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Kayla's Travels in Turkey
Turkish Bath/Hamam 2
 April 2002
by Kayla Summers

Here is round two:
Ok ladies, it’s another Sunday, and another bathing adventure!  I am still at the “Best Deal in the World Hotel” (the divine “Hotel Flamingo”) located five minutes off of the tourist trail on the tram line that runs you to all the “sights”.  It is blessedly quiet and I have a small room, clean bed, private bathroom, television with cable (for BBC fans) a telephone, a mini-fridge (that you can stock full of the delicious goodies you will buy along your own adventures), maid service.  The room fee includes a free breakfast of fresh bread, two types of locally made fresh cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, packets of butter, sour cherry jam, honey, coffee or tea… not to mention all the water and “Tang” you can drink!   They also include an over-boiled egg in a cute eggcup, which I encourage you not to touch.  I’ve done it enough times, (ya know-- empirical testing… Urp!) All this for the unheard of price of thirteen dollars U.S., or a better deal: eighteen million Lira per night.  (A week’s worth of laundry usually cost me $1.50.) So, now I’ve given them a well-deserved plug, which I’m not sure they appreciate.

  I return to the Hamam (Turkish Bath) mission.  I chose, “The Tahriri Park Hamam, which, although it had a sign indicating it was a bathhouse, when I entered there were a lot of raised eyebrows and amused smiles!  Inside, there were mostly men in towels...  One dressed man (who was on his way out) told me in Turkish that this was for men only, something the guidebook didn’t bother to share.  I confirmed the name, the hours, etcetera, “Yes, yes, but not for women!”  Some of the men joked: …if I really wanted to... but I opted out.  The man, directed me to the bathhouse I had previously attended, last week.  On my way out, I told him I needed a different bathhouse so he directed me to the Cagaloglu”, prounced ‘Cha-olu’ (sorta; there is a trick with the g’s). It is a mere three hundred years old, built in 1741 by Sultan Mahmut, and the proceeds from its income were directed to his library. Nowadays it’s used for a lot of films, “Indiana Jones”, for one. (They boast of 138 television films.) You can decide on a range of services, from “Do-it Yourself” to “The Works”.  Naturally, I went for The Works.  It was rather expensive: 39 million Lira, or 30 bucks, but hey, I’m here!

This time, instead of a locker room, the women issue you a key to a small room with a bed, nightstand, and colored glass windows for semi-privacy.  I disrobed there, was given the big towel, and issued some wooden sandals like Japanese clogs, and I was issued to the next room.  I passed marble benches and showerheads that were jutting out of the wall, flowing water, into the marble gutters on the floor. (Maybe the gutters were used for over-flow). I entered into the main room, which was also a circular room, made entirely of marble, mostly light colored, with smaller darker tiles used to form intricate patterns. Arches and pillars surround the room.  There is a circular marble platform over which is the domed ceiling, with many holes and star shapes cut into it, giving the room an incredible, bright and natural light, (explaining the film interest). There were marble basins along the walls, where I was instructed to pour the warm water over myself, using a gleaming, copper bowl.  Then, I was told to go to the heated, circular marble platform to warm up. I could feel, my pores opening, and my muscles loosening I laid there for about ten minutes, doing some easy yoga stretches. A group of Japanese women were there, and they were also tentatively pouring water over themselves. (They got the “Do It Yourself” tour), laying on the platform, (after my example).  The giggled, the cute way they do.

As they left, the Italian group arrived. (I think they received “The Semi-assisted Tour”.)  We all lay there another five minutes.  Next, the washing women entered with pillows that they slapped down on the marble.  The Italians were taken first.... Yes, I was a little peeved, but I felt the slapping of the pillows on the platform was an ominous sign.  I was hoping for a more sympathetic washing woman. From the exclamations of the Italians when the water was poured over them, my suspicions were confirmed that it was a less than comforting temperature. I imagine that it was too cold, from their reactions. I began to reconsider this bathhouse, but usually when I hang in, things work out well.

Sure enough, an old woman came in, with two buckets (The Works!). She scolded the others.  (I don’t know why, but rather harsh words were exchanged, and she had the last one.)   She motioned for me, to lie down lengthwise, along the marble’s edge. To be honest, I was a little hesitant, I didn’t know if the fight was finished ... She sat down beside me, and began the scrub, professionally, gently, and firmly. I had bathed beforehand, (scrubbing) and still she removed loads of dead skin! She told me to go rinse myself off, with the copper bowl. While I did, she rinsed the platform. Returning to the platform, I laid on my back.  She started to soap me, rubbing me down.  It became a great massage, focusing on my feet.  I think the pillow, which I found too high, was used to keep one from slipping. I would slip on the platform, and she would pull me back, making me laugh. Sliding around on the platform, she started laughing too. I was instructed, to rinse off again, and return to the platform, the Italian group was leaving, perhaps a little angry (with hands on their hips).  We were having too much fun!

…Anyway, back on the platform, my washing woman began a slow massage, sometimes using… (I don’t know what)? It was like limp, straw whisk and, rubbing with it created bubbles. (Goodness, I’m a sucker for bubbles!) I received a truly fantastic massage lasting about twenty minutes.  We didn’t begin talking ‘til she massaged my arms, and I told her in Turkish, I was a yoga teacher.  She seemed delighted that I knew some Turkish.  She told me about her children (She has five, one a doctor.).  I rinsed, myself off once again; then I came to her fountain, where I sat below her.  She washed my hair, (three times!), my face, behind my ears--still doing a massage of my neck, she rinsed me off, entirely, with warm water gently poured.   Giving me, back the towel, she wished we, in Turkish, Saatler olsun!” (May it last forever!).  I returned to the lobby and my little cubicle to dress.  A woman came by offering water, tea, etc. (for a price) from which I deferred, knowing where I could score a huge glass of the fresh O.J. for half the price.

They do have some brushes, blow dryers, and mirrors to help you get yourself together and prepare to go.

Now here is the criticism: the bathhouse smells of mildew.  “Now, now!” (I imagine you might say) I know it’s hard to stop mildew in a three hundred year old steam room, but I cite the Cermberlitas that does not smell of it.  I suspect it may have something to do with the beautiful, incredible, bright, natural lights (as any aquarium owner can tell you). Briefly, your intrepid bather, while staring at the ceiling, began reminiscing, old nursing school lectures about airborne microbes... fungal infections.  They do keep the room and platform, scrupulously clean (to Swedish standards), and all those icky things need a place to stay, undisrupted in order to flourish. I felt relatively safe, and will keep you posted!

The tacky part of my experience was in the middle of the heated marble platform.  There was a big urn, and sticking out of it was an algae covered block of Styrofoam, with some fake Philodendron leaves crowning the top. I was glad it did not dangle down, thus raising the fungal possibility higher.

Also, I hate to sound cheap but: for the amount of money that they charge, they could hire less sadistic bathing women. (Mine, the Queen Mother, was wonderful, but the Italians were definitely unhappy campers.)  I would have enjoyed free water or tea, and felt that there should have been more service in the lobby room.  I got my own fresh towel (as none was being offered) from the huge pile, and I was not using the original issue. Other than that, it was still a fantastic experience, which leaves me eager to try another.

Signing off,


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