Hello readers! (AKA mom) We are the globe rollers and we roll the globe. This blog follows our adventures as we roll through Eastern Europe, currently in Istanbul. One of us is a rollerblader and the other is a professional wheelchair-er.
We wake up at the crack of 1 pm. We guess we overestimated our fast adjustment to the time zone. Could it be the hills? Cobble stones? Baklava? Who knows… But one thing was clear, we had to start marinating in at least some of the culture before we continued our trip without having set wheel in a mosque or basilica.
So, we got up andd breakfast at our usual convenient spot next door. We came prepared with fruit – as this seems to be a rare, unnecessary commodity among the Turks) -, and asked for toast to compliment our omelets. Asking for the divinity that is ‘toast’ in this country is recommended to every reader planning to visit Turkey anytime soon. To the Turks – at least the Turks at this café – “toast” means grilled cheese, and oh was this an amazing surprise.
Then we realized it was 3:30 pm and had no excuse to not start hitting some of the cultural landmarks that Istanbul has to offer. Only this time, our commute over to the old city did not run as smoothly as it had during the days before. This could have been a result of our cocky attitudes toward Turkish navigation, as we had resided in the city for two days and seemed to flawlessly find our way through either the wheelchair card, or Madeline’s charismatic smile. Or it could have been due to an overdose of Baklava – that stuff can mess with yo mind… Either way, we could not manage to find the right elevator to the tram and even noticed a momentary wheelchair card flaw when one of the tram’s gate guards told Madeline to pay. Wait, what?
We finally ditched the guard, got on the right tram and headed into the city. First stop: Blue Mosque. Ummh, wait, first stop, TURKISH DELIGHTS. After being smothered by Turkish men and their delights (the fruity desserts of course, get your mind out of the gutter), we arrived in a park surrounded by mosques. All of them passable for the color blue, but no clear sign as to which one was the real McCoy. We were finally pointed in the right direction after being offered several tours by strangers and being suavely proposed, “Can I drive you?” We contemplated this offer for a second, wondered whom it was intended for, and then kindly declined the offer for now. Maybe we can call you when we get to those hills?
Accessible My Ass:
We went to the main entrance of the Blue Mosque and immediately noticed a bunch of stairs in front of it. No worries though, as a sign with an arrow marking the accessible entrance was easily visible and there was no need for investigation. We followed the direction of the arrow, only to find an identical arrow sign after every 100 meters.
After circumventing the mosque, and having a Turkish man follow us to tell us only a few people around here speak English – no shizzle – we arrived at the wheelchair accessible entrance. A man was working in a small cubicle at the gate, assuring everyone is covered up respectfully – based on gender – and that nothing from the outside touches the holy floors of the mosque. He asked Roxy whether she could get out of the chair. Instinctively, Roxy of course immediately rebelled against the idea of leaving her throne and said she couldn’t get out. We later reflected on why she would not get out of her chair and into another. After much contemplation, we agreed on certain circumstances that would convince Roxy to leave her chair and get into another. The other chair would have to be diamond studded. Bedazzled. It would have to have her trademark gold rims and roll like it was on a bed of clouds. But after seeing the hospital chair our airbnb so kindly offered her, we had little hope of ever finding the holy grail wheelchair in Istanbul.
The man knew what he had to do, and started duct taping the outside of her tires. Madeline jumped at the opportunity and asked if he could tape her wheels as well, to which the man responded with a laugh. If only he knew we weren’t joking…
Having experienced the inside of one of the biggest mosques in the world, and feeling extremely culturally advanced – after those 10 minutes actually spent inside – we knew it was time to chillax. AKA time for Hammam!
The Hammam is a mystical bathhouse we had been told to visit by various people. We thought it sounded kind of interesting. But we had no idea how mystical these places really are until we experienced it firsthand.
Cemberlitas Hamami was located down a flight of stairs, which Roxy was effortlessly carried down by 4 middle-aged smoking men, who felt the need to also hold her right arm. Why? We fear this will remain a mystery for all eternity, but it felt right at the time…
We then talked to a woman at the front desk and told her we wanted the full enchilada as far as hamman packages go (sauna, scrub, massage). The woman behind the desk was worried that Roxy would not be able to partake and asked her manager. The manager was determined on making it work and so were we.
They gave us a tiny hamman package, including a bikini bottom, scrubber to hand to the – as we would later come to find out – beautifully maternal Turkish scrubbing goddess, and a scrub and massage token. We then went into a tiny room to change into the bikini bottom and were told to enter the sauna, where the famous scrubbing would commence.
We opened the doors and transported into a whole other time. A time when women nurtured and loved one another. A time when women found nudity amongst each other as a safe haven, and never stopped to judge another woman’s body. A large, open, grotto-resembling space with a large stone in the middle of it, covered with women laying in the steam or receiving a nurturing, but rough scrub. They were all mermaids and we knew we would soon resemble them.
We were led to an open space on the stone by our scrubbing goddess, removed our towels and laid on them. We were immediately reassured that we should give into the power of female nudity by the woman sitting on the stone behind us. She was extremely convincing and thus we joined their mermaid religion. It was amazing and probably the closest thing to religious divinity we had experienced in Istanbul so far.
After the scrub and sauna we went into the massage room which was divided into sections. Without a second of thought or debate, Roxy was lifted by two of the Turkish women onto the massage table. Like a bride. They were wonderful, emotionally nourishing, and called us “baby”. Even though Madeline’s rollerblades were not involved in this activity, she was happy to sacrifice her wheels for her mermaid fins. Roxy’s wheelchair was not an issue and the women treated it like a throne. They laid towels on it wherever water or oil was involved as to preserve it’s leather.
We had read mixed reviews about this Hammam on trip advisor. It was 500 years old and for its historical significance alone, the place was thriving. From the reviews, we were under the impression that these women would only give you a good treatment if they liked you. It was obvious that the wheelchair card, among other things, gave us that certain edge that we needed in order to be liked by these beautiful creatures and given the treatment we paid good money for. We left high on steam and loving touches.
The Wheels Deal:
The rest of the evening was a little rough. We were in a prime tourist area, which is not ideal when you are dazed and hungry. Madeline was firm about not eating at an overpriced Italian restaurant surrounded by tourists, but those seemed to be our only options in the neighborhood. So we ventured to a more local street, which a restaurant host assured us would have the type of dining experience we were looking for. He told us it was all downhill so it sounded like an easy trip. Little did we know, the hills were 10 blocks long and entirely at a 45 degree angle.
We rolled for dear life. Stopping every now and then to desperately look at each other and say, “I can’t make it! I can’t make it!” Then cracking up, because…what else could we do? There were no taxis in sight and we were stranded in the middle of a giant hill. We tried rolling in the middle of the street where we could avoid the cracks and bumps in the sidewalk, but drivers in Istanbul apparently enjoy going up giant hills at full speed.
Madeline ALMOST fell (she wants you to know that it was not an official fall. Just and almost fall) and Roxy’s hands were burning. Just then, we spotted a place. Our place. We rolled over and grabbed our seats. We stayed until they closed. The food was terrible, but the waiter’s company and their apple tea made it all worth the terrifying trip.
We tell this story in the Wheels Deal category because we want to be clear that yes, downhill is easier than up, but only to a certain extent. Life can only be fast-pace for a certain amount of time until one gets burnt out. Or in our case, one’s hands get burnt.
Next stop, Sofia, Bulgaria!