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Our maiden hamam experience

It was a tiring overnight journey from Nevşehir (Cappadocia) to Istanbul. And to be frank, we hadn’t showered for a couple of days! 😉 We were saving it up for the much awaited Turkish Hamam!

So, as soon as we met our host and dost (means friend in Hindi), Hamdi in Istanbul we asked him to take us to a good neighbourhood hamam. He was surprised at this unusual initial request but quickly suggested one of his favorite hamams which he frequently goes to – the Çinili Hamam in Uskudar area of Istanbul.

The simple and authentic neighborhood hamam!
Çinili Hamamı

We checked up the timings on the internet and were all set to go! Wait a minute.. were we really ready for the unusual experience yet?? Not really! We had a lot of doubts on our mind 🙂 We bombarded Hamdi with all of them. He simply smiled, answered some of them and said, ‘Guys! Don’t worry! Just go for it:) ‘ And the only way the doubts got cleared was after the whole experience!

Now, what is a hamam?

A hamam(Turkish bath) is a public steam bath. Hamams were especially beloved in the Ottoman Empire, and they can be found in many parts of the Middle East today. The hamam is far from just a place to get clean. It is also a place of ritual bathing, and a chance for social interaction for the bathers, especially in earlier days. And the most famous and authentic ones are found in Turkey, notably Istanbul.

How do you choose a hamam?

Well, it depends on a lot of factors, the important ones being your budget and location. The hamam experience can cost you anywhere between 10-200 USD! Almost eveywhere neighbourhood in Istanbul has its own hamam where the locals go regularly. Since we were on a low budget backpacking trip, we went to a simple but authentic neighbourhood hamam in Uskudar, Istanbul called Çinili Hamam (http://www.cinilihamam.com/).

Simple and authentic neighborhood hamam
Simple and authentic neighborhood hamam

It may not be listed in any of the travel guides or blogs but it dates back to 1640 and is surely authentic!! And if you want to experience what the locals do rather than the touristy places then we recommend this place! Or if you have a friend in Istanbul just ask him/her for other lesser-known neighbourhood hamams.

Some of the really famous and supposedly good hamams in Istanbul are – Cağaloğlu Hamam and Çemberlitaş Hamam. They can be quite pricy though.

The first visit to a hamam can be a daunting experience! Be prepared for some awkward moments and unusual experiences. As a general rule, hamams are segregated by gender. Men and women either attend at different hours or they enter separate baths. Most of the hamams are quite beautiful. Some are ancient, providing a fascinating view into the history of Middle Eastern art and architecture.

Here’s an overview of what happens in a traditional hamam –

First, you talk to the receptionist to decide the level of treatment you want. It could be –

Self-service: Obviously the cheapest option where you bathe yourself. It may cost anywhere between 30-100 Turkish Lira. We would not recommend it.

Traditional style: This is what gives you the real hamam experience where an attendant will scrub and wash your body! Costs between 40-200 TL. We paid 40 TL.

Other additional services: Oil massage, aromatherapy, head massage, etc. Not necessary.

Upon entering the hamam, you will be taken to a private cubicle where you are required to undress. Your attendant will give you a cotton towel along with a key to your cubicle.

The private cubicles where you can dress/undress
The private cubicles where you can dress/undress

Here, undress, could mean many things. Men usually completely strip down and wear nothing underneath the bath-wrap. Women on the other hand mostly keep on wearing their underwear ( but often not their bra) underneath the bath-wrap. The choice is yours.

The attendants may not speak much English so communicating what you would like – a bath and massage, or just bath — may be a challenge. Take the help of your local friend or try using Google translate. Also try to bring your own soap, towel or shampoo. Some baths do offer them, but they are expensive and not high quality.

Initially you’re taken to a warm marble steam room with a raised stone platform (goebektas) in the center, surrounded by bathing alcoves with basins around the perimeter of the room where you can splash yourself with cold water.

The central heated marble stone and the surrounding accloves
The central heated marble stone and the surrounding acloves

The attendant now leaves you for a while. This is the time you need to relax and loosen up and sweat a lot. You can look around and appreciate the architecture of the hamam too!

The impressive interiors!
The impressive interiors!

After 15 minutes of sitting in the warm room  the masseur now makes his/her entry. The masseur asks you to lie on the central raised stone platform and soaks your body with warm water and gives you a dry massage with a kese or a rough mitt. You’re scrubbed cleaner than you ever have been. All those dead layers of skin are gone!

Time to get rid of that dirt and dead skin!
Time to get rid of that dirt and dead skin!

Then comes the soap. The masseur will work up a copious amount of lather with an enormous sponge and squeeze it all over you and clean you yet again. He/she even washes your hair with shampoo. This is followed by a rinsing session with cold water. After the cold plunge and massage, you move into a cooling room to neutralize your body temperatures before venturing into the outside world.

