A Turkish Hamam experience

Sunset at Fethiye

Sunset at Fethiye

After leaving Tilos for the second time, I headed back to Turkey to resume my travel plans there.  Because I had spent a week longer in Greece than originally planned, it meant I now had fewer days to play with on the Turkish Mediterranean coast before getting to central Turkey where I had some pre-booked accommodation.

So it was a bit of whirlwind to retrace my steps back to Turkey: one night back in Rhodes (Greece) after leaving Tilos and one night in Marmaris (Turkey) before hopping a bus to Fethiye for two nights.

Fethiye

Fethiye is a town on the southern coast of Turkey, popular with boaties and with travellers who plan to take one of the hundreds of multi-day live-aboard Gulet boat trips along the Mediterranean coast.  I had tentatively planned to do a 3-night Gulet trip, but extended time in Greece ruled it out it out in the end.  Never mind, next time.

View of Fethiye harbour from my pension

View of Fethiye harbour from my pension (B&B)

Instead, I settled for a day trip on a sail boat for the “12-island cruise”, a standard cruise that operates in the area.  I paid more for what was supposed to a slightly more upmarket version of the tour:  no party music, a sailboat rather than a motorised one, and it visited islands that weren’t visited by the other 399 boats out in the harbour.

A boat similar to the one that I was one

A boat similar to the one that I was one

Although this sounded idyllic, in reality what it means is that they sail past 12 islands, but only stop at 4 of them. It was a very average cruise – the scenery was nice enough, but I really didn’t think anything about the day was particularly special.  They pulled up to 3 islands were people could jump in for a swim.

The water looked beautiful, but not quite warm enough to tempt me!

Don’t bother trying to figure out which one is me..

Although the water looked pretty, I have become (always have been?) a warm water wuss and the water was still just a bit too cold for me to jump in, so I gave the swim a miss.  On the fourth island (“Flat Island”), the boat stopped to let us off so that we could walk across the stones, and up to the tiny hill for a quick look at the view.

Flat Island .... not exactly the Mediterranean that I imagined

Flat Island …. not exactly the Mediterranean that I imagined

Everyone trotted off like sheep to the top.  I confess to staying behind, having a chat with an Australian couple that were on the boat instead.   It was the most uninspiring island to walk on that I have come across!

As promised, they didn’t play party music.  We motored most of the way, but as we came back in, the sails were raised for ½ hour and they cranked up stereo to play the theme song to Titanic (by Celine Dion) as we sailed along. Very cliché – but it gave us a bit of a laugh.

So, whilst it was a very average cruise on the Meditteranean, it was a pleasant, quiet day out on the water.  Enough said.

Antalya

From Fethiye, I moved on to Antalya for the night. Antalya is a modern city, but within Antalya is the original, old town of Kaleici which is confined within ancient walls, dating back to 130AD or so.  (I mean, that’s seriously old!)

Hadrian's Gate - an entrance into Kaleici old town, built in 131AD

Hadrian’s Gate – one of the entrances into Kaleici old town

Keleici started off as a Roman town, then Byzantine, then Seljuk Turkish and finally Ottoman.  It’s a mix of lovely restored buildings standing next to crumbling derelicts.

Streets of Kaleici (old town)

Streets of Kaleici (old town)

This place is a do-up, I think

This place is a do-up, I think

There were several of these gorgeous brightly coloured trees

There were several of these gorgeous brightly coloured trees

As expected it’s very touristy with just about every building dedicated to accommodation, restaurants, souvenirs, clothing or rental cars – but it was pleasant enough to stroll around without being overly hassled by the vendors.

Antalya harbour

I loved how they used the umbrellas to provide shade to the tables below

The Turkish Hamam

I had saved the one ‘must do while in Turkey’ activity for Antalya – a Turkish hamam (bath).  Although available everywhere, I read that Antalya had reasonably good ones at a fair price.  And to be honest, I was feeling a bit nervous about the experience so had been putting it off.  But – I’m here to experience all things Turkish, so I had to do it.

Hamam- Turkish bath (not as elaborate as some)

Hamam- Turkish bath (not as elaborate as some)

I made my way to the Hamam to see what the story was.  I found it easily enough although from the outside it didn’t look particularly ”traditional” or spectacular.  I was presented with a menu card of options – and I decided I’d have the works.  I opted for the full 4-step Monty,  as follows:

1.  Turkish Bath
2.  Peeling
3.  Soap massage
4.  Oil massage

Each item was a separate price list menu item, but it was cheaper (65 lira, or NZ$37) as a package.  I tried to understand what the peeling meant.  Did they poor acid over me until my skin peeled?   I wasn’t sure but decided I would probably survive it, whatever it was, so I just went with it.

I was taken to a small changing room which had solid wood panelling on the bottom, and clear glass on the top.  This would be fine if you are a 4ft 8 Turkish woman.  Not so private if you are 5ft 8.  But little did I know that it would get worse.

I was told to strip everything off and use a peştemal to wrap around me (it looks like a checked table cloth but was the size of a small bath towel).   I had heard that you leave your bikini bottoms on, but I double-checked with my attendant.  She just shrugged and looked at me as if to say “Don’t be such a prude” but said “Ok, ok”.

The cloth barely covered the essential bits, and when I laughed nervously and pointed out how short it was, this very kind woman said ‘No matter, are all ladies’.   I should mention at this point that some hamams are mixed men and women, but I opted for one where women were segregated from the men.  I was also given a pair of rubber shoes, like crocs to put on.  I later appreciated why these were a necessity.

Step 1 – Turkish Bath

I was taken into what is essentially a warm marble-lined room with a high dome ceiling.  In the middle was a large slab of marble, like a table, and around the edges were four marble bowls under some water taps.

Inside of a hamammi

The marble room – taken from a website of another hamam

I was taken into another room, the hararet, or hot room, having to duck down as I walked through the very low arched doorway.  This room was similar to the first one except it was hotter, like a sauna, without the marble slab in the middle.  It just had the four bowls.  And fortunately, there was no one else there.

At this point, can my father, grandfather and male friends please all avert your eyes?!

The woman took me over to one of the bowls that had been pre-filled with warm water and, without ceremony, whipped the pestemal cloth off me, handed me a steel bowl, told me to sit, and showed me how to scoop the warm water over myself.  She left the room, taking away that one bit of cloth that was going allow me to hold on to any sort of dignity.

I did as instructed, and gave myself a good rinse.  And I waited.  And waited.  I eventually realized that this was the ‘bath’ part, which was really just a sauna.  So I had a quiet 15-20 minutes to sit there and contemplate life.  It seemed like forever when you are sitting there, mostly nude, alone, in a strange place, and not quite knowing what will happen next.

Step 2 – The Peeling

Eventually my attendant comes back and takes me back to the first room where I was instructed to lay down on my stomach on the marble table.  Next thing, she whips down my bikini bottoms below my butt cheeks.  And then she starts scrubbing.  And scrubbing.  And she doesn’t stop.  She was using a mitt that was like a loofah but felt like rough sandpaper.  While the scrubbing was okay, it was done with water only – not soapy water which would have allowed the scrubbing pad to glide on my skin a bit more easily.  It was a rough, abrasive scrub.

After doing my back, she pulls my bikini bottoms right up as high as they would go, essentially giving me a G-string wedgie.  I wasn’t impressed!  She turns me over and scrubs my front.  Arms, legs, stomach, chest.  Every square inch of me is vigorously scrubbed, except my face.

After 10 minutes of serious scrubbing time, she points me over to the marble bowl again, which I oblige her after de-wedging myself.  She took great glee in pointing out my bits of skin that are no longer attached but are now lying all over the marble table and stuck to my body.  Geesh, she really did ‘peel’ my skin – that’s 10 months of tan and travel grime gone!  I was astounded how much was taken off and it looked pretty gross.

I am instructed to remove my bikini bottoms at this point so she can rinse all the skin bits off – so what little dignity I have left is now well and truly gone as I stand there, starkers.  The only thing that made me feel slightly better is that she was older and shall we say, more rotund, than I , and was  in her now soaking wet granny-pant underwear.  She kindly rinses my bikini bottoms for me, and then rinses me thoroughly by pouring bowls of water over me.

Step 3 – Soap massage

Now that I am freshly scrubbed and peeled, it’s time for Step 3 – the soapy massage.  I lay back down – still stark naked, and beyond worrying about it, feeling like a slab of meat on the marble table.  She soaks me up using some sort of bubble machine. Actually, it’s not a machine, but a cloth bag like a pillowcase that has soap inside.  She blows into it to puff it up like a balloon, then squeezes the air out which somehow froths up the soap into a lush lather.  She even shampooed my hair.  And as she washes me, I get a massage. Another two customers arrive as this is going on and are taken past me into others sauna room while I’m lying there starkers.  I just thought to myself:  Ha ha, ladies, your time is coming!

Finally, I’m taken back to the bowl for a final rinse off.  I forgot to put the rubber shoes on and nearly went for a skate on the now very slippery marble floor.  I caught myself, thank goodness, but being knocked out, while naked and covered in bubbles was not going to be a good look!

Step 4 – Oil massage

I dried myself off and I was thankfully handed back the pestemal cloth to wrap around myself. I was let to the massage room for my oil massage.  Although quite pleasant, it really was just a gentle massage to rub the oil in rather than a good deep tissue massage.

For what I think are obvious reasons, I didn’t get any photos inside.  You can google ”Turkish Bath images” if you want to see more! Some hamams are fairly luxurious (and have prices to match) whilst the historical ones (like where I went) are a bit cheaper and while nice, are fairly simplistic inside.

As stated above, I opted for a hamam where women were treated separately to the men.  The Kiwi girl I ran into a few weeks ago in Pamukkale was telling me about her hamam – where it was men and women combined. In some hamams, men are bathing the women.  Now hamams are not just for the tourists – they are frequented by Turkish people.  So what I can’t get my head around is how they can be so conservatively dressed on the street (head scarf, full length skirts and sweaters even on hot days) yet they are happy to sit around butt-naked together in a hamam?!

Anyhow – it was a bit of fun and a more-or-less pleasant experience.   Would I do it again?  Probably not. But I now have skin that is as smooth as a baby’s bottom (as the saying goes) and I don’t think I have ever felt so clean.

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About BusyLizzy

Normally I live in NZ but having re-discovered the joys of independent travel over the last few years, I decided it was 'now or never' and am taking some time out to see what the world has to offer.
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2 Responses to A Turkish Hamam experience

  1. Angie says:

    Entertaining read! Sometimes you’ve just got to go with the flow 🙂
    I do remember that scrub was fairly vicious, though don’t recall I was starkers… or maybe I blocked the memory! Wondered if mixed areas only for tourists but maybe not? Did the kiwi girl say she was naked too?!

    • BusyLizzy says:

      Hi Ange – you are so right about just going with the flow; I was definitely out of my comfort zone, but hey… sometimes you just gotta do these things! The kiwi girl said she kept her bikini bottoms on, so I presumed that I would be able to, too. I have read mixed stories about whether it’s the tourist ones only that are mixed – I’m not too sure. For me, it was a one-off thing to do; I’m not so sure that I’d go back in a hurry – even if I DID have such nice smooth skin afterwards!

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