Thursday, 23 August 2012

Istanbul: And its (Turkish) bath time.

Final full day in Istanbul.  After breakfast at the hotel we walked up the road to the Aya Sophia where we picked up the Hop On-Hop Off double decker.  The same open top red double decker buses can be seen on the streets of London, Sydney and many other major cities. The Istanbul bus follows a 1.5 hour route circuiting the major sites and we sat on the top deck enjoying the breeze and the magnificent city as it passed by.
Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul
After a lovely morning on the bus we went back to the hotel, booked the car for our trip back to the airport tomorrow :-( and then headed out again to find the Suleymaniye Mosque. It turned out to be only a 15 minute walk from the hotel and as there are several streets nearby the mosque with shops specialising in copper work and handmade stationary its worth having a wander round the local area. Suleymaniye Mosque is a truly wonderful building designed by the master architect Mimar Sinan whose tomb can be found in a street leading up to the mosque.  While I was doing some research on Sinan, who died in 1588, I learnt that there is a crater on the planet Mercury named after him, great stuff for the next trivia night.  Suleymaniye Mosque doesn't receive the attention it deserves though. Still, maybe that's a good thing as the place was empty and we were able to enjoy the glorious exterior which is reminiscent of the Aya Sophia in relative peace. Except for the tea seller dressed in Ottoman clothes who let us know several times several times that the building was open, I think he wanted a tip but we'd figured it out for ourselves.

Before entering the mosque, ladies must cover their legs and heads but again no problem as I had my trusty Amera hijab in my bag. The interior with its soaring dome, stained glass windows and rich red carpet is a delight. Quite honestly if you only had time to see one major place of worship it would have to be Aya Sophia but get there early as the queues can be horrendous. If there's a choice between the Blue Mosque and Suleymaniye IMHO its a no-contest, Suleymaniye wins.
The tea house fountain made
from a shisha.
From the mosque we crossed the road to where the kitchens and madrassa (school) used to be and we were surprised to find a flight of steep stairs which led down to the tranquil tree lined garden that served as a tea house. In the centre of the garden is a water fountain and tables are laid out under trees or tents. The calm atmosphere and relaxing background music made this a haven. We drank several cups of apple tea, followed by some delicious pistachio icecream and were tempted to have shisha but I knew if I did that, I'd be there for the duration and we had a few more things to do on our last full day in Istanbul. So we dragged ourselves away, on the way paying suitable homage to the gorgeous tabby cat who'd appointed himself as door security.

Like many mosques of the time, Suleymaniye was not only a place of worship but also had a school, medical rooms, kitchens and a public hamam (bath). The hamam is located outside the main mosque area across the road and is now one of the small number of baths still in operation and we headed there for the authentic Turkish bath experience in a building that has been a functioning hamam since the 1400s. At the main reception you pay your fee (35 Euros) and wait for your turn. A receptionist calls you to follow him upstairs where you are allocated a lockable change room and are given a waist wrap for men and bra and shorts for ladies. The Sulemaniye hamam is mixed but is exclusively for couples. The first stop is the steam room with a large central stone for sitting or lying on while you sweat for 40 minutes or so. There are basins of water with dishes in them that can be used to douse yourself to cool off....slightly. There are several small rooms off to the sides where, after steaming, the hamam masseuse calls you for exfoliating with a firm glove, then you lie on a stone bench and he covers you with suds and gives a massage and scrub. After rinsing off with cool water, you leave the steam room and go to separate male and female change rooms to remove the wet outfits and replace them with cotton towels that cover 'everything', they're about the size of a large bath towel. Next stop is the relaxing room where you can sit on a bench to cool down, have an apple tea or water if you wish. Once you're temperature is back to normal you head back to the changing room to get back into your street clothes and get back on the tourist trail feeling squeaky clean.

Our next stop was back to May Costumes in the Grand Bazaar to collect my costume which was being custom altered and everything was ready as promised by the owner Ender May.  I managed to resist buying another bedlah though it was a struggle as he has wonderful costumes.  While I was there I met Yoko, a lovely friendly lady, who runs the annual Raks Turkey bellydance festival in Istanbul.

We headed back to the hotel to pack but with a detour by a local fresh orange shop. Unlike 'freshly squeezed orange juice' beloved of restaurants that tastes like its come straight out of a can, this is the real thing.  The oranges are pressed in front of you.  The shop also produced a yummy pide (pee-day) which is a pita bread with a range of fillings. The grand total for the lot was 8TL which is about $4 Aus. 

We packed, had a final dinner at Faros, and now we're ready to leave we're not at all ready to leave to Turkey!  We'll be back.

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