I was touched by a man today. He touched every part of my body. He scrubbed me, he washed me, he did my hair. When I tried to cover “myself”, he kept assuring me not to worry about it…his will was stronger than mine, and I’ll never know if his intentions were pure. That being said, a Turkish bath, a true Turkish bath, is something extremely unique. They separate the genders completely. The only thing really in the “bath” is a hamam, which as far as I can tell is a very large, hot, marble room where naked dudes get beaten by other naked dudes. It was an experience…which is why I did it. Full naked rubdowns by dudes who are much manlier than you are. I went to the Ayasofya Hamam, which is right next to the Hagia Sophia, and is apparently the oldest hamam in town (500 years) and maybe the world…I’ll have to check that out. But it ain’t no spa. No reason to get here early or stay here late. It’s, change room, then hamam sausage, then maybe a light massage in a weird wooden side room, then change and go. Unique to say the least.

Alternatively, the spa at Les Ottomans…my second “spa” recommendation (by pretty much any list worth mentioning), was much more traditional/American. I got a massage and hung out in their variety of relaxation rooms (cool salt pool area with what are supposed to be hot tubs but are really just tubs, standard sauna, salt steam bath room which was awesome, a standard waiting lounge area, an oxygen room (but the oxygen portion wasn’t working), an ice room (you rub your body with ice…say wha), and a cooling foot tub area). Their hamam, which I thought was included was not. I also thought their dead sea floating pool was included also…but no. A treatment gets you access to everything but, so I added the hamam treatment at the end, and was not disappointed. Completely private, hot girl, lot’s of scrubbing, washing, and awesomeness. The hotel itself seemed cool as shit too. Very very “grand”, but in the grandest way possible. A true find.

Now Istanbul…I have always wanted to go to Istanbul. Don’t go to Istanbul. Just kidding. I guess I just imagined a more romantic city, kind of like in the movies. Instead, everyone wants to get money from you one way or another, and blatant lying is pretty much the norm. I made a joke that I love Istanbul, because everyone is my friend…”hey my fren, where you from my fren, you want beer and lady? you from America, I love America. I am businessman. You would love my stuff, come to bar.” at which point shakedowns ensue. This doesn’t happen once or twice, this happens all day long. If you take a cab, the driver will most certainly palm the fifty you just gave him and show a 5…demanding the rest of his money. Happened to me 3 times…and yes, one time I got “got”. The red light areas, not that I am a giant fan of such things…but I am curious, are really dirty and kind of gross. At least the Kadem street one was.

I walked around a ton. They have a cool river side bar area around the Bosphorous bridge, they have awesome sights like the Grand bazaar (what an amazing temple of capitalism…you have to see it to believe it) and the mosques, and they have one of the coolest pedestrian avenues I’ve ever seen in Taksim square (seemingly never ending and absolutely packed). Starting at the square and walking down, once you hit the steep downhill part, you can fairly safely turn around (there’s not much down there and that hill is steep as shit). Given the success of every pedestrian street I’ve ever seen in my life, I really don’t understand why we don’t see more of them.

Overall, outside of the W and a few other choice locations, I never really felt comfortable. Even when I met a couple of true blood Texans at a bar I felt like there was something fishy (and we had a great conversation!). It’s just that kind of city. Over populated, dirty, poor-ish, and lacking in any measure of moral fiber that I could discern.

They do have some good food. Street food is always kind of fun and sitting at a patio on a packed street eating a sandwich filled with grilled lamb intestine is just cool…though it took the guy a few minutes to realize that is actually what I wanted (everyone else was eating it and it must of been a 1 foot by 1 foot cube of “meat” sitting on the grill right on the street). The turks (and the greeks for that matter) do meat really really well.

As a total sidebar, I’m sitting in the business class lounge at Istanbul main airport right now and I’ve got to say, this is some serious shit that they’ve put together here. It’s giant. You get private access from BEFORE security (your own door). There are tons of food stations and drink stations (all self serve…kind of nice when you have no lira for tipping). Multiple TV’s, though no skins game (but they even have a movie theater…with popcorn!). I mean this is the real deal. Most American lounges (and elsewhere to be fair) are a nice room to lounge in with a little bar and a small buffet area. This shit has made to order food. Anyway, no joke.

Notes to self:

-Though I walked pretty much everywhere, things are much farther than you think. The hills can be killer as well.
-The calls to prayer here were much more prevalent than expected…way more than even Dubai


W Istanbul (Nov. 2013)