We found friendly felines throughout Istanbul - posing for pictures inside Hagia Sophia and Chora Church; waiting for scraps from the fishermen on Galata bridge; and looking for a scratch just outside our hotel.
Unlike homeless feral cats in the US, these cats were all incredibly friendly and eager for attention. Locals set out food throughout the city, and it was not unusual to see military guards playing with kittens at various sights. Here’s some more info on the cats of Istanbul for those who are interested (forgive the source).
Istanbul’s Galata Bridge lined with men fishing in the Golden Horn.
Ferry dock for Haydarpasha Rail Station in Istanbul.
Michele and I had an incredible week in Istanbul. Unfortunately she had to head back to San Francisco for work, whereas I had a backlog of vacation time to use up. I spent one final day in Istanbul and then flew to Florence to enjoy a week in northern Italy (I’ll be posting about that trip soon!).
After Michele left, I spent my last day in Turkey exploring the streets around the Spice Bazaar and ended the day at Cağaloğlu Hamam, built in 1741. The hamam has played an important social and cultural role in the region, and I was eager to experience it. Michele had no interest whatsoever - she’d rather sit in a vat of scorpions than bathe in public. I was determined to check it out, but nervous about the rituals and the lack of privacy. As a transgender man, sex-segregated facilities can be difficult to negotiate - and navigating the unknown in a different language and culture presents additional challenges.I read as much as I could about the hamam, and interrogated friends who frequented them. Yet there’s nothing like first-hand experience, and most folk can’t quite appreciate what it’s like for someone with a non-traditional background to enter such a gendered space.
I opted for the basic package - no scrub or massage - so that I could observe how things worked. While I would have loved to get a good scrub, I’m glad I took a more conservative approach for my first visit. I brought my own kese (a hand mitt used to exfoliate the skin in the hamam) and spent a couple of hours soaking in the experience. Marble wash basins surround the outer wall, with spigots to run hot and/or cold water into the basin. Each basin has a metal bowl next to it, used to pour water onto the bather. At the center of the room is a heated marble slap where folks get massages or recline to relax their muscles. Then there’s a hot room (much like a dry sauna) to heat up even more. Afterwards, people go to a cooling room to chill out (literally) and have a cup of tea. At this point (at least for the men at Cağaloğlu Hamam), an attendant exchanges the bather’s wet pestamel (a thin cotton towel worn in the hamam) for a dry one, wraps a towel around the shoulders and head, and sends folks off to the cool-down area and/or the changing room.
It was pretty spectacular to watch the ritual of hamam in action. The sounds of vigorous massages, conversation and chants echoed off the marble walls and vaulted ceiling. I would definitely go to hamam again; however, for people who are body shy, I would recommend a co-ed hamam where swimsuits are common (there is one by Taksim Square).
I’m glad I experienced the hamam, and encourage folks to try it out. Make sure you hydrate, though. As you can see, I was beet red from the heat afterwards.
Michele exploring Istanbul - birthday dinner at Akdeniz Hatay Sofrasi; pondering the Harem at Topkapi Palace; contemplating the downfall of Constantinople at Rumeli Castle; relaxing at her favorite spot for çai; taking pictures and wandering through Hagia Sophia; and making a wish at the Basilica Cistern.
Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.
After walking through the many mosques, museums and markets in Istanbul, we found a welcome respite in a ferry trip to the historic Haydarpaşa train station. Haydarpaşa, on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus, is the western terminus for trains coming from Anatolia and other parts of Turkey. It suffered a bad fire a year ago, and its roof is still under repair. In the meantime, though, you can still get a solid and inexpensive lunch and haircut among the locals at the station.
Iznik tile work from Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey.