My weekend in Istanbul – Part 2

6170AB88-B9C4-4D7A-802A-EEE13BDB2998_1_105_c

The forbidden women’s section of Cagaloglu Hamami!

When we last left our heroines, they were stranded in Istanbul with no money and no way home.  They were falling on desperate times so had to start working in a Turkish brothel….

Just kidding.

AGMA always did have a flare for the dramatic!

Our first full day of touring Istanbul was wonderful!  We went to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.  We ate incredible sweet treats at the Hafiz Mustafe 1864 close to the Sultanahmet tram stop.  I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E.

Then we were off to Cagaloglu Hamami Turkish bath.  I was a bit nervous about talking my 3 friends into going with me….

While AGMA thinks a Turkish bath is probably the closest to heaven I will get on this earth, I understand that it’s not everybody’s cup o’ tea (the sauna, being pretty much all naked, the scrubbing with a kese mitt and the BUBBLES – oh Lord… THE BUBBLES!)

They adored it!  Whew.

All squeaky clean, back at our hotel, we discovered a letter has been slipped under our door.

???

I read it.  C read it.  I reread it. C reread it.

“Does this say what I think it says?”  I asked.

Yup!  It was a letter from the Gate1 tour director in Turkey telling us that we were going to be picked up at 6:30 AM the next morning to be taken to a different hotel in Istanbul so we could join up with the tour group that left on their tour of Turkey the day before ours was supposed to leave.  We could just pop in with them and spend the next 11 days touring Turkey instead of going home.

Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me…

C & I aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, but we had learned our lesson (the expensive way) about travel during a global pandemic.  We were going to get out butts home ASAP.

HOWEVER, K&D, our travel companions, thought staying was just a dandy idea.

WTF???

Our eyes rolled all the way around in their sockets!

So they were off the next day.  And we got regular texts throughout the day from them saying how wonderful their new tour friends were. And how nice the tour manager was and that they were soooooo glad they decided to stay.

More eye rolling.

But C & I did have a 2nd lovely day in Istanbul.  HOHO bus, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market, wandering the very crowded, not socially distant streets around the Bazaar and Market.  That evening we had an incredible dinner with a fabulous view of The Golden Horn sitting next to a table with two hot Frenchmen.

Did AGMA say that out loud?

But we were very happy to head Istanbul’s beautiful new airport the next day  (3/15) to make our way back home.

In the meantime, K kept posting pictures of their trip on Facebook – the massive hotel breakfast buffet, the Anzac cemetery at Gallipoli, the ancient city of Troy.

At this point, it was obvious that things were getting pretty serious at home, so worried looks replaced our eye rolling.  But they were adults right?  Maybe?

As we settled into our extra legroom exit row bulkhead seats on the plane (I rarely upgrade, but thought it might be a good idea), it was obvious that people were nervous.  I could see the masked guy sitting next to me sizing me up  as to whether I was “safe” or not.

I tried not to cough…

Then we got the “What a surprise.  NOT!” text from K&D.  They just found out their tour was suspended.  They were heading back to Istanbul.  To, once again, be stranded.

I didn’t, but AGMA sooooo wanted to say “We hate to tell you we told you so, but we told you so!”

They assured us that the tour company was going to make all of their arrangements to get back to the US even though they had booked their airfare (like we did) through an OTA and not the tour company.

Back to eye rolling.

The flight to Atlanta was uneventful.  We spent quite a bit of time reading the breaking news from the US as well as getting updates from K&D.  They and the rest of their tour group were very upset the tour was cancelled and BEGGED their Turkish guide to continue.

Again, WTF???

Turkish Airways served a nice dinner complete with a lovely French red wine from Bordeaux.  Seriously, it was the best wine I’ve ever had on an airplane.  I had several little bottles.

If ever there was a time to get lit, I was pretty sure this was it!

But, oddly, the dinner included a side of beans.

3583FFFF-6D7C-47D3-83CD-713CD6871B15_1_105_c

Beans.

The flight was 12.5 hours.  There were about 450 people on board.  It could have gotten real ugly…

Note to self…send an email to Turkish Airways to suggest they may want to rethink that side dish.

