Wednesday, September 2, 2015

How to Relax like a Sultan (a Turkish bath primer)

The hamam, or Turkish bath, is an experience. It is probably the most relaxing bath experience and I should know - I've been scrubbed on the floor of Moroccan bath, I've been beaten with branches in a Russian bath, I've sweated in a Finnish sauna, and I've taken my share of "regular baths."

I was lucky to experience the Turkish bath at one of the best baths in Istanbul, Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami. Built by the renowned Turkish architect Sinan, it reopened recently after a long renovation. I have to be honest, this is an expensive experience at 150TL ($50) and therefore isn't representative of all hamams but let me share with you my experience.

Some housekeeping:
-The bath is unisex, so Bev and I had to go at different times (she reports the same great experience).
-You'll also want a reservation to guarantee you can go at your first choice time.

From your first minute walking in, when you're greeted warmly by the proprietor, you're at ease. Once you're checked in, you're served a delicious sherbet (a fruit infusion/juice, not the ice slushy, more later). You lounge in the beautiful antechamber. In some time an attendant comes to explain the entire hamam process and gives you a key to a locker in a private changing room. Here you strip down*, put on slippers, and wrap yourself with a towel.

You follow an attendant into the main chamber and you're directed to sit in an alcove. The first attendant rinses your body with warm water, your feet with cold water, and gives you a glass of water. He then directs you to a heated marble slab at the center of the hall, where other men are already lying down to sweat. Here you're instructed to lie down, the attendant will return in about 20-30 minutes.

As you lie on the hot slab you stare at the ceiling dotted with circular patterns of skylights, some circular and other six point stars. The room is silent, except for the occasional water or body movements. As the sun moves, the lighting changes. You get really meta, and reflect on how long it's been since you've reflected in silence without your phone.

After some time your personal attendant arrives and after introducing themselves, begins the wash.
-First a hot water rinse,
-Next a soft sponge wash,
-Now a scrub glove scrub,
-Now the soap, foamed in unbelievable quantifies until you're covered like a blanket,
-Now more washing,
-Now another rinse,
-Finally a shampoo and rinse

OK, you're nearing the end and, and it's time to move to the drying chamber. Here you're towel dried and then wrapped in more towels. You  say goodbye to your attendant and return to the relaxation chamber. Here you're offered tea and can relax as long as you want.

I emerged cleaner than I've been in years and so incredibly relaxed. I hope to return again soon!

*Your attendant will skillfully wrap the towel while washing to ensure your privacy, however if you prefer you can wear a bathing suit.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

My All-Time Favorite Tour, Circle Tour

To understand a city, you must see the city and learn about the culture from an experienced and local teacher, and Oz was our guy. Get off the beaten path. See parts of the city away from the tourists. Experience the flavors (which is why we travel).

Circle Tour
Circle Tour's website put it best, "Have you ever toured a city and wished you knew someone there?" Every itinerary differs depending on the day of the week and what's open, etc so this is just one Sunday example.

1) Met for a local breakfast spread, expertly curated and passionately explained. Chated with like minded travelers as you sample egg dishes, cheeses, spreads of all flavors, breads, all while enjoying çai (tea).

2) Walked down Istikal St and past the Gallata tower and onward through the local shops. Cooled off with fresh orange juice.

3) Took the ferry to the Asian side, while learning about various sights and landmarks.

4) Toured the fish market and local shopping areas. Stoped for incredible mincemeat flat bread.

5) Wound through local parts and stop to learn about Turkish coffee. Enjoyed it.

6) Caught the Bosphorous cruise and enjoy the incredible sights, mansions, parks, etc that line the shores. Relaxed. Let the breeze blow our cares away.

7) Back in reality it was time for a tour of a local antique market and a stop for a special Turkish crepe filled with spinach, or meat, or cheese, or of course with pistachio and sugar. Explored.

8) Then we were off to the ultra-conservative Istanbul neighborhood to walk and wind the streets. Then the Greek neighborhood. Then the Jewish neighborhood. All this walking made us hungry, so baklavah and more tea.


Tomorrow we will try a proper hammam (Turkish bath).

Miles Walked: 7.4

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Invasion of the Selfi[sh] Stick

By Sam

You know a trend is a fad when the umbrella men are hawking "selfie sticks." (Umbrella men - plural of umbrella man; n. a man hawking umbrellas when it's raining. synonym - water bottle man, lottery ticket guy, and spinning top boy).

There we are at the Blue Mosque, where the proper police enforce garments below knees for men and concealed shoulders and covered hair for women, and in the Muslim prayer section I spot it. Look closely. Can you see it?

So if I found a dozen at this holy site, you'll believe me when I say that all the selfie sticks are everywhere. Topkapi Palace? Selfie stick. In front of the Hagia Sofia? Selfie stick. The Bosporus river? Now you got it!

