How to Relax in Istanbul: Traditional Turkish Baths

Istanbul is a city that never sleepsDSC_7990With thousands of cafes and restaurants, museums and shops, events and live music, there is something happening at all hours of the night. 😀
20150911_180020Now with films here appearing less than stellar, comical at best, I steered clear of movie theatres and set out to entertain myself by embracing Istanbul nightlife, taking advantage of social hour, outside of work. 😛75fd9a178d27993b07adca7c10647322b4e87f3f3e7f8e875f832e9fc0cbb429Istanbul has a large café culture. Highlights of the past week have included trips to Mado Café, a Turkish bakery chain; SUPPA, a riverfront café; Pileki Café, a small shop in Çamlıca serving French macaroons and pastries; and finally a true hidden gem, Hasan Efendi Kahve Evi, a coffee shop with a green garden terrace and running fountain, serving delicious cappuccinos and decadent sweets.

Cafes in Üsküdar are very appealing, since most line the Bosphorus Strait, and offer spectacular waterfront views.DSC_7858DSC_7862DSC_7859DSC_7841DSC_7850Banana tartlet at Pileki.PicMonkey CollageApple tea at SUPPA café.FCappucinos and cakes at Hasan Efendi Kahve Evi. PicMonkey Collage2Walnut and pomegranate Turkish delights.DSC_7919DSC_7918Mado Cafe ice cream with raspberry sauce and pistachio crumble.Turkish ice cream is well-known for their inclusion of salep, orchid flour, and mastic resin, which gives the cream a tough and sticky texture, resistant to melting.

Now, bars and pubs in Istanbul are plentiful, although beer prices are pretty steep. It will cost you at least $6 for bottled beer, more for microbrews. Highlights of the past week included Kiki, a trendy restaurant serving brick oven pizzas and cold beers, and lastly London Pub, set in lively Kadikoy. 93cc5e00132400e989b534060d761286Food is pricey, but you pay for the atmosphere. 🙂

The local beer is called Efes Pilsner, which tastes like a glorified Miller Lite. I’d recommend splurging on a microbrew for your tastebuds sake. 😉20486951_2gfzMFZqiHhN9-n2N_bj4psKCZgMue05Fz19YjvNlfM 24802016_7vDSXnGF4kS-zDj4q_BpCM6t-z_Mnh2fGaOiMcMcVvAWhile at the bars, we shared some embarrassing stories about dealing with the language barrier, and more specifically not understanding labels of foreign products.

For example, my friend told us how she had been dealing with a heat rash ever since she came to Istanbul.

The temperature here has been hot and humid, causing her skin to flare up in red itchy spots. She has been attempting home remedies, but not could soothe this painful condition. She decided to seek out help at a local pharmacy. Without understanding Turkish, the pharmacist recommended to her this bottle of cream, which she immediately began to apply over her arms and back.

Luckily, it began to work! 😀

She was so happy, she continued to use the product, reapplying in public places, like the bus and school, to make sure it kept working. Well, while at school this week, she noticed a teacher giving her a strange look.

Apparently, this magic cream she had been openly applying in public, was the Turkish version of Vagisil, a feminine yeast cream.

So embarassing! Next time she will probably research foreign products beforehand. Hah.

Sightseeing in Europe and Asia 

After all the socializing, it was nice to take time to myself to get to know the city, and learn about the history and art of Istanbul. I crossed continents and viewed architecture from different decades, a true showcase of Istanbul’s complexity.

Beylerbeyi Palace

DSC_7886Beylerbeyi means “Lord of the Lords,” and this 19th century palace located on the Asian side was the summer residence of Ottoman Sultans, as well as, a place for entertaining heads of state.DSC_7902DSC_7888Lavish palace garden.DSC_7899DSC_7898DSC_7894DSC_7913DSC_7890Tunnel leading to Beylerbeyi Palace from Üsküdar.DSC_7868The palace interior has both Western and Eastern influences, with Egyptian straw mats, Turkish carpets, French Baccarat crystal chandeliers, and East Asian porcelain vases.
I took a few photos in the beginning, but quickly learned that photography is not allowed within the palace. 😦DSC_7893Turkish carpets covering Egyptian straw mats.20150912_124628It was banned in 2009 after too many people had been mistakingly using their flash.

Therefore, here are a few shots, courtesy of Google images.Istanbul_Beylerbeyi-PalaceBeylerbeyi1-600x399Dolmabahçe PalaceDirectly across the Bosphorus strait lies the Dolmabahçe Palace, their permanent royal residence, which is supposed to rival this summer home. Hopefully that will be one of my next stops. 😀

Anyway, after viewing this traditional architecture and maritime decor, I was craving something a bit more contemporary.

