Alright. Let’s talk numbers.
1: it is 3tl to take the metro from the airport. The token (yes, little plastic token) dispenser won’t take change greater than 10tl. So, you may find yourself wandering around asking people to change your newly acquired 100tl note.
2: it’s 7tl for a 2 trip ticket on the bus line (which you have to take if you’re staying out in medicekoy like me).
That said, 13tl for round trip airport service ain’t bad.
3: there is a plastic metro card you am purchase, load with cash, and tap for the many entrances and exits you may wind up taking. Good especially if you plan on visiting Istanbul again.
4: 12:00am – that’s when the metro closes. Which is funny, because the bars stay open much later.
5: 10-30tl, a cab ride from most anywhere to most anywhere in Istanbul.
6: 55tl for the most wonderful hammam experience possible. This is the discounted rate if you visit the website and make reservations http://www.cemberlitashamami.com/, otherwise you pay 20% more
7: 8tl how much it costs to buy a delicious kumpir -baked mashed potato – wonder, which can then be brought in to your hookah bar.
8: 30tl for hookah and tea (for 2). Which you should do.
Now lets discuss the experiences.
1: the Istanbul metro is really quite modern, comfy, and lovely. It’s not nearly as ornate as Moscow, or as high tech as some Beijing lines, but all told it was a pleasant experience :) the interchange system is a little elaborate, but what city’s isn’t?
I can also say from past experience – if it’s warm, like 110 in the summer, and you dare to go out in a tanktop and skirt, prepared to be ogled and possibly touched. In fact, that’s just a general rule for dealing with Turkish men (not all turkish men, but you only have to worry about the bad ones). In the winter it’s easy to be dressed “modestly”, but when it’s hot as balls and you just want to wear a summer dress, you are apparently asking for men to moderately harass you.
3: nothing more to say here ;)
4: this is a new change, brought about by the newish govt, and its slowly regressive policy. Apparently the idea is that if they turn metro off at midnight, people won’t stay out drinking. Instead there’s just more drunk driving and cab taking.
5: as a result of #4, by the time my lovely host (Ceren) and I had finished sucking every drop of flavor out of our hookahs, it was about 1, so we two took a cab. It was a decent distance, and for the 2 of us the whole ride was 15tl, so cabs seem to be reasonable.
this is why I came to Istanbul. I’d been to cemberlitas hamam once on my last trip, and had literally been dreaming of it since. We arrive around 6:30pm, and were quickly ushered into the women’s lounge ad changing section – the hamam services men and women in two separate but identical sections.
Once you got everything tucked safely in to your locker, you can slip on the complimentary panties they provide, wear your own bathing suit, or just go in the nude. Then wrap in your signature red gingham towel, and make your way to the baths.
Inside you’ll find the most lovely emporium of bathing decadence. A colossal room, with some 6 or more semi-private bathing chambers that encircle a massive marble decagon (maybe an octagon, but the attendants go up to 10). The 3 story domed ceiling is speckled with circle and star shaped skylights, and the entire room maintains a heat and steam level absolutely perfect for relaxing.
You’re encouraged to start by simply relaxing, either in a chamber or on the sweat stone. It’s up to you, depending on preference. In the chambers cisterns pour water out into marble sinks, you sit down on the marble “seats” (the floor) and proceed to ladle water on to yourself one panful at a time. Shaving, foot scrubbing, and any number of bathroom activities can take place in these chambers that could fit up to 8 women. Alternately you can lounge on the warm center stone and work up a relaxing sweat as the heat and steam of the room help you work your toxins out.
After 15-30min, one of the attendants will check in to see if your ready for your treatment (buy the treatment. Just do it. I know self service is cheaper, but the scrub is so amazing). She’ll then take you to the center stone and lay you out on your red towel along the outside. Then begins an amazing head to toe exploitation process with a rough hewn wash cloth that leaves you pink and tingling. If you’re super sensitive this may be too much, but I absolutely Love it.
Even if you’re not as enthralled watching literal rolls of dead skin fall from your refreshed body as I am, there’s no way you won’t enjoy the next part – the soaping.
Laying on your belly, your attendant will magically turn water, a hand towel, and some pert plus in to the most glorious cascade of bubbles. This envelope of bubbles will then clean you in what can only be described as the silkiest smooth massage you’ve ever had. Some combination of her spending all day washing people and the impenetrable fortress that is your cocoon of bubbles leads to 15 minutes of full body massage if your body was made of silk, and you came out fresh and clean in the end.
Afterwards you can also request (or sometimes they just will) that they shampoo your hair. Once done, they trot you back to a sink to rinse off, and then give you free rein to soak in the pool or hot tub, the hot room, the locker room lounges, on the bathstone, or purchase a medley of manicures/pedicures/massages/any number of other beauty treatments. There are also snacks and drinks available on the main floor of the locker room, incase all your relaxing builds up a thirst :)
Again, I can not recommend this enough. Do it. Do it now.
7: kumpir is a lesser known but wonderfully delicious street snack offered thru out Istanbul. It’s a baked potato, yes, but a delicious one. When you’re done with doner and kebab, find yourself a kumpir stand. There is a panoply of toppings – everything from diced hot dog style meat to pickled beets. Lots of mayo and mayo based spreads are available, along with a number of delicious veggies and spicy sauces.
You walk up to the stand and they grab an already roasting Giant baked potato. Starting with some cheese and butter, they deftly mash the potato-dairy mix into a soft, fluffy mixture in the potato skin. After that you just pile on toppings
I went with meat and corn along with the butter and cheese, and I was Not let down :) great meal for 8tl!
8: and the best part about the kumpir is that you can take it in to the hookah place you were planning on hitting. We went to this, uh, lovely looking collection of places, which can be found at the bottom of the taksim hill.
Once you’re settled in at a bar of your choice (we went lower key for lower prices and less crowding), order a hookah of your choosing. We chose apple-melon, and the two flavors were supplied at no extra fee. We also powered through about 3-5 glasses of çay (Turkish tea) each as well, which I also highly recommend.
Choosing to hookah is a challenge for some westerners. You can either choose to drink, or choose to hookah, and many would rather spend the night throwing back the Turkish answer to ouzo. But for my time and money, I’ll take a good conversationalist and a sweet tobacco most days.