When we got to Atlanta, we braced for being screened, scanned, probed, questioned, and possibly told we had to quarantine.

What happened was a joke.

We had to stay on the airplane while some masked Feds came on board and asked us to complete a form.  The form asked if we had been in China in the last 14 days; if we had been around anybody with the coronavirus; if we felt sick.

That was it.  At this time, Europe was being slammed by COVID – 19.  No questions about Italy.  Or France.  Or Spain.  Or the UK.

Then they gave us a paper with information about the coronavirus, and let us deplane.  We got our luggage, breezed through customs and were on the streets of Altanta in about 30 minutes.

That was it.  No thermal scans.  No infrared thermometers.  Of course, no tests.  And we weren’t told to quarantine.

AGMA still wonders how many people on that plane had the virus.

The next day, after a decent night’s sleep in my bed, we found out that K&D had been “deserted” by their tour guide and were told that they had to make their own arrangements to get back home.

Damn – I hate it when I’m right!

They ended up leaving Istanbul on March 17th (2 days after us) but, in total, their trip to get home, with 2 layovers was 26 hours.  So they actually got home on March 18th.

So the moral of this story, boys and girls, is NOT to travel when WHO declares a global pandemic.

And if you do, have enough sense to come home when the Universe tell you to.

My friends, stay home, stay safe and TRY to stay sane!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My weekend in Istanbul – Part 1

Yes…AGMA is alive and kicking!

Well, maybe just alive, but these days that’s pretty much a win.

Given the state of the world, and the fact that my muse of a coffee shop is closed, I just haven’t been in mood to write.

Lord knows time isn’t an issue.  Anymore.

Nor will it be an issue in the foreseeable future…

The world has changed drastically in the 3 weeks since AGMA wrote my last post.  Changed more that I think any of us could have imagined.  In our wildest dreams.

Or nightmares.

When the coronavirus was first reported on in China, Hubs said, “This is going to be like one of those monkey movies.”  Pish posh – I thought he was being an alarmist.

Silly girl.

We are currently living in one of those contagion monkey movies.

I think I want my money back.

So AGMA made, in hindsight of course, the not so wise decision to go forward with a tour of Turkey with friends in the midst of a global pandemic that was moving across the globe like wildfire.

Boy, was I stupid.

“Let’s go to Turkey!” I said.  “Let’s fly in a day early to get our bearings!” I said. “It will be an adventure!” I said

I hate it when I’m right.

AGMA started feeling uncomfortable about going the week before we were supposed to leave.  Cases of COVID-19 were multiplying fast around the world.  But the US didn’t have very many cases and Turkey had zero.  And my friends were all still really gung ho about going.

Since AGMA was the one who talked them all into booking this trip, I put my discomfort aside and told myself, “This is going to be fun and it’s all going to turn out great!”

Humans have a great capacity of self-deception.

The day we left, March 11, coronavirus was declared a global pandemic by WHO. (And no – I’m not going to break out into a Abbot and Costello routine…)

Gulp.

My good friend and travel companion, C, and I met up with D & K in Amsterdam who flew in from Detroit.  While waiting for our flight to Istanbul, the news came across that the Orange Madman had decided to suspend flights coming into the US from 26 European countries.

Ah oh…our return flight home on March 24th was going to connect through Paris.

Double gulp.

We all kind of looked at each other and said, “We’ll sort it out when the time comes,” and boarded our flight to Istanbul.

Looking back, it was sorta cute in a naive kinda way that we thought we’d actually be in Turkey until March 24th.

After a loooonnnnggg travel day, we finally got to our hotel in Istanbul around 7 PM on March 12th.

But there is no rest for a wicked AGMA.  I had a dinner date with a woman Hubs and I met through EatWith when we were in Istanbul in November 2018.

C and I sort of wiped ourselves down, brushed our teeth and changed our clothes, and hurried off through the darken streets of Istanbul toward the Hamdi Restaurant.

And it was on those back streets that we got the news…

(Please recall that I said to my friends, “Let’s fly in a day early to get our bearings!”)

An urgent text from our tour company said, “Your trip is suspended.  Do not board flight.  Travel restrictions related to COVID-19.  Check email for further updates.”

There we were, 6000 miles away from home and no tour to join.

