Turkey for Thanksgiving: Top 5 Istanbul Experiences

By Perrin


The nightly rush of Istanbul's New City

1. Find a furry fortune-teller

Just when I thought I had my love life figured out, I found myself paying an animal for romantic advice.


If this revelatory, if humbling, experience has eluded you, visit the clairvoyants of Topkapi Palace. A rooster and two rabbits currently practice on the sultans’ old driveway. Pay them a dollar, and they will peck a piece of paper from a box, thereby delivering their prophecy. Fortunes read in Turkish, English and French!


Fortune-tellers and their handy assistant

My fortune:  Don’t mislead yourself unuselessly. You love her/him but you hesitate to admit this even to yourself. Don’t promise anyone today.


Assistant employs a stick to reel in the clairvoyant rooster (upper left)

2. Bubble up in a hamam

Turkey maintains a long-standing macho vibe. Bars and many other social venues were closed to respectable women until the last decade. So women developed a saloon counterpart: the salon.


Women reign over Turkish Baths, or hamams. Traditionally, young girls filled basins from fountains of various water temperatures, and carried them to older family members. Grandmothers bathed granddaughters and mothers—true to form—selected wives for their sons.


As Anne and I suspected, many hamams now cater to spa-goers. Anne and I set out to personally confirm this. We scheduled a foam bath and massage at Cemberlitas, which has been a giant bathtub since 1584.


I'll take a cabana boy with my bubbles, please (no men were allowed in the women's side of the hamam we visited; this photo is courtesy of http://www.istanbultour24.com)

The hamam requires all clients to don checked cover-ups that looked like picnic blankets. We tried these on and practiced shuffling and tripping in the issued sandals, which were clearly made for Amazons if not male basketball players. I felt like a girl who had raided her mom’s shoe closet.


We muddled over what to do next and peeked behind a few doors. Eventually, an old woman shooed us down a passage. We wound up in a room full of topless women. Our next debate concerned whether to enter or exit.


A robust, topless motherly woman decided for us. She strolled up, grabbed my hand, and led me to a marble slab. There, she grabbed my cover-up (which I had thought would remain a cover up!) and motioned for me to lie down.


I wallowed in the sea of nudity until the lady returned to save me again. She wrung a towel over my back, covering me in a mountain of foam. How five liters of foam emerged from a dish towel baffles me still…but who cares, bubbles are fun!


My unofficial grandmother scrubbed me pink and led me to a fountain for the rinse cycle. I sat in a puddle while she ladled water over my head. I suddenly identified with the tot in the Johnson’s Baby Shampoo commercial. (Look, no tears!)


I had not envisioned myself splashing in a fountain with naked strangers, but after five months of braving questionably hygienic hostel shower stalls, it was good to be a pure, clean kid again.


When Anne and I left, we scooted past a pack of four other English-speaking twenty-somethings. They were gaping in the doorway.


3. Discover mood lighting in a non-Marvin-Gay way

View of New Mosque from the Galata bridge

For those more interested in architecture and ambiance than religion, the best time to check out Istanbul’s famed sites may be after sunset. Buildings close at 5pm, but genius ambient lighting gives the exterior a romantic glow.


Dusk also conceals grime and tourists.


4. Follow your ears in New City 

The violin and guitar duo that rocked our world

The most creative musical rendering we heard in Constantinople? A Turkish translation of “I Will Survive.” A male group bellowed the song to a bewildered local audience. We deduced that Aretha Franklin had eluded their culture until now.


The best acts escape the directory. In the flood of New City music, a violin-guitarist street act slaughtered the competition. Not bad for an alleyway dive-bar duo.

5. Step on a cat

They can try to hide, but we can still hear them

This is unavoidable, even if you like cats.


The number of felines in Istanbul triggers memories of the Pied Piper. When the Piper triumphantly led a heard of mice into the distance, did anyone consider the cat following? Istanbul demonstrates how it would look.


Every shopkeeper resignedly hosts two or three kitties in delivery crates, on refrigerators, and under product displays. Shrieks of wrestling cats provide the soundtrack at outdoor cafes. I didn’t check, but there is probably a Feline Union enforcing squatters’ rights and nightly milk offerings.


What does not belong??

One evening, while strolling about the city’s meandering cobblestone passages, I halted and grabbed Anne’s arm. A hoard of about fifteen cats flanked the street, morbidly staring and walking towards us. I anticipated a Jets-Sharks-type showdown. We ran away. I’m considering therapy.


Item 5 aside, Istanbul is a lovely city. I’ll just ask the fortune-tellers when the cats are leaving before I plan my next visit.


About sistersbailey

We are Perrin and Sarah Bailey, collectively known as “The Sisters Bailey”. The moniker was born out of a crazy weekend at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz Fest and it was the first time we had ever been referred to as one unit. We grew up in Alexandria, VA together and then separated for college - Perrin to The University of Pennsylvania and Sarah to Northwestern University – and somehow landed together in New York after graduation. It was in the midst of the hustle of Manhattan that we became friends for the first time in years. Somehow we landed jobs in the same industry - Sarah worked in marketing at HBO and Perrin managed creative digital promotions for her media agency’s main client, Disney - just three blocks from one another. One day we decided to leave our jobs, sell our belongings and travel abroad with a backpack and a collective savings of $10K. The stories of our continuing adventures and those of other fearless travelers are here to inspire you.
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