Day 252 - Hammam Anyone?
Trip Start Jan 10, 2011
221Trip End Jan 08, 2012
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We were thrilled to have the inside track to a traditional place as (of course) there were many tourist oriented bath houses catering almost exclusively to foreigners. Perhaps the most obvious distinction was the complete segregation of genders where tourist baths are co-ed. At our bathhouse, men are not even allowed in the outdoor entrance area (and vice versa) lest they be within eyesight of the interior. The rigour with which this is enforced is clear given the second major difference: bath costume or rather lack thereof
On the male side Eli was given a linen towel to wrap around his waist after removing all other clothing and locking his valuables in a small change room. On the female side Mia was not given a towel instead adopting the dress of the other patrons: underwear only – aka topless.
We each signed up for the full treatment: wash, steam and massage (oddly Mia's cost 1 Lira more…). Without any English spoken on either (gender) side of the baths, we tried our best to blend in through observation. Mia had a few other women to base her actions on while Eli had to make do with bursts of pleasant though clearly instructive Turkish from his attendant synchronized with his directive arm motions. On more than one occasion, both of us were stupefied as to the next requested step and the attendant took charge, physically ushering us to sit down or stand up etc.
Eli’s attendant was a middle aged man with a turret of dark hair bordering his nearly bald scalp, who sported a popularly (Turkishly so) styled mustache. The fact he was dressed similarly in a linen sarong didn’t add nor detract from the bath experience, rather reinforced the unique nature of it. Mia’s attendant was also '(un)dressed’ similarly to the patrons and exuded a motherly persona which did mitigate (mildly) her western feelings of awkwardness.
Hammam Stage One: Rinse
From the antechamber we entered a washing area which in turn connected to a larger main ‘hot’ chamber. After giving ourselves a quick rinse in the elegantly marbled washing chamber we moved into the main hall which was as naturally lit and expansively domed as the previous room hand been confined and dark. The focal chamber was hot, steamy and humid: enjoyably so.
After a short steam, Mia loitering inconspicuously while the 3 ladies chatted and Eli hanging out solo; our attendants came in ready to start.
Hammam Stage Two: Scrub.
With a plastic bowl the attendant first scooped hot water from the basin onto your person a few times before beginning to scrub an area of the body with a loofah-like mitten. Each area was moistened then scrubbed then rinsed: arms, legs, head, face, front, back etc (towel/underwear on). This was done to remove dead skin. It worked.
Hamam Stage Three: Massage.
The attendant laid down a towel onto the 1 metre raised marble centerpiece, the focus of the room. This is where the 4 women sat on Mia’s side and Eli had now been joined by another patron who reclined horizontal on the other side. We followed instructions to lie down on our backs with a small bowl acting as a pillow. The attendant proceeded with the ‘rub down’. Distinct from a ‘massage’ in this case the muscles were more ‘pushed’ and ‘squeezed’ rather than expertly maneuvered through gentle migrating strokes. It was not uncomfortable but again not what we expected.
Eli noted a few comments between his attendant and the other patron probably observing that he was foreign and this was his first time at the baths. Mia did not experience the massage but rather, just sat awaiting further instruction.
Hammam Stage Four: Soap Time.
With a clap of the hands and a gruff sound (a grunt?) Eli’s attendant clearly communicated the massage portion was over. We were led back into the washing chamber and were again drenched with hot water. This was followed by an application of copious amounts of soap to the crown of the head allowing it to trickle down, engulfing the body in a cleansing lather. The froth was so thick that we had to close our eyes: which heightened the next stage.
Hammam Stage Five: Scrub a Dub Dub.
The scrub glove was back and this time with gusto. Aggressive and vigorous strokes attacked each area of the body with more water and more soap liberally doled out in order to maintain maximum levels of both saturation and suds. Being washed and scrubbed by someone else is something that we haven’t experienced since we were very young… Furthermore, that fleeting memory from decades past was not at the hands of a half-naked stranger of the same gender speaking a foreign tongue. Very odd to say the least.
Hammam Stage Six: The Aftermath.
After a finale drenching to wash away all traces of the soap we left the washing area into the entrance room. Eli was given a dry linen towel to replace the one he was wearing while Mia remained in her underwear – bottoms only. Once in the main area and in our cubicle another attendant entered bearing a pile of fluffy towels. Eli smiled and nodded which may have invited the swaddling from the man. Mia took the initiative and wrapped herself in the dry cloth.
At this stage it was unclear what we were to do next… We were quite hot and steamy – feeling good and clean – but unsure if everything was over. Taking a cue from the locals who were loitering about the cooler common area we briefly joined in, Eli ordering a Turkish Tea and watching some CNNTurkey draped in towel.
Having cooled down and feeling healthy and relaxed though a tad weary we emerged within 5 minutes of each other meeting outside. The next convenience store sold us the water we were craving and we drank until we were full as we walked back to Lynn’s place. After dissecting the novelty and nuances of our experience we spent the afternoon relaxing, napping and doing whatever we wanted to do.
We shared our experiences and a few laughs with Lynn over the tasty chicken tahini (sesame) sauced risotto she made. Lynn had some things to attend to before she left to visit her Scottish homeland for a spell so we headed into town for the evening.
We made our way to the local hot spot of ‘Pub Street’ which is really a district of cafés encroaching on the pedestrian-only cobblestone streets of Kadıköy neighbourhood. It was lively for a Tuesday evening and after a few helpful stops to ask for directions we found the English cinema.
There were limited options for movies and we took a risk on a film starring Daniel Craig (may come as a surprise that there is no relation) and Harrison Ford. If you guessed the title of ‘Cowboys and Aliens’ we hope you only saw the advertisements. We expected it to be a campy styled spoof but its attempt at ironic humour failed dramatically producing a series of laughable scenes.
Half way through the film the movie stopped all of a sudden, the lights came on and the AC units buzzed to life. Everyone filed out and we cursed our luck at the movie theatre (we’ve only been to the theatre once together and it didn’t go as planned…). A theatre employee asked ‘smoke?’ of us and we shook our heads then he pointed to the washroom sign. After a few moments it dawned on us that this was an intermission!
A few minutes later everyone returned having drained their bladder or sated their nic fit and the film resumed. In speaking with Lynn & a few other locals this is evidently standard in all Turkish theatres. The locals we spoke to seemed incredulous that we didn’t have intermissions astonishingly asking what you would do if you had to pee? (Just one of the many reasons Eli defers to the home theatre vs the cinema).
We stopped at a café for some Tavla (mia 3, eli 0). Eli confirmed the price of the beer prior since the menu was confusing. When we got the bill we thought we had been overcharged since Mia had only had a tea which we knew was only 1 or 2 Lira. With a straight face they said that they charge 4 Lira for a tea (twice the maximum norm!). Flabbergasted as we were we walked away from the $1.10 Canadian, not saying anything at all (since we didn’t have anything nice to say…).
It had rained and cooled off nicely and we enjoyed the 45min walk (even though it was up hill) back to Lynn’s.