This is a time to socialize with others and strike some conversations! So don’t be in a hurry. Hang around and soak up the experience. Carry some water or cold drinks as you will be dehydrated during the whole process!

You can take a nap in the cubicle or socialize with others!
You can take a nap in the cubicle or socialize with others!

After your rest, it is time to head back to the cubicle to get dressed. You may want to relax and take a nap and then head out.

That’s it!! Our first hamam experience which was initially filled with some apprehension turned out to be a great cleansing experience! We made sure we had no more plans for that day. We grabbed some food and went home straight for the most wonderful nap!!

Yeah, we were now hamam birds! Our friend Hamdi used this word to describe us the next morning when we felt so fresh and light! 🙂

 

So the next time you are in Turkey or Istanbul make sure you go to a hamam for the most refreshing and unique experience!! Ditch those apprehensions and simply go for it! 🙂

Some important tips from our experience:

  •  Try visiting a neighborhood hamam for the authentic local experience
  •  Always go for the traditional style for the first time where the masseur scrubs and washes your body.
  •  Carry your own soap, shampoo, other toiletries and towel
  •  Carry extra pair of undergarments.
  •  Take along some water and drinks to hydrate yourself
  •  Don’t be in a hurry. Set aside at least 3-4 hours for the whole experience
  •  Don’t plan any other activity for the day. Just go back home/to your room take the most wonderful nap of your life!

What do you think about hamam? Have you had your share of hamam experience? If so, tell us about it!

Our Favorite Eat-outs in Bangalore!

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”                                                                    – George Bernard Shaw

Bangalore is a foodie’s paradise, no doubt. In the last one and a half years in Bangalore, I have been able to get a decent taste of this paradise! I’m a foodie. And I feel lucky to be in a country that keeps my taste buds titillatingly happy.

The belly rules the mind :)  -Spanish Proverb
The belly rules the mind 🙂
-Spanish Proverb

I’m a big fan of street food. One of my favorite things to do in a new country or city is to visit the local street food vendors. Indian Street food is a perfect way to sample India’s vast cuisine and culture. You get to stand around a food cart and watch the magic of vendors slinging ingredients together to make their local delicacies. You get to see the love and attention that goes into food and food consumption.  

Well, each area in Bangalore is a city in itself. It has its own popular eating joints too.

Here I list some of our(me and VJ) favourite places (in no particular order) – both street food and restaurants. I’ll keep adding to the list as and when we discover more places 🙂

1. Mavalli Tiffin Room(MTR):

Possibly the most popular South Indian restaurant in Bangalore, MTR has acquired cult status for its unique taste and purity, with people queuing up even early in the morning to get in.Earlier it was a single location restaurant(near Lalbagh gardens) but recently new outlets are being opened, notably in Indiranagar and Forum Value mall, Whitefield.

The restaurant with a cult status!
The restaurant with a cult status!

While I do feel it’s overrated at times, it has an authentic taste.

I love the bisi bele bath, khara bath and filter coffee here!  

Taste: 7/10

Service: 7/10

Value for money: 6/10

Location : Here

2. Halli mane:

Yet another cult restaurant in the beautiful Malleswaram area, I was impressed with the ambience of the place. It’s quite spacious too.

halli_mane_mallesw_galleryfull
All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast. 🙂 -John Gunther

One of our good friends introduced us to this place after a long 30 km cycle ride. The restaurant is a visual treat too with its village style atmosphere.

Dosa and coffee after some heavy cycling! :)
Dosa and coffee after some serious cycling! 🙂

My favourites here are Mangalore buns, crispy dosas and the filter coffee!

Taste: 7/10

Service: 7/10

Value for money: 7/10

Location : Here

3. South thindies:

A darshini type restaurant in Basavanagudi, it’s one of my all time favourites! How much does ambience and service really matter? For me good food is all that matters. If you are like me then you shouldn’t give this restaurant a miss at any cost.

South thindies in Basavangudi
South thindies in Basavangudi

I have had some of the best idli sambar, vada, dosas  and Mangalore buns here!

The pesarattu which is usually a Andhra delicacy is served here with different texture which is good.

“After a good meal one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations.”
“After a good meal one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”

And there’s the awesome filter coffee to wash it all down the throat!

 Taste: 9/10

Service: Self

Value for money: 9/10

Location : Here

4. Veena stores:

If you a great fan of the great Indian dough-nut shaped delicacy called the vada, then this is the place you should visit! They have some of the crispiest vadas in Bangalore!

