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Evening Ritual

In my childhood we had an evening ritual.  After a hard day at school, post-afternoon snack, lots of playing with my friends, and finishing homework, it was time for a bath.  Every kid has heard it, “Cara, it’s time to take your bath.” (insert a bit of a singing voice with the last word , similar to “Cara, time to go to bed…”)  Not a bad experience really.  Often we were given fun toys to play with, while our moms would sneak in a body wash and then a head wash when you weren’t paying attention.  If you were lucky, or a girl, you would also get bubbles during your bath!  Eventually, as I grew older, I realized that taking a bath was not cool anymore so I graduated to showering.  But fast-forward a few more years and taking a bath becomes more of a luxury.  A sort of take-a-break-from-the-world type of experience: “Calgon take me away.”  I like to take a bath.  On occasion.

Today I went to a hamam. or Turkish Bathhouse.  Bathhouses in my line of work are very different than this one (insert smile – that was for you CDIs).  Going to the baths in Turkey is a weekly ritual for most Turks.  The experience was one I will not soon forget.  I mean, when was the last time that I paid someone to allow me sit in an ancient marble building practically naked, sweat like a pig, get dowsed in hot and ice cold water, then get suds up with bubbles, massaged, slapped, whacked, scratched, washed and dried?  For me, that is never.

We were referred to the one hamam in Istanbul that allowed for men and women to be in the bath at the same time.  It caters to couples and families who want to go together.  We were taken to a small hut where we were allowed to change together into these small cotton wraps and wooden clogs, then led into the main hamam room.  This place was composed of solid marble, from floor to ceiling, with a large dome as a roof, in what felt like the architecture of a mosque.  It felt very royal.  We were left to sweat for about 30 minutes.  There was a large marble square in the middle, about 8×8 feet, heated, with smaller rooms sprouting out from the middle.  Each of these rooms had a dripping fountain, that in my opinion, was there to help you THINK that there was cold water dripping, but of course there wasn’t.  Now let me just say, I am a bit claustrophobic at times, and this feeling often hits me when I am either around a lot of people with no room to move, when the temperature is really hot, and/or when I feel as though I can’t breathe or get air.  When I get into a steam room, I feel hot and like I cannot get any air.  So needless to say, thirty minutes in a steam room was incredibly difficult for me!  I concentrated on the sound of dripping (hot, no cold, no hot, no cold.  No really Cara, it is hot.) water around me.  I thought of nice thoughts.  Plenty of places that I’d rather be at that moment, where it was cool and I could breathe freely.  Now keep in mind that Casey and I were the only two people in the entire hamam, so there was certainly plenty of room and plenty of air around us!  All I have to say is that those 30 minutes couldn’t go fast enough for me….

The look of relief must’ve shown on my face when the two masseuses appeared, as one of the few words they spoke to me during the entire experience was at that time.  “Hot?” one asked me, then laughed.

Let me describe these two Turkish masseuses: they were about 14 years old, scrawny little guys (I’m probably double their size), wearing only a wrap around their waist, barefoot, and carrying a big loofa in their hand.  So out the door went our idea of the giant, fat, hairy, old Turkish man throwing us around for our massage.

They led us into one of the small rooms (which had a sign above it saying, “This is the bath where Suliman the Great had a bath in 1465”) that contained another dripping fountain and two marble slabs about waist high.  The fountain contained two spouts coming out of the wall and a pond area that caught the water.  We were asked to sit on the ground against the wall, where we were each assigned a dude.  The next thing I knew, we were being doused with buckets of hot water over our heads and bodies, then our dudes began scrubbing down our bodies with the loofa pads.  Hard.  My husband describes them as the “brillo pad gloves” (like those we use to scrub our pots and pans).  Ouch.  Apparently, we have a lot of dead cells on our skin.

To note, we were not the only ones being doused with buckets of water.  Throughout this experience, our dudes would douse themselves off with buckets in order to keep themselves cool as well.

