Tuesday, 24 November 2015

6 hours in Istanbul

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?