One quintessential Turkish thing to do is to visit a hamam or Turkish bath. Our hostel recommended one near the Blue Mosque but, after visiting it, we decided it was too expensive and touristy so we set about finding one that was more ‘original’. In the end, we paid the same price as at the touristy hamam…but I’m sure the experience definitely was not one that tourists get.
Traditional hamams have separate areas, or sides, for men and women so Jason and I parted ways and each tentatively stepped into our respective entrances not entirely sure what lay ahead.
I went up the stairs, opened the door and entered into a small room containing a desk and some glassed in cubicles along one wall. The sounds of a television came from the next room and I could hear some ladies chatting. I called out…’merhaba’…and out popped a mu-mu wearing older woman to see to me. We discussed the different options, or I tried to discuss them anyway….she just kept pointing to #4 and so it seemed that it was #4 that I would be having.
She handed me a thin cotton ‘Turkish towel’ and pointed to one of the cubicles…I was to get changed. I closed the door and then realized that the door was all glass…there would be no privacy while changing.
I had read about hamam etiquette and had decided that ‘kitting down’ would be appropriate, especially in a non-tourist bath, and so I removed all my clothing and draped myself in the towel. I had also read that the towel was used throughout the process and provided any modesty that a client required. I’m guessing the ladies in the bath had not read the same books I had.
I was led through a door to a small, ‘cool’ room – all marble, lined with marble wash basins with brass fixtures – but we did not stop there. We continued on through the next door to the ‘warm’ room. A larger room, again lined with marble basins and brass fixtures but, dominating the center, was a large marble platform…a large heated marble platform. Large enough for 8-10 ladies to comfortably lounge on, hot enough to make me sweat in no time.
I would not be alone during my bath. Three young girls in the room when I arrived. Wrapped in towels, they were lounging, rinsing, chatting and giggling away. The lady pointed to the platform and motioned that I should lie on it so I made a move toward it before she called to me…’Madam…Madam’…and indicated that I should remove my towel. I was just thinking to myself…’but the girls still have theirs on’…when she took it from me and disappeared with it. And there I stood…naked.
Trying to look as comfortable as possible, and trying not to slip on the wet marble floor, I made my way to the platform and lay down. The marble was hot…not uncomfortable, but hot. In no time at all I was hot, hot, hot and dripping in sweat.
I lay there for what must have been half an hour…turning over occasionally and even managing once to get up and casually stroll (naked, people!) to one of the basins to rinse off and cool down a bit.
Just when I thought they might have forgotten about me, a woman entered to attend to me. I opened my eyes to see a larger, older woman clad only in her knickers…all belly and boobs right at eye level. She was to scrub me and rinse me and massage me. Nice.
She started with the loofah mitt, scrubbing away all the dead skin and most of the tan I’ve been working on so diligently. Both sides, up and down, head to toe. Then, after another death defying trip to the basin for a rinse, she washed me with a soapy mitt until I must have sparkled. After piling on more and more suds, she then massaged me lightly with the softest hands imaginable. Walking to the basin all soaped up would not have been a good idea…so she brought the water to me, bucketful by bucketful.
At this point I thought we were done so I sat up, hoping a towel would be produced. But no, we’re not finished yet. She is now sitting on a low stool and is indicating that I should sit on the marble step between her legs while she washes my hair, which she does with great efficiency, shampoo flying everywhere. Another quick rinse and now we’re done…I am smooth and clean and ready to face the (clothed) world again.
She leaves me to relax some more on the marble platform and then, when I am ready, I poke my head out and finally receive the towel I have been wanting all along.
Jason is already finished and I find him at a barber shop down the street enjoying a traditional Turkish shave…wet lather, straight blade, twice shaved, face massage, lemon oil. Clean, smooth and smelling good…what more could a girl ask for?
I’ll probably stick to cleaning myself from now on, but the hamam is definitely a Turkish experience that I’m glad I didn’t miss.
Sorry about the lack of pictures…I was naked!…where would I have kept the camera?
[box border=”full”]Looking to get connected to your trip to Turkey? Here are some great books to try.
My Name Is Red A fantastic puzzle of a book by Orhan Pamuk, one of Turkey’s most prominent writers.
Sailing Acts: Following An Ancient Voyage Come aboard as this modern couple retraces the ancient route of St Paul with Turkey being one of the many stops.
Istanbul: Memories And The City A memoir of growing up in the only city to straddle Asia and Europe.
The Global Bookshelf….Connecting Travelers To a World Of Stories[/box]