Hammam VisitA trip to the Turkish Bath
Vacation adventures are the perfect time to slow down and relax. During our visit to Turkey, the hammam seemed like the perfect spot to do just that!
Hammams have been a part of the local culture for hundreds of years. In the days before telephones, social media, and every home having indoor plumbing, this experience was perhaps more social that hygienic. Hammams are everywhere. The one we visited was the Elis Kapadokya Hamami Spa Center in the small town of Goreme in the Cappadocia area. This 300 year old facility had all the modern amenities you need in combination with a fantastically old experience.
Go in, pay your $ (We paid 75TL for adults and 1/2 that for the kids) and receive your locker key on a plastic bracelet. The bath was segregated so hubby and son headed one way and daughter and I headed another way. Next, you visit the locker room where you’ll store your belongings and change out of your clothes. There are two private changing rooms for the shy or modest. Inside the locker you’ll find a pestemal/large towel which you use to wrap yourself. Strip down to your swim suit or birthday suit, wrap up in the towel and head to the sitting area.
The sitting area is where you’ll have your face painted with a clay masque. The clay was cool and my daughter and I giggled at our greenish tint. Decline if you don’t want one and then head to the sauna. At 150-160 degrees you’ll melt like the Wicked Witch of the West (Wizard of Oz) though for some unknown reason the clay masque says put while the rest of you sweats like crazy. Stay the suggested 15 minutes or as long as you can stand it – which ever comes first. We held out for 7 minutes and I felt pretty certain we were slimy enough!
Next stop – the main room. This circular room has small sinks all the way around and a large flat marble ‘stage’ in the center. Find a sink (they have no drains) and use it to fill a small bucket with water. Dump the water over your head…yes the water will go all over the floor, but will find its way to the drain. It feels very strange to stand in a room pouring water on your head. I felt like I was making a mess! Once you get the clay off your face, lie down on the large marble table. No photos were allowed obviously in the very busy bath we visited, but they are all similar. *This photo is a hammam in Sirkeci Mansion hotel during a quiet moment.*
When your masseuse enters (and we had female masseuses for my daughter and me while my husband and son had a male masseuse), you’ll be given a blow up pillow. Lie flat and follow directions!
**** At this point there are always questions about how much or how little clothing everyone is wearing. I think locals are routinely nude but visitors less likely so. Neither matters. Wear your swimsuit, 1/2 of your swimsuit or none of your swimsuit. No one will judge. The point of a hammam visit is to relax. So do whatever makes you feel comfortable! Our masseuses wore swimsuit tops and shorts.****
The first step is exfoliation. Your masseuse will use a scratchy mitt to rub you down and exfoliate the skin. Again….a question on the minds of those who have not visited…..How exactly does this work? How….invasive is it? Not to worry. You will be scrubbed everywhere except the really sensitive spots and if you have on a swimsuit only the stuff that shows will be scrubbed. So belly and décolletage yes…genitals no. After this step you will feel so smooth!
The next step is one you should make sure you turn your head to see. Bubble massage! You’ll receive the tourist version of a massage and unless you are burly like the Hulk himself, you will appreciate it. This part is a delight! A long thin towel is dipped into a bucket of very soapy water. The towel is opened and swung through the air. I incorrectly assumed this was because the water was hot and the towel was being cooled off. Instead this was adding air! Like waving a magic wand, the masseuse squeezed the towel and out came a washing machine load full of bubbles. What a sight to see. You’ll be covered in bubbles! They feel cool and light – like butterfly kisses.
Now relax while you get a massage. Your masseuse will only touch the places that she did above with the exfoliation procedure. The massage includes your scalp and your hair gets washed. (But there is no conditioner or cream rinse so if you get tangly hair or otherwise need conditioner to function, bring your own for the shower later.)
The next step is a rinse. You’ll sit up and……here is a tip! Hold your breath! The attendant will pour bowls of water over your head. I neglected to hold my breath the first time which lead to some coughing and sputtering. LOL! Now, you are on your own. The rest is up to you:
Shower before or after a swim in the swimming pool. My daughter loved the swimming pool part, but I found the water too chilly for me after the warm massage room.
Get towels for hair and body and relax in the sitting room with apple tea. No wonder this is the place to be! Relaxation? Time to visit and get caught up? Gossip time? Back in the ‘old days’ …mothers of sons would use this time to pick out a daughter in law! Fantastic!
While sipping on tea after such a wonderfully relaxing adventure, ponder, as I did, how different the world would be if we all slowed down 3 times a week to relax, have a massage, and visit with our friends and neighbors. It is easy to see how this wonderful tradition has survived for so many, many years.
When in Rome do as the Romans….you won’t regret it!