This is a picture-less blog post and I will just have to adequately describe what took place during my recent Hamam in Istanbul, Turkey. If you’re lost already, a Turkish Hamam is basically a sauna experience that involved you or an attendant scrubbing you down (more or less).
Two of my girlfriends met me for a week in Turkey and it didn’t take long for us to declare it was time for a spa experience. Puff was ready for some relaxation, but Smiles was way more skeptical about this whole idea. I was somewhere in between. Regardless, we all got on board for a new adventure.
How did we pick a place? A touristy one. 100%. We had no idea what to do and no amount of reading blogs or travel websites convinced us we were savvy. A touristy one has lockers to store stuff and, more importantly, tend to be patient or accommodating to travelers’ lack of knowledge on the process. Granted, I have no intention of going to a true local one, but you have to start somewhere.
Okay, so we pay for our traditional hamam, which includes a 15 minute scrub down. We received a pack with underwear and a scrub mit initially and then each were handed a hamam towel (think giant dish cloth) upon entering the changing area. Puff was brave and wrapped the towel around herself with confidence. Smiles and myself opted for swim suit tops. I realize this is a very US thing, but public nudity is just not my norm. Anyways, armed with our towels, mits, sandals and the tokens describing our services we head downstairs to the hot room.
Inside the room, several large Turkish ladies clad in black bikinis shove us to various parts of a circular slab in the middle of this circular room. Our towels are laid out on the slab and we’re instructed to lay down. After a period of sweating, a lady comes to attend to the scrub down portion. She was wearing her top around her waist and only after being scolded by a more senior lady pulled it up. I’m sure this was all for the benefit of timid tourists. After a period of gestures on her part and ‘no’s on my part regarding removing my swim suit top, I realized she wouldn’t start unless I did and embraced the process. Oh yes, this happened. And oh yes, I’m nearly just as immature about this stuff as I was at 15 and apparently easily intimidated by giant Turkish women.
Back to the story, so the process begins at this point. There was a series of hot and cold water buckets poured over me and the mit was used to scrub my skin clean. During various moments the attendent would slap my side and roll her eyes to let me know it was time to roll over or sit up (so much more fun then verbal clues). More rinsing ensued and then the bubbles came. Bubbles were poured over me until the daylight was blocked out; until they oozed up my nostrils and into the creases of my eyes. As another rub down commenced, all my attention was on clearing my nostrils while holding my breath. This task was competing with my burning eyes, begging to be soap free. Wonderful, bubble-free water was eventually dousing me and I was able to breathe again (and nearly see). The 15 minutes were almost up. She grabbed my forearm and dragged my half blind body across the floor to a fountain where she washed my hair before pointing me to a hot pool for some alone time. At which point I scrambled to put my top back on. 15 minutes of embracing the hamam and a near drowning by bubbles episode was enough adventure for one day!
Just when you’d think this crazy adventure had run its course, the harmless jacuzzi happened. Submerged in the hot water, pondering how long I could last before passing out, I looked up to Puff walking in, topless. One more bonding experience. We quickly got past that when we realized Smiles was missing. She was the first to get scrubbed down, but she should have still been in the pool room. After several minutes of pondering her fate, we went looking and found her in the shower room, huddled in a towel. Her lady had sent her to the wrong room and she had no intention of exploring any more!
What was advertised as hours of relaxation was probably more like 30 minutes of chaos and suffocation. We were glad we did the hamam and it has likely made our friendship stronger. We’re still laughing about it today and Puff swears her skin felt smoother, but for me once was enough.