Tag Archives: Turkey

Spas of the Orient

23 Oct

While in Istanbul, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the hammams.  The hammams are bathing houses.  One of the best experiences I have ever had.  I highly suggest one if you ever get the chance.  Just be ready to be nearly in the buff around many other women of all shapes, sizes, and ages.

The hammam we went to is super old!

Many may not like the idea of getting naked in front of strangers, but not to worry: the hammam is separated into male and female sections.  This is Turkey after all!  Your bather and masseuse is also a female.  The atmosphere is like an exclusive salon/spa for women only.  Everyone was chatting and relaxing throughout the process.  It was refreshing to be in such an atmosphere after hours and days in the streets of Istanbul hearing cat calls and dealing with uncomfortable male gazes.  I can see why Turkish women spend so much time there!

Entrance to the female section and peaceful sanctuary!

This is the last of my contraband photos…for obvious reasons, it is frowned upon to take photos once within the hammam.

To start off the process, we were shown to lockers to keep our stuff and were given a pair of disposable panties.  We then made our way to the baths where we laid on a heated stone in a very hot room (with a beautiful ceiling above to keep you entertained while you wait).  After a while, one of the bathers calls you over to the edge of the stone and you are exfoliated using a disposable kese (exfoliating bath glove).  You would never realize how much dead skin is on you!  I didn’t see my own when it was removed, but watching other hammam-goers, you see brown dead skin coming off in abundance.  Needless to say, you feel much cleaner just after that!  After this, they pour warm water on you along with suds and give you a clean washing.  None of it is inappropriate, unlike some of the stories I have heard about the men receiving their baths.

After being washed down, you can leisurely soak in their version of hot tubs.  The process is so relaxing because you are not rushed through the process and you can just enjoy yourself.  After we spent enough time there, we headed over to get our massage (this does not come with the basic package, but we decided to splurge to get the full experience).  It was a half hour oil massage and it was much needed!  The whole thing cost me about 60 USD, but it was worth it.  Plus, I think there are other places that are cheaper, this was just a highly recommended place that we knew for sure would be sanitary and satisfactory.

Afterwards, we went to a cooler room with nice oriental cushions and just chatted and relaxed.  Other women got some tea or other refreshing drinks.  Had I known, I would have taken a few lira in with me.

Overall, I think this experience is a must.  Don’t spend much time on your hair or make-up, as they will wash it for you.  I told them I didn’t want them to so that my make-up wouldn’t get all messed up with the water being poured over my head… but then during the massage she ended up massaging my face with lotion, so I really regret not getting my hair washed.  If you are not comfortable going au-naturale afterwards, bring some make-up in your day bag.  Also, we hadn’t thought it through, but we regretted not having brought a brush for our hair.  They have brushes there …. but kind of gross to use them if you ask me.

Afterwards, you feel cleaner than you ever have in my opinion.  I am going to Spain and Morocco, both places that will also have their versions of hammams.  I fully plan on taking advantage of the lower prices for a massage than Denmark and the States and be pampered.  Perhaps even twice in Morocco (cheap spa experience, I say yes!).


How to avoid men at the Grand Bazaar

19 Oct

If you want a real experience, make sure to visit the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.  I cannot promise you that you will get a better deal for a scarf or anything else than you would in any shop outside the bazaar.  If you are great at haggling, then you probably will get a fair price.  Otherwise, you are going to likely pay too much.  But it is all a part of the experience!

Spices at the Egyptian Spice Market

The Grand Bazaar

Soaps from Abdulla.  Great quality soaps!

So many beautiful lanterns! I bought a pink mosaic brass lantern on a whim (and a good deal)!

Every man at every shop had such unique pick-up lines to draw customers in.  I was called Baby Spice, Christina, and even Shakira!  How flattering!  Maybe if I was a 50 year old with low self-esteem….  You dropped something! Me- what? Them- My heart!  Next time I heard that one, I made sure to tell them they are still alive, so I must not have dropped their heart, before they had the chance to finish their little pick-up line.

I managed to buy a few good items and got better at the haggling as I went.  I sometimes got “special price for special hair” without even trying.  I guess having strawberry blonde hair is not the norm in Turkey.  Nor is my skin color.  “Jesus, you are so pale,” in a thick Turkish accent was my favorite line of the trip.

