Bathing in sweat in a Turkish bath

This blog is an equal opportunity employer, and so I’m happy to follow up the male-focussed shaving post with some pampering that both sexes can enjoy, albeit in segregated fashion:  a Turkish bath (aka ‘hamam’).

(For those not in the know, “equal opportunity employer” is a self-applied epithet used in job ads in Australia by companies and government departments who wish to impress potential applicants by boasting that they endeavour to refrain from blatantly illegal discriminatory practices like only hiring candidates with dangly bits down there.)

So, without further ado, how to enjoy a Turkish bath…

Step one:  nude up.  After paying (60TL – roughly £21 or €27 – happily forked over up front), I was shown to a changing room and handed a towel.  Unsure of the procedure, (having heard different things from different travellers who’d attended different hamams), I asked whether I was supposed to wear anything under the towel – board shorts, perhaps? – and got the proprietor’s best idiomatic English in reply:  “are you kidding?”.  Fair enough.  (The point of my asking had actually been not so much out of prudishness, but more to avoid the awkward “what the hell, why would you do that?!” if I wasn’t supposed to be imitating a true Scot under the towel.)

Step two:  enter the hamam, proceed to your assigned marble washbasin, and spend a few minutes pouring warm water over yourself (and towel).  There was no one else in the hamam when I was there (5pm on a hot Friday afternoon is presumably not their busiest time), so I got to spend a bit of time poking about and admiring the all-marble room at this point, too.  Then again, some other participants would have been helpful:  a few surreptitious glances would have answered some crucial questions like “am I supposed to keep the towel on for this bit?” and “does it matter if I get the towel soaking wet?”.  (Answers:  yes and no, respectively.)

Step three:  have a nice lie down on the heated marble platform in the middle of the room.  After all that enthusiastic washing, you’ve earned it.  When delivering hand-wavy instructions at the beginning of step two, the proprietor (who from now on I’m going to call ‘bathman’, just because after many minutes spent staring out the train window at the Mediterranean in southern France I can’t think of anything less dumb) had gestured that this was a good time for a ten to fifteen minute nap.  At this point, however, one begins to take notice of just how hot and humid the hamam is, and the effect that that’s having on one’s pores:  namely, that they have opened the sluices and become a plethora of little sweaty waterfalls.

Step four:  enter bathman, now himself clad in towel;  follow his instructions to sit next to your assigned washbashin so he can throw progressively cooler and cooler water over you.  After all the sticky sweating, this is incredibly pleasant.

Step five:  back onto the marble platform to be covered in soapy water and manhandled through a brief whole body sports massage.  I’ve never really been one for massages, for some reason, so this didn’t really do that much for me other than produce a couple of invisible bruises on my thighs the next day (the bathman has quite a grip!).  But I’m sure most people enjoy it, and it was entertaining if for no other reason than to see him do it mostly with his eyes closed, in order to preserve the modesty of the aforementioned true Scot.

Step six:  amateur sports massage completed, it’s now time for the bathman’s turn at amateur chiropractic.  He seemed to gain quite some pleasure from producing cracking noises from my back and ribs, in particular.  No harm no foul, I guess.

Step seven:  more water sloshed all over you.

Step eight:  bathman’s duties are complete, and it is now time for another lie down to complete the experience.

Step nine (optional extra credit):  once changed back into your clothes, allow the door to the haman to slam shut on your heel as you go back in to take a few happy snaps (which don’t turn out anyway because it’s too humid for your camera to capture anything at all without getting its lens covered in mist), and spend a good five minutes trying not to bleed all over their nice clean marble.

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