The Ladies Turkish Bath
When I got to Turkey, I wondered what it would be like to go to a
Turkish Bath (Hamam)
Most of my Turkish friends said, "Don't go!" Many under
35 had never been to one, except as children with their mothers or
In a discussion one evening with four rather upscale Turkish
one friend said that if I wanted to try it I should go to a
good one -- in a five star hotel where I'd be treated like a Sultana.
the rest of them shook their heads and asked why on earth I would want
to do that!?
So the one brave friend and I went to Istanbul
sit by the pool all day at our 5 star hotel. After a grueling day in the sun and water, I got up
the courage and decided to have that Turkish Bath.
Hee Haa, the things you learn in foreign countries.
It was an incredible experience
from start to finish.
(But pricey...The Istanbul Swisshotel provided a lush warm room with a hot whirlpool, a hot steam room
for the bath [with bathperson], and a
relaxing room afterwards -- for slightly less than a box of emeralds...)
First, I was greeted by two women who
helped me out of my clothes. Ever helpful, they took me to the hot
whirlpool room. (The room was not just warm, but past that -- and just short of
Then they helped me step into
the re-eally hot pool. (Getting into it was difficult and I am convinced they were afraid that
I wouldn't get in if they didn't make sure... and they may have been
right!) There they left me, and I simmered -- for about 15 minutes.
Just when I thought my
body would melt like hot play-dough, my guides returned.
They wrapped me in a linen sheet ('peştamal') that covers about as well
as a wet T-shirt, and I was escorted into a round warm, slightly steamy
marble room with a domed ceiling and indirect lighting.
There were little
niches in the wall with marble shell sinks and brass spigots shaped like
fish. In the center of the room was a large altar (or, marble table). They "asked" me
to lie face down on a clean and dry linen sheet on this warm
marble slab. And the wet linen sheet was taken away.
The Turkish bathperson (short Turkish
woman, great upper body strength, no English, really sweet smile...)
was wrapped in a linen sarong.
She poured (using a special dish -- 'tas') cool water over me -- which
felt wonderful, because it was as warm as a sauna in there! Neck, shoulders,
arms, hands, back, waist, thighs, legs, feet...ahhhhhh.
At this point, she put
on loofah mittens (kese), lathered them up with a large bar of creamy scented soap, and began to scrub every square inch of my
body... leaving no crevice unscrubbed.
(Disconcerting, was a word that
came to mind.)
Then she motioned me to turn over. (It worked best for me, to just
keep my eyes
Basically, every millimeter of dead and dirty skin was scrubbed
off, even between fingers and toes. Then, she took off the loofah
She helped me sit up on the marble slab and she started pouring what
felt like buckets of cool water all over me from my head down. Soon after, she
motioned for me to stand and started sluicing off all the dirt with her
hands. (I remember cleaning a horse with exactly the same motions...)
Then she changed the sheet and I lay down again on the warm slab.
She put a spongy mitten on one hand and took a bottle of unscented liquid soap in
the other. She scrubbed and
massaged all my muscles starting at my neck and working every muscle
down the entire length of my spine to my feet. (This was an especially wonderful part...
And after it, I truly understood
the concept of bonelessness.)
Then it was time to roll over again, and she massaged and cleaned,
starting at my throat, to my shoulders, arms, and hands -- as she worked her way down to
my feet and toes... She helped me sit up and washed my face, ears, neck
and finally my hair -- as if I were a small child.
Just when I thought I was going to dissolve, she pulled me up to a standing position
cool water all over me again and again. Little by little, the water got
colder and colder, until I almost couldn't stand it.
(In fact, the last
bucket evoked a screech from me...and we both laughed out loud!)
Then came the lush Turkish towels, one for my head and a large fluffy bathrobe
for the rest of me.
The two women from the boiling pool came back and
gently led me (staggering, slightly) to a room where
I lay on a soft
lounge chair and slowly came back to the real world. (The real world in
this instance included a television set playing a Turkish version of
Finally, it was time to go -- so
I got up and dressed. And as I passed from the
bathing rooms, I caught a fleeting glance of myself in the mirror. My skin glowed rosily (and
felt as soft as a baby's). My eyes were bloodshot and my face was
pink... Turkish people would know I'd been to the Turkish baths.
One caution. Having a Turkish bath with a sunburn is not the best
JS (April '97)
In Turkey - Türkiye'de
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