9 hours in istanbul
The layover: Istanbul.
9 hours isn't a whole lot of time, but it's just enough to: make it through customs, freshen up in the ladies', drop my carry-on at left luggage, cop a metro card and take the train, then the tram to Sultanahmet, a district that is home to several of the touristic sites in Istanbul.
My flight landed at 5 am, so the sites are free of tourists by the time I arrive. Even the sun hasn't fully shown up yet. I stroll and snap, stopping to chat with stray cats and seagulls. Soon, the early shops begin to open and food smells start wafting in the air. I spy a side street spot packed with people... a sure sign that something good is being served.
After eating, another tourist attraction and a brisk walk through the gigantic Grand Bazaar. "Hello! Good Morning!" Many of the shop keepers cheerfully call as they prep their stalls for the day. I smile and reply, impressed that they guess English on the first try. Only 1 offers a tentative, "Bonjour". I must already look like home.
Too tired to buy, I exit, then zombie-walk a bit more, trying to decide if I should enter 1 of the now-open attractions or... i see a sign. '300-year-old Turkish bath'. Hm. When in Turkey....
I descend into the coolness, hand over the last of my lira. A motherly attendant greets me on the ladies' side. I'm assigned a changing room with a key, some clog-like slippers, a light towel, metal bowl, soap and scrub mitt, then pointed to the common bath. Shyness quickly dissipates, and once an attendant gently scolds me on how to correctly use the ancient taps, marble basins and metal bowl, I conduct my own ritual of soap-and-scrub, rinse, steam-and-sleep for the next hour and a half, before reluctantly returning to the changing room. I hit the streets and reverse my arrival procedure. As I board, i sigh a little. Content that I'll be arriving in ATL feeling so fresh and so clean.