The prerequisite Turkish Bath, or hamam, adventure…
I was more than a little fearful going into this one. Somehow I’ve gone through life having not had a communal bathing experience. And on top of that the guide books imply that the Turkish Bath scrubbing process can be, umm, pretty brutal. So I not only had the whole “what if I look different to everyone else naked, never realised it before and all the other women laugh at me” fear, but also the “what if I cry like a little baby in front of other adults because the lady scrubbing me is too rough?” drama. Ok, ok, I’m a bit of a drama queen – but honestly I was concerned on both fronts.
I don’t think I’m spoiling it by telling you the ending right now. I survived. I didn’t cry. And it turns out that other naked ladies aren’t really interested in my nakedness – they’ve got their own nakedness thing going on.
So,that’s enough about the flesh, let’s get on to why this wins my coveted “second best rocking thing in Turkey” award. The judging process was tough and some bribes were considered, but declined. The ballots are all in and counted, and here’s the verdict – more Turkish Baths please!
Our hamam was staffed by two much older (and may I say, cough cough, much larger) women – neither of whom spoke a word of English. So E and I got a lot of tapping and grunting and pushing instead of the more jovial gossiping the Turkish clients took part in. Having said that, it was a great excuse to zone out and enjoy the ride. Chit chat is my least favourite thing about massages and haircut’s, so a win for me.
Harridan #1 – the person who will soon remove more layers of skin than I thought possible – pushed us into a room, mimed removing our clothes and handed over a table cloth. If it wasn’t a tablecloth I’m not sure what it was – it wouldn’t have looked out of place at a picnic. We were then shuffled down the corridor into a marble sauna filled with other women and……. she rips the tablecloth off us! No time for acclimatising or getting inches of skin out incrementally. I should have hated her right then, but I knew from that moment that she was my Turkish Bath soulmate. No mess, no fuss, no tantrums. Who needs a fairy godmother with a wand and a pumpkin? Give me no bullshit and a serving of what’s good for me
any most days.
So first we spend ages in the marble sauna pouring water over ourselves listening to client’s before us getting scrubbed down. My anxiety is getting a bit high at this point because between the grunts and what sounds like the roughest sandpaper against wood, I’m ready to make a run for it.
And then it’s my turn, and I’m laid like a slab of meat on a huge marble table only as high as a coffee table, and she starts scrubbing. And it’s rough. And – thank goodness – it feels awesome. Harridan #1 is this block of muscle in a yellow and pink floral swimsuit from the 50’s just scrubbing and massaging, and I didn’t want her to ever stop. Until the sudsing (totally a word) started. And that was even better. I was staring up at the marble dome above me, 700 years of hamam history having laid on that slab before me, and all I could think was “if I married a really rich guy, I wonder if I could justify have a Turkish bathing woman come to my house everyday and scrub and clean me”. Ahhh – we can all dream.
And then she stopped scrubbing and sudsing and it was very sad. And we were handed over to Harridan #2 (another block of muscle, but with hands of silk) and the happiness started all over again. These Turkish Bath Madams sure know what they’re doing. Best massage I’ve ever had. I think I floated out of that hamam. I have little memory of getting back to the hotel and I’m pretty sure I didn’t speak for about half an hour after we left.
I’ve gone from twofold fear to ahem looking for a rich husband who doesn’t mind having a lazy wife who doesn’t bath herself. Or at the very least, a plan to have at least one more Turkish Bath before we leave Istanbul!
For obvious reasons there’s no photos of the actual bath, but here’s a trepidatious selfie we took on our way in…