Month: June 2009

Ejo #8 (Part II) – Our Trip To Turkey (And Being Interviewed On Turkish Television After Having A Hot Hamam)

We flew Turkish Airlines from Antalya to Istanbul which in itself was a bit of a drama.  The landing was the absolute WORST I’ve ever experienced and I swear I thought we were going to go spinning off the end of the runway and explode into a ball of flames.  It was HORRIFIC.  Naturally, David and I have just signed up for the Turkish Airlines frequent flyer programme.  They have super cheap deals from Dubai and you just can’t argue with the price!!  Of course being dead probably overrides that but we survived this time so fingers crossed for next time.

 

Anyway, the next three days were spent in the northern part of Istanbul which was just teeming with young, funky university age people.  There’s a major pedestrian-only street called Istiklal St. which is jam packed with tourists and locals at all hours of the day and night.  It’s full of little side streets with restaurants, markets, cafes, bars, fish and vegetable vendors and street food.  It’s a vibrant, young, cultural part of town.  We spent the whole of one afternoon drinking local beer (Efes) and playing backgammon on a little table out on the sidewalk.  From time to time, waiters carrying trays of Turkish tea would swish past.  It was idyllic.

 

The next day we decided to try out a Turkish Hamam (bath).  We were given a little cubicle each to get changed out of our clothes and into a miniscule little dish towel that, personally, did very little to cover my modesty.  But I was in a hamam, and you get naked in a hamam.  I was mentally prepared for nudity.  Both David and I were really surprised that we were going to be able to do the hamam together as they normally separate the men and the women.  But the only other people there were three Spanish ladies and they had said that they didn’t mind seeing David naked (I bet they didn’t)!!  Or him seeing them naked.  Gotta love the Europeans, eh??

 

So a hamam is hot.  Very friggin’ hot.  You enter a warm room initially to get used to it and then you enter an extremely HOT area in which you immediately start to sweat profusely.  We were lead to one of the many marble basins around the room in which hot water was trickling from a tap and shown how to fill a small bowl with water and just pour it over yourself.  It actually hurt.  So you keep doing this for a little while until you think you’re going to melt and then, when you think you can’t stand it anymore, you go and lie down on a massive marble slab in the middle of the room which is so hot it is actually painful to touch.  And you try to relax.  Eventually, if you don’t pass out, you kind of get used to it and your muscles start to relax.  That’s the point I started having mild hallucinations.  Fun!!!!

 

We lay there a while, until a dude wearing a towel came in and motioned to David to come and sit on a small marble stool where he proceeded to loofah David all over.  We both laughed (rather hysterically) at how much dirt comes off the skin.  It was a bit gross.  Rubbed red raw David lay down on the slab again and it was my turn.  I looked around for the lady that was going to rub me down when it dawned on me that there was no lady.  Just Dude In The Towel.  Hmmmmm.  I looked at David.  David looked at me and shrugged.  I shrugged back, dropped my towel and got loofahed.  I figured if the Spanish ladies were OK with getting rubbed by a guy whilst naked, far be it for me to be any less Europeanly sophisticated and cosmopolitan.  I have to admit, if I’d been in my twenties, I’d have run a mile.  Approaching 40, I’m no longer as precious about exposing myself to strangers.

 

After the rubdown, it was time for the full body massage.  David got soaped up and absolutely pummelled over the next 15 minutes.  I was lying on the marble slab trying to relax but all the yelps, screeches, gasps and moans had me in stitches (and a bit nervous because I was up next).  Dude In a Towel delved so deep into David’s muscles that two weeks later he was still sporting bruises up and down his arms, legs and back.  When it was my turn, I got lathered up, back and (ahem) front, and enjoyed a relaxing, slightly gentler, massage.  When it was over we lay out some more and then got up to rinse off with slightly cooler water which was really refreshing.  All done we went back to our cubicles to lay down, cool off and then get changed back into some clothes. 

