Maritime History Comes To Life With New Titanic

maritime historyMaritime history buffs travel around the planet to see and experience places where ships and the brave crews aboard may have helped to forge a new land and explore the unknown. The naval and passenger ships of yesteryear were an integral part of making the world we know today. Now, taking a step back to the past with an eye on the future, an Australian billionaire is honoring the legacy of Titanic, the ill-fated ocean liner that sank in 1912 after hitting an iceberg, in a bold new way.

Last year, the 100-year anniversary of the sinking of Titanic was honored at namesake attractions, museums and events around the world. Adding to the slew of memorials, Australian billionaire Professor Clive Palmer will build a nearly exact replica of Titanic.

Australian billionaire Prof. Clive Palmer,

“This magnificent vessel is to be constructed in memory of the heroic people who served on the ship, the passengers who sadly shared their fate and all those that survived the tragedy,” said Professor Palmer in a Daily Echo report.

To be built in China’s CSC Jinling Shipyard, Titanic II will enter passenger service in 2016 sailing from Southampton, England, to New York City on a route similar to that of the original Titanic – minus the iceberg.Carrying 2,436 passengers, new Titanic II will cast a profile nearly identical to the original at 883 feet long (less than a foot longer than the original), 106 feet wide and have a maximum speed of 24 knots. At 55,800 tons, the new ship will be just 8,000 tons larger but have some important features that the former “unsinkable” version did not. Steam engines will be replaced by diesel electric pop propulsion units and, unlike the original, there will be plenty of lifeboats for all on board.

Staying with the “ship of dreams” motif, Palmer promises his new Blue Star Line will produce a vessel every bit as luxurious as the original White Star Line ship, with some important additions.

“Through the rebuilding of the ship I want to recognize the artists and artisans whose skill, creativity and dexterity has never to this day been fully acknowledged because of the ship’s limited service,” said Palmer.

Honoring the original design, the ship will offer staterooms and public spaces that will be nearly identical to the original Titanic – right down to having no televisions. Palmer is undecided on if the ship will have Internet access available but is adding an additional deck, air conditioning and modern toilets.

Titanic II will also feature a 400-seat theater, casino, shopping, business center, modern medical center and helicopter-landing pad.

Those sailing the new Titanic will have to choose between classes of accommodations, much like the original, or a package that allows them to sample all three classes in one voyage.

Along with nearly duplicate features of the original ship, including Turkish baths and a squash court, Titanic II is set to sail her first voyage in 2016 from Shanghai, China, to Southampton, and then on to New York.




[Photo credit- Blue Star Line]

A hot date at NYC’s Russian & Turkish Baths

nyc russian turkish baths

“So what are you doing tonight, Jimmy?”

As I listen to the question, I gasp for air. Steam clouds my eyes as sweat drips down my face. The smell of eucalyptus hangs heavy in the air.

“My wife, she thinks I’m gonna bring her flowers or take her out for sushi,” Jimmy says, his voice thick with the swagger of a New York City accent.

“She thinks I’m gonna do one. I’m gonna do both. That’s how you make her happy.”

The men laugh while the moisture suffocates me. It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m in a steam room at the Russian & Turkish Baths in downtown NYC.

Jimmy continues talking, discussing the finer points of his marriage (“Put it this way, when I go to work, at least I’m getting out of the house”) and debating the merits of different falafel joints (“You can’t say one is the best, that one is only best for you”). When he leaves the room, he drops a gem on two girls chatting about failed relationships: “Without love, we can’t have peace.”

The Russian & Turkish Baths are an East Village institution, and tonight it’s crowded with couples, singles and regulars like Jimmy and his crew, all seeking a hot, steamy respite from the February cold. New Yorkers in varying levels of undress hop from room to room: the mild steam room, the pleasant redwood sauna room, the radiator-heated Turkish Room, the intensely scented Aromatherapy Room. A regular advises us to stay no longer than 15 minutes in each spot and take a plunge in the icy central pool between sessions, which is said to improve circulation.

Then, the regular points us to the largest room, the big Kahuna, the star of the bathhouse: the Russian Sauna room. Here, an oven filled with 20,000 pounds of stones cooked overnight emits a radiant heat that ranges from intense to unbearable. Before we head in, we listen to the splashing of water and whipping of platza oak leaves, and we watch as people emerge with bright red skin, soaked from head to toe and looking like they’re about to have a heart attack. I brace myself.

Inside it feels like a cauldron and smells like a heady mix of essential oils and B.O. The room is packed with people, some sitting on bleacher-style benches, some receiving platza oak leaf treatments ($40) from husky men in robes and some dousing themselves with buckets of ice cold water streaming from a spout in the center of the room. The walls are solid rock. I’d never seen anything like it.