AGMA started to laugh.

I mean, you either laugh or cry right?

We ended up have a fantastic dinner with my Turkish friend.  The food was delicious (nothing like having a native ordering for you!), the setting was magnificent (3rd floor view over the Golden Horn on one side and the Süleymaniye Mosque on the other), and the company was delightful.  It was almost enough to make us forget we were “stuck” in Istanbul.

Almost.

D & K were able to talk to the our tour company while C and I were at dinner.  They were hoping that the tour company could recommend a private guide so that we could do an abbreviated tour of Turkey.  After all, that was a heck of a long way to come to turn around and go home….  The tour company said, “Nah baby nah, ya’ll better hurry on home now.”

Before tuning in for the night, we all agreed to work on Plan B at breakfast

The breakfast buffet at the Yasmak Sultan Hotel was wonderful!  Even with only a few hours sleep, a good breakfast and some strong coffee perked all of us up.  We all decided that we needed to get out of Dodge by the most direct route possible as soon as possible.

And as luck would have it, Turkish Airlines flies a direct route from Istanbul to Atlanta.  Well now, that seemed like a no brainer…

Since we were in a bit of a bother to get home, we all paid for our return flights on the 15th out of pocket.  We figured we’d take up the matter of the flights we had booked home on the 3/24 with our OTA when we got home.

We checked out of the Yasmak Sultan and into the Legacy Ottoman Hotel for our final 2 nights in Istanbul.  The tour company had prepaid for the rooms at the Legacy for 2 nights as part of our tour and the hotel said we were welcomed to use them.

Sweet!

At this point, on March 13th, Turkey had just reported it’s first case of COVID-19, so we felt pretty comfortable staying there for 2 more days.

We played tourists on the 13th and had a great day!  The weather was incredible and we enjoyed the warm hospitality of the Turkish people.

And I got to go to a Turkish Bath again.  Heaven on earth!

And the food.  The yummy for the tummy food.  The “OMG, this is amazing” food.

Did I mention how much I like the food is in Istanbul?

Part 2 coming as soon as AGMA loosens my belt…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BUBBLES!!

20181103_175657

If I made a movie about our recent trip to Istanbul, Rotten Tomatoes would describe it: “The adventurous AGMA and her humorous sidekick Hubs sing and dance their way to Istanbul while encountering wacky blondes, many naked people, and never ending samples of Turkish Delight.” 

Turkey has been on my “list” for a long time now.

A few months ago, after having just read a travel post of one of my favorite bloggers, Life in the Boomer Lane (or LBL), describing her latest trip to Istanbul, AGMA perked up.

Turkish Airlines started flying direct to Istanbul from Atlanta several years ago and offered dirt cheap promotional pricing for a while. But it was right after the terrorist attack on the Araturk Airport and the coup attempt. 

Timing…not so good.

But two years later, LBL’s post about Istanbul got me thinking again…

A couple weeks later, a sale to Istanbul popped into my inbox from one of the travel sites I follow.

It was a sign!

Not only did we book the trip, but two friends of mine from my former life in Ohio decided to join us!  P-A-R-T-A-Y!

AGMA has to say that this was one of the best (albeit shortest) international trips I’ve ever taken.

Sadly for the Turkish people, their currency, the Turkish lira, is at one of the lowest levels against the dollar and Euro it’s ever been.  For Hubs and AGMA, it meant a $3.77 twenty minute Uber ride and lunch for two for at a local place for less than $6.  We left big tips.

Prices for tours, authentic name brand clothes/accessories and “experiences” (think a Turkish Bath) are in Euros because of the unstable lira.  

Did somebody mention Turkish Bath?

Yeah we did!  

We went to the Cagaloglu Hamam. They’ve been scrubbing and bathing the good people of Istanbul since 1741.

Reservations (done via email) are a must because it is a relatively famous Bath in Istanbul.  They have a “Wall of Famous Clients” (pictured above.)

AGMA’s picture will be added beside Oprah’s next week, I feel certain.

We opted for the 50 Euro “Istanbul Experience” – sort of the basic Turkish bath.  

The check-in area in the lobby was serene and peaceful, with a flute player playing mellow melodies. There was a fountain in the middle, and low table and stools for post-bath tea.

