Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Not Constantinople?

I regret my decision to decline a hotel driver to pick me up at the airport. After the exhausting jump from San Francisco to Istanbul it seems to me very worth the extra cost to not have to find a cabbie that was free and try and communicate our destination. My heart leaps when, despite my instructions, there is a man standing there holding a card with my name on it. After confirming the price of the drive, we begin the winding path toward the Goldenhorn Hotel while I try to take in as much as possible of the place I had only ever dreamt of seeing.

I absorb the rapid-fire images of modern mixed with ancient – a billboard selling electronics, a tower on the edge of the water hundreds of years old, a Chinese food restaurant, silhouettes of minarets, Annie Lennox playing on the radio. I glance at Wife and see she is already frantically snapping pictures. As we turn up cobblestone street I see a street vendor selling food next to a sign reading misir. I ask him what it is and he repeats the word over and over as if that it’s self-explanatory, “Misir! You know! Misir! It’s misir! In English it would be, you know, um, misir!” We chuckle and get out when soon after he stops the cab in front of the unassuming hotel.

Our next destination was an authentic Turkish bath. I had a couple candidates that I had researched ahead of time, but the hotel had a relationship with one named Suleymaniye to which they would provide drop off/pick up service and once again, simplicity wins the day. After convincing him that it is ok to leave his techno music blasting we ask him to teach us some Turkish words. “Ok, repeat after me,” he says, “ Tea. Sugar. Dream. That’s ‘thank you’! Easy!”

I quickly lose my bearings in the thin twisting streets. Almost all the storefronts are closed with thick metal bars or an entire sliding metal door. We stop in front of a dimly lit wooden door set in an ancient stone building. My wife shoots me a nervous look and we go in with our guard up. In movies, when the adventurer enters a room with vast treasure he will have a blank overwhelmed expression while the lighting on his face grows brighter and brighter. I suspect that if I had been filmed at that moment that is exactly what would have happened.

The interior was modest but comfortable and much larger than the nondescript entry would have you believe. We each buy a massage as well as entry to the hammam (€35 per person) and they give us clothes and explain to us that this is the only co-ed hammam in Istanbul so we would be able to stay together through the experience.

We change into a red plaid outfits that consist of shorts for me and shorts and a top for her. We balance precariously on wooden sandals as we are led through a series of small rooms leading to a massive domed marble room with a gigantic marble circular slab in the middle. Alcoves in each corner house some sort of sink and platform built into the wall. There is another couple lying on the central slab but there is room enough for twenty so we plop down, close our eyes, and listen to the sound of dripping water echoing off the walls.

After we have broken into a sweat two men enter and proceed to splash water on themselves in one of the alcoves. We recognize them as employees and soon they call us over to lie on the platforms set into the wall. They alternate sloshing us with hot and cold water separated by a brisk scrubbing with what I can only associate with a rough inflated pillowcase filled with bubbles. Their singing in Turkish while they work adds to the ambiance and I am hesitant to ask what the song is about in case the topic is completely discordant with the feeling of ancient place and time.

Our driver is waiting for us after we cool off, sip on some fresh squeezed pomegranate juice and change back into our clothes. We feel exhausted, excited, refreshed, content and overwhelmed. We feel reborn.


Sabrina said...

one addition I recall: My hammamary was shorts, a bikini top, and a huge wrap around. Something akin to wearing large kitchen towels :) Co-ed did not mean western skin-fest by any means. Thanks for the memory love...

King of New York Hacks said...

So , why'd you stop bloggging. That was a good story