It was a dull rainy day in November. The breeze which felt too cold on the face ruffled through the hair, leaving it wet, with the mist it carried. We had just landed back at Istanbul from Cappadocia to catch our flight back to Zurich, a few hours later, putting an end to a 12-day long holiday, at Turkey. Having had, only a few hours at our disposal to accommodate any leftover Turkish indulgences as a family or individually, we decided to just while away the evening doing whatever we could comfortably. We checked into our hotel - Crowne Plaza - the closest hotel, near Istanbul Ataturk Airport, took a walk around the shopping area while Mayra took a toy train ride, had a sumptuous meal at Mado - a very renowned cafe chain with over 370 branches in Turkey and world over, and shopped for sportswear on discount at Decathlon which was just beside it, taking turns, as Mayra took an unusually long evening nap on the comfy sofa of Mado.
You do, what you gotta do!
While we were walking back to the hotel - carrying Mayra, the leftover food, and the shopping bags, I just thought of giving it - Hammam, one last try. It was the only thing on my checklist which was becoming a near miss, as I kept trying to look for a place which was traditional but less intimidating. And rightfully so, I made up my mind to go for it, just a few hours before we left Turkey, wherever I could, irrespective of it being a Historical Hammam or a Turkish bath in a hotel. And I managed to get the last appointment at the same hotel, where we had parked ourselves that night. It cost me 120 Turkish Lira.
Sometimes just knowing isn't enough, huh!
I had read about the Turkish bath experience on the internet before, and definitely had an idea, what it was all about. But to know is one thing and to experience is another and its always better to experience something new before we conclude whether we like it or not. For me, this was too unique an experience and absolutely worth having.
Sharing with you all the details of my experience so that you know what to expect, when you go for it, whether at Turkey or elsewhere.
What do you get to wear, inside a Hammam?
As soon as I reached there, I had to wear plastic wraps around my shoes, and head to the changing room, while being accompanied by an attendant all along. I was asked to strip down to my bikini, in a changing room, wrap myself with a two-piece towel, at most places, its peştemal - a colorful checked cloth to be tied around the waist and walk to the hammam area, wearing bath slippers. I kept all my belongings including the phone (that explains no pictures to go with this article), in the locker adjacent to the changing area.
Well, whether you wear a bikini, or go topless or completely naked it's up to you. But if you go naked, you would be asked to wear a disposable panty.
The Bath Process
On the other side of the changing room, I was greeted by a lady masseur who guided me to the ladies section of the Hammam. She was a middle-aged sweet lady who could barely speak in English. It was all dark inside with a small sauna pool right in the middle with the bath and the steam room on the left. First 5 min, I was alone in the steam room, to just relax and loosen up for a while, and most importantly sweat, and then enter the bath area, the hararet( the hot room) - In most cases, an impressive room completely covered in marble featuring a big dome, several basins. and an impressive göbektaşı - the central, raised platform above the heating source.
I was made to sit on top of göbektaşı, and then my Masseur s plashed a big round vessel of warm water on my body and asked to lie down. I had to keep changing my position, as she scrubbed( kind of sandpapered) my entire body, including the face, for 10 min with a hand knitted washcloth.
It is a vigorous exfoliation process and is generally quite rough. I could imagine why most men masseurs of Turkish Baths look intimidating. After the scrub, I was quickly lathered up completely with soapy water using a sudsy swab. And then it was time for a light massage on the whole body, followed by a scrub again. She poured water all over, to wash away the soap and wrapped me back in a dry bath-wrap. Then I was taken to the sogkluk( the cooling area), to take a shower, before I could change and head back to the hotel.
The whole process lasted for about 40 minutes.
You sure must know, what you getting into!
Just to tell you, Sandee ( my husband) had gone to a seemingly traditional hammam at Urgup, Capadoccia, paying 45 Turkish Lira. For him, the experience though unique, was very intimidating. There were only men masseurs, who would do it for women as well. It was very rough, to say the least, despite he being aware of every little detail of what he should have had expected. He was asked to lie down on the floor keeping his leg on the thighs of the masseur for scrub and massage. The masseurs are as scantily clothed as you would be. So the sight may be little unusual.
Every experience at a Hammam may be unique, different and memorable. So, it definitely is a good idea, to inquire a little about the place, you choose to go so that you are not taken aback completely.
Lastly, I would strongly recommend to you, to do it at least once wherever its available just for the sheer experience of it and also to treat your body to a very crude way of the deep cleansing method.