Earlier this year, during the Covid-19 lockdown, I considered a question: “When the pandemic is done and I am able to travel again, where do I want to go and what do I want do?” I came up with a trip around the Mediterranean: Marrakech for olives and dried figs, Rome for spaghetti alle vongole, Bologna for tortellini, over to Genoa for focaccia, down to Puglia for a massive dinner of appetizers, and to Crete for a dinner in Frosini’s Garden. Somewhere in there was also a trip to a hammam, or Turkish bath, in Istanbul.
OK – to be entirely honest, it wasn’t just “in there” somewhere – it was the first thing on the list.
The pandemic isn’t nearly over, but I’m traveling again, so I considered closely whether to go to the bath. When this trip was first planned, the hammams were closed, so the answer was easy, but now they have long been open. Still I debated the decision, but after the hike I was sore, tired, and grungy – and it was on my wish list – so the decision was made.
Although there are numerous hammams in town, I decided to return to the hammam I visited last time I was here. It is probably the most expensive, and it likely primarily serves tourists. But those were factors that I though might make it more socially isolated. It was absolutely empty during my last visit, and I was hoping for the same. And I was right.
It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon. The drenching with hot water, the scrub down, the mud mask, and the massage, all in an opulent setting on sweltering marble under a domed ceiling with heat that penetrated well into my aching muscles: it couldn’t have possibly been more relaxing.
Although this broke up my day and put a damper on sightseeing, self-care matters. Besides, the morning kept threatening rain, so I wasn’t motivated to explore much. I had tried to do some shopping down İstiklal Avenue, and took the tram and funicular up to Taksim Square, from which the famous pedestrian street leads downward.
About halfway down the mist turned to rain and became heavier so I took shelter under an awning at a restaurant for a delicious meal of Turkish dumplings.
This left me enough time to deposit some things at the hotel before heading to Sultanahmet Square where the hammam, which once served the sultan’s wives, stands between the Ayasofia and the Blue Mosque.
Afterwards, I stepped out of the hammam into the cool late afternoon laze, the rain having long-since abated. I had little left to do but find dinner and finalize my packing. So I wandered back across the Galata Bridge, lined with fishermen, and meandered to my hotel in Karakoy absorbing the sights, sounds, and smells of the city around me.
I made sure my bags were in order before heading downstairs to seek out one last dinner, eaten outside as so many of my meals this trip have been. Seated there, next to a vibrant street, I pulled out my phone to read the news from home. There has been an election this week, and I have been happy to spend my days away from it. But still, I’ve been checking in, and it was at dinnertime in Karakoy, having just taken my seat, that the networks felt enough comfort with the data to make a call.
And as I ate my dinner of lamb, chicken, yogurt, and bread, I continued to read the news. And then, for the last time, I returned to my hotel to rest before tomorrow’s early morning trip to the airport.
I didn’t really do much today, but I completed a mission, and that feels satisfying.