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My Favorite Place in Istanbul - Cagaloglu Hammam

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My Favorite Place in Istanbul - Cagaloglu Hammam

Hi Everyone: Summer travel season is fast approaching and to celebrate my newly minted "local expertness" I thought it would be fun to write about a favorite place in Istanbul. Now choosing just one place wasn't easy but since I start off every visit to Istanbul at the Cagaloglu Hamman (great for jet lag I find), I thought I'd write about it. You guys can make this a sensational thread by telling about your favorite place in Istanbul. To begin with Hammams have been around for ages. They served as both a spiritual and physical cleansing place. Many people in the west say why go to a Hammam we have bathrooms, swimming pools and spas but the Hammam does provide you with that "something extra" which makes a visit there memorable. There are several good Hammams in the city. My favorite Hammam in Istanbul is the Cagaloglu Hammam, located at

Kazim Ismail Gurkan Caddesi number 34 (local telephone number in Turkey is 212-522-2424, New Yorkers don't get confused, this number is in Istanbul). It's across the street from the Grand Bazaar. The Hammam is 300 years old and the architecture is wonderful, men and women have seperate bathing facilities, hours for men are daily 7am to 10pm, for women 8am to 8pm. Prices vary because there are various packages available. What to expect when you visit. Firstly when you enter you are greeted (always very warmly) and then you choose the services you want. Then you are shown a cubicle where you disrobe and leave your clothing, (it locks and you keep the key) the telek or bath attendant will give you a sarong like garment to wear and towel and traditional clogs called malma. I know, I can hear the people out there who don't want to disrobe fully, I understand, you can wear a bathing suit to the Hammam, I usually opt for underwear and a towel. Then you make your way into the harara or steam room, it is a beautiful room with arched windows (high up) and fabulous marble platforms and nooks where sinks are availble. It's hot and steamy. So you sit on a platform for a while and think lovely thoughts (perhaps about lunch or shopping) and then pour water over yourself a lot. Your stress begins to diminish, and your body relaxes, I feel like singing "pack up all your cares and woes". Any way you chill out. Then the bath attendant comes in and begins massaging you all over, she pours generous amounts of water over you, you are scrubbed, I particulary like the way they scrub my hair, after the soap scrub you are CLEAN, at the Hammam you can also do hair removal in private if you wish before the soap scrub, after all this you go back to your cubicle and rest for awhile, I usually take a 15 minute nap, drink some water and then I am ready for all of the delights of Istanbul. If you want a special shampoo or soap it's ok to bring them along with you, hair dryers are available too. Please tip the bath attendant, they work hard and the tip is really appreciated. I think a lot of us Americans and Europeans have qualms about the Hammam and how to behave but after your first visit you will see that there is nothing to worry about, modest behavior of course is always appreciated in Turkey. After the visit I usually eat lunch at one of the many restaurants on the streets leading up to the Grand Bazaar and then I am ready to shop until I drop. This has been the pattern of my first day in Istanbul for many years now and I think it is a sure winner. So guys, please post your thoughts, I'd love to hear about your favorite place. LemonLady

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1. Re: My Favorite Place in Istanbul - Cagaloglu Hammam

Hi Lemonlady, what a great post! I'm not sure I'll want to go to a steam bath in August, but who knows? You make it sound so delicious I might try it. What amount is considered a good tip? Sharon

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2. Re: My Favorite Place in Istanbul - Cagaloglu Hammam

Hi: thanks Sharon, glad you liked this post, I really enjoyed writing it. My first visit to Hammam was in August of 1992. It didn't bother me at all, afterward your body is ready for all things even the heat of an Istanbul August. Did you get visa info from Turkish embassy, when you do please post it for benefit of other German visitors. Thanks in advance. Have a great day, LemonLady

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3. Re: My Favorite Place in Istanbul - Cagaloglu Hammam

oops, I usually tip the bath attendant 15 to 20 percent of the package I choose. LL

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4. Re: My Favorite Place in Istanbul - Cagaloglu Hammam

Hi LemonLady!

Great post! As an aside: there is an exhibition currently at the Topkapi Palace of the hamam called: "Turkish Bath: Bathing Traditions of Ottomans and Art of Hairdressing"- link for info follows:

mymerhaba.com/en/main/content.asp_Q_id_E_2947

Other thing is that outside of Istanbul, hamams are not necessarily separated into male and female sections. We (one male, two females) were collectively 'done' in one session- our hardworking hamam-person rotating between us diligently...we were all in our bathing suits. In another instance, I was also asked whether I preferred a male or female hamam-person- so it varies...

