All Cleaned Up

28.October 2009

Turkey

Outside The Hamam 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 Gets A Shave 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?

The Global Bookshelf

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.

Find more Turkish books at TheGlobalBookshelf.com

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The Global Bookshelf….Connecting Travelers To a World Of Stories

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14 Responses to “All Cleaned Up”

  1. Dawn Says:

    This was hilarious! I can imagine trying to act casual while totally naked. I am glad you got the experience, and we got to live vicariously through you!!

  2. Akila Says:

    Hilarious. We haven’t done a Turkish bath but did an ayurvedic massage in India. Basically, I stripped down completely naked and this woman massaged oil all over my body on a wooden board as if she was marinating me to be grilled. It was interesting to say the least. Patrick had two guys working on him and he left feeling very very sore. If you didn’t mind the Turkish bath, when you guys make it over to India, you might want to try it.

  3. jill Says:

    i love your story! i thought we were the only travellers that had basically the same experience, it’s good to know it happens to us all!

  4. Mandy Says:

    Gillian! Again, another fabulous post. I read this morning before going to work and was howling, it was SOOOOO funny. I had to read it again when I got home. I couldn’t even imagine trying to walk around casually when NAKED! Good for you! Pictures would have been interesting…*he he he

  5. Jana Says:

    OMG!! too funny, what a great post G!!! I felt your “pain” and had a belly laugh more than once! Looks good on you…xoxxoxo
    PS Isn’t your camera water proof??????

  6. Victoria Says:

    It was a great post, I felt as if I was right there with you. I had a similar experience in Morocco, being massaged by a naked elderly lady who doesn’t speak a word of your language is rather disconcerting, but I was so clean my skin squeaked afterwards!

  7. Paula Says:

    Once again Gillian I have tears rolling down my face. Too funny. Was J’s time in the baths half as fun as your???

  8. Jason Says:

    The guys side is the original purpose for the building so it was really nice. The entrance foyer had a little fountain with gold fish and private change rooms on an upper level. You turn your street shoes into a guy for polishing while you are in the bath. For me it was gear down and wrap a towel. Some other guys there were wearing swim trunks and the change room guy took there towels away.

    Through the first cooler room to the hot room I was directed to lay down on the hot marble slab and enjoy the sweaty man ambiance and you get to keep your towel. Guys are just more modest I guess. I was allowed to order the #3 so after being reduced to a sweaty puddle it was time for a massage by the hot room guy who was also wrapped in a towel.

    The massage consisted of the hot room guy soaping me up and grinding on my muscles. This is not your hot rock spa massage but the deep tissue why am I paying for physical abuse massage. The highlight was when he crossed my arms on my chest and jumped on me until my back cracked or shattered on the hot marble slab.

    After the beating it was time for the cleaning. Lots of soap, no inappropriate touching, a warm water rinse by the bucket full and I still have my towel. Next its back to the warm room for a cold water shower rinse and fresh towels for everybody. I had one wrapped around my lower half, one wrapped around my head and one wrapped around my shoulders like an old lady. Now out to the foyer again for quiet fish contemplation and cold bottle of water.

    Back into my street clothes and shoes for the half block meander to the barber for a badly need straight razor shave and I’d say it was a good day.

    Jason

  9. Lisa Says:

    This blog made me laugh so much I had to come back for seconds! I just kept visualizing you (from the NECK up) trying to play it cool and wander around in the buff. You were not that kind of girl I recall, boy have the walls, and the towels, come tumbling down! I am actually grateful for my coed-wear-your-suits hamam experience because I do not think the kids could be so nonchalant about strolling around in their birthday suits while their mom and dad did the same! Thanks for the belly laugh!

  10. Jenn & Chris Says:

    Oh Gillian…
    As I was reading this, I could completely visualize the beautiful crimson shade that likely sat on your cheeks…kudos to you…bravery was all part of this “Amazing Race” wasn’t it..?
    You have far more cahones than I do…
    Love reading your blog…it feels like we’re ‘doing nothing’ while you guys do all the work…!

  11. eric Says:

    Every once in a while I’ll read another one of your posts. Love reading about your Turkish experiences while I re-live my own. LOVED the Turkish bath but wish I hadn’t waited until just before I left to have my only one!

  12. Stephen S. Says:

    Ha what a crazy cultural experience. I can’t wait to try a Turkish Bath. It might be a one time thing though :)
    Stephen S. recently posted..I’m Driving a Third of the Planet in a Hyundai Getz!

  13. Isabelle Says:

    I went to the same hammam three years ago and I had a wonderful experience too! I was all alone in there, not really knowing how to proceed. I felt like you at the beginning, undressing in the glass cubicle, kind of doing a striptease, (for a bunch of old ladies, but still!). I don’t know if you didn’t mention it or if it didn’t happen to you, but my lady also urged me to wash myself between my legs (the only place she didn’t wash herself, I mean she even put her fingers in my ears to clean them!)and then actually rinsed me there!! It was a very special experience, and I loved it so much that I went back a second time a few days later! I don’t think I’ve ever felt so clean and relaxed ever! I can very well remember going to the restaurant afterwards, with my wet hair that she put in a braid, a big smile on my face, very very happy!