Anyhow, so you may be wondering, how do I get that annoying man chasing me through the bazaar with disgusting and fake perfume to leave me alone?  Yeah, you thought you could just walk away from the stall because the merchant has gotta stay with his ‘dise.  Well you were wrong.  These guys do NOT leave you alone.  So after day one of Grand Bazaaring, my friends and I came up with a solution.

Any time that a merchant starts calling out “Spice Girls,” “Charlie’s Angels,” and saying “I’m here! I’m here!” (thanks, I can see you), you throw them the Jenna Marble’s face.  If you do not know what I am talking about, click here NOW.  I swear, it works!  I threw the face a few times and mid-line, they would legit stop talking, look confused, and just walk away.  It was AWESOME!  Thanks Jenna Marbles!  You are a life-saver!  And provided us with many laughs for the rest of the trip..

Blue Pencil

13 Oct

During our visit to Istanbul, my class also had to attend several academic lectures and visits.  One of them was to Mavi Kalem, or Blue Pencil.  Mavi Kalem is a social assistance and charity association established in Istanbul in 1999 after an earthquake in the gulf there.  A group of women decided to do relief work and joined forces and have continued the organization since.

The goal of the organization is to spread and develop charity work and volunteerism.  They work in the Fener-Balat region of Istanbul, an area of Istanbul heavily populated by minorities.  Balat has many Kurds, Greeks, and people from the Black Sea region.  The area is very diverse and faces issues discrimination.  Their target group is children, youth, and women and their focus is on women’s rights, children’s rights and education, empowerment, and participation in the community.

Fener-Balat is a rather dilapidated neighborhood


The people who volunteer and work at Mavi Kalem are not paid.  Many of the volunteers are through the European Volunteer Service.  EVS is sort of similar to Erasmus.  If you come from a state that is a member of the EU, you can travel to volunteer anywhere where there is an exchange set up.  I wish the US had something like that!  It seems like all of the volunteer opportunities abroad cost something for the volunteer.  If I am volunteering, I would prefer NOT to pay for it.  I am already doing enough by giving my time and effort.

On a side note, while we were waiting for our meeting with Mavi Kalem to start, we explored the streets a bit.  We ran into a music video shoot for a Turkish singer.


No idea who the guy is.
But he must be famous in Turkey!

Sophia Hagia and the Blue Mosque

10 Oct

The Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque were on our agenda for our first day in Turkey.  It is difficult to imagine that the Hagia Sophia was built in 537 A.D.  That’s when the Danes were up here still living as Vikings.  So incredibly that the Middle East has such a history of civilizations, but today they are not the leading region in the world.

Inside the Hagia Sophia.  Magnificent!

Hagia Sophia

Inside the Blue Mosque
Not so blue anymore! But all the white was once painted blue.

Our view of the Blue Mosque from dinner.
Jakob sure knows how to pick a restaurant!

Beirut, Turkey.

8 Oct

No, I am not bad at geography.  I know Beirut is the capital of Lebanon and not a city in Turkey.  However, did you know that Beirut is big in Turkey?  I am talking about one of my favorite bands, Beirut.  I had the amazing experience of seeing them live this past summer at Lollapalooza and it may have been the best live performance I have witnessed of any band.  Their encore however, was not on any of their EPs or LPs.  Once I finally found the set list from the show, I discovered it is a cover of an old Turkish folk song, Şiki Şiki Baba.

I decided my one mission while in Turkey this past week (besides scoring some awesome harem pants for travel in Morocco next month), was to find out what Şiki Şiki Baba is all about.  I asked our tour guide and he had no idea.

Later in the week, we had dinner with Turkish students from Bilgi University at a traditional Turkish food restaurant.  I thought I would give it a shot and asked the girl next to me if she knew what the song meant.  She explained to me, after consulting with her friends, that the song is just a non-sense, fun song.  But her question for me was, “How do you know about Şiki Şiki Baba?”  Fair enough.  So I told her how one of my favorite bands did a cover of it this summer at the music festival I attended.  When I said it was Beirut, she freaked.  She and her friends ecstatically explained how much they love Beirut and how popular in Turkey he is.  However, she thought they were from the Middle East and I corrected her that they are from America.  I learn from her, she learns from me.  Anyhow, I just thought it was neat that I finally found out what the song means and that Beirut is more popular in Turkey possibly than in America.

Live performance of Şiki Şiki Baba by Beirut