With no words, just pointing, we were told to lie on our assigned marble slab.  Not comfortable, let me tell ya.  And for those of you who enjoy getting massages in our country, you aren’t finding any comfy massage table or slit at the top for your face to lie into.  You are literally lying on a marble counter-top with your head turned to one side while some foreign man rubs you down.  Oops, I’m jumping ahead now.  Our dudes then started covering us from head to toe with the biggest bubbles I’ve seen in years.  It was like we were taking a bath in a big washing machine!  It felt soft and tickly.  They created these bubbles from a pot of “special sauce” and what looked like a cotton t-shirt (and likely was).  It was great.  At this point our bodies could barely stay on the table, as being covered in bubbles on marble was like playing on a slip and slide.  Then, the massage began…

“ouch”  arg.  “really?”  “good golly!” cringe.  “ummm…” cringe again. “will I really make it through this?”

The massage was not for sissies.  And this was when I let out a sigh of relief that I had a scrawny little 14 year old throwing me around and massaging my body rather than a big fat old Turkish man as we had originally imagined.  This was beyond “deep-tissue or sport’s massage.”  And though it included some stretching of muscles and massaging, it also included a bit of slapping, whacking and some scratching.  Good golly.  Every once in a while, I would sneak a look over to my husband to make sure that he too was getting the same preferential treatment.  Sure enough, yes.  I guess we’ll have to recuperate together later was my thought.

I was then pointed back to the floor, where I sat with my back against the wall again.  I was doused with hot water, then ice cold water (ahhhh.  There WAS cold water in there!), then warm water.  I must’ve looked like a washed-up cat in the rain.  My dude was pretty much finished when he looked at me and said three words: “you like shampoo”.  I thought he was asking if I liked the shampoo he used for the bubbles so I smiled kindly and said, “yes”.  But to my surprise, he proceeded to shampoo and massage my scalp and hair while I sat on the marble ground.  Classic.

All four of us stood there.  Each of us drenched from head to toe.  We thanked them, “tea-sugar-a-dream” we said and nodded our heads with shy smiles.  We were the left there.  Alone.  We weren’t sure what to say to each other.

After a few minutes of getting our bearings, my husband and I walked out of the hamam to a middle room.  We were greeted again with our dudes who had already cleaned, dried and changed into a dry wrap themselves.  They handed us dry wraps and motioned for us to go into the changing room next door.  We put them on and came back out.  Our dudes then dried our bodies off for us and put towels on our heads and led us to a room which could be none other than a recovery room.  A quiet area where you could have tea or smoke a hookah.

 

You may be wondering why I would allow someone to do such a thing.  The answer is that I wanted to experience Turkish life and do as the Turks do, and yes, I walked out of the hamam a bit battered and bruised, but I also walked out feeling better than I ever have felt walking out of an $80 massage back home in the United States.  Besides, my hair was clean too.  Just like mom used to do.

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Casey’s voice = normal font

Cara’s voice = italics font

1) Our shopping experiences.  From the Grand Bazaar – the largest bazaar in the world – to the experience of buying Turkish carpets.  These experiences included a long conversation about where we are from, what brought us to Turkey, a bit about our families, and often a cup of Turkish coffee or tea that we would all share together.  After which, there would be a time of reviewing a variety of their high quality goods (when we bought carpets, there were 4 men whipping open carpet after carpet in front of us in a huge pile.  “You like this one?  Let me show you another.”…), and the host would then throw out the first price offer.  From there you barter and haggle away.

2)  Going to the Galatasaray football match and buying Galatasaray scarves.  Not only were we instantly “in” with the fans, but for days afterwards became “best friends” with shopkeepers, rug sellers, tour guides, and regular people on the street.  One shopkeeper said to me, “Since you also support Galatasaray, I will give it to you for 25 lira instead of 35.”  Galatasaray is (dependeing on who you ask) the top team in Turkisk professional football (soccer).  So wearing the scarf around was one of the best conversation starters and it helped create some very cool memories of talking with random people.  Football is the world’s common language.