Istanbul Modern 

DSC_7923DSC_7924Located on the European side, this modern art museum showcases an eclectic array of portraits, installations and films.hhMany of the pieces refract various hues of light, which make the viewing experience unique for each observer.DSC_7939Installation made of air bags and seat belts.
vvMy pictures are a mini version of “Where’s Waldo?” since you can find me in most shots. 😛DSC_7942DSC_7933Some art pieces have a serious take-home message, like the harmful effects of importing goods internationally.DSC_7962The effects of deforestation on plants and precious wildlife. 😦DSC_7960While others are more lighthearted, like this video clip of men embracing the art of belly dancing. 😛DSC_7956Some exhibits are childlike and whimsical, like this layer of boas leading to an istallation of the earth’s solar system. 😀DSC_7965DSC_7943On the contrary, many pieces target political issues and current conficts in Istanbul.
Passive resistance against the voices of power.ffFor example, this film analyzes private versus public life during times of crisis in 20th century Istanbul.DSC_7953With protests and rallies constantly surrounding the city, this film parallels calm family life alongside chaotic street riots during times of political turmoil.

Current times are no exception to this rule. :/ With lots of tension and violence along the Turkish-Syrian border, people of Istanbul are rallying on a daily basis, attempting to boost patriotism, and remember fallen soldiers.

Photo courtesy of Middle East Eye.
Turkey-protest6To do our part, teachers at our school have been recording online lessons to send to students in Southeastern Turkey, since most schools will be temporarily closed due to the conflict. :/

With the concern of unsettled conflict and this non-stop social life, I really needed some rest and relaxation. 😀

Traditional Turkish Baths

This week I met with a fellow teacher to enjoy being pampered at a traditional Turkish bath house. 🙂

Çemberlitaş Hamamı

DSC_7979DSC_7981This hamam was built in the 16th century, designed by the famous Renaissance architect, Mimar Sinan. Hamams were built as part of the külliye, or mosque complex, since the bath house was an important social center for the community.

Entrance to this hammam was 30 USD, but included unlimited use of the spa, including hot stone resting marble and self-service fountains, plus towels, slippers and a locker.
My friend Alexa and I chose the luxury package, including wash, scrub and hot oil massage.
Upon arrival, reception gave us a baggie with underwear and a personal loofa. 😀DSC_7985Hamams place cleanliness as a priority, so they prefer running water fountains over an immersion bath.
cemberlitashamami_07Despite this hamams over 400 year history, it appears very well-kept, with a renovated interior.

No photos were allowed (for obvious reasons), so these pictures are courtesy of their website.b94a97630f58e10de64aa3f442c2d1f6The hamam is divided by sexes, and women have their own changing area and bath house.

Hamam Procedure:

Once changed into the complimentary under garments, we entered the main hall bath chamber.
The process begins by lying on the hot stone marble awaiting your bath attendant.
 My female attendant was very sweet, but poor Alexa got stuck with the female version of Fat Bastard, except in this case, wearing black lace lingerie. *shudders* Best to just close your eyes and enjoy the scrub down. Hah.
They begin by pouring warm buckets of water over your body, then use the loofah to exfoliate your skin from head to toe. Layers of bubbly soap are added for a complete scrub, almost like a car wash.
After a shampoo, head massage and rinse, your experience is complete and you are left to lie on the hot marble as long as you wish. 😀
We also chose the extra, 30-minute hot oil massage. I would return for that alone, since the price was an affordable $27 and the masseuse did a very nice job getting out all my knots. 🙂


Afterwards, they provide complimentary hot towels, blow dryers and tea is available in the main lobby for you to sip and enjoy. 🙂

While in the lobby, I heard two cute old men having a tea debate that made me chuckle.

Old man #1: “Can you believe it? My sister-in-law lives in England and she drinks 13 cups of tea each day!”

Old man #2 appears in shock: “That is simply too much tea. I have never heard of such a thing. It is ridiculous!”

Old man#1: “Yes, I agree. 10 cups is plenty.”

Old man #2: “Of course, that seems more reasonable.”

What wise old men. Haha.

Now you know there is a tea limit, and it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. 😛

After a few hours of pampering and a good laugh, I caught the ferry back home.DSC_7991Istanbul may be the city that never sleeps, but this gal was ready for bed. 😀

On top of the relaxing massage, I am going on vacation this Friday. 😀 The ultimate stress relief!

For the next week, three of us will be traveling around Bulgaria and Greece.

I am looking forward to many adventures, good food, beautiful sights, and lots of funny stories to share.

Until then! Enjoy your weekend! 😀

2 thoughts on “How to Relax in Istanbul: Traditional Turkish Baths

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