and Istanbul and really enjoy all it has to offer. Anyone care to join me?