Friday, August 10, 2012

This is my submission for the '3 Things in the City' I Love contest by Velvet Escape, Traveldudes and

3 Things In The City I Love

I love how different and unique Istanbul is than anything else I have ever experienced.  Lots of cities have beautiful rivers, great vibes, and plenty of sights, but Istanbul stands ahead of the crowd for me.  The city itself has a mystical presence in my imagination with its dominating minarets, phenomenal history oozing from its every pore, and east meets west ambiance.  It is also surprisingly young and vibrant and alive.  Nowhere else that I have been can you view two continents in one line of sight over an Efes beer and let your imagination run wild at the sight of the mosques and towers, the aromas of the street vendors’ seafood and kabobs, the hustle and bustle of the Grand Bazaar, and the utter relaxation following an afternoon at the Hammam.  I love how Istanbul takes me out of my comfort zone, out of my hemisphere, and away from my worries.  Aside from the fascinating list of sights and attractions, here are my 3 things that I would recommend to anyone visiting Istanbul:

When in Istanbul, you must…Go have lunch in Asia.  For 2 TL (less than $1), you can hop on a ferry at one of several points in European Istanbul and take the short ride over to Kadikoy where you can set foot in Asia and stroll the hilly streets of the neighborhood and take in the market atmosphere of everything from electronics to fresh seafood stalls lining the streets.  There are numerous street food vendors serving up many different options, but you will want to choose one of the fresh fish filets cooked up to order on the grill and placed on an open faced bun with seasoning, sauce, lettuce, and tomato.
Fresh seafood stall in Asian Istanbul
When in Istanbul, you must…Visit a hamam.  Do not even consider leaving town without experiencing the penultimate ages old Turkish tradition.  Set a couple of hours aside (maybe after lunch in Asia), and head back to Sultanahmet,  where there are several options, the most popular for tourists being Cemberlitas Hamami, which is an excellent choice.  Be careful asking locals for recommendations because they will take you to lesser quality places for about the same price or more while telling you what a deal they are getting for you.  If you want to take their advice, just don’t take it from anyone that insists on walking you there personally.  In fact, they are the ones getting the kickback for bringing in overpaying customers.  Even if you are the most frugal of budget travelers, do yourself a favor and splurge at Cemberlitas or one of the several other reputable places and go for the full experience.  Start out by changing into the pestamal, a cotton wrap-around piece of fabric similar to a thin towel.  Head on in to the magnificent and elaborate steam room area where you will find a large warm slab of marble where you can lay around to get a sweat going.  You can then go over to the water basins along the walls and dump perfect temperature water on yourself.  When it is your turn, one of the attendants will come get you and take you over to the basin where they will wet you down and soap you up and then exfoliate you before taking you back to the marble and soaping you up some more and then rinsing you off.  You will be shocked at the amount of dead skin and filth that comes off of you after any amount of serious travel.  The attendant will spend about 15-20 minutes with you and then you are free to hang around and relax as long as you like, and trust that you will be relaxed.  Afterwards, you can have a cup of Turkish tea before completing your experience with an oil massage to get out all the muscle kinks caused by long nights cramped up on the bus or train.  Once you leave the hamam, walk back onto the street and have a freshly squeezed  pure fruit drink of your choice from one of the vendors and you will feel about as relaxed and refreshed in your new skin as you ever have in your life.
Entrance to Cemberlitas
When in Istanbul, you must…get yourself over to the park between the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque late at night as the last thing you do before going to bed.  It is especially a good nightcap after a few drinks and perhaps a few puffs of hookah.  I am not sure that I can put into words how beautiful, magical, awe inspiring, atmospheric, and memorable this moment is to me.  After doing this the first night, we made it a point to do the same each and every night of our visit.  If you are staying in Sultanahmet, this will be a very easy thing to do, but if you are staying further away, it is still worth the effort.  Whether you are standing facing the Aya Sofia with the Blue Mosque behind you or vice versa, you can just feel and imagine the history that has occurred where you stand while you have it all to yourself.  This will be a moment that you will want to take a mental snapshot of and return your mind there in a daydream when you are back home at the office or sitting in traffic.
The Iconic Aya Sofia late at night
I think most anyone would have a fulfilling and highly memorable visit to this wonderful city if they made sure to include these 3 experiences in their itinerary.  I know I can’t get myself back to Istanbul soon enough!  Let me know what you think if you try them out.

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