Monday, February 13, 2012

Birthday Suit in a Turkish Bath

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I’d always heard about Turkish baths, but I never dreamed of going. Who would want to sit in a room full of naked women? I never imagined that regular city dwellers ever went to a hamam.  Surely that was for village people who didn’t have a bathroom at home.

But when my friend Ezgi told me she went every month and that it was fun and relaxing, I was curious, so my Turkish sister and I set out one Saturday morning to meet Ezgi at the hamam.  On the bus, I started getting cold feet.  What on earth was I getting myself into? 

Just then Bahar looked at me and said, “You know, I’ve never been to a hamam.  I’m kind of nervous.”

We arrived at the historic building where Ezgi was waiting for us, and went into the entry room to check in.  Did I want to have waxing done?   Without having to think, I decided to stick with an exfoliating scrub and soap massage for 20 lira.

Unsure of what awaited me, I took off my shoes, put on bath slippers, and changed into my bathing suit in a small dressing room. I wrapped myself up in a traditional cotton plaid hamam towel and followed Ezgi and Bahar through the doors that led to the bath. It was a steamy domed room filled with women. Some of them were naked, but all three of us were shy even in our bathing suits, and we averted our eyes to avoid looking at anyone. 

There were marble benches around the walls and a large marble slab in the middle.  Steaming water poured out from fancy Ottoman style faucets into marble sinks set over the benches. We sat down and found copper bowls to pour water over ourselves. Women were lying down on hamam towels for massage on the marble slab.

While we waited our turn for the exfoliating scrub, I tried not to look at the bath attendants who leaned over the clients.  They were dressed in bikini bottoms, and their breasts swung back and forth as they worked.

When it was our turn we laid our towels on the slab.  My bath attendant came up and motioned for me to take off my bathing suit. 

“I can’t do the body scrub with your bathing top on,” she said. Scary.

I took a deep breath, and actually took off my top.  Amazingly I didn’t die from embarrassment.  Ezgi and Bahar had taken their tops off too. 

Bahar giggled nervously, “Hey, I see you,” she said. 

“Yes, I see you too!” I answered.

I was amazed at all of the dead skin that came off of my body in little ribbons and threads during the exfoliating. The attendant scrubbed my arms, legs, torso, neck, feet and hands.  After the soap massage, I was so relaxed I could hardly stand up and walk to the marble bench on the side.    

My friends and I spent another half hour pouring water over ourselves, washing our hair, and talking. It was amazing how soft our skin felt.  Later we went upstairs, changed back into our street clothes and ate some fruit that Ezgi had brought.  As I walked out I felt like a new person! 

The hamam was definitely a one of a kind experience. Have you ever been to one? What’s the most off-the-wall cross cultural experience you’ve ever had?


Alida said...

Oh it just sounds perfect! We missed out on the Turkish baths when we were in Istanbul. If we ever make it back there we will have to give it a try!

emilene said...

I really enjoyed reading this post! I think being with two good friends probably helped you ease into the experience much easier. Not sure if I would have been able to relax but I will say, after reading this I might be brave enough to give it a go if the opportunity ever arises!

us5 said...

:eek!: you are a much braver woman than I!!! :lol: fun story, Olive Tree! ♥

De said...

I had the pleasure of a turkish bath facility at a hotel in Izmir once, but the service wasn't at all what you described. LOL! Also, our group was mixed gender, and we just kept our swim wear on like we would at a public pool. We got some odd looks from other guests, and now I know why! I had forgotten all about that experience until reading your post. Too funny.

OliveTree said...

Yes, Barbara and Emilene, it did take a bit of courage, but Bahar and I were just talking the other day how we'd love to go again.

De, I think your experience is typical of the hotel baths for tourists, where you probably pay an exhorbitant rate if you want the exfoliating and massage. (kese ve köpük!) This bath was for locals, thus the difference!

Wanda said...

Oh I'm too much of a scary cat to do such a thing.

Kay @ The Church Cook said...

Growing up in Korea, the only way to get a tubful of hot water was going to bathhouses like you mention. I don't think I can ever brave one today but it is very refreshing to rid of dead skin, isn't it? :)