Serenity now…

 A lovely woman who spoke wonderful English whisked me off to the “Ladies Only” section.  I said bye to Hubs, praying that he wouldn’t bolt as soon as I left. 

She escorted me to a courtyard area surrounded by dressings rooms. I got my own personal room complete with a lounging couch, a side table, lamp and mirror.  On the couch was a towel and sandals wrapped in plastic.  And some “undies”.

This was getting interesting

I changed out of my clothes, wrapped the lovely towel (called a peshtemal) around me and slipped on my “underwear”.

Turns out, it was a disposable thong.  A thong??  AGMA, for reasons that would be totally clear if you knew me in person, has never worn a thong in her life.  But when in Rome… (or Istanbul!)

When my attendant Eaja came to fetch me, she told to leave my glasses in the dressing room.  AGMA is blind without her glasses.  

In hindsight, it was a good thing.

Eaja lead me to the sauna area first.  The idea was to literally sweat the crap out of your pores.  Turned out, I had a lot of crap in my pores.

After about 15 minutes, Eaja lead me to the large bath area and one of the many sinks that surrounded the large central marble slab.  Sans my towel (oh-la-la) Eaja dumped small bucket full of water on me.  Cool water.  

WTF?

She also washed and rinsed my hair.  With cool water.

Eaja then lead me to the central raised marble slab, laid my towel out and had me lay on my back.  

Mind you, AGMA is only clothed in her “thong”.  YIKES!  But my fuzzy vision could tell that everybody else was going almost commando.

It took me about a minute to get over it.  I guess that answers my question about going to a nudist camp!

Then Eaja started scrubbing me with a kese (a exfoliating mitt).  And baby, she scrubbed me from head to toe.  On both sides.

No soap; just the kese.  From the looks of the kese afterwards, I was pretty grubby.

But the next part…OMG…was the best!

BUBBLES!!!

More bubbles than I’ve ever seen in my life!  They covered me like a blanket.

Then a massage.  A bubble massage.  For about 10 minutes.

I flopped over onto my tummy, and got bubbled and massaged again.

AGMA was sooooo relaxed and little fuzzy on what happened next… 

Somehow, I got rinsed, wrapped in a dry towel and was lying down on a lounger back in the dressing room courtyard with a cup of tea, small glass of sharbat and some pieces of Turkish delight beside me.  

After 15 minutes of lounging and sort of getting my wits back, I changed in my dressing room (sadly leaving my “thong” behind.)  I dried my hair, gave Eaja a nice tip and was off in search of Hubs.

I found him in a robe, with his hair in a towel, drinking tea on a lounger in one of the rooms off the lobby.  Smiling.

He LOVED it!  Whew…

The wacky blonde was my friend who almost spent $500 (but didn’t) on saffron for “stocking stuffers” in the Grand Bazaar.  Long story…   

And Turkish Delight was EVERYWHERE and everybody wants to give you a sample!  

It was a quick hit trip – we were only gone for 5 days.  But it was a truly amazing 5 days. 

We found the Turkish people incredibly friendly and so very helpful.  Somebody was always willing to help Hubs and I when we needed to lift up his mobility scooter on a curb or up some stairs.

AGMA signed up for Turkish Airlines deal emails as soon as we got home!

I can’t wait to go back to get scrubbed and bubbled again!  Naked (nearly…)

Don’t judge me.

 

Tape me!

20181030_184649

So last week turned out to be every bit as cray cray as AGMA thought it would.

Readers Digest version…  We went to Naples, Florida on Thursday for a weekend wedding.  Son #1 was Best Man so he rented a 5 bedroom condo and brought the wife and kids.  And my DIL’s parents came as well.  And Son #2.

And we celebrated my sweet grandaughter’s 2nd birthday.  And got together with my Belle Mare’s (DIL’s mom) newly discovered siblings (thanks to Hubs brilliant genealogy research – that’s going to be a whole other post!)

And got together with my old boss who I haven’t seen in 5 years.  And entertained a few friends who came down for the wedding.  And went to the beach.

Besides the wedding, we went to the “out of towners” cocktail reception the night before.  And all the guests were invited to breakfast on Sunday.

