After a bit of a slow start in the morning everyone but Elif (went with her cousin to do pre-wedding stuff) and Ray (recovering from the night before) headed down to explore the boardwalk next to the Bospherous. It’s amazing the size of the two bridges that cross between the European and Asian continents, granted the ships that have to pass underneath them are ridiculously huge as well. We walked along the water for a while, stopped at a waffle shop for a sweet lunch of fresh thin waffles with (what I believe was) pudding and fruit, eaten like a big thick taco, very sweet but very tasty, everyone was on a sugar high for the next hour or so. We then took a taxi to the Spice Bazaar where we met up with Ray, Elif and Kay. We split up as we did at the Grand Bazaar and myself, Jeremy, Ray, Oliver, Erin and Mike headed into the bazaar, we emerged with a few of us carrying small vacuum-sealed bags of spices, and some Turkish delight. This was the first time I’d actually had Turkish delight and before this I had no idea what it actually was, I’d only ever heard of it as what Edmund was tempted with by the White Witch in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; turns out it is (granted with many, many possible variations) a chewy cross between gelatin and nougat, typically mixed with nuts and rolled in powdered sugar. We were given samples of one made with honey rather than sugar and I think that made the taste so much richer and less overpoweringly sweet. After reconvening in front of yet another (unnamed) beautiful mosque, grabbing a snack of grilled corn (there are vendors everywhere selling this) and splitting a sesame bagel-like bread, we made the trek to our next destination, the Turkish baths.
The Turkish Baths were quite an unusual experience, but definitely fun. We went to one of the oldest bath houses in Istanbul, Cemberlitas Hamami, built by Mimar Sinan in 1584. After selecting one of three options, either a “self-wash” for 35 TL, the traditional “bath” for 55 TL (this is what I, Elif and Kay, Doug’s mom, got), or the bath plus oil massage for 95 TL (Erin upgraded to this) the men and women were separated into different sections of the building (apparently the men went to the original section of the building, the women were in a more recently built part). We were escorted to a dressing room where we were shown lockers to store our belongings, given a thin towel and a disposable bathing suit bottom to put on (apparently the guys were just given the towel) and comfy rubber sandals. Once properly outfitted we were taken to the main bathing room which is a large, steamy, open room with a giant circular warmed marble slab in the center. The marble is higher in the center than on the outsides so the water can run off and we were instructed to lay along one outside edge on our towels. We laid there for 10 minutes or so and then each of us was given a marvelous massage/scrubbing by one of the women working at the bath, first with a rough cloth (it was crazy the amount of dead skin and city grime they managed to scrub off of you, and your skin is amazingly soft after it) then with a soft cloth and lots of lemongrass/balsam scented bubbles. You then were rinsed off with buckets of water, guided over to a nearby fountain where you sat and had your hair washed and then (at least the women) were shown to a warm pool to hang out and relax for as long as we wanted (the girls waited here while Erin had her massage). Then we returned to the ante-room of the main bathing area, were given fluffy warm towels to dry off and went upstairs to change back into our street clothes and then reconvened with all the guys.
Elif, Doug and Kay parted ways with us after the baths to go to dinner with Elif’s extended family while the rest of us wandered through the city for a bit back towards the Spice Bazaar where we had dinner at a kebab restaurant recommended to us by our tour guide the day before. We had a similar selection of mezes (only chose 4 this time) then we each had an entree (Jeremy and I split a larger version of the Turkish “pizza” we had the first night and a lamb kebab), wine (note to self, ask how much the wine is before ordering it, 60 TL per bottle was a bit steep), and ended the evening with Turkish tea (or coffee in Mike’s case, which is like other European-style coffees, very strong and served in very tiny cups) and a variety of baklava that was like angel-hair phyllo dough wrapped around honeyed pistachios. One more speedy cab ride (Mike, Erin, Jeremy and I in one cab, Ray, Randy and Oliver in the other…throughout all the cab rides today, 3 in total, ours always arrived at our destination first, we would totally win this leg on Amazing Race) and we were back to the hotel, checking email, and agreed to meet up at 9am for breakfast the next morning and afterwards we would take the ferry to visit the Prince’s Islands off the coast for the day before the wedding festivities in the evening.