The crispiest vada in Bangalore :)
The crispiest vada in Bangalore 🙂

It’s a small roadside shop in Margosa road, Malleswaram and one simply needs to walk up to the shop order the food – get the token after paying the bill and collect your food and eat while enjoying the surroundings. I think for decades they have been serving the same food with the same quality.

Veena stores in Malleswaram
Veena stores in Malleswaram

My favourites here are the vada, pongal and khara bath.

Taste: 8/10 (10/10 for vadas 😉

Service: Self

Value for money: 8/10 

Location : Here

5. Brahmin’s coffee bar:

This is one of the old joints which is still famous and running. Located in the Shankarapuram area in Basavanagudi, they serve some of the softest idlis in town. With a limited menu and quality food it’s a must visit for those who love south Indian tiffin. There is a dedicated person sitting outside for serving chutney!

Limited menu but great taste!
Limited menu but great taste!

My favourites here are idli and khara bath.

Cookery is not chemistry. It is an art. It requires instinct and taste rather than exact measurements. -Marcel Boulestin
Hot and soft idlis!!Anyone?

Taste: 7/10

Service: Self

Value for money: 8/10

Location : Here

6. Bobby da dhaba: 

Do you want to have the best parathas in Bangalore? Then this is the place to go to! I just love the hot and spicy parathas with that dollop of white butter on top of them. Perfectly sinful, I know!

Earlier it was located right next to the Ulsoor gurudwara, now the place is shifted to St. John’s road and is quite spacious now but with basic ambience. Cleanliness needs some improvement.

Cookery is not chemistry. It is an art. It requires instinct and taste rather than exact measurements. -Marcel Boulestin
Cookery is not chemistry. It is an art. It requires instinct and taste rather than exact measurements. -Marcel Boulestin

All the varieties of parathas are a must-try. So are Baingan da bartha, kadi pakoda and kheer. A glass of buttermilk to accompany these is a must!

Taste: 8/10

Service: 6/10

Value for money: 8/10

Location : Here

7. Eat street aka thindi beedi aka chat street:

Just a 400m stretch of road flanked on either sides by old buildings, Bangalore’s famous VV Puram eat street is a paradise for street food lovers! It only opens up after sunset when the vendors start rolling up their shutters and pushing out their carts. It has the perfect street food ambience.

Eat street!!!
Eat street!!!

You can start at one end of the road with the more common idli, vada, dosa.

Don’t miss out the paddu, mosaru kodbele, akki rotti, ragi rotti and thatte idli! If you like eating spicy food, don’t miss the mirchi bajji and other bondas.

The congress bun at VB bakery has etched an important place here. Butter gulkand fruit salad icecream can serve as a perfect dessert! You can wash all these down with a glass of masala soda!

At the end of every year, an Avarebele mela kicks off at the eat-street and is a culinary and visual treat for fans of the humble ‘hithakabele’. Almost 63 varieties of snacks and sweets and made of the humble avarekaalu(field beans).

Can you imagine some 60+ dishes made of these simple field beans??
Can you imagine some 60+ dishes made of these simple field beans??
avare dosa
Akki rotti(rice roti) made of avare kalu

Even if you are not a foodie, the gastro rich vibe at eat street is worth watching!

Taste: 8/10

Service: Self

Value for money: 8/10

Location : Here

8. 99 variety dosas:

This is one hidden gem that we happened to discover in Indiranagar 7th main during a leisurely evening walk. And eventually realised that there were similar joints in various other places too, notably, Koramangala 6th main, BTM layout, Bannerghatta, etc. And hats off to their ingenuity. These guys can actually create 99 varieties of dosas with the most awesome ingredients – Paneer, corn, mushroom, capsicum, potato, cheese and even noodles!

Watch them as they expertly toss in the dosa batter, add dollops of butter and then mix in whichever ingredients you like, to create one hot, melt in your mouth dosa!

99
It’s actually a visual treat to watch them make the dosas!

Hygiene is maintained to a reasonable extent too.

Taste: 8/10

Service: Self

Value for money: 8/10

9. Chakum chukum:

Unarguably one of the best Calcutta rolls in Bangalore, we were introduced to it by one of our expat friends who just loves these rolls and says these are one of the best things about Bangalore!

One of our favorite adda! :)
One of our favorite adda! 🙂

The Kati rolls (kolkatta style) be it Veg/ Non veg come with loads of varieties that every single time you visit, you have something new to try. Our consistent favourite has been paneer egg followed by chicken egg. The rolls are quite filling and always cooked to perfection.

One of the best Kati rolls in Bangalore!
One of the best Kati rolls in Bangalore!

Taste: 8/10

Service: Self

Value for money: 8/10

Location : Here

10. Ali Baba cafe:

Do you love the Middle eastern cuisine? Hummus, babaganoush, etc? Well, VJ just loves it and off late I’ve started liking it too. This tiny, less popular joint in Frazer town was introduced to us by Highway On My Plate(HOMP) in NDTV Good times.

