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Published: December 22nd 2015
We arrived in the morning to Istanbul after a brief 1 1/2hr flight from Athens. We easily took the train from the airport into the main tourist area of Sultanahmet where we walked to Hotel Basileus ($45). The hotel was lovely and the staff incredibly helpful and friendly, and the surrounding neighborhood was a beautiful 17th century style seaport that looked more like New Bedford, Massachusetts than Turkey. We already wished we had more time to spend in this city that has the perfect blend of East meets West.
We wandered the serpentine medieval streets of this former Ottoman and Byzantine capital and viewed the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque from the hippodrome sandwiched in between them, where there now is a large Egyptian obelisk and Greek column which we recognized as pilfered from Egypt and Delphi in the 3rd century AD.
We made our way down to the waterfront by the Bosphorous Sea so that we could walk across the bridge that spans Europe and Asia and try some recommended street food. We had the famous mackerel sandwich that is sold non stop from ornate fishing boats tied to the pier. These boats had grills
on board and were frying up hundreds of fish while they slung sandwiches up to the customers on the land. Needless to say these sandwiches live up to the hype, and we have reminisced and spoken of them fondly ever since.
After lunch we strolled through the spice bazaar sampling Turkish delight candies along the way, and made our way to the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is world famous, hundreds of years old and contains over 4,000 shops. It is a shopping experience like no other and not for the faint of heart or for those who suffer from claustrophobia.
Once we had our fill of shopping we headed over to the Sulemaniye Hammam for a Turkish Bath. One of the few experiences I had been dying to experience was that of a traditional Turkish bath, and Istanbul is the best place in the world for one, and the Sulemaniye Hammam is one of the oldest in the world still being used. It was built in 1550 for Suleyman the Magnificent, and is made from beautiful carved marble. This Hammam has been in continuous use for over 400 years, and the methods they use have been the
same throughout those years. Having a bath here feels like you have been transported to ancient Byzantine times.
A Turkish bath consists of first a sauna where you bake on a heated slab of marble for about 40 mins, and just when you think you can't handle the heat anymore, you get scrubbed with a goat hair bristle brush and then massaged and washed by male attendants while lying on a marble table. Dennis hated the idea of this, especially when we were made to wear traditional towels and unbearably uncomfortable high heeled wooden clogs, but being the good sport he was he humored me, and in the end rather enjoyed it.
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