If you wish to take pictures inside a working hamam, I suggest you buy/borrow a waterproof case for digital cameras (for divers)- make sure it fits your model. I have a picture taken with my head just about visible under a one metre tall cloud of frothy foam!

Favourite places (mostly food and shopping related!!!) will be forthcoming!

Ciao for now, P.

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5. Re: My Favorite Place in Istanbul - Cagaloglu Hammam

Hi Everyone and PP: thanks for your post, I had no idea that men and women can be hammamed together, this is the first I have heard of it. And thank you for other observations and the link. My personal preference is for a woman telek and an all women bath space. Will look forward to your Turkey impressions. LemonLady

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6. Re: My Favorite Place in Istanbul - Cagaloglu Hammam

Loved your post on the hamman, lemon lady. I went to the Cagalogu on my first (and only) visit in 1976 and it was definitely one of the peak experiences of my life. I wasn't yet a photographer, but have such a clear mental image of the place, all that steam and amazing architecture...and then left feeling cleaner than I ever had in my life! Can't wait to get back there next month and see if it's how I remember. Question for you: since you have lots of experience with kids, do you think this place would be appropriate for my 9 & 11 year olds? Of course they were mortified when I mentioned the part about being naked....but there are ways around that.

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7. Re: My Favorite Place in Istanbul - Cagaloglu Hammam

Hi Ray: thanks for your kind words, I really enjoyed writing this piece and I don't think Cagaloglu has changed since you were last there. They did fix the street outside, a process that took 2 years. As for the children going I think they might not get the same value out of it as adults do, at those ages sitting around naked in steam and having someone scrub you sounds in yourth parlance "gross." By the way I have no inclination to film anything in the Hammam as it may be intrusive or offensive, maybe if I can go when it's empty I'll consider it. When do you go, I am leaving for Istanbul fairly soon. Happy Travel, LemonLady

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8. Re: My Favorite Place in Istanbul - Cagaloglu Hammam

Thanks for your advice, LL. I guess we'll just have to leave them outside! We are going in about 3 weeks. Have a great trip!!!! And happy filming.

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9. Re: My Favorite Place in Istanbul - Cagaloglu Hammam

Hi Again Ray: I have been thinking about the kids, perhaps you can entice them into the Hammam with the idea that they are in for a truly unique experience which no one of their friends has had. Also they probably will love pouring water all over themselves, it is worth a shot. Have a great trip, the kids will love Istanbul and the local people will spoil them rotten. Happy Travel, LemonLady

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10. Re: My Favorite Place in Istanbul - Cagaloglu Hammam

Hi LemonLady - congratulations on being a Local Expert. My favourite place in Istanbul must be Topkapi Palace. Not just because there's so much to see (all those emeralds - I get jealous) and because it's great for people watching, but I love sitting in the openair restaurant and looking at the scenery. It's just the place for my FAVOURITE Turkish 'thing' - a glass of chai! Every time I go there I think about writing a Booker prize winning novel about Istanbul. Being deep in my PhD there's not much chance of that (in fact even if I wasn't I don't think there's much chance of that) but it inspires me so much and it makes me think I could do it if I wanted to.

On my last trip I took a trip out to Chora and I walked in and went 'oh' and would've probably walked out again being decidedly unimpressed until my tour guide (it was offseason!) came and talked to me about all the pictures and the history and I can safely say it was absolutely brilliant. I would recommend it to anyone. Just make sure you have a guide or it won't mean much.

I went to Sarnic too; it was awesome. Like being in another world where waiters are uniformed with white gloves and bearing silver salvers. I felt I was in some 1940's film. Even walking down the street where it was located was like walking in a fairytale; cobbled streets and doors seemingly cut into rock. The restaurant itself was superb, although it's difficult to say that because I can safely say that in all my trips to Istanbul I've never eaten a terrible meal. I went with my friend who is a vegetarian and he thought he would struggle to find something to eat but I ended up eating veggie too as the Turks can make the humble aubergine (eggplant for any North Americans!) into a culinary artform, also known as imam bayildi (of course!)

The other thing I enjoy is sitting on a balcony practically anywhere in Istanbul watching the sun set while eating lemon icecream. Or in Cafe Lebon eating profiteroles...

This wasn't exactly what you asked for - I don't have one favourite place in Istanbul, and if I did I couldn't write about it as eloquently as you - but these are my own personal highlights.

Fondest,

Ari