 

But behold dear readers, that was not the end of our hamam experience.  Oh no, it wouldn’t be enough to be slightly controversial.  It always has to go just that little bit further on the scandal scale.  Check it out:

 

Before entering our cubicles we saw the owner of the hamam being interviewed by a film crew.  It was in Turkish so we had no idea what it was about.  No big deal.  Whilst in the cubicle, I could still hear them and it started getting a bit heated (pardon the pun).  I was dressed by now but didn’t really want to go outside so stayed in the cubicle for a bit until the interview sounded like it was over.  So, I exited the cubicle, still very uncomfortably hot, a bit lightheaded and sweating like crazy.  I sat down to wait for David and suddenly the cameraman started pointing his camera in my face.  I tried to ignore it but after a minute I started getting a bit anxious and called out, “David?”.  When he answered, I said, “They’re filming me, can you come out please?” which didn’t get much of a response.  So I was left with some guy filming me for god knows what purpose, and I was SWEATING!!!!  Eventually, the reporter came over and asked me in halting English if I wouldn’t mind being interviewed.  In my lightheaded state, I agreed and she began by asking me if I’d felt uncomfortable at all during the hamam.  I wanted to say that her crazy cameraman had made me more uncomfortable in 2 minutes whilst fully clothed than Dude In A Towel had done in the hour we’d been practically naked together, but I didn’t.  I just told her that at no time had I felt uncomfortable and that everything that occurred in the hamam had seemed appropriate and professionally handled.  She seemed so disappointed by this response that she asked, “Are you SURE you didn’t feel uncomfortable at all?”, and I reiterated that I didn’t.

 

Interview over.  I then asked what the interview was for and she said it would be on national television that evening.  Then she looked at me funny and asked if I’d heard of Molly.  I said no, and this is what she told me.  Molly was an American tourist who had come to the hamam and whilst being scrubbed had felt that a towelboy on the other side of the room had looked at her in an inappopriate, sexual way.  She hadn’t said anything or made any complaints at the time, but after returning home to the States, had a think about it, decided that she’d been violated, and filed sexual harrassment claims against the hamam.  The film crew had come to interview the owner, the workers and now it appeared, the clientele.  Not getting what she had hoped for from me, she then moved on to the three Spanish women who had just come in wearing their towels, still dripping wet and red faced.  I don’t think she got what she was looking for from them either.

 

The whole incident was a bit of a shame actually because I had really enjoyed the hamam a lot, and then was made to doubt the validity of the experience because of the interview.  But after a bit of thought, I decided that I was not going to let someone else’s experience taint my own.  I had felt fine during the entire experience, and I was going to continue to feel fine about it.  In fact, if we’d had more time, David and I would probably have gone back for another hamam.

 

But alas, alack, we had to get back to our life in Dubai, and here we are now, experiencing it, living it, loving it and gathering more stories to tell in future ejo’s.

 

Til then,
Chryss

Ejo #8 (Part I) – Our Trip To Turkey (And Getting Our Car Smashed By A Bus)

There have been no ejo’s for a while because David and I have been travelling a bit.  First a wonderful 2 week holiday in Turkey and just recently a four day break in Thailand – it’s a very tough life!!  Anyway, this ejo is about our vacation in Turkey as it was so full of fun times.  I had never before contemplated Turkey as a holiday destination.  If I think hard about why that is, I would probably decide that it was because the Turks had occupied my parent’s motherland for hundreds of years causing famine, poverty and suffering to my ancestors.  I’m so petty, aren’t I??  But I sat down and decided that the best way to avenge my forefathers (and foremothers, foreaunts, forecousins, etc) would be to go to Turkey and enjoy the hell out of it.  After all, they do say that the best revenge is living well.  So off we went to live well in Turkey for two weeks.

I found it to be a great place to visit, with really nice people and phenomenal food.  My Mum might get mad at me for saying this but we consistently ate the best food I’ve ever eaten and as a result it’s now my favourite cuisine in the world.  Super light pastries filled with an assortment of flavours – cheese, vegetables, mincemeat, cured meats, seafood.  Mmmmmmm.  Really fresh dips and the most incredible, freshly baked flatbreads and pides.  Then, there are the kebabs.  Oh my god, we had kofte kebabs (seasoned mince meat shaped into a sausage and skewered), lamb, chicken, beef.  All tender, juicy pieces of meat chargrilled to a carnivore’s idea of heaven.  And even better than the meat was the amazingly fresh seafood.  Calamari so tender it literally melted away as you ate it – barely any chewing required.  Fresh, salty sardines marinated in a variety of different sauces.  And the most amazing fish I have ever eaten.  No wonder our belts had to be let out a few notches on our return flight home.  And I haven’t even mentioned (yet) the baclava and Turkish Delight.  I’m Greek, so I grew up around baclava.  But I’ve never seen a shop selling thirty different varieties.  I wanted to lock the place up and just roll around in the stuff.  I’m not going to get sucked into comparing Greek baclava with Turkish though – as far as I’m concerned, all baclava is good baclava.  And the Turkish Delight was, wait for it, delightful.  The lightest, gooiest, yummiest, most beautifully flavoured I’ve ever had the pleasure of stuffing into my face.

