I’m spending a little time dwelling on my loveliest moments of 2011, so the whole thing doesn’t just pass by in a messy blur. In part one, I talked about the wonderful rustic farm I visited with my family in the south of France. And for the remaining installments, I’m looking back at my other favourite travel moments of the year. This time, it’s schvitzing in Istanbul.
My boyfriend and I arrived in Istanbul in November excited to explore the city. But when we got to our hotel – the brand new Istanbul Edition – we found ourselves happily lingering in the confines of our cosmopolitan but cozy new home. We had a giant fluffy bed to lie across, staring at the gorgeous skyline while eating baklava and drinking Turkish beer. Our favourite place was the hotel’s glorious spa, where we spent afternoons melting off stress in the steam room, throwing snowballs at each other in the icy Arctic Chamber, and floating in the pool. Evenings were spent exchanging ideas in the Gold Bar over delicious cocktails made with Turkish raki, mint and honeydew melon.
We did eventually make it outside, lest you think that we didn’t use our feet for a week. We continued our love of schvitzing by visiting a 500-year-old hamam, where I was given a rough and soapy massage by a large Turkish woman wearing only her underpants. (From what I could tell, this counts as formal wear in a hamam.) We sat in sidewalk cafes, our scarves wound tightly around our necks to ward off the autumn chill, and smoked hookah and drank cup after cup of strong black tea. We ate everything we could find, from rose and pistachio Turkish delight and meat ravioli to fresh strawberry jam, cheese pie and baked rice pudding. We avoided most of the key tourist destinations and just spent days wandering, stopping often in shops and cafes, but with no itinerary or timeline. It was terrifically relaxing.
After a week of exploring, I still hadn’t wrapped my head around the city. It was a fusion of East and West, familiar and exotic, flashy and humble, and I think a return visit is probably in order. But I can’t remember a time when I’ve been so relaxed in a new city, when I’ve thrown away all guidebooks and simply allowed the city to come to me in its myriad forms. And it made me very, very happy.