Pro tip: consider keeping your phone in the selfie stick always, especially when taking regular (fka non-selfie pictures). Then you'll really look like the pro photographer that you are, as you jab at your photo victim.

Bonus points: Can spot the tourist posing in the holy spot where the imam conducts service?

Tomorrow I'll share more from our Old City tour by Circle Istanbul, while we're off on our Circle Istanbul tour, a behind the scenes look at Istanbul a local's experience.

Miles Walked: 7.21

Friday, August 28, 2015

Istanbul First Impressions

By Sam

First full day in Istanbul, so lets capture some early impressions. I'll also do a post on Wed when we leave for Athens and we can compare.

It's dirty. Yeesh, I'm two sentences in and I'm already complaining. And this is new, positive, daily affirmation Sam you're talking to. But back to it. Dirty, as in both dirt and trash. Crumbling stairs, potholes, collapsing facades, shit (pardonez moi), graffiti, car exhaust. But let's be real for a minute, it's not an Istanbul problem. This drove me crazy in Tel Aviv, and Bolivia, and Buenos Aires, and even our dear New York (people, clean up your pet's shit). Why do I start there? Because it's what you first see.

It's modern. The tram that whisks you across the Old and New City. The subway, the bus, the funicular, the boats, the malls, the galleries, more restaurants thank you can shake shack a selfie stick at. Oh my the selfie sticks! Everywhere.

It's diverse. What does a Turkish person look like? I have no idea, and I have a feeling I won't find out. One minute they're Middls-Eastern with darker complexions. The next they're European pushing on the edge of fashion. No, I swear they're uktra-conservative Muslims in burkas. Or was that uktra-conservative Christians. No, I got it, they're pasty white guys like me. And yet they're all of them.

It's historic. I have only a few mosque sightings to report, and what I've learned about Atatürk from Rick Steve.

Tomorrow is our Old City walking tour. More on all of that later.

Miles Walked: 8.47

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Why do we travel?

By Sam

There's a transformative piece I read (I will share it with you), that says we travel to find ourselves. It's at first a strange notion that you have to go somewhere else to find where you want to be. Think about that for a minute. You need to fly around the world to figure out that you were already there.

Ah, or maybe you find something entirely different. Maybe you find that where you are, is NOT where you want to be.

THIS is the magic of travel. Experiencing new places and cultures serves as a catalyst for two reactions:
1) you confirm that what you know is what you want to hold dear
2) you challenge your notion of what is and what should be

In part, having reached this enlightened state was part of my mental roadblock in approaching this current trip.

You see I have traveled (see the other entries of this blog), and I have reflected (see above).

And where I am is increasingly where I want to be.

In the love of family, in the embrace of friends, in the satisfaction of work, and in the beauty of my home.

But as I've reflected during this flight, I have realized that I am where I am because I have traveled this far, and there is much more to see, feel, taste, learn, hear, smell, and do.

So lets continue this adventure, and let's do this together!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Vamos a Montreal!

We're in Montreal, specifically in a creperie, specifically Creperie Bretonne Ty-Breiz that granted has lost power, but where the wait staff claim to still have the ability to whip up many of the crepes on the menu. I love crêpes, and on any typical day I'd be delighted, but this isn't a typical day. I've just finished a second day of meetings with a client, to which my company has graciously dispatched me, and we were about to have poutine!

The excitement for what appears to be the Canadian equivalent of cheesy fries (disclaimer: I have not tried poutine yet) is quite contagious here. Anyways we just left the meeting, cabbed to THE poutine spot - Resto La Banquise, but they were also out of power. In fact the whole street is without power, but for some reason this is impacting poutine much more severely than crepes. I couldn't possibly explain.

I'm sleepily reading the menu, trying to recall which crepes were A-OK (side note: I can't swipe "sidenote" on my phone but can swipe "AOL." Is "side note" two words?) I'm a bit tired from the day of meetings and from Eve's recent tendency to wake up at night, a lot. (Eve's my daughter for those readers that have been with us since the beginning. She's really cute.) Maybe I'm tired from smiling too much. Aww.

Then, I spot it! The crepe. Crepe au glace, or crepe with ice cream. Boom, good Samaritan rescuing the melting ice cream and a tasty crepe for me.

The waitress comes by to take my order, so I do it up in my best French accent. And because I'm polite I add, "por favor."


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

We're Speaking at Meet Plan Go Boston!!

We're incredibly excited to be speaking at the Meet Plan Go Boston event on Tuesday, October 16th at 6:15pm @ the Elephant & Castle Pub, 161 Devonshire St (b/t Franklin St & Milk St).

Many of you know that we attended the Meet Plan Go event last October. There the amazing speakers and great round-table experts gave us confidence that we had made the right decision and that our trip would be a success!

This event is great for everyone -- novice travelers, experienced travelers and people looking to meet great folks in the travel community.

Check see us and our 3 minutes of fame: