Bathing for dummies in Turkey

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“It is now safe to use your portable electronic devices,” is my cue to open my laptop once again to write the next installment in the adventures of Ms. Traveling Pants.  Now returning from a trip to the Hudson River Valley in Upstate New York, I had the opportunity to travel with my husband who asked me today, out of the blue, probably because of the frigid temperature, “Have you ever experienced a thermal bath?”

I wish I had a better answer, but no I have not experienced the thermal baths that are world renowned such as those in Iceland and Turkey; I must put them on my list. However, I must admit I have had one memorable bathing experience in my travels in Turkey. Unknown to me, baths in Turkey are a common thing. There are typically various bathing houses or Hamams in each town or neighborhood that one may join as a member (see picture below). I would consider them almost social or community clubs that are part of the weekly routine. Just for your information, Hamams are easy to spot as they all have high dome shaped buildings with skylights.

It is almost what in the U.S. we consider the spa culture, where you may spend the day or the afternoon at the spa with friends. While in Turkey, my travel companions and I spent the afternoon at the hamam. As it was wintertime, we all went to the locker room and removed our many layers to enter a large grey, earthen room filled with steam and the sounds of water running and women singing. Before getting our personal treatments, we were instructed to first bathe in the faucets of running warm water and then to steam on the benches.

The process of the Turkish bath involves lying down almost naked (underwear only) and being scrubbed from head to toe by a bather, typically another woman that also is well, naked. All of this may sound erotic, but believe me there was nothing erotic about the appearance of the bathers as they were 50 year olds that were rather voluptuous and we aren’t talking like the looks of Anne Nicole Smith. The bath included a complete exfoliation with a loofta. Although somewhat relaxing with the heat and water rinse, the loofta was either the strength of a brillo pad or I was ultra-sensitive.
I remember quite vividly the bather starting to sing as a component of the exfoliation and massage. It struck me as odd, but when you think about it now when you go to the spa there is either calming sounds playing over a stereo or waterfalls to induce that tranquil environment. Despite the singing, there was nothing that was going to cover up the fact that the exfoliation was taking more than the primary layer of dead skin, but I would have to say down to raw. This was combined with the fact that time and again the woman’s breast would brush me in her massage strokes. As you can imagine, this brings “personal space” to yet another level.

After what was hours, we all left the bath feeling warm and well-rubbed. I added that I felt that I would need a little recovering time before my next bath of this sort as I truly felt rubbed raw. As you can tell from my post, Turkish baths are an experience, but there is much to be said for a traditional Swedish massage or even one of those neat Brookstone feet/leg massagers.

Let me know if you have any recommendations for great thermal baths as I am awaiting trying one for my first time.

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