A Throwback to Turkish Hospitality

I recently submitted a post for Worldnomads.com in hopes of being mentored by one of the best travel writers, John Vlahides.  I obviously did not win the contest, which is why I am going to share the post with you now. Perhaps part of the reason why is due to the fact I didn’t follow the “rules” (not surprised!). Somehow, I misunderstood 2500 characters as 2500 words! Oh well, at least I get to share this with you guys now!

“I’ve always heard how amazingly hospitable the Turkish are. Never once did I ever imagine falling so deeply in love with a country based off of their pure kindhearted souls.

My story starts in the heat of the summer and in the middle of the ISIS crisis. Some may be frightened to travel during so-called rough times, which I understand.  However, me on the other hand, I see it as an opportunity to learn and hey let’s be honest, more than likely cheaper airfare!

I’m soon whisked away Istanbul bound and my flight crew outshines any other airline I’ve ever flown on. From treating all passengers like the so-called first class, to their keen eye for making sure you have everything you need during and after your flight. I find myself chatting with one of the flight attendants while snacking on some extremely gourmet desserts that clearly were not meant for me, but he obliged.  So I mustn’t be rude! Within minutes I already have my first day in Istanbul planned courtesy of my new friend.

I land in Istanbul’s early morning days already feeling the sweltering hot seep through my clothes. The only obvious thing to do is relax in Cemberlitas, one of Istabul’s oldest hamams. Now I’ve been to the spa before, but I knew this would be a new experience. I throw down 90 liras and that gets me some time in the steam room and a good scrub down.

I throw my naked body in a very small loincloth they so kindly provide onto a slab of marble where I try to relax and drift off in the clouds of steam that fill the room. One by one the half-naked bodies enter the room and do the same. I’m then called for my scrub down by an older, very voluptuous woman who instructs me to lay down as if I’m a feast at the dinner table in front of all other women steaming away their worries. I’m soon splashed with warm water and suds of soap, this is where the intense scrubbing begins. My scrubber lady friend scrubs away all the dead rough skin that I didn’t even know existed and off goes whatever I had left of my self-tanner. I exit Cemberlitas with several layers of skin gone, feeling baby smooth and knowing my scrubber got to second base with me pretty much. Now I admit hamams aren’t for the modest shy self-conscious kind, but if you can get past the nudity and be womanhandled in ways not even your gyn can then you’ll be fine. Exiting with a tranquil mind and new skin is well worth it to me.

After a long day of being scrubbed and rubbed what else could a girl need? Being awake for 24 hours I vote for food over rest. I start to walk my hungry self towards the The Mamara Sea. Where there is sea there is food! I’m bombarded by countless vendors selling kabobs, freshly squeezed orange juice, music, children selling toys whatever you name Galata Square has got it. I find myself in the Galata Bridge underpass where restaurants are tightly located and fisherman catch your meal above you. Hosts are on deck ready to lure you into their establishments almost as a contest on who can get the most patrons. I’m soon convinced by a cute little old man after I tell him I’m a vegetarian.  Assuming most old folks will think I’m crazy for not eating meat or fish he soon tells me not to worry and takes me in as if it is his own home. Minutes pass and platters of all vegetarian foods are displayed before my eyes. My senses are in for a new ride by the aromas of real spices, freshly cooked foods and good company. Not the processed crap we’re use to in the states and being rushed off before we can digest our meal.

Before I get the chance to indulge in the feast I’ve been given, the melodic call to prayer is announced by the Muezzin from the \nearby Sultanahmet Mosque. I soon become profoundly overwhelmed with how thankful I am to experience a moment of prayer during one of the holiest holidays, Ramadan.

As the locals begin to break their fast, the owner makes his way to make sure I’m enjoying their food and service, and I express my gratitude instantly. We begin to engage in off topic conversations and  I soon realize I’m being swooned with something more than just hospitable service but randomly given roses and serenaded.  Now this can’t be typical Turkish hospitality to all visitors I think to myself, but I’m not complaining! In a trance by my new Turkish friend/restauraneur’s deep brown eyes, we exchange shy flirtatious glances and make plans to see the rest of Istanbul by night. The rest is left to be untold…I can’t give you all the juicy details! A part of me remains in Istanbul forever, in fact, several other cities in Turkey as well. I’ve made lifelong friends during my time in Turkey and that has happened solely due to their open hearts and acceptance in meeting total strangers turned friends.”

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