A Reason to Get REALLY Dirty

Ooh look – a Turkish bath. Sounds like a good idea, right? You know what? It *IS* a good idea. We weren’t planning on trying it out, but there was a Turkish bath right around the corner, so we figured “when in Rome”… er… Turkey.

Ok, So a Turkish bath, or Hamam, is kind of like a cross between modern spa and an ancient Roman bath. After parting company with Stephanie who went to the ladies’ side, the staff showed me to the men’s locker room. I changed into some flimsy, disposable shorts and a pair of flip-flops, and then met my personal attendant – Lazar. Lazar, clad only in a bathing suit, first took me to a couch where I sat while he painted a mud mask on my face and neck with a bona fide paintbrush. He then escorted me to the sauna.

In the sauna I met two guys from Italy who were sweating it out. It was from one of them that I accidentally learned that the flimsy, disposable shorts are completely optional. We made small talk until their sauna time was up and I was left alone. I was determined to last for a full ten minutes, but in 80°C (176°F), I wasn’t sure I’d make it. Nine minutes in, Lazar came to collect me.

The next room was a marble room with radiant floor heat and a huge octagonal marble platform in the middle. Lazar had me sit next to a marble basin with bronze taps from which he repeatedly filled a metal pan with lukewarm water which he then doused over me, rinsing me off, and washing off the mud mask. After the heat of the sauna, it felt wonderful. Along each side of the marble octagon there were thick mats with a pillow on one end on which to lie. Lazar had me lie down on one, and he took an exfoliating mitt, and scrubbed the skin off my body – well, the dead skin anyway. It felt great – like when someone gives you a really good back scratch, only all over. During this, I noticed that the platform was also heated from inside. Yum. After taking a gentler mitt to my face, and rinsing me off again, it was time to lie down again on the platform.

Lazar had this big pillowcase with soapy water inside. As he fluffed it full of air, it made tons of suds which he then squeezed right through the pillowcase and all over me. He spread them around with the pillowcase full of air, and I could only imagine that this is what it must feel like to be buffed in a car wash. Once I was sudsded, sudded, soaped up, then came the washing down. Lazar washed every part of me that wasn’t covered by the flimsy, disposable shorts (and one or two that were), and while doing so, he massaged *almost* every muscle I had. He made sure he wasn’t massaging too hard, and it felt so amazing, that I had to work not to make yummy sounds the whole time. I also got a mini chiropractor visit as Lazar popped and cracked every joint I had. Although none of it hurt (except my collarbone), I couldn’t help thinking that wherever Stephanie was, she was going to hate this part. She doesn’t even like it when I crack my knuckles.

After being rinsed off one last time, I was sent to a quick shower where I could wash my hair before moving on to the steam room. I sat with my Italian friends in the steam for a while before moving on to the final stage of the hamam – a cool-water Jacuzzi. This may have been my least favorite part, but only because I don’t like being cold. I took one final rinsing shower to warm up again, and then Lazar appeared out of nowhere to guide me on.

In the final area, he shielded me with a towel, and had me lose the flimsy, disposable shorts. He then wrapped me up (including my head) in three giant fluffy towels until I looked like some sort of terrycloth sheikh/sultan. He led me over to some lounge chairs where I could relax and dry off while I drank Turkish apple tea. There was a big screen TV and some magazines, but since everything was in Turkish, I just drank my tea and pretended to understand the sports commentators on the screen. After I presumed I had kept Stephanie (who must be done by now) waiting long enough, I finally dried off using the hairdryer and comb provided, and went to meet her.

I think this was a pretty traditional hamam experience since I had my own dedicated attendant the entire time. The whole thing was wonderfully relaxing, and not at all as weird as it might seem to us westerners. Even better, our Couch Surfing host had negotiated 25% off for us, so at about $25 each for a 90 minute experience, this can’t be beat. In fact, I kept threatening to Stephanie that I was going back to do it all over again.

P.S. by Stephanie
I had a great experience too, though the women’s version was slightly different from the men’s. Mine went like this:
Face Mask
Dry Sauna (all to myself!)
Shower (no personal rinsing off of my mask by an attendant)
Scrubbing
Air-filled pillowcase soaping with intermittent massaging – this was by FAR the best part!!!
NO JOINT CRACKING OF ANY KIND!!! Thank god. Guess we women just luck out on this one.
Shower
Swimming and Playing in a Pool (all to myself!)
Steam Room
Towel Wrapping
Apple Tea and Relaxing in a Lounge Chair… Ahhhhhhhhhhhh

I didn’t get any flimsy disposable shorts so I was au natural the entire time. I had one attendant do my scrubbing and soaping and rinsing but at other points there were various women helping me. I was just fine with that 🙂

(Sorry, no pictures of the inside.)

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