What better place to have a birthday than Istanbul! Don’t you dare begin guessing while reading this how old I am – that would be rude! :) Leslie and Kathy decided to do a Bosporus cruise with an early departure while Cliff and I decided on a visit to the Topkapi Palace. The palace was home to the Ottoman sultans for many centuries and is full of the treasures from the Empire. The palace is composed of many buildings in a compound rather than one large mansion. The buildings have different purposes from living, armour storage to the reception of dignitaries.
The living quarters for the Sultan is the Haram which was a surprise to me. Haram means “forbidden” in Arabic; in Turkish it refers to the private residence of the head of the house hold , his wives, odalisques (concubines) and children. The Sultan would generally have more than one wife and keep a number (maybe hundreds) of concubines. A concubine could rise up in status to favourite or even wife if she produced an heir, particularly a male, of the Sultan.
The palace also was home to many relics of the Muslim and Christian religions as well of the treasury of the Sultan. The crowds were overwhelming as they swarmed the jewels ogling the diamonds, gems and gold. They were stunning but I still prefer the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. Very tasteful! We also visited a building where vintage Sultan clothing was on display which was very interesting and somewhat reminiscent of kimonos.
After the palace we toured the Archaeology Museum and the Spice Bazaar which we visited quite quickly as the day slipping away. The Spice Bazaar was a bit disappointing as I was expecting to see mountains of fresh spices but there were only a few hills and many of the spices were packaged.
We then indulged in a bathing experience at a Hamam. Woman and men go to separate rooms of the Hamam. You strip down, deposit your clothes and valuables in a locker then enter the hamam wrapped in a cotton towel and the cheapest black underwear you can imagine. It is a very large room with a dome ceiling and in the center is a warm stone platform that you place your towel on and lie to wait for your scrubbing. The room is very steamy and humid and the hum of woman chatting is low but audible.
Once your turn arrives, you move from the interior of the platform to the edge and a “lovely” buxom woman in a bikini begins your treatment. First they throw a bucket of water on you to wet you down, then they soap you up, throw another bucket of water on you, scrub you raw with a loofah and finally throw another bucket of water on you. Then you are escorted to a side room where your hair is washed and again a bucket of water is dumped on you. Amazingly it is quite a nice experience!
All squeaky clean, we went out for dinner to my choice of restaurants for my birthday. It was a lovely rooftop restaurant which was quite modern. We all had a very enjoyable meal and some lovely wine then retreated to the hotel. My lovely husband and girlfriends had organized a birthday cake in secret and surprised me on the rooftop of the hotel. Luckily it was a beautiful evening and there were other guests enjoying the terrace so we were able to share the cake, which looked delicious! More wine and a final good night to Istanbul….