Hamam Heaven - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Another tradition we thoroughly enjoyed was visiting a traditional Turkish bath –Hamam. The day before leaving Turkey we felt well enough to make a visit to one of the local Hamams. There were about six to choose from, and we picked the oldest one in Istanbul which was reputed to be very sanitary. This Hamam segregated the men and women unlike many which are communal. We each had a similar experience but believe that D got the better end of the deal due to his intense massage.

On the women’s side, I hit the lockers (similar to any gym) and was given a towel, pair of flip flops, and a chip to hand the masseuse. With nothing but a towel wrapped around me, I entered an ancient domed room full of steam with a 30 ft diameter round marble slab heated from below filled wall to wall with naked bodies. I guess the sign saying “No nudity. A towel must be worn at all times” was merely a formality. A woman who worked there grunted at me, pointed to a tiny spot free in the middle of the slab, then helped me climb over several bodies to get there. At first the nudity was a bit of a shocker, but it immediately wore off as I relaxed on the stone along with the other immodest, dozing women. About 15 minutes later, a ½ naked lady grabbed my foot and started pulling me toward the edge for my massage. Other women were placed closely along the outside border and were also getting massaged. This was no ordinary massage. First they threw a few buckets of hot water on me, then came the bucket of foam that caught me unaware and was thrown on me haphazardly. I was scrubbed front and back with a loofah and then received a pretty crappy massage for ~ 20 minutes. After the massage, my masseur rinsed me off at one of the ancient marble faucets and proceeded to wash my hair. I was then sent back to the marble slab to go relax. Overall it was a great experience. I wish me had these places at home. I was told later by a local that the Hamam we visited was not well-known for the quality of their women masseurs. Apparently, we were directed to a very touristy Hamam. Ordinary ones have better trained staff and include hour massages for the same $10!! I’m not complaining, as I left the place feeling like a noodle…

The sequence of events was similar on the men’s side, except that everyone kept their towel on during the entire process. Dave’s massage and scrubbing was a modest affair with all scrubbing and massaging taking place around the towel unlike M’s experience. D felt like a pot being scrubbed with a Brillo pad during his loofah session. Not a speck of dirt left. Though D’s masseur didn’t have much finesse, he left standing a little taller after his back cracked like “snap, crackle, and pop!” According to D, the massage felt like one of the wrestling matches he used to have with his younger brother Jon. Visiting the Hamam was an interesting experience, even if ours was a bit touristy.

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