Unfortunately, I only last about 3.25 minutes before the room started spinning. The Russian Sauna isn’t for the faint of heart. I push my way out, skin bright red, and dive into the plunge pool. I think I’m done.

Upstairs the smell of homestyle Russian food greets us. After a quick shower and change, we ditch our plans for a swanky night of dinner and dancing and settle instead for a warm meal of dumplings and borscht — no flowers or sushi needed.

The Russian & Turkish Baths are located at 268 10th Street in New York City. A one-day pass is $35 and includes facilities, robes, slippers, towels, soap, razor and timeless words of wisdom.

[Image via Russian & Turkish Baths]

Stressed? Soak up some relaxation in a hammam

New experiences make the best presents.

My brother-in-law and his wife gave me and my wife gift certificates to Madrid’s biggest hammam, or Arab/Turkish bath.

I’ve always liked hammams. The ones in Turkey, with their cold, warm, and hot sections, are reminiscent of Roman baths. I’ve also tried them in Iran, where in poorer neighborhoods that lack plumbing they aren’t just for relaxation, but also literally for bathing. Those aren’t as relaxing because most people are just popping in for a quick shower instead of lazing away the afternoon with some steam and a massage.

Last week was the first time I tried a hammam in the Western world. They’re getting more popular, cropping up in many cities as a cheap alternative to a spa. The one we went to was in an old water works that had been remade to look like a Turkish bath, complete with piped music and fake skylights. In contrast to their Middle Eastern counterparts, most Western baths let in people of both sexes. Bathing suits are required, unlike certain Parisian hammams a female friend of mine goes to!The hammam had a warm pool that felt like a bath, a hot pool that felt wonderfully relaxing but made me sleepy if I stayed in too long, and a reinvigorating cold plunge. Supporters of hammams say that making the rounds between warm, hot, and cold baths relaxes and rejuvenates you, improving general well-being and opening up pores to improve the skin.

The attached picture shows a Turkish hammam, where the water is in basins, but the hammam we went to had actual wading pools filling large rooms. Some people even swam laps!

This particular hammam, like many others, also has a steam room and massage therapists. My wife and I both got expert fifteen-minute massages. The whole experience was very soothing and the perfect way to unwind after a hectic holiday season. The only off note was some of the customers. Spaniards feel the need to speak loudly absolutely everywhere, including during movies, an unforgivable sin, and also in hammams that have signs saying “Silencio, por favor” hanging on every wall. In the Turkish and Iranian baths I’ve visited silence always reigned, and the hushed atmosphere added another level of relaxation and otherworldiness to the experience.

Most of the customers were couples in their twenties, thirties, or forties. While this is not a place for picking up members of the opposite or same sex, the warm air, trickle of water, and dim lighting does create a sensuous atmosphere. It’s perfectly acceptable to snuggle up to your partner and kiss, but the guy who was nibbling his girlfriend’s toes went a bit too far in my opinion.

Hammams are getting more popular in the West, so check out if there’s one near you and get your in-laws to treat you. You won’t be sorry.

Istanbul’s hammams becoming more popular

In Ottoman times they were the daily ritual of the wealthy and middle class. Hammams were a place to unwind and socialize while getting clean. But in the twentieth century with the rise of internal plumbing and changing attitudes, the traditional hammam declined. Many decayed or were converted to other uses.

Now hammams are becoming popular again. Turks are once again interested in their Ottoman past, and with the recent death of the last heir to the Ottoman throne, that nostalgia will probably increase. Cagaloglu, built in Istanbul in 1741, is on sale for $16 million. Another one in Istanbul’s Aya Kepi neighborhood, dating to the 16th century and built by the famous Ottoman architect Sinan, is on sale cheap for $3 million, but needs extensive remodeling. At the moment it’s being used to store lumber! Hopefully someone will buy this historic building and reopen it as a hammam. There’s also been a spate of new building, with hammams appearing in shopping malls and hotels.

While the big historic ones in Istanbul are impressive, going to a small-town hammam in Cappadocia was one of the more memorable experiences of my month in Turkey. It was so small, in fact, that they didn’t have separate men’s and women’s sections. Men and women went on different days. The smaller crowd made the whole experience more relaxing and the tellak (masseur) sure knew his business. As I lay on a warm stone bench he squashed me into the rock, kneading my muscles until tension fled in terror. The best feeling was when he stopped! It was only then that I realized how relaxed I was.

Lounging around a hammam is a great way to spend a couple of hours. So if you’re headed to Turkey, try a hammam. The small-town ones are more sedate and less expensive, but the big popular ones in Istanbul need support too.