Clark and I knew we couldn't come to Turkey without having a proper Turkish bath. The problem was, we had no babysitter for our kids. We briefly considered looking up the local LDS ward/branch to see if some adventurous Mia Maid would want to come babysit for some total strangers, but quickly decided that idea was kind of absurd. So we decided to take turns. Clark would go first, come back to the hotel and report. Then it would be my turn.
Next we needed to pick a Turkish bath. The concierge at our hotel was able to recommend some tourist friendly hamams but they were all super expensive. Plus we wanted the real deal. As we did our research, we were careful to eliminate any gay hamams which apparently are quite plentiful in Istanbul. Next, we looked for one that was both affordable and not too far from the hotel. Enter the Turvan Turkish Bath priced at 50 Turkish Lira or about $30 and just around the corner.
For those who don't know what a Turkish bath is, here's a little summary from Wikipedia:
A Turkish bath (Turkish: Hamam) is the Turkish variant of a steam bath, sauna or Russian Bath, distinguished by a focus on water, as opposed to ambient steam. A person taking a Turkish bath first relaxes in a room (known as the warm room) that is heated by a continuous flow of hot, dry air allowing the bather to perspire freely. Bathers may then move to an even hotter room (known as the hot room) before splashing themselves with cold water. After performing a full body wash and receiving a massage, bathers finally retire to the cooling-room for a period of relaxation.
Clark went first and returned about an hour and a half later. He looked happy, relaxed and especially clean. I had two questions for him: 1) Is there a female attendant/masseuse? and 2) Were you naked? He assured me that there are both male and female attendants and no, he was not naked. They gave him a little towel/sarong to wrap up in. Good enough for me. Off I went.
Now, I would have Clark guest blog about his Turkish bath experience, but frankly I think mine was a little more interesting. Plus, I think I'll ask him to blog about waking up in the middle of the night to go watch the Super Bowl at a local Turkish bar.
I showed up at the Turvan Turkish bath and was met by Marguerite, the female attendant who was Armenian and didn't speak a lick of English. She brought me downstairs to a locker room where I was glad to see they had lockers with working locks. I think she wanted to help me get undressed but I ushered her out and locked my things up. Thankfully, she left me with a sarong (a very small sarong) and a pair of wooden sandals.
She took me into the main room and gestured for me to sit down on the gobek tasi or the big stone in the center of the room. Next she wanted my sarong, which seemed unfair for two reasons. First, the center stone lies over a giant furnace- it's scalding hot and she wanted me to lie down on it. And secondly, uh, didn't Clark get to keep his sarong? He promised me I wouldn't have to get naked! I was a little hesitant at first but I figured when in Istanbul... Plus this woman seemed friendly enough and we shared the same name. I'll get naked. Why not.
So there I was. Naked in the basement of a hamam in Istanbul. Separated from everything that was familiar to me. My husband back at the hotel, my wallet and passport in another room. Separated and naked. Naked naked. Naked enough that Marguerite inquired about my c-section scar. At least, I think that's what she was asking about. Hard to tell. The language barrier was thick and things were steamy in there. She also noticed that I was pregnant and seemed concerned. She didn't let me lie on the gobek tasi for very long. She brought me over to a table and had me lie down.
The next thirty minutes were awesome. She threw hot water on me. She threw cold water on me. She rubbed my skin raw with two pumice gloves. She rubbed me down with sweet smelling suds. More hot water. More freezing water. And on and on. She took it easy on my belly, especially with the hot water. At one point she even bent over to whisper some Armenian baby talk to my unborn child. I wish I knew what she had said. I was torn between feeling incredibly uncomfortable and feeling completely relaxed and pampered.
The following thirty minutes were even better. She took me into another room (without steam) and gave me one of the roughest massages I've ever had. My achy pregnant body hasn't felt that good in months. After the massage, she brought me into a traditional steam room. She wouldn't let me stay there long, gesturing at my belly and shaking her head. Next came a traditional sauna room, same thing, she only let me stay 2 minutes or so. Then she brought me over to a small pool of ice cold water and had me get in. That was painful. Good painful. Then repeat several times. Steam, sauna, ice cold pool, repeat.
In the end, we came back to the main room and spent more time on the gobek tasi. Man, it felt good. I didn't want it to end. I was vulnerable and naked with my flab and stretch marks hanging out for a strange Armenian lady to see and yet I felt so relaxed... and so CLEAN!
And then suddenly it was over. It was odd, it was heavenly. I took a shower and got dressed. I said goodbye to Marguerite and walked back to the hotel feeling cleansed and yet slightly dirty at the same time.
Obviously, I didn't bring my camera to the Turkish bath but here's a photo of me shortly after. Wet hair and red-faced. Overheated or incredibly embarrassed? Probably a little bit of both.