For those of you who don’t already know, “Football” in any other country BUT the U.S. actually means soccer.  We went to a soccer match.  Turks are crazy fanatics for soccer here!  We wanted to do as the locals and experience first-hand what it was like to sit on the sidelines and cheer with the fans.  Exceptional!  After surviving the football match traffic, figuring out how to pick up our tickets, and getting a personal back-stage police escort through the area where the soccer players were arriving, we walked in the stadium to the loud humm of crazy excited fans.  Of course we won.  Galatasaray!

Galatasaray

Turkish Football Match

Football Police

Police prepping for post-match fans

3) The people in this country are so friendly and helpful.  Each person we approached, or who approached us, was generally very interested in getting to know us more than as just a passer-by tourist. People often offered to help or give us directions without expectation of anything in return. It was refreshing.  One teenager, who helped us find our seats at the football match, happened to see us again as we were exiting the stadium.  In the midst of all the Turkish chatter surrounding us, we hear this lone voice in English say “goodbye.”  It was the teenager wishing us well on our departure.  He was holding out a box of chocolate wafers as a gift for us to take with us.  How kind is that?  And when do we ever do that for strange foreigners who visit our country?

4)  We get to our hotel in Cappadocia, famed for it’s cave hotels, and get placed in a normal, stone block structure.  So in seeing the disappointment on my wife’s face, I go down to the reception desk and ask if there are any rooms that are, in effect, caves.  The guy looks at me weird, grabs a couple of keys and leads me to go check out a couple of cave rooms.  We walk into one and I say, “this is it” and go get Cara and our bags.  We walk into it and she instantly lights up.  It’s a cave, with chisel marks where the separate rooms were carved out, and she’s super stoked.  The look on her face was a highlight.  And it was a classic moment when we discovered they had originally given us the “Sultan’s Room” (essentially the best room in the hotel) and we chose a cave instead.

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Caves of Cappadoccia

5) We experienced what nationalism can really look like in another country.  The Turkish people are proud to be from their country; their independence being fairly recent (1923) and did not come cheap.  They hang their flag proudly, everywhere.  You will see flags hung from multiple windows and doors in the residential areas (apartments, homes, small businesses), streamers of flags (like Christmas lights) flowing from the ceiling of the metro station, large flags hanging from the street lights in the mall, smaller flags hanging from the back window of a car or van, gigantic flag and pictures of Anaturk flying proudly from the historic caves of the interior region of some of the more remote areas of Turkey.  At first we thought it was likely something that was required by the government, but the more we observed, the more we realized that it truly is an example of people being proud to be a Turk and from a country that they are thankful to be a part of.  I (Cara) personally love their flag.  It is a beautiful red (my favorite color), with a half crescent moon and star next to it in a bright white.  Lovely.

I totally agree.  Once I educated myself on Turkey’s recent history (20th century and on), I more fully understood the love affair with Ataturk (literally, “the Father of Turkey”) and the great national pride Turks feel for their country.  Had it not been for Ataturk’s major reforms in the 1920s and 1930s, Turkey would most likely not be where it is today.  He is directly responsible for the modern Turkish national identity and celebrated, rightly, as the father of modern Turkey.  If you want more info about him, Wikipedia “Ataturk.”  He was a pretty amazing leader with incredible foresight.  So it makes sense now why his image is, literally, everywhere.  And while it didn’t inspire me to make huge banners of Obama and hang them up all over the place, it did make me wish we as Americans had more gratitude for our nation and the tremendous benefits we enjoy because of the success of the “American Experiment.”  The system of government instituted by our forefathers was unlike anything the world had seen and we are the beneficiaries of such creativity, wisdom, and courage.  And we should be flying the Stars and Stripes not in a spirit of national superiority (which is often the case, the Olympic Games a case in point) but in a spirit of gratitude for what that flag represents.

