A Bath to Remember

The Golden Horn
The Golden Horn

When you walk into a new culture a traveler wants to dive right in and experience the culture first hand, experience the place as the locals do. Travelers enjoy the idea of jumping feet first into new experiences. Now when I go to a new country with cultural practices that I am unfamiliar with I tend to like jump in feet first as well and just see what happens. I do this more with bizarre cuisine more than anything and I am always trying the local cuisine. Ashley can pledge that I will try anything no matter how weird it is to me. I tend to follow Anthony Bourdain’s lead when it comes to trying new stuff in culture of food. I travel for food, so when Ashley and I decide to go somewhere I look up the traditional cuisine of the culture. When Ashley suggested that we should go to Istanbul, I could not wait to eat great Turkish food and just eat everything I could get my hands on, which (don’t get me wrong) is exactly what I did. I did not expect though to agree to getting pummeled and boiled like meat in a Turkish bath or a Hammam and further more, enjoy every second of it.

Exploring Sultanahmet
Exploring Sultanahmet

Ashley and I traveled to Romania about four months before we headed to Istanbul and there we made friends with a couple who were also studying in Rome. We became quick friends and decided the next school break to take a trip to Istanbul together. Our trip to Istanbul with them was fantastic but one of the best decisions we made was the idea to go and get pampered with a traditional Turkish bath.

The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque

We really did not know what we were getting into. I think we were all expecting something a little different. Ashley just wanted her back pain to disappear for just a couple of days and I was looking for some kind of meditation; something that clears the mind and rids the body of toxins. I got something like that but I had know idea that it would be in a torture chamber.

 

Too Cool for School (an example of toxins...)
Too Cool for School (an example of toxins…)
Can't Keep a Straight Face
Can’t Keep a Straight Face

When we got to the bath we were immediately separated off into different chambers, the men on one side and the women on the other. We were given a dressing room to take off and store our cloths and towels to wrap ourselves in. Now this bath house had a way to lure you into relaxation at first, it put you in a trance like everything was fine. You are led to a steam room and are allowed to hang out in the room as long as you want. So as my friend and I sat in the steam room and sweated every ounce of water out of our bodies, I was wondering what was in store for me. One important thing to know about me is that heat and me are not friends. If you have ever lived with me you know there are times where I overheat and I am found laying on floor trying to cool off. So I am never able to stay in a steam room for too long just because the heat tends to get to me. I love steam rooms however, and I am always willing to hang out in them because I love the feeling of going outside and embracing the cool air. So after about fifteen minutes of cooking it was time to head out to the next part.

The Haram at Topkapi Palace, not quite the bath house but they still washed their feet here
The Haram at Topkapi Palace, not quite the bath house but they still washed their feet here

Now I do not speak Turkish. Nobody in the complex spoke english. So it was a lot of pointing and and hand gestures to figure out what to do next. So I stood around in the giant room that had an oddly large marble slab in the middle of it. A very Large Turkish man in a bath towel came up to me and directed me to an area where you sit down on the floor under a water spigot. He then left me for a bit, and I thought I recognized the man but I realized that I do not know anybody in Turkey. He came back with a metal bowl. He positioned me next the water spigot and turned on the water. Boiling water came rushing out next to me and as it splashed on the marble floor; I could feel the spray of the water searing my skin. He then proceeded to fill up the metal bowl with the boiling hot water. If I put a live lobster under that spigot you could boil it to a nice beautiful red in seconds. This water was hot. Once the bowl was filled he proceeded to pour it over my head. My skin screamed as the water ran down my body. He then repeated the filing of the bowl multiple times as he continued to pour water over me. Then, as a quick wake up call he started to throw the water into my face and over the front of my body. Thankfully enough, you get use to water after being doused with it a couple of times.

Once my body was nicely seared he took me over to the marble slab that I saw earlier. Now this is all happening in a public room. so there were already other men laying on the marble as well. The very large man had me lay face first on the marble and began to give me the deepest full body massage I have had. There were times that I thought he was gonna break me as he massaged me. He started to twist my body in ways I did not believe it could go, cracking my back, my shoulders, my knees as well as stretching me out. After throwing some more boiling water on my back he sat me up and then moved behind me. He put me in some kind of head hold and then with a quick twist one way and the other way he cracked my neck twice. Just so you can get a picture of how he cracked me neck, think of an action movie when a person comes up and breaks someone’s neck. It was exactly like that. He did it so quickly though I did not have time to protest and afterwards my neck felt great. After a few more stretches of my body he laid me on my back. He then took off my towel leaving me stark naked on this very public marble slab. It actually did not bother me but it was just surprising because he removed the towel without warning. He then folded the towel in small square and laid it over my privates. Next he took a very large sponge that he slid his hand into and dunked it into soapy hot water and began to scrub. I think he took off a layer of skin. He really was energetic in his scrubbing. He scrubbed everywhere and I mean everywhere. He then took more hot water and poured it on my body to rinse the soap off. He then flipped me on my back and repeated the scrubbing. After another rinse off with water he sat me up and sent me back into the steam room. I sat in the steam room for another 15 minutes and then stepped out. The large man then pointed me in the direction of the next room.

After being cleaned raw my body felt like jelly. It was so loose that it was awkward to walk. The next part though was the cool down and probably the most amazing part. I walked through a small door and the room opened up into a rock cave that had a clear pool in the middle. The rock formations around me were amazing. I stepped down into the cool water and my whole body just went limp as I slipped into the cold water. After being boiled liked a lobster and steamed like a clam the cold water felt great. I completely submerged myself in the water and then floated on my back looking up at the cave. I swam a little to get my muscles active again and then just hung out there for about 30 minutes letting my body rest and cool down.

View of Taksim from the Ferry
View of Taksim from the Ferry, not quite the water I jumped into but I didn’t have a camera then.

After I was done cooling down I was escorted out by my guy and he dried me off and then sent to me back to my locker. I got dressed and sat at a table in the lobby and drank some apple tea while I waited for the girls to finish. I have never felt so relaxed and loose in my entire life and it was amazing.

Apple Tea, the best beverage in Istanbul
Apple Tea, the best beverage in Istanbul

Now I recommend one of these baths to everybody. It is very peaceful and relaxing. There is a little pain involved but completely worth it. Now this may not be for some of you if you are not comfortable being exposed in front of other men or being scrubbed down by a man. The baths are split into female and male areas however, and keep in mind that the men who are scrubbing you down are professionals and there should be nothing to be awkward about. I understand that this is not for everybody but I strongly push for you to keep an open mind to it. It is great part of the culture and it is very rewarding. They truly beat you into a new man. So go out and push your comfort zones aside and explore because that is a Bath I will never forget!

Check our related posts and learn more about Istanbul:

Hagia Sofia and the Flag A Glimpse of Istanbul
Hagia Sofia and the Flag
A Glimpse of Istanbul
Never Ending Columns at My Favorite Underground Site
Never Ending Columns at My Favorite Underground Site

 

 

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