I realize I haven't talked about the Turkish bath I had when I was in Turkey last year...nor the one I had in Jordan in 2009. The latter left me so traumatized I didn't want to talk about it with anyone!! For obvious reasons there are no photos......
Having a Turkish bath had been something on the "bucket list" for quite a while. The opportunity presented itself when it was an option on my tour of Egypt and Jordan with the Imaginative Traveler in early 2009. We were in Petra, Jordan and after a day of walking around that beautiful ancient city I was in need of some relaxation. (little did I know!) A couple on my tour had gone to the baths the night before and said they enjoyed it. No one else on the tour was remotely interested but I've never let the lack of a companion stop me doing what I want to do. So I booked it. This is where you put your beverage to the side for now as you probably don't want to mess up your computer screen or keyboard.
Around 8 p.m. a car came to pick me up and off we went. Okay it was dark and here I am going off with a strange man in a car in the Middle East. Okay Laurie it will be okay, really it will. And it was...that part anyway. We got to the spa where I seemed to be the ONLY person. Seemed to be? I WAS the only person there! I was given a towel, told to go to the locker room and take my clothes off and given directions to the steam room. I did as I was told and entered the steam room...and there I sat...and sat...and sat..for what seemed like thirty minutes at least but was probably only about ten or fifteen. How would I know...I had nothing but a towel on. I honestly felt that I had been forgotten and my prune of a body would be discovered the next morning. I was getting hotter and hotter and my panic did not help at all. Just when I was half way through mentally composing my obituary the door opened and a young lady escorted me out of my potential death chamber.
We walked into a small area where there was a marble slab that stood even with my waist. I knew with my bad knees there was no way I could shimmy up so I asked if she had a step stool or a chair I could use. She made a half hearted look around the area and but said no there wasn't. I said "I'm sorry but there is no way I can get up there" and made a few feeble attempts. Shiny wet marble top and shiny wet body - just not a good combo. I was butt naked of course and okay so I'm modest...some might even call me a prude. This young gal somehow got me up there by shoving me by my behind and other parts I don't want to mention - and me trying to climb as well. She was a tiny little thing and I don't know how she had the strength. I still cringe to this day when I think about it (and okay...have a bit of a giggle) ..still probably the most humiliating moment of my life and trust me I've had a few of those. Finally I got up there... The marble top was so slippery I nearly went flying off the side. Luckily there was a wall behind it or I likely would have gone right across!
I was laying there there cringing with embarassment when the first blast of warm water hit me - she basically tossed a bucket of water on top of me then scrubbed. In between I was deathly cold on the icy marble in the cold room and still feeling stings of humiliation from my "assisted landing". Warm water thrown at me, scrub scrrub scrub quite harshly, shivering with cold...it went on and on. I honestly felt like a sack of meat. Then a friend or co-worker came in and they started talking in Filipino and giggling. All I could think of was that she was telling her friend how she had to shove me up there and commenting on my "big ass" etc. when they just could have been talking about what they had done the night before. I just didn't know. It was a terribly uncomfortable experience and I just wanted it to be over with. Finally after what seemed like an eternity it was and she said simply "done". I managed to haul myself off the wet marble ledge without cracking my head open, put on my towel and tottered back to the change room. On a positive note I was very very clean. I quickly put my clothes back on and the driver took me back to my hotel. Of course being submissive and a polite Canadian when he asked me how it was I said "fine" between gritted teeth.
At breakfast the next morning I regaled everybody with my experience which they all thought was hilarious...the couple who had had the treatment the night before me confessed that it was embarassing and not that great. Okay why did they tell me it was wonderful? If they had told me the truth about their experience I'd have saved my money and my humiliation.
Needless to say when I was in Turkey the adventurous part of me wanted to have a (real) Turkish bath but the other cautious wary and prudish part was very hesitant. As it turned out Hilary a fellow adventurer on my tour had a bad experience with her previous Turkish bath which coincidentally took place in Petra as well. From our descriptions I think they were different places however. We decided that we both needed to give Turkish baths a second chance.
The opportunity came in Cappadocia which was where our tour leader Kiymet's favourite hamamm was located. Kiymet, Elsie and Hilary were my companions this time. I decided to opt for a massage after the bath as well.
After paying we were given a towel and headed off to the sauna...sitting primly in our towels (and me in my underpants as keeping them on was an option...although very few did) and conversing it seemed light years away from my uneasy experience in Jordan. We were then directed one by one into the hamamm's main area. I gasped as I walked in as there were many more women than I expected. (men and women are segregated) I was so surprised that I did not pay attention to where I was walking and my right foot slipped into a narrow channel used for funneling water out of the bath area. I stumbled but I wasn't worried about injuring myself - I was more worried about losing my towel which was clutched very tightly around my body! There were what seemed like 25 plus women sitting waiting on marble benches along the walls. I made my way to sit beside Hilary at the end of the "line".
In the centre of the room was a large round marble platform with about 10 to 12 ladies on. Each woman had an attendant "working" on her. Let's just say there were boobs and bellies everywhere..Due to nerves on my part (and I suspect on Hilary's as well) we started making comments (quietly) and giggling like two naughty school girls. This earned us a shush from one or more of the attendants (who were quite formidable) a couple of times so that was us told. I didn't dare look at Hilary or I'd have burst into more giggles. I got more nervous as my "time" approached. More so because I would have to remove my towel to get scrubbed down before taking my place on the platform. We all slid along one place as one by one the women were scrubbed (one at a time) and then moved over to the other side of the room to await their turn for the cleansing of their life.
All too soon it was my turn to be scrubbed down...you can only say "you can go before me" so many times before you look like a fool. Of course I totally made a complete ass of myself when the attendant was trying to pull the towel off to scrub me and I was clinging on to it for dear life. She almost had to pull my fingers apart to get that towel off of me. I sat there with my eyes closed thinking "oh god oh god everyone can see me naked and they are all probably laughing at me" while the attendant scrubbed dead skin off my body. It was then time for me to walk over to the waiting area for the actual bath. I clutched my now totally soaked towel to my front as I got up and Kiymet our tour guide came and took my arm. So sweet but I felt like an old lady. She had seen me stumble earlier and thought it was my knees that were giving me grief...nope, just not watching where I was going! I sat clutching the wet towel to my front and then it was time for the next group of us to get on the platform for our bath.
Luckily the platform was fairly low and I got on without any difficulty. It was similar to this one below...but with more bodies on (in the middle) and an attendant for each person.
I had observed earlier that the bath is synchronized so everyone is washed, turned off, soaped, etc. at the same time. Huge pillows of soap infold you (bonus: no one can see your body) at one point and it really is quite relaxing. You are scrubbed but it is gentle, warm and I was able to close my eyes with relaxation rather than with humiliation and cold. I did feel a bit like a piece of meat ...it was like an assembly line so you couldn't help feel that way. Water was poured on me but it wasn't done like you were slopping out the pigs as it was in Jordan. Almost every inch of you is washed and rinsed for perhaps fifteen minutes - more or less - and then you are free to go.
I was sent to another room for a short massage which was good but I could tell I was not in the hands of a professional. Still, it was a nice way to end the experience. All too soon it was time to change back into my clothes (and dry underpants!) and meet the others. Hilary and I both agreed this was MUCH better by far than our experiences in Petra.
Would I do it again? If I am lucky enough to return to Turkey at some point in my life I definitely would! And I would lose the underpants!