If you are reading this post, you might want to start with my previous story about my Korean Spa experience. Being led around naked by middle-aged women seems to be a trend for me. Maybe not quite a trend, but I’m posting about it twice so not sure what this says about me.
Anyway, I arrived in Istanbul after another whirlwind Fiesta in Pamplona and knowing I would be exhausted and likely a tad dirty, I had the forethought of booking a Turkish bath for the night of my arrival. After checking into Hotel Amira (would stay here again without hesitation…great staff and lovely rooms), I walked to Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Humami just a few blocks up the street, between the Hagia Sophia museum and the Blue Mosque.
I was in Istanbul durning Ramadan and so there were lots of people on the lawns between these landmarks, the two largest points of interest in the Old Town. It was a lovely evening but slightly hot and I was hungry, tired and on a mission to be cleansed. The entrance to this beautiful hamam (bath house) was down a flight of steps adjacent to a mosque. The hamam was immediately an oasis and I was greeted by a nice girl who promptly took my credit card and invited me to a dressing room to remove my clothes and don a Turkish bath towel (called a pestemal) and plastic slippers. I followed directions and was then led into a gorgeous white marble domed room and then into another, slightly smaller, gorgeous white marble domed room.
When I say “white marble,” I mean that every surface (floor, wall, bench, ceiling, slab, and water trough) was marble. It was pretty and rather ethereal, but it was also steamy.I was coming off of five days in Pamplona and to say this hot wet room was making me a bit lightheaded would be an understatement. But a detox was likely in order and so I just made sure I had good footing on the wet slippery floors, held on tightly to the hand of my attendant, and did what I was told.
My attendant, a very sweet and plump Turkish lady, disrobed me and motioned for me to sit on a marble bench while she filled bowl after bowl of tepid water from a brass spigot and poured it all over my body and head. This was all very refreshing but also slightly alarming. I never knew where the next bowl was going to hit me and she didn’t seem to consider that when dumping a bowl of water over one’s head, one can’t breath. In any case, I smiled and she smiled and mimed directions for which way I should turn or shift.
After a thorough cleansing, the sweet Turkish lady took my hand and my towel (read: I am walking bare naked in plastic sandals) and led me into another room which was identical to the last room but in this room, she used a hand mitt (called a kese) to scrub the crap out of my skin. It wasn’t as painful as the Korean Spa but a bit more awkward as I was sitting and so I kept having to shift around in order for her to get all of me. I suppose it would have been easier had I spoken Turkish. Miming directions in that situation is just never easy. I kept leaning right when she was trying to scrub my foot or something. It was comical. Even more comical (or sad sad sad) is the sweet Turkish woman showing me the mitt with a shocked look on her face. She was either removing two years of dead skin or a week of fiesta grime. I’m going with the latter.
After my attendant was satisfied my skin was nice and exfoliated, she doused me with more bowls of water and then led me into another room (yes, identical to the first two…not sure why we couldn’t have accomplished all of this in Room 1). There, the sweet Turkish lady slathered my body with mud and told me “five minutes.” Gawd, it was hot in there! Five minutes felt like a week. But dangit, I was going to enjoy it. If I could just keep the mud from dripping into my eyes. I think I would have loved this part if I had been invited to lie down on the marble. In hindsight, I probably could have. But I follow directions and lying down was not one of them.
Six minutes later, things got AWESOME. Sweet Turkish lady (I wish I knew her name) doused me with more bowls of water and led me (still naked…not sure the purpose of the towel she carried around for me) to the central domed marble room with a heated slab. It’s called the göbektaşı and means “belly stone.” There, she lay me down on top of my towel (ok, towel purpose) and then dipped a big mesh fabric that resembled a pillow case (called a köpük torbası) into a big brass urn of soapy water and if I had spoken Turkish, I would have totally stopped her so I could understand how she did what happened next. I was suddenly enveloped in more soapy bubbles than that London rave circa 1992. It was heavenly! My body was pilled high with pillow case after pillow case of soapy bubbles. As much as I love the filth of Fiesta, this was the cleansing I was waiting for. I seriously couldn’t see above a 45 degree angle because the bubbles on my body were THAT high. After a rub down, I was dowsed once more with water and the sweet Turkish lady sat me up, handed me another towel and walked me into the reception area where I was served yummy Turkish Delights and a lovely cold sweet tea while I waited for my masseuse.
The massage was wonderful (except for the exacerbation of the mysterious bruises on my legs…clearly, I run into things. Read: Windsor Pub). After miming to her that maybe I could just sleep in the hamam that night (I’m good at miming and she laughed), I changed out of the plastic slippers and into my street clothes, thanked the nice Turkish women for making me clean again, and wandered back to my hotel.
Turkish bath: check.