Turkish Baths – Let’s Get Weird

 

 On our  second day in Istanbul, Asti and I decided we must bite the bullet and go in for a traditional Turkish bath, called a Hammam. 

It was so hot, in all respects.  

For 100 TL (about 25 pounds, or 50 NZD), we were melted, bathed, scrubbed, shampooed, pummelled, massaged, slapped, poked, oiled, clayed and fed Turkish apple tea for two hours of our day. We could have stayed longer, but we couldn’t handle the heat.

We found a traditional Hammam, 300 years old on the corner of our favourite street, and it looked a bit dodgy from the outside but once we were inside we met a NZ couple who recommended it. They were gleaming with perspiration and had a slightly dazed look in their eyes, but you can always trust a fellow kiwi.

We were given sexy Turkish towels and plastic slippers to change into, and unsure whether we were to keep our knickers on, we took them off… A dubious choice, but obviously we wanted the AUTHENTIC experience. 

I didn’t take any photos of the baths, because it was wet in there and because I was naked. 

  

Stage one: Lie face down in your towel on a large heated slab of marble in a room of 40-50 degree heat. This is because they “want you to sweat, ladies”… We shared the room with a a small yet rotund Turkish man who sat in a pool of water in the corner and had his body parts lathered in foam by a bath boy. He wore a modest flap over his man bits, but he might as well not have. The bath boy then turned his attention to us and threw bowls of cold water over us, because he could probably see our levels of sweaty discomfort. Our towels stuck to our bodies and the little man in the corner giggled and muttered things in Turkish that we could not and did not want to understand. 

Next we were taken into the scrub and lather room! Oh my. Levels of sweaty discomfort came to an all time high as my washer woman entered, stark naked apart from a scanty underpant, her ample motherly bosom and gut direct in my eyeline at most times. She had no shame, and I respect her for that. She whipped off my towel, said something in Turkish to Asti’s washer woman ( we were all sharing a cubicle) and gestured vaguely to my body. I can only assume she was saying “my my, never have I ever seen such a shapely, yet toned, figure in all my years of scrubbing naked ladies”… We’ll go with that. 

She slapped the marble bench and barked “face down!”, pouring bowls of water all over me as I try not inhale when the water gets to my nose. Her exfoliating mitts were thorough and unforgiving, and I did almost kick her in the face when she started on my little toes. Every time she wanted me to turn over (a very dignified, supple movement when you are soaking wet, butt naked and covered in slippery foam), she would slap me on the rump and cry “TURN!”.

I was enjoying it,in the way that one enjoys any situation in which you cannot control anything, therefore you must forget all worries and let yourself be led. Asti and I were squirming with the giggles trying not to stare at anyone’s naked bits, which were very hard to avoid. Naked bits everywhere, I tell you! She she sat me up to scrub my arms I giggled and attempted to bond with her.

 “hahaha! I’m so dirty!” 

“…..yes, you dirty. TURN!”

She popped me on the ground where I hunched, knees close to my chest, as she firmly kneaded my skull and doused me in more water.

Next we were wrapped in robes and taken into the main room, given apple tea and engaged in conversation with the owner who liked to sit and chat to us semi naked, rosy-cheeked, heathy glowing women. He has a good job.

Our massage was next, and I was a little apprehensive. Somebody told me that they beat you with olive branches,  but thankfully there was no beating. She lubed me up with some kind of oil, and made a comment about my calves… ” so MUSCULAR, so fine”. Im pretty sure that’s what she said.. I was a little uncomfortable that she left my side of the curtain open as she chatted with the men in the reception… Hello, I’m nakey here! But I suppose it is all normal and acceptable in their culture, so I must simply resign myself to a little discomfort. As she folded the towel to work on the other leg, she would tuck it into my bottom crevice, which was a fun and interesting sensation that I wasn’t prepared for. It was a very good massage and she even put clay on my face, having asked me at a weak moment whether I would like a face mask for ten lira. 

I emerged feeling a new woman, having scraped off three layers of skin and the remainder of any summer tan, and I think she may have removed my dignity as well. I glowed, and minced down the street in my poncho, waving to passers by and remarking on the fine weather and handsome buildings.

It’s an intimate experience, and one that I will not forget in a hurry.

 There are some images ingrained into my mind that I could not forget if I tried….

   

 

Turkish Delight (That’s Me)

I think I’m flying over Bulgaria. All I can say is that the paddocks are quite square and the towns are quite small, but then I suppose everything looks quite small from up here.  

 Having never been to this side of Europe (aside from a drunken haze of a week on Prague), I’m pretty excited to explore the bounties of Istanbul, haggle awkwardly for a pair of homeless person pants in the markets, drink some raki, and dress modestly yet eccentrically because nobody knows me there. 

 It was a minor moment of stress when my travel companion Asti and I arrived at the airport and made our way swiftly to the North Terminal, as advised on our booking details, only to find there was no such flight to Istanbul at 12.35 on this fine Tuesday. We exchanged dark and foreboding glances and fumbled with our documents, looking up and down and up and down at the departures board, before concluding that we had been jipped ( a word?) by a third party booking service, and we were almost certainly hitchhiking to Istanbul with very large backpacks and one very crippled ankle (see previous tale of stupidity). 

But it’s okay. You can breath a sigh of relief in knowing that we actually were just in the wrong terminal, and we merrily rode the interterminal shuttle back to the South terminal with beads of perspiration and relief on our foreheads. Amateurs. 

 Now I sit, having enjoyed an uninspiring yet somehow delicious ‘Gluten Intolerant Meal’ and a very strong gin and tonic. In most cases, the best thing about having a special meal is that you receive it before every one else, and then can smile a superior smile and relax with the knowledge that you’re pretty much business class. The food itself is generally rank, as if it had been smushed into meat grinder and heated three times before it reaches your mouth. But in this occasion, Turkish airlines has done very well indeed. My opinion is perhaps influenced by the very strong gin and tonic, and the tiny pretty paper cup of pistachio Turkish delight we received at take off. 

 Airplanes are just quite gross when you think about it – sitting in very close quarters to strangers who are breathing in the air that you recently expelled, the old dry skin dilemma, humans with smelly feet, fat people who take up not only 100% of their own bum space but also 45% of yours, being trapped in the middle seat with a full bladder and a sudden urge to sneeze… It combine all the discomforts of life into a compact package. Yet I do enjoy air travel, in all its grossness,  because it’s a little bit magic and everything comes in neat little packaging and you have endless hours to gaze out the window and imagine tiny people down below. I’m easily pleased. 

 Coming soon – pictures of myself dressed eccentrically, doing a headstand in front of the Blue Mosque, Turkish delight smeared around my gleeful face, surrounded by hairy Turks who wish to marry me.  

 
Soon we land! Excuse me, I must go and request many tiny bottles of liquor to line my pockets!