Taking a hamam
The Turkish bath, rising out of the Islamic requirement of cleanliness, is not just practical; it's relaxing as well. A good hamam experience includes the proper traditional ambience and a heavy-handed scrubbing. For historical value, you can't beat the Çemberlitas Hamami. But if you want the royal treatment, reserve a time posthaste at Les Ottomans Caudelie Vinotherapie Spa, the Çiragan Palace Sanitas Spa, the Sofa Hotel Taylife Spa, or one of the other deluxe hotel hamams.
Attending a performance of the Ottoman Mehter Band
The underappreciated Military Museum in Harbiye puts on two daily half-hour performances of what was once the avant-garde of the fearless and brutal Ottoman army. It's a powerful performance of sound and visuals, and truly not to be missed.
Wandering the streets behind the Egyptian Spice Market
It's just as much fun outside as it is inside the market, where purveyors of produce set their prepared foods out on the streets for the local lunch crowd. Bring wet wipes.
Discovering the Grand Bazaar
Nobody should pass through Turkey without spending a day at the mother of all shopping malls. The pseudo-exotic atmosphere crackles with the electricity of the hunt -- but are you the hunter or the hunted? The excitement is tangible, even if you're on the trail of a simple pair of elf shoes or an evil-eye talisman. When the salesman turns away from you in disgust, you've learned the bottom price for an item.
Taking a boat ride up the Bosphorus
Nowhere else in the world can you cross to another continent every 15 minutes. Connecting trade routes from the East to the West, it's no surprise that any conqueror who was anybody had his sights set on the Bosphorus. Floating in the wake of Jason and the Argonauts and Constantine the Great, sit back and enjoy the breezes, the stately wooden manses, the monumental Ottoman domes, and the fortresses that helped win battles.
Stumbling over a small herd of sheep in Balat
This is one of the countless neighborhoods in Istanbul in transition, where old, dilapidated structures are getting the recognition they deserve. It's really just a matter of time before Starbucks moves in; but while I can't promise you sheep on your visit, if you go there soon, you will witness the character of the city before it started looking European.
Soaking up the atmosphere at the Pierre Loti café
The views of the Golden Horn from this hilltop make the trip to Pierre Loti worth the detour. Take a walk through the picturesque cemetery adjacent to the cafe; then wander down to Eyüp to see parades of princely looking boys on the eve of their circumcision ceremony.
Sharing tea with the locals
Tea is at the center of Turkish culture; no significant negotiation takes place without a cup or three. But more than commerce, tea stops the hands of time in Turkey; it renews the bonds of friends and family. Having tea is inevitable, as is the invitation to share a glass with a total stranger. Accept the invitation: There's more to a glass than just a hot drink.
Buying a carpet, whether you plan to or not
Come on, you know you want to. And whatever it is that you buy, whether you overpay or not, whether your salesman is naughty or nice, I guarantee you will be talking about the experience for years to come.
Rejuvenating your spirit at the ceremony of the Whirling Dervises at Galata Mevlevihanesi
The same repetitive whirling and soothing tones of the sufi mystics designed to create a sense of union between the dervis and God will undoubtedly entrance you as well.
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