Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | December 9, 2010

out of molly’s cafe: termal, yalova

I actually got a day off! In fact, an evening and a day, the first one in over two months. Sometimes people come in to the café and say, ‘oh, I want to open a café’, and I say don’t do it unless you want to make it your life. So for a short time I had a life outside the café.

I invited a customer and friend, Adelaide, to come with me. Adelaide is a remarkable woman. She is about to turn 80, an American woman who has lived in France and Mexico for the past few decades. She is here in Istanbul for 6 months to get to know the city. Since most of my friends have ‘real’ jobs and work on Monday and Tuesday, I asked Adelaide to come with me, especially since I knew she would enjoy the trip.

Monday evening we met at the café and took a taxi to Yenikapi. Yenikapi is where one catches the fast ferryboats that go across the Marmara sea. I had looked online to see the departure times ( and knew that we had to be there a half hour before. Our return tickets were 20 lira each. No discount for elders, unfortunately, though there is one for teachers. Since I am no longer a teacher, I did not even try. We took the ferryboat that did not also carry cars. These are big boats and it often feels like being in a huge plane. By the time we left it was dark, so we could not see much, aside from random lights. This part of the trip was a little over an hour.

When we got to Yalova, I saw that the ferry port had been rebuilt and was much larger. The little cafés and bufes that had lined the old one were all gone, since the old structure was gone. However, there was a new wooden sort of big gazebo place across the underpass which looked nice, though we did not go to it. Instead, we walked to the big street and turned right towards the lot where the dolmuses picked up passengers. I asked the security guy where to go and he walked us right to the minivan that would take us to Termal. It cost 2.5 lira each for the half hour trip. I told the driver that we did not want to go to Termal per se, but to the village, Gokcedere. When we got to the village, he suggested a hotel, so we went there. It was called the New Park Hotel. It was clean and the rooms were fine, with two single beds. We each had our own room, which cost 70 lira each. I tried to bargain, but he said usually they were 95 lira. Whatever. There didn’t seem to be many other customers.

We put our stuff in our rooms and then walked down to get something to eat. The hotel man suggested one place, but it was mostly manti and ‘ev yemekleri’, which means home cooked sorts of food, but it didn’t seem that interesting. Instead we went to a kebab place, where we ate excellent chicken shish. There were pictures of Sanliurfa on the walls, so I asked the guy if he was Urfali. Yes, he was, so I asked him to explain the story of the famous fish in the lake. He did so in about one second. It was more or less that Holy Ibrahim was in a struggle with dark forces, which hurled fire at him, but instead the fire went into the lake and turned into goldfish. Even today people visit this lake and of course no one is allowed to eat the fish.

adelaide on the wisteria road


In the morning we had a fairly good Turkish breakfast at the hotel (included in the room fee) and then shopped for olive oil soap and scrubbing mitts on our way to the women’s bath. We walked up a lovely road lined with a wisteria arbour that in spring is loaded with purple blossoms. From this road we could look down on the Kursunlu Hamam, the lead hamam, named for the lead roof. The whole Termal complex has been used since Byzantine times (so for about 2000 years), but it was renovated in the early 1900s by Sultan Abdulmecit. The walls of the Kursunlu Hamam include pieces of relief sculpture from the Byzantine era.

kursunlu hamam






We took the stairway down to Termal itself and immediately headed for the women’s bath. It cost 38 lira for the entrance, the kese (scrub), and the massage. As we stood at the kiosk to pay we were jostled by enthusiastic village women and learned that it was halk gunu (people’s day), so the price was actually a little less. I suspect that if they had not come we would have paid the full price, but instead we got a bit of a refund.

In the changing room we were issued peshtamals, which are cotton cloths that are big enough to wrap around and can be used as towels. I had thought there were towels, but I was wrong. The peshtamals worked fine. We were naked under them, but when we got to the bath itself saw that most women had their panties on. What a sight! Enough to blow the fantasies of most men of what a women’s bath is like. There were a lot of older women with pendulous breasts, big cellulite bellies, and wide butts. Many women had vertical scars on their bellies, signifying that they had had children by caesarean, which unfortunately is very common in Turkey for no good reason. The women scrubbed themselves and each other, some lying on the ‘tas’ (tash), which was the heated stone slab in the centre of the room. Unfortunately it was too crowded for us to be able to get on it, but we did go into the hot bath in the other room. The women were certainly curious about us, but they smiled back when we smiled at them and a few tried to speak to us.

The masseuse came in to see who was waiting and I indicated that we were. She took someone else first and then came back for us. We went together so I could help Adelaide with instructions. Adelaide went first for the scrub. It was amazing to see how much crud was scrubbed off the skin. It was not dirt but dead skin. Another woman came in and asked if we minded if she had the kese before we had our massages, and of course we agreed. She had a lot of sludge coming off her skin. The masseuse commented on it and the woman said the people in her family had oily skin and she had just got out of the hospital for hypertension. It was kind of gross to see what rolled off her skin, truthfully. Mine was not so bad and neither was Adelaide’s, perhaps because we are of European stock. The massage was good, though we each had a squawk at different points. It was good I was there, as I could tell the masseuse where to go easy on Adelaide The masseuse used soapy water to do the massage, by the way, which is why we had bought olive oil soap. When she was done we were both incredibly clean and way relaxed. I was not so sore as I was last year when I went with my sister– then we were both sore for 3 days after the massage. Perhaps I have less stress. Not!

As we got dressed it was interesting once again to see the women transform. Many of them were village women and got into their bloomers, long skirts, and headscarves. A few were dressed fairly smartly, obviously in from the city. As we were getting dressed a group of gypsy women came in, some with children, so I was glad we missed the children part.

big tree

It was a lovely day outside, so we went and drank tea in the courtyard under the huge plane tree. It is so big that there are supports under some of the branches. We drank our tea and looked at the Kursunlu Hamam. Then we walked down there and looked into its courtyard and over to the swimming pool, which is full of hot water. There were several people in it, mostly men, so I was glad we had decided not to bother with it.

termal pool






We walked back up the stairs to the wisteria road and stopped to buy some linden flower tea and some sort of ragged blueberries, the first I had ever seen here. We continued on to Balli Amca, an old man who has been selling honey for many years. I bought kestane balli, chestnut honey, from him. It is a dark honey that is good for bronchitis, among other things. Since I had just gotten over bronchitis, I was glad to get it and also bought some for my helper. I also bought some bee pollen, which is good for energy.

We kept strolling a bit and stopped at Ginger Burger to skip the burgers and have Turkish food. We sat in the sun until it moved and then sat inside. The owner helped us flag down a dolmus and we made the return trip to Yalova, this time able to see the land that we were travelling over. Termal is up in the hills, so we saw a lot of green and then as we got closer to the town we saw a lot of greenhouses and villas. I told Adelaide that when I had first gone to Termal, some of the flat fields were filled with temporary housing for people who had lost their homes in the big 1999 earthquake, as Yalova was particularly hard hit.

When the doors opened for the passengers to board the ferry, I dashed ahead and got us seats right at the very front. It was a very pleasant ride back. You could see how huge this city is– Yalova is across the sea, but now it is considered part of Istanbul We also went by the back side of the Princes’ Islands. The sun was setting as we came into the ferry port. A lovely evening after a lovely day.



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