After searching for a good half hour we finally found the place. It’s not so easy to locate the place for first timers who are not familiar with the area. One important landmark which we found out later is Richies Rahhams restaurant on MM road. The entrance to the restaurant on 1st floor is through a narrow, dark stairway and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone says they were skeptical to proceed. However, as you enter that restaurant things look a little better.

A small Persia in Bangalore?
A small Persia in Bangalore?

The decor is interesting, in that it doesn’t look like your typical restaurant. It shows that they have made an effort to do up the interiors. The modified ceiling, antique looking furniture, the curtains, artifacts, give the place a middle eastern look.

They specialize in 3 types of cuisines – Arabian, Persian and Bhatkali. As such, their menu is quite exhaustive, and most of the items were alien to us except for the few Arabian dishes. We had the awesome Persian yogurt or the Doogh. We were completely bowled by the Mezzeh platter that we ordered. It was the best one we have had till now!

One of the best Mezze platter we have had!
One of the best Mezze platter we have had!

And the simple dessert of Shaufa pana pudding completed a happy meal for us!

Taste: 8/10 (For Mezzeh platter-10/10)

Service: 7/10

Value for money: 8/10

Location : Here

 

What do you think of the list? Tell us about your favorite eat outs! We’ll check them out 🙂

Travel Photo of the week #8 Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

 

Dubrovnik is rightly called the pearl of the Adriatic. Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast is Eastern Europe’s Riviera. And the best Dalmatian destination of them all is Dubrovnik — a living fairy tale that shouldn’t be missed. With an epic history, breezy Mediterranean culture, and one of Eastern Europe’s best old towns, Dubrovnik is like Venice without the canals. 🙂

Stranger #11: The Croatian Catholic priest who could speak Hindi!

It was a bright and sunny day. We had walked a lot to reach the upper town and got into the most popular church in town – The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Zagreb
The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Zagreb

It was very nice and cozy inside. We decided to sit for a while and appreciate the gothic architecture. All of a sudden, from nowhere, he appeared and approached us with a smile on his face. He asked us if we were from India. Upon getting a positive reply he said – ‘Kaise ho?’ We were taken aback. We just assumed that he may have traveled to India or has friends from India and continued talking. What followed in the next couple of hours completely took us by surprise!

The stranger who surprised us!
The stranger who surprised us!

He started talking about Bhagavad Gita, Sanskrit, Hindi, Hinduism amongst other things! Here was a Croatian who had never been to India, who had no friends from India but knew so much about our country including the language which probably some of the Indians themselves do not know.
We were awestruck and asked him how he knew all this! He simply smiled and said that he likes to learn about different countries and their history. He was a history professor and had an in depth knowledge about Indian culture and he spoke Hindi along with 8 other European languages! What astonished us some more was that he was able to write in Hindi! He wrote his name in Hindi without a single mistake! Now, that’s something!!!

He could write Hindi accurately!!
He could write Hindi accurately!!
zlatko
Amazing, isn’t it??!!

He also spoke to us in Bengali but we could not understand much as we did not know the language. There we were, listening to an European speaking to us in an Indian language and not able to understand it 😉
He took us around the whole church and explained in detail about the history of the church and Christianity. He was also a priest in a church! When we were finished with the church he asked us, ‘How much free time do you have?’ We were free for the next three hours before we had to catch up with our host at a music concert. He said, ‘Would you like if I showed you my city? The city where I grew up and spent most of my life’.  We were simply amazed! He was an elderly and scholarly looking man offering to take us around his city! By this time we were very sure that he was very knowledgeable and is not a random person offering to help us.
For the next two hours we walked, talked and walked all around the old town of Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia. He took us to the upper and lower towns, showed all the important places and narrated scores of interesting stories from his life!

One of Zagreb's most emblematic buildings - St. Mark's church
One of Zagreb’s most emblematic buildings – St. Mark’s church

He made us laugh a lot too! As a last stop he took us to his church and told us about a young martyr in Croatia, Ivan Merz, who had inspired thousands of young people to get into social work. We felt so lucky that he found us and decided to spend a few hours with us!

Lucky us!!
Lucky us!!

Meet Zlatko Lukez, a professor of history, a priest in a Catholic church, also heading a movement for young Christians in Zagreb, Croatia and more than anything else, who bid us goodbye saying, ‘Shukriya, phir milenge 🙂 ’.
PS: Later that night we found out that this man was the history professor of our host, Seka, and that he was a favorite amongst the students for his witty and interesting classes. 🙂

By the way our professor has also met Mother Theresa thrice, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict 🙂