Day 117/138 2022/2023 Viking Neptune World Cruise. A sea day and Istanbul, Turkey.
We sailed for most of the day today through the Dardanelles straits, and then into the Marmara Sea. I learned that the Maramara Sea is the smallest inland sea in the world, which is entirely within the borders of one country. Turkey of course is that country and the Marmara Sea, connects the Aegean Sea (where we had just been) to the Black Sea (through the Bosporus). On our starboard side was Asia, and on our port side was Europe. Pretty cool!
Our sail into Istanbul was originally scheduled for 6pm, but we started to see the iconic skyline of Istanbul earlier than scheduled. Linda and me were working on our Icon project in our cabin and as I saw something interesting out of the window, I would tell Linda and we would jump out onto the balcony to take a photo.
If you look from left to right, the larger structures which stand out are: ‘The Blue Mosque’ otherwise known as ‘Sultan Ahmet Mosque’ with 6 minarets; ‘Hagia Sofia’ to the left of centre which has been many things, but is back to being a mosque at the present time and to the right; ‘Topkapi Palace’.
Istanbul is the only city in the world which is situated on two separate continents and it was originally settled in 7th Century B.C. by Byzas who came from Greece and founded what was then known as ‘Byzantium’. Byzantium followed the fate of other Greek cities in the Middle East: the Persian invasions, the Peloponnesus wars, Alexander the Great’s conquest that then brought the Romans to Byzantium. Roman Emperor Constantine in 324AD emerged as the single ruler and he transferred the throne of the Roman Empire to Byzantium. In 330 AD during a ceremony at the Hippodrome, Constantine declared the city of Byzantium should forever be known as: ‘Constantinople’ or ’New Rome’ (Nova Roma). Built on 7 hills beginning on the Marmara Sea, all of the hills have either a Byzantine church, or an Ottoman mosque forming the magnificent silhouette and that is why everyone wanted to be outside on their decks or in the Explorer’s Lounge on Deck 7, watching our sail in to Istanbul today.
Continuing on with the history of Constantinople: From 527AD Justinian decided to make Constantinople a more splendid city and the city entered its ‘Golden Age’ as the most magnificent capital in the world. The crowning jewel of Justinians’s new city was the church of Hagia Sofia (St. Sofia). (More on Hagia Sofia later on in tomorrow’s blog). The Byzantine Empire was massive and following the death of Justinian, within 50 years, the empire started to crumble. A defeat by the Seljuk Turks in 1071 and invasions by Arabs, Slavs and Bulgarians followed. The Crusaders in 1204 mounted the city walls and ravaged the city and Constantinople was never the same. From 1204 Latin kings ruled until 1453 when the Ottoman army under Sultan Mehmet conquered Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire was lost to history. The Ottoman Empire ruled Constantinople until 1922 and in 1923 Turkey became a republic; the capital of Turkey was moved to Ankara, and Constantinople was renamed Istanbul.
Since we only had one night in Istanbul, all of the excursions tonight were optional excursions or some people chose to go out exploring on their own. Some people chose a Viking organized late dinner cruise on the Bosporus; others chose a panoramic drive around Istanbul, with a short walk through the Hippodrome area of the City; but we chose what I think was the neatest experience, which was a night at the Hammam with a concert of traditional music.
We had a light meal in the World Cafe and then headed through to the very modern, brand new cruise ship terminal which was built during Covid over the past few years. There was a very long walk to get off the ship, down the ramp, down another ramp, through the cruise ship terminal and finally down the escalator to where all of the buses were lined up in a very modern, covered, bus staging area. I forgot to get photos of all of this area, but believe me it was such a long walk that many people with mobility issues were calling for wheelchairs to get them from the ship through to where the excursions were starting on the waiting buses.
We found our bus #6, and gave our guide our tickets for the short 20 minute bus ride to the 300 Year Old Turkish Bath in the old town of Instanbul.
Constructed in 1741, Cagaloglu Hammam is the last bath to be built during the Ottoman Empire. It was built as a public Hammam to bring revenue for the library of Sultan Mahmut the 1st.
Many other famous people including Florence Nightingale, have frequented this same Hammam. You may recognize some of them who have visited this hammam.
Looking forward to our separate Hammam experience.
Who knows what lies before me?
The Hammam or Turkish bath is a type of steam bath or a place of public bathing. The Hammam is a prominent feature in the culture of the Muslim world and was inherited from the Roman thermal baths. In Islamic cultures the significance of the Hammam was both religious and civic. It provided for the needs of ritual ablutions but also provided for general hygiene in an era before private plumbing and served other social functions such as offering a gendered place for men and for women to meet.
