January 13, 2014 by theloneblonde
When I was deciding to be an exchange student, I remember debating with my parents for hours about where I wanted to go and where they would let me go. For at least a month I would weigh out the potential of some different country. I ended up in India on the adventure of a lifetime but truth be told I was dying to go to Brazil though in the end it was for the best I waited to visit the mystical land of samba dreams. Though Turkey was one country that I thought I would really enjoy and was high on my list, though to my parents that sounded like a death sentence.
Apparently there was some cult classic (that I have saved on my computer) called Midnight Express, apparently a man gets wrongfully jailed or something along those lines. This movie sent those of my parent’s generation into a black hole of misinformation about the state of turkey. Though there is some concern about their political state or their state owned journalism…these issues are of concern but they are ones that Turkey is fighting to become a better nation. Many many years after this cult classic my parents still wondered why in the world I wanted to go to Turkey! What is in Turkey, why is it a tourist destination!? I really don’t understand why you have such a desire to go there. Ok mom, sure.
I had no idea what I was in store for, but 12 days leave was just a short introduction to a country that really has so much to offer. Lizzie (my site mate) and I started off our adventure from Tirana to Istanbul then Istanbul to Ankara. Ankara, the little known, capitol of Turkey was just like any other big city but home to the memorial and mausoleum for the famous Ataturk the founder of Modern Turkey.
After Ankara we went on to explore the interesting town of Gorome, Turkey in the valley of Cappadocia. I cannot explain to you the mystical wonders of this city. It is a city that was founded long ago by crazy christen cave people who built a bunch of churches in rocks. We were there over Christmas it was -8, and snow was on the ground. But we decided it would be a great idea to go ATV’ing through the valley. It was cold. The entire city is like being on a film set, it’s unbelievable. You feel as if you are living in Star Wars, on another planet even. It’s remarkable nonetheless a bit on the touristy side with signs in Korean and hoards of Asian tourist trying to stay warm.
Having found great deals on flights we then flew from Kayseri (A city I would love to explore in the summer, apparently it still have Mesopotamian era statues?) to Izmir and then on to Effesus or Efes. Efes was a Greek turned Roman port city. Chances are you have seen a picture of the famous library or treasury, maybe even the amphitheater, and you thought it was in Italy or Greece. Nope, it’s in Turkey, and it’s amazing. One of the most incredible sites, home to one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, the Temple of Artemis. Though the city surrounding, Selcuk, it was not my favorite, it is also home to an incredible history. This is also where the Church of St. John (St. John the Baptist), and where the original baptism took place, according to this strange Turkish archeologist who convinced us to follow him diving over rocks into the archeology site evading the fee to actually get into the place… it was a little weird.
The Hercules Gate at Efes
The Treasury at Efes
Inside the Church of St. John
We made out way to Izmir for a few hours to meet up with another Peace Corps volunteer’s host brother who now resizes in Izmir. Izmir is a beautiful port town that reminded me of a cross between Vlore and Rio (odd mix, but true). Developed right on the water and expanding as far as the eye can see. We wandered around in circles a few times seeing the sites, and then got really lost in one of the most massive street markets I have ever been in.
Our final stop was Istanbul. We saved it for last because we had the idea that we were going to blow all of our money shopping here anyway, because lizzie and I both were really in need of some new pants. For me it was like saving the best for last. I had always wanted to go to Istanbul, and to me it was amazing. I look at the city as a planner, and the urban sphere as how well it can serve its populations. In this regard, Istanbul is beautiful. It really combines its cultural heritage with its up and coming status as a MINT country (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey, all expected to achieve major growth in the next 31 years, making it a world power by 2050).
Having been under so many different rulers at different points of time usually has an effect on its urban sphere, screwing it up in more ways then one. But our couch surfing host (who was amazing!!!) in Istanbul put it in the perfect light.
“Ankara is a man, Izmir is a women, and Istanbul is a Transvestite.”
Sums it up perfectly.