So, in order to stop myself salivating, I’ll stop with the food and get on with the trip.  We started off with three days in Istanbul.  Now Istanbul (no Constantinople, no Istanbul) is quite a large city with a population of about 18 million.  That’s a bit less than the entire population of Australia jammed into a city the size of Sydney.  So, there are lots of people.  The city is split into two by the Bosphorous Strait, a body of water that connects Europe to Asia, and as a result is very busy.  At any one time there are hundreds of ships and carriers navigating through it – it’s quite a sight.  Another sight is the multitude of people line fishing over the two bridges connecting the north and south sides of the city.  Personally, I wouldn’t like to eat a fish caught in water which is infested with oil tankers and garbage barges, but that’s just me.  Actually, on further contemplation, I probably did eat just such a fish.  And it was delicious!!

We spent those three days in Sultanahmet (southern side), also considered Old Town.  Now coming from Dubai, a city whose “Old Town” is still under construction it was actually a real delight to wander the narrow, cobbled streets that were literally rather old.  Very old.  David and I tend to not do much sightseeing when travelling.  In my opinion, the best way to absorb a city’s culture is to eat and drink it.  But we were staying in a gorgeous little hotel right across the street from the Blue Mosque which is a major Istanbul attraction.  So we did the quick tour, marvelled at the astonishing architecture, marvelled even more at how they’ve ruined it with a zillion steel wires dangling from the gorgeous mosaic ceiling for the lighting system, and then went and had a couple of cold beers to quench the thirst we’d built up from all the marvelling.

Blue Mosque Interior Wires

Soon enought it was time to catch our flight to Antalya, on the Mediterranean Coast, where we were to pick up a rental car and drive the three hours to Kalkan, a quaint little village on what is known as the Turquoise Coast (no points for guessing why).  We picked up the car and soon after we had started driving, we realised that we didn’t have a map.  Or any idea which direction Kalkan was in.  No-one we asked for directions could speak English and we couldn’t buy a map anywhere, so we did the only thing we could do.  We texted my sister in Australia and got her to look on Google Maps (thanks Pieta, you’re a champion!!).  So we eventually made our way towards Kalkan and everything was smooth sailing from there on, right?  Oh, so very wrong!!

I was in desperate need to go to the toilet so we pulled into a busy service station.  David parked the car while I went in search of the amenities.  As I walked into the shop, I heard behind me that familiar, sickening crunch of metal that happens when two vehicles get too close for comfort.  I also heard everyone in the shop gasp with alarm.  Now, before I even turned around to look, I knew, I just KNEW that it was our 1 hour old rental that was involved.  And yes, when I did turn around, there was our little Hyundai Accent’s bonnet rather squashed by a huge tour bus that had backed into it.  Now that’s bad enough.  What elevated the incident to comical (though not at the time) was that the Turkish bus driver spoke not a word of English.  And neither did the busload of Russian tourists.  Nor for that matter did anyone who worked at the service station, or anyone who was a customer there.  No-one.  At all.  Hahaha!!  So we had to fill out the accident report form (which was entirely in Turkish).  Somehow (I have no idea how) we managed to fill in the details, call the rental company who sent someone to tell us there were no more cars left but they were happy for us to continue with the bonnet dented, and eventually (after three hours and one hell of a sunburn from lots of standing around in the sun getting it sorted out) get back on the road.

After our car survived being eaten by a bus, we weren’t going to let anything ruin our holiday, and Kalkan was just the salve we needed.  In fact the week we spent there was so lovely and relaxing, I’m going to skip right over it.  I will put up some photos though, of the view from our villa, the boat we chartered to sail us around the islands one day and the delicious meal they provided for us.

View from our Villa in Kalkan

Crusing The Mediterranean

Yacht Lunch. Mmmmm, delicious.