Of course I could not take photos of the interior, but Richard did snap a few photos.
Each of us had our own private changing area which we were able to lock with a key that we brought with us to the Hammam. The change room had a Turkish towel to wrap around us, and anti slip beach shoes, to put on our feet as well as a disposable thong for females to wear to cover our private areas.
As we came out of our individual changing rooms, our own therapist met us and guided us to the W.C. My therapist‘s name was ’Kismet’. Lovely! After all of us had gone to the W.C., we were shown to the warm room where we sat on stone benches and warmed up from the steam in the room.
After a few minutes in the warm steam area, Kismet came and got me and the other therapists each got their own Viking guests. I was escorted to the main hot room or ‘CALDARIUM’ of the Hammam.
Hammam centre stone at the Cagaloglu Hammam, Istanbul, Turkey.
In the centre of the hot room was a large round marble centre stone and there were also other separate marble benches in the hot room. Around the exterior perimeter of the hot room, were individual bathing area which each had a tap, low water sink with a metal vessel for water in the sink. My therapist guided me to a bench where I placed my towel and my key and then she took me to my bathing area. My therapist put some water on my hands and asked if it was warm enough and then proceeded to dump water over my entire head, and body. Kismet then held my hand and guided me towards the round marble slab in the middle of the room. My towel was placed on the slab and I was told to lie on it, face up. Kismet used soap and scrubbed me all over with the soap, and then I turned over and she scrubbed me all over again with a loofah. After the scrubbing, Kismet guided me back to my bathing area, always holding my hand, and dumped water all over me again to wash off the soap. Then Kismet held my hand and walked me back to the round marble slab. Everyone in the hot room was going through the same process and while everyone was naked, except for the thong, there was so much going on that no one was paying attention to anyone else.
For the next round of treatment, I was asked to again lay on my back and Kismet took a towel out of a bucket and proceeded to throw the towel twice in such a way that the towel filled up with bubbles, which she then threw on me from my feet to my face. I was immersed in bubbles!!! The bubbles were very tingly and while I was under the bubbles, Kismet gave me a massage all over. I had the bubbles thrown twice on my front and twice on my back, followed by massages both times. After the bubble and massage treatment was finished, Kismet then walked me back to the bathing area and proceeded to dump water all over me to get rid of the bubbles. I was asked to sit on a stone block and then Kismet washed my hair, giving me a head massage, rinsed my hair, put conditioner on my hair, and then rinsed off the conditioner.
Once the treatment was over Kismet then wrapped me in a nice big Turkish towel and wrapped my hair in a separate towel. Kismet walked me to another room again always holding my hand, which was a bit cooler and guided me to a low stool, that was situated with 3 other stools around a small table. Three other ladies joined me and we were given hot Turkish tea, cool pomegranate juice with spices in it and some Turkish delights. The tea and Turkish sweets were all brought out on a large silver tray and the tea was served in see through glass Turkish drinking cups.
We sat and chatted and drank tea and relaxed until the next group of Viking ladies started to come out of the Hammam. I’m not sure how long we were there, but it was eventually time to go and dry my hair and get dressed. I felt great! What a treatment! Wow!
Richard taking a selfie after his treatment. I believe his therapist was not as gentle as mine was to me. I think he got pummelled!
We were supposed to have a concert after the Hammam treatmeant, but it turned out that only the men got to hear the concert and the women did not get a concert. Oh well. I finally came out of the spa after blow drying my thick, long hair, and Richard said the bus had left without us. What? Our guide was still there, but no one had told me what time we were supposed to be back on the bus. Anyway, the guide walked us outside and next thing we knew the bus had come back to pick us up. I hate being ‘that person’ that holds up the bus, but I sure wish someone had told me when we were supposed to be finished at the Hammam, since I would have left with wet hair If I had to.
We got back to the Galataport Cruise Terminal around 10:30pm, but of course the way the cruise terminal is built, we had to walk through Duty Free before boarding the ship! I bought Richard a small half bottle of dry red Turkish wine and some Green Apple tea crystals for me. Since I had the delightful apple tea in Kusadasi I was happy to be able to buy some of the tea while we were still in Turkey. After walking through the long cruise terminal, we finally got back to the Neptune at 11pm.
Richard tried the red wine and it was great. A nice ‘daily drinker’ as we like to say!
We both slept like babies after our Hammam treatment! Definitely an amazing experience and one I would like to do again, now that I know what it is all about. A very interesting way to start off our short 24 hour or so adventure in Istanbul!
We had a big day planned for the next day so we are both glad we had a wonderful night’s sleep!