We use cookies to give you the best possible experience on our site. Click here to find out more. Allow cookies

arrow Register here

Forgotten password?

Pole to Pole

Day 44: Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey 
click to enlarge 
file size
Istanbul: markets.
Michael Palin - Pole to PoleBy the end of this hot, hard day the ministrations of a proper Turkish bath, a hammam, are irresistible.

The Cagaloglu Hammam, a splendid emporium of cleanliness, is this year celebrating 300 years in business, during which time it has cleaned, amongst others, King Edward VII, Kaiser Wilhelm, Florence Nightingale and Tony Curtis. I can choose from a 'self-service bath' (the cheapest option), a 'scrubbed assisted bath', a 'massage ˆ la Turk - you'll feel years younger after this vigorous revitalizing treatment' or the 'Sultan service', which promises, modestly, that 'you will feel reborn'. At 120,000 Turkish lira, about £17, rebirth seems a snip, and after signing up I'm given a red-and-white check towel and shown to a small changing cubicle. Through the glass I can see a group of masseurs with long droopy moustaches, hairy chests, bulbous stomachs and an occasional tattoo. At that moment a Turkish father and son emerge from a cubicle and the little boy, who looks to be only eight or nine, is ushered towards the steam-room by one of these desperadoes with a reassuring gentleness and good humour.

The steam-room, the hararet, is set to one side of an enormous central chamber with walls and floor of silver-grey marble, and a dome supported by elegant columns and arches. While I work up a good dripping sweat from the underfloor heating I get talking to a fellow bather, an Italian. He has driven to Istanbul from Bologna, and had come quite unscathed through Yugoslavia, where there is a state of civil war, but had found newly-liberated Romania a dark and dangerous place. Gasoline was almost unobtainable. He bought a can which he found later to be water. I asked him if there was any more news from the USSR. He said he had heard that Leningrad had been sealed off and tanks had moved into the Kremlin.
Choose another day from Pole to Pole


  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 44
  • Country/sea: Turkey
  • Place: Istanbul
  • Book page no: 99

Bookmarks will keep your place in one or more series. But you'll need to register and/or log in.