Due to my very late start (I couldn't sleep due to drinking tea too late in the day), we only made it out of the hotel at 1 PM today; I'm on vacation, dammit, I want to be well-rested every day. So the Blue Mosque was passed over in favor of four hours in Topkapi Palace, built in 1478 and pleasingly close to out hotel given the spitting rain. We went immediately for the harem and were rewarded (given the weather) with no lines at all.
I found the time there very thought-inducing. I only found out a few days ago that it was entirely populated with Christian slaves, some of them stolen from as far away as Cornwall; and despite some lovely decorations, the whole thing just seemed like a blue and white tiled prison, with bars and locks to keep the inmates inside. There was a platform where the food was left for the inhabitants, and it reminded me of nothing so much as a slop trough for the pigs, I felt like that was how they were seen, little breeding animals trapped and used at will, only valued (maybe) if she were mother to a son. What kind of atmosphere was that to live in, always subservient, always fighting for power or being trampled on, success determined by skill at subterfuge? How many women killed themselves? Hearing of the power weilded by the sultan's mother was depressing; the whole thing seemed like a program for growing mass-murderers and people who believed in their right to trample others beneath their feet.
Um, yeah, but there were some pretty tiles, and a small room for the sultan's mother that must have seen huge compared to the other women's cells, and a few private rooms that made me think of Oriental-inspired rooms I've seen here & there (esp the castle in Cardiff), and some nice stained glass - and bars across every window, and huge locks, and external passageways for the eunuchs. And most of it was dark, dark, dark because there was so little sun today.
We were getting cool and thought we'd warm up in the coffee shop; but the prices were the worst we'd ever seen, so we sucked it up and headed off to the palace treasury. And we got colder and colder in all of these unheated rooms, and everything started looking the same ("Oh, another medal, oh, another jewel encrusted Koran cover), so we thought we'd make a last pass through the palace kitchens & leave - but they were closed for restoration, so we ran back to the hotel & put on sweaters & had some tea to warm up before going out for a very very late lunch (4:30 local time).
Afterwards all I could think of was getting & staying warm, so we decided to go to a hamam near the Grand Bazaar. We of course stopped in, but it was odd - whereas the Moroccan Souk was all full of little craftsmans' shops, this was like an antiques mini-mall, really well divided, clean, and a bit dull. My favorite thing was watching the guys running around to the various stands with little handled tea trays - you could hear the clinking of the glasses all through the market. But I hate bargaining when I have no idea what anything is worth, so we did not a drop of shopping.
Instead we blew our money at the Cemberlitas Hamam, which promised a bath, a scrub, a soak, and a half hour massage for (mumble mumble mumble). And they accepted credit cards. The whole thing was pleasant and the kind of thing I wish I could so every week. I started lying on a towel on a heated circular rock, got overheated, poured cold water on my head, and basically warmed up & waited for my scrub. The Turkish grandma who finally came (it was about a 30 minute wait tho I'd been told 10 - was worried about leaving J hanging) sloughed my skin off with long strokes of a loofa, then poured water on me to sluice the skin goop away, then gave me a bubble scrub. After she rinsed the soap off, she took me to a marble alcove & washed my hair. After I was nice & clean I went and sat in the jacuzzi for a while; but at 35c, I was feeling too warm in the water and wanted to head on to the massage.
Now the massage was great, well-trained masseuses & proper tables. She covered me with 3 towels and started on my feet, working over my legs, my back, my shoulders, my arms, my hands & my neck with a lavender scented oil. I think she might have even softened up the knot in my right rhomboid that's been twinging in the morning. It was lovely. Despite my worries, J finished at almost exactly the same time as me. We sipped pomegranate juice for a while then went out for a light dinner. Really, it was a great night.