Finding the Turkish Bath House
We had six days of adventures in Istanbul, which most of our time was spent doing one of three things, being incredibly lost, shopping, finding the perfect doner.
Though the one story that I simply must share was one of the first category, getting incredibly lost.
Turkey is known for their bath houses, called a Hammam. They have even been featured on the amazing race. Lizzie and I knew that we had to go to one when we were in Turkey because who does not want someone to bath you and scrub off all your dead skin. We heard whispers from various people along the road that they were a painful experience (mostly guys), and clearly we were really curious.
Before leaving I had asked a fellow Peace Corps volunteer who spent some time living in Istanbul about a place to go and she gave me the name of a bath house on the Asian side. I put it on the map that I generated of all the place that Lizzie and I had to go. Though turns out I could not access my map on my phone and we randomly decided today was the day to go to a bath house so we set off towards Asia without an address or any clue of where the hell we were going (my idea).
My logic behind this adventure was that Turkey is full of bath houses, everyone goes to them all the time, let’s just go to Asia get off the bus wander around and in 10 minutes we will be at a bath house, right! Not to mention the Asian side is cheaper, because it’s Asia!
We ended up on a side of a highway… bad plan. After we got off the highway found some people and tried to convey that we needed to go to an internet café we stumble down the road to find an incredibly ghetto internet café owned by a midget who was very concerned for the two lost foreign girls. Clearly we were on the opposite side of town, and Asia was a lot bigger then I thought it was.
After getting the address I thought screw it, let’s take a cab and then we will just be there! Well clearly the cab driver had no idea where we were going (but neither did we). So having been dropped off in the middle of no where, we start asking more people for a hammam, luckily there was one near by. We still have no idea if it was the one our friend actually recommended.
After finding the door for women (post accidently opening up the door for the men’s side… nope), we walked into a steamy hot room with two old topless Turkish women chain smoking and counting money. Umm uhhh… sure? Who then greeted us in Turkish, no idea what they were saying but they took us to little wooden dressing rooms and gave us sandals, and motioned to take off clothes and lock the door and walk downstairs… uhhh sure?
Deciding to just go for it, no one knows me here, I de-robbed and headed down to the main bath room, it was one of the most magnificent architectural rooms, with a massive marble dome, water coming from every which direction, and marble irrigation canals. I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, every which way I looked there was another naked old Turkish lady all doing something different? Lost and confused one of them handed me a small bucket and indicated that I should splash hot and cold water on myself by filling up the bucket and throwing it at my general direction. So after you have experienced the hot and the cold then you can move on to a steam. So after I had had enough water thrown on me, as decided by the very large and very old naked Turkish women I was thrust into the steam room, no idea what was going to happen next. Sweating out all of our toxins along with anything else left it was so hot that lizzie proclaimed that the inside of her mouth was sweating.
So after deciding I could potentially pass out and that would be bad, I walked out to splash more water on myself… until another naked Turkish woman had other plans for me. She told me to lay down on the massive pentagon of marble in the middle of the room and she begin to attack. Dead skin be gone! Scrubbing me down as hard as she could all of a sudden I was COVERED in the black dead skin that was just flaking off my entire body. Then after she covered me in dove body soap, not exactly the olive oil and scrapping method of the historical hammam experience. After washing me down it was time for a massage, this was apparently the part that was supposed to hurt? Which sure she did try to bend me into a bunch of strange positions and what not but it was not until she grabbed me by the shoulder blades flipped me around and pulled me straight into her very naked bosoms, was it really ever uncomfortable… So sitting there naked with naked Turkish lady massaging my shoulders stuffed into her breast made me long for a real shower.
Though all in all the experience was very interesting, and an hour and a half of hanging out with naked Turkish ladies in a hot room only cost me about $12. Cannot go wrong, right!?
After that we truly had a glow for heading out to an amazing New Years Eve party to ring in 2014. Turkey is amazing, and I did not spend nearly enough time there, not to mention I did not buy nearly enough spices. Clearly, I need to go back, and I need to drag some people with me to potentially change their opinion to see just how much it has to offer.