What happens in a Turkish bath, anyway?

Turkish bathThe most luxurious experience I’ve ever had happened half a world away in the exotic city of Istanbul. Our gracious hotel guide showed us the way to Cemberlitas Hamami, an ancient Turkish bath just a few minutes’ walk from our hotel.  Just walking in and feeling the warmth of the steam seeping out into the round entry area started us on our journey to relaxation.

I said goodbye to Frank, since men and women are strictly separated here, and I went to the women’s area.

Since I had watched the Rick Steves video, I was prepared and knew I’d be leaving all my worldly goods (including every stitch of clothing I wore) in the locker. They provide some underwear and a towel to wrap around yourself. I descended the open staircase to a central octagonal bench where attendants waited. One of them led me through a door into the ancient, pink Heat room. A huge pink dome punctuated with cookie cutter stars dominated the room.

turkish bath

Being in that room felt like residing in a large, pink drum. Once in a while some giant would strum the drum, making a bongggggg sound that reverberated through the warm, comfortable space. Other sounds reverberated around the dome: muffled conversations in an unfamiliar tongue, water splashing against stone, and the muted thump of a heavy door closing somewhere in the distance, like a soft ‘boom’ at regular intervals.

Once I took in the dome, my attendant motioned me to lie down on the marble platform about 2 feet high. Ohh, it’s heated! Heavenly. She stripped down to her bikini, and believe me, these women are powerful, not sexy. She gave me the best scrub of my life.

Turkish bath bubblesTurkish bath suds

First she rinsed me with just-right hot water, then she sudzed me up, pouring soapy water all over me. At times, when lying face-down, the bubbles crowded in and I could barely breathe. I had to wipe the bubbles away from my mouth and nose! Then she rinsed me again and scrubbed me. There were a few repeats of this process, and at one point she directed me to stand up, go over to a small cistern, and be rinsed with cooler water. I vaguely remember her leaving as I drifted off to sleep on the wide warm stone. I told myself I just would close my eyes for a few minutes….

Half an hour later, as near as I can figure, I woke up. The room had emptied out, now just one attendant, a very large woman, worked on her charge. No English, but sign language worked, and she showed me where to go next.

Through another door, and into a small room with water bottles (yay!) and some showers. A woman from Kenya sat waiting for her friend, and we got to talking. She comes a few times a year to buy textiles and bring them back to Kenya for her shop. This gives me an idea for shopping tomorrow.

I wait, and soon someone, a different woman, comes in. I show her my little key fob, which tells her I haven’t had my massage yet. She leads me into a narrow room where several massage tables are lined up. Much smaller than the Heat room, but it still is interesting and ancient, with a small semicircular alcove reminiscent of the big dome in the Heat room.

She worked on me, easing the tension in my neck, back, and calves.  She gave a very thorough massage.  I wished for more, especially my feet and calves, but I was already so relaxed I felt marvelous. I decided not to rinse off, because her English was enough to tell me she used orange oil for the massage, and I want to leave that on all night.

Turkish baths: the best cure for jet-lag EVER. We slept soundly all night.




Turkish bath video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHKbtcvXdbk





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