Busy.

The groom is my Son #1’s BFF and was Best Man in my son’s wedding eight years ago.  They grew up together in Cincinnati, a lovely, but very conservative town in southwestern Ohio.

I used to be very good friends with Groom’s mom.  And all of the other moms of the kids Son #1 hung around with in Junior and Senior High.

But something ugly and orange happened on November 8, 2016.

And we are no longer good friends.  Some of the moms defriended me on Facebook because of my rather “spirited” comments on Cadet Bone Spurs and his Nazi posse.  Others, I’m sure, are following my posts closely and report them to the Bolton Gestapo.

AGMA won’t be going into any US Embassies on my travels.

So what’s the best passive aggressive way to show these GOP right wing Ohio mom’s that AGMA denounces all the hate the Massive Cheeto stands for, and is pro-humanity, pro-decency, pro-diversity, pro-equality, and pro-compassion?

I needed to show up at that wedding looking absolutely fabulous.  Of course.

This proved to be a challenge.  AGMA is a no make-up, comfy jeans, and Birkenstocks (generic of course…) kinda gal.

But I had a plan:

Step 1.  Get a “blow-out”.  It’s not what it sounds like…  It’s where you go to a hair salon looking place, but they don’t do haircuts.  They only wash, blow-dry and style your hair.  I spent $44 bucks (ouch) and the “do” lasted for about 8 hours.  But it was long enough.

Step 2.  Wear make-up.  The “blow-out” place also does make-up, but AGMA felt that would be over kill.  So for what I would have spent on them smearing stuff on my face, I went out and bought a whole slew of make-up and brushes.  Evidently you need a separate brush for everything. Seems like a bit of a racket…

Step 3.  Wear a fabulous dress.  AGMA doesn’t like wearing dresses.  So I really needed it to be very comfy.  But chic.  I found a winner on a visit to Nordstrom’s Rack,.  And better yet, it was on sale for – I kid you not – $13.50.

Crazy considering it was a great brand, lined and really good quality.

And it has a little strip of rhinestones in back.  At the top before the back plunges down almost to my waist.

What??

A plunging back?  With my barcalounger lazy girls that require severe trussing up on a daily basis?

If you didn’t already, you can read about them on a post I wrote not too long ago here.

Ever the optimist, AGMA felt confident that I could find some way to hold them in place.  Somehow.

There are these things called “sticky” bras.  They are supposed to hold you up and allow you to wear backless, strapless stuff.  AGMA found out they are mostly made for 34AA types.

I need support.  Lots and lots and lots of support.  There were a few who made that promise…  I bought a “sticky” bra at a store and ordered another one online to have options.

Then I found this hysterical post about a woman in a similar situation.  Her conclusion, “Stick-on bras are not made for women with a lotta boob, full stop.”

Her solution?

Tape.

The magic answer was to tape the ladies into submission.

Not scotch tape or duct tape or electrical tape, but Gaffer Tape.

I did a practice taping at home to make sure that it would work.  AGMA wanted to give the girls the help they needed, but also wanted to make sure the damn stuff would really stick.  Disaster could ensure if it let loose at the wrong time.

Oh the humanity!

To make a long story that NOBODY wants to hear short, it worked!

My hair looked fantastic. I did a decent job of putting on makeup (AGMA practiced that too!) and wore lipstick.  And the dress was lovely and chic in front but oh so sexy in back.

Take that you GOPers!

There was one point in the evening, after I had been dancing up a storm and sweating a bit, that I felt a few of the “anchor” pieces sort of peel off.  Uh oh…  But it lasted a few more dances until we left the reception.

Sweet.

It was a beautiful wedding.  The bride was stunning and the groom dashingly handsome.  Son #1’s toast went over very well.  And we all, blue, red, and purple, behaved ourselves and nobody talked politics.

We got home late Monday afternoon.  AGMA’s still exhausted.

But that’s okay…   I can sleep on the plane tonight.

Yup – AGMA’s hitting the road yet again.

This time it’s a short trip to Istanbul (or is it Constantinople?)

And AGMA and Hubs are going to go to a Turkish Bath.

I sense a really funny blog post in a week or so…

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!