Thursday, August 9, 2012

I Lied

I lied about my favorite activity in Istanbul being the Carpet Show. My favorite was the hamam (Turkish bath) visit. My friend and I were determined to fit in a hamam, and we'd read an article in Travel & Leisure about an old bath complex from the 1500s that had recently been restored  to its original function: The Ayasophya Hurrem Sultan Hamam. The picture looked gorgeous and the description listed sounded wonderful. We knew a hamam involved a washing/skin scrubbing and/or a massage and that hamams typically have a cold room, tepid room, and hot room. That was the extent of our knowledge. One late afternoon, we decided that the time was upon us, so we headed down to our lovely hotel manager with the name and address of this particular hamam. He informed us that this hamam required a reservation and promptly called for us, spoke at length giving our names, then hung up and said, "You must leave now, you have a reservation in 15 minutes." The hamam was just a couple of blocks from the hotel, so we grabbed our bags and headed out.

Upon arrival, we entered into a high ceilinged lobby with a fountain in the center, low couches along the center, sunken area, and wooden lockers and changing rooms behind carved screens. Everything was pure luxury. Since both a hot, sauna like room and a massage were out for me, I'd intended to just pay whatever fee there was and spend my time in the tepid room. But the front desk ladies had reserved for both us a slot that included washing and massage, and they assured me that I could participate. My friend and I were handed a thin towel (like the one I mentioned in the Grand Bazaar post) and a plastic bag filled with shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and scrubbing. We were directed to lockers to strip down all the way, wrap up in the towel, and then to meet a lady at the door to the back rooms. (This hamam was fully segregated - not a chance would I have been in my birthday suit in a mixed room!).

The lady guided us through the tepid room into the hot room, which had a humongous, marble slab in the center, beneath a glass dome letting in light. On the sides of the room were marble alcoves with gold faucets and buckets. We were each seated at a faucet, and the lady began pouring hot water over us, then instructed us to continue on our own. Just sitting in that decadent space with hot water to pour rather than a bathtub was luxurious. Then we each had a lady approach us. We were taken back to the tepid room, which was lined with a large, marble bench and more faucets. There, we had the top three layers or so of skin scrubbed off of us. My masseuse had me look down at all the skin she was scrubbing off, and it was not a pretty sight. That scrubbing down is one of the best experiences of this entire pregnancy. My skin has just been sooooo itch. My friend was taken back into the hot room for her massage, but my masseuse was ever so careful with me. She suggested that she provide a massage in the tepid room, and reassured me that the massage would be very gentle, and was she ever.  But first...the soap bubble cover. She filled a bucket with water and soap that smelled like Jasmine (but we later found out it was