Days before Turkey I got cold feet. Night sweats. A tic. Okay, no tics, but scenes of that Midnight Express movie kept me up at night. Years ago, my friend Pooks used to joke about how I was going to end up in some Turkish prison cell one day.
All I had were the tickets to Istanbul and a Lonely Planet book on Turkey. No hotel reservations. I didn’t know a single word in Turkish. Lonely Planet sucks, it’s the worst of all guide books. The more I read it to ease my anxiety, the more I thought about Turkish prison cells.
Arriving in Turkey sleep deprived and scared shitless, I see this ad in the airport:
Look at the guy, he’s sweating buckshots.
Me too, I’m sweating like Brad Davis in that movie.
Then there is the no smoking sign in Turkish and English: Smoking is illegal.
What? No cigarettes in Turkey? What!??
That’s it. I’m going to get busted for sneaking cigarettes and thrown into a rat hole for life.
Could be a mistake like the one on the sign above the toilets: Save water, only flush twice.
Some smartass struck through “twice” and wrote, “once, stupid.”
Nearby, around the electical stuff, here’s their version of “do not touch or else”
I was feeling very very far away from home, something I’d always wanted to feel. It was supposed to feel good.
We get into the city and there’s smoking and lots of English (choose a language, they speak it). Everyone was harking at us to go into their store. Their restaurant. Their coffee shop. Their Turkish bath. Until you learn to not look like fresh meat, they will get your attention and they will get you into their store.
Even in the museums they get you. One kind man followed us around explaining the history of all this stuff and before we knew it he was our “guide.” Then we were paying him for it.
I wanted to get out of there and go to other areas of Turkey. The Agean coast. The Mediterraneo. Troy. The train system doesn’t work so well. We were sick of flying. Forget driving a car there. Most people do a night bus or all day long bus. Not us. We were stuck in Istanbul.
We went to the Bazaar where the salespeople know what you want before you do.
We met a thousand people selling carpets. You think you’re talking to a fellow tourist and then, wham, they hit you with the carpet sales talk and then you are in some store drinking free apple tea and watching those guys do the magic carpet thing.
It is spectacular.
And you sit there convinced you came to Turkey to buy a rug.
We didn’t get a rug. Goes against the packing light thing and I already had a water pipe and a bottle of absinthe (since Paris).
It felt good when we finally mastered the art of not being sold. Got cocky about it by stopping the harkers with, “you know where I can find a good carpet salesman?”
The water is beautiful and everywhere. Loads of ferries and boats to bring you back and forth between the European and Asian sides.
And loose cats everywhere. In the plazas, sneaking into restaurants, in the gardens where they smoke the water pipes, and especially in the cemeteries.
So did we do the Turkish bath? The guidebooks and travel brochures say it is a must. The guidebook also said do not go in there naked.
Women on one identical side to the men’s.
After stripping down to underwear there’s a pretty towel to wrap around your chest and enter into this amazing domed room with stars cut out of the ceiling so the light comes through. There is a hot round marble slab to sweat and relax on for a while.
After that door shut behind us, Ohmigod, all the patrons were totally naked! My teenaged girls were in shock. There was no going back. The “bathers” took over. Ladies with mellon breasts only wearing tiny underwear. Scrubbing people down. They call it a soap massage in the brochure. It’s a bath like mammas give their children. This was the crowning moment of the trip, watching my girls choke down the giggles and give in and relax while these ladies worked their magic. Me, I was about to call that lady, “Mamma,” even when she pulled my underwear down to my knees to exfoliate my butt cheeks.
Here is the city at night from the bridge:
The Turks are as welcoming as Southerners here. The food is amazing. Nothing to be afraid of.
Well, maybe the stray cats. My daughter says the real rulers of Isanbul are cats.