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….