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Turkish flag and picture of Ataturk on the caves in rural Turkey

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Nationalism at it's best in Istanbul

6) Our first visit to a hamam, or Turkish bath (see blog “Evening Ritual).

7)  My wife coming up to me while we were in a small village called Curvusin and announcing to me, “I found our baby’s blanket.”  I gave her a double take.  She was serious.  Did we buy it?  Of course we did.  When my wife threw that out there I felt very compelled to buy the blanket – no bartering, just hand over the blanket. (and to answer your question mama, no, I am not pregnant.)

8)  Creating a life-long memory – and a family codeword – by buying two rugs in Istanbul.  How much did we spend?  Let’s just say our daughter will be inheriting a “dowry rug” when she gets married and those rugs will be passed down from generation to generation.  We have a lot to accomplish in getting our money’s worth out of those things.

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Edward, our friend and salesman of our turkish rugs

9)  The 10 hour over-night bus ride from Cappaodcia to Ephesus, that turned into 14 hours and 3 bus rides.

10) Watching how carpets are made and the incredible time, tradition and craftsmanship (rather, craftswomanship) that goes into each rug.  Depending upon the type of rug and its size, rugs can take up to three years to make.  The rugs we bought most likely took close to a year to make.  When put into that context, what we paid was a small price for what the rugs capture in history, effort and beauty.  Plus it’s something we’ll always remember (and will use to marry off our daughter).

11) From Rain to Ruins: My poor husband.  Essentially, every time we are about to visit a site of ancient ruins, it rains.  Not just a sprinkle, but often a downpour.  And it is cold.  History, and actually setting foot on same ground that were inhabited by people many centuries ago; by people who walked with Jesus; fought in wars; lived their lives in the ancient of times, is something that my husband gets very excited about.  It is such a sight for me to watch his eyes sparkle as he pulls out his camera and we walk towards the ruin.  Sadly, each time we have done so – from the Solana in Croatia, to the Acropolis in Greece, and now Ephesus in Turkey – we have been plagued with rain.  Nonetheless, Ephesus was a serious highlight.  John wrote his gospel here and is said to have died in this place, and Ephesus is the city that Paul wrote to in the book of Ephesians in the Bible.  It is considered one of the most well preserved ruins, and was an amazing experience to walk through and explore together.

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Ephesus

12) The words “thank you” in Turkish are “tesekker ederiz.”  Our first night in the country of Turkey, we were taught a shortcut to help us remember the pronunciation.  The trick is to say, “tea-sugar-a-dream.”  With that said, we leave Turkey today with a giant Tea-Sugar-a-Dream for an incredible experience.

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Pommegranites galore all over Croatia and Turkey

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Outside the Blue Mosque

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Spice Market, Istanbul

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Let’s Ride

This is a quick blog entry for all my fellow motorcyclists out there, specifically my fellow GS riders.  You know who you are.  And I’m jumping ahead a bit, as we haven’t gotten to Istanbul on our blog yet, but some things are just too vital to pass up.

Don and John, this blog is for you.  For every time I talk with you one of the first things you say to me is, “Let’s ride!”  And I always reply, “Let’s do it.”

We were sitting at dinner a few nights ago and I shot out of my chair as I watched a fully loaded, fully equipped 1200GS ride by, the rider obviously on a long journey and Istanbul close to the end of it.  I looked immediately at Cara and she smiled back saying, “Man, did your eyes light up.  It’s obvious you want to be that guy.”  What a trip that would be.  It didn’t take me long to be dreaming of riding from Calais, France to Istanbul, Turkey on my GS.  Anyone up for joining me?

Then today as we were taking a taxi across town to the football match, a 1200GS – same year as mine – buzzed by us, threading through traffic: the rider wearing a jacket that said, “Trafik Polis.”  Which means in Turkish (of course), “Traffic Police.”  The traffic cops ride GSs.  How fabulous is that?!

I knew there was another reason I liked this place.  Let’s do it.

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