Saturday, December 5, 2009

Remember the banya? Well the Russians (and Finns) aren’t the only ones into hot, steamy, naked experiences (Ok, is there any culture not into that? Perhaps the Swiss…). Having had such a good time at the banya, I really wanted to try the Turkish equivalent – the hamam, but was nervous about going by myself. Luckily the Istanbul hashers came through again - one of them had a friend in town for a holiday who also wanted to visit a hamam, so the three of us decided to splash out on one of the most famous and historic hamams in Istanbul. We chose Cağaloğlu Hamam, constructed in 1741, the last to be built during the Ottoman Empire! (And I guarantee you that Cağaloğlu is not pronounced how you think it is. My Turkish friend and native guide Sibel says it sort of like jaw-wah-lah-loo. Okaaaaayyy…)

Here’s how it all went down. We arrived, and posed for photographs with the man dressed up at the entrance. (Once again, I'd love to have a photo here. Sibel: please send photos!!)

Then we headed inside and chose from the menu of services available. We picked what was essentially the “full meal deal”. It was a pricey 100 TL (not including tip) but came with a kese, towels, slippers and soap; a private, locked change room; unlimited time in the historic marble steam room; an exfoliating scrub with a coarse mitt (that’s the kese) administered by an attendant; a total-body “pummeling” oil massage; and a soapy soft washing massage, with shampoo. Money paid, we were off to the camekan, the inner courtyard surrounded by cubicles for changing.

The women’s camekan.

Stripped down and wearing nothing but a peştemal (traditional light cotton towel/wrap thingy), and completely non-functional wooden clogs, we headed for the steam room. (Here’s a nice, interactive 360 degree view of the steam room.)

Ridiculous and impossible clogs (I couldn't help but notice that the staff of the hamam were wearing croc-style sandals which were much more functional.)

It was fantastic, especially the domed roof, pierced with star-shaped holes through which I could see the fading sunlight. The room wasn’t nearly as hot as the banya, just a pleasantly warm, steamy, relaxing temperature. The attendant pulled off our peştemals and sat us down on the marble floor around the edge, instructing us to douse ourselves with water from one of the many beautiful marble basins on the outer walls. So we sat around naked, and steamed, and dripped and chatted and waited.

A pic of the room, not taken by me. I had no pockets to carry my camera. In fact, this is the men's steam room, but the womens' one looked just like it.

After a time three older Turkish ladies trooped in, doused themselves, and put on their work clothes – one-piece bathing suits. Then each one of us was led over to the raised marble slab in the middle of the room (göbek taşi) and they got to work. First there was the scrub, and it was vigorous – front, back, legs, feet, arms, hands, neck, face, all over. The kese wasn’t super rough, but definitely had an exfoliating effect, and it’s a nice souvenir. It felt good, though it took a while to get over the weird feeling of being naked and man-handled (so to speak) so closely. It was easily the most intimate contact I’ve ever had with a total stranger, ever. I just closed my eyes and let her do her thing.

After the scrub I was doused again to get all the creepy grey dead skin gunk off, and then it was time for the oil massage. Again, odd but very very nice - back, shoulders, neck, legs, arms, hands, feet... ahhhhh. And after that there was more dousing and a soapy light scrub/massage with a thing that looked halfway between a mop and a bad wig, and then a shampoo to finish up. I think the whole thing took about an hour, though it really felt like much longer. Once we were finished we spent a bit of time dousing ourselves with cool water, and eventually we made our way out of the hot room and got wrapped up in towels. We sat for a while in the camekan, and had water and tea, and marveled at how amazingly CLEAN we all felt. Even my ears squeaked. I think that’s the cleanest I’ve been since birth. It felt great.

Eventually we drifted back into our little cubicles and got clothes back on, and tipped our attendants. Finally we wandered over to a nice restaurant that was extremely close to my hostel.

Hilde and Sibel, after our hamam. Super clean! (Yes, this is out of focus. Sibel has better photos. Sibel, I'm begging you, please send me the photos!)

And then (hallelujah) there was beer, and the day was complete.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

Lucky you going to a hamam in the source country! Have tried the hamam at Ft Garry Hotel (spa 10)....as someone told us beforehand, you come out feeling like you've been through a car wash. But good!

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