Visiting Turkey was kind of like being drafted as the Doctor’s companion.

2 Jun
Homes along the Bosphorus.

Homes along the Bosphorus.

The thing that makes stories like Doctor Who, Alice in Wonderland, Stargate, and all that vampire crap so wonderful to the viewers is that they offer you the idea that there is something more to this world, something magical, beyond your office, beyond your daily commute, beyond life as we know it. They offer the viewer the possibility that maybe someday The Doctor, Lieutenant General George Hammond, or Dr. Allison Blake will come knocking on their door. My first trip to Istanbul was that magical. 

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Our bedroom window faced the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the oldest remaining column of the Hippodrome, and the Obelisk of Theodosius. When the sun was in the sky we explored the Egyptian Spice Market, relaxed on the Topkapı Palace grounds, and sped down the Bosphorus strait drinking as Turkish pop music played. At night we dined on what was the greatest seafood I’ve ever put in my mouth and drank skillfully brewed Turkish coffee on softly lit patios.

The entrance to the Egyptian Spice Market

The entrance to the Egyptian Spice Market

One afternoon we asked the man at the front desk what he recommended. He wore modern glasses and his arms were covered in trendy tattoos. Without hesitation he suggested a Turkish bath. We asked if he had any suggestions as to where we should go, he looked at us for a moment and asked, “Do you want a tourist Turkish bath, or a real Turkish bath?” When we said we wanted a real Turkish bath he looked us up and down with a severe expression on his face. My aunt and I both have fitness routines that would rival some professional athletes, and it shows—and not in a petit swimsuit model kind of way. He nodded and gave up his favorite spot, he warned us that we’d want to take it easy the rest of the day. My aunt asked if it was really all that intense, he laughed a little and said, “I wouldn’t go without clearing my schedule.”

A vendor selling teas at market.

A vendor selling teas at market.

At the end of an ally, carved into a stone cliff was what we were told was the best Turkish bath in town. Inside a short, burley woman handed me a burlap sack the size of a pillow case, I looked at her puzzled, she replied curtly, “You, undress, now!” Terrified of insulting the local since of modesty I kept my underwear on, but the powerfully thick woman hit my thigh and started pulling my underwear off, then she opened a door and pushed me through. The corridors were carved directly into the stone and hung so low you had to crouch to walk through. As we descended further into the cliff I saw that everyone was fully nude—oh cool, I was grasping at my modesty for nothing. I looked like an overly shy American with a laughably rigid Christian sense of shame.

It was delicious.

It was delicious.

They took us into a room with spouts protruding from the walls. The large woman snatched my burlap sack away, threw it to the ground, and walked away. Painfully hot water started pouring out of the ancient plumbing and the room filled with steam. We sat there, stewing for an hour. My skin started falling off in chunks. A French woman walked in, looked at me, yelped and ran out, so obviously things were going well.

"The wind in my hair" is only really attractive in poetry and songs. Felt nice. Didn't look so nice though.

“The wind in my hair” is only really attractive in poetry and songs. Felt nice. Didn’t look so nice though.

After the sauna we were taken to a room with other women and hosed off with cold water, then pushed into rooms with stone slabs. A petit woman missing a number of her teeth threw me onto the slab, covered me in foam, then violently scrubbed me down with something that felt like the forgotten, bastard child of Christian Bale’s Batman voice and tree bark.

Inside the Blue Mosque.

Inside the Blue Mosque.

When it was all over they gave us scorching hot apple tea and yelled at us to drink it faster. It hurt. We exited from our cave Into the late afternoon sun and blindly stumbled down the cobblestone with floppy appendages. We struggled to navigate our relaxed bodies to a nearby cafe where we would relaxingly sip Turkish coffee and eat chocolate ice cream for the rest of the day. Sitting on that patio as the sun set and the shadows of ancient buildings around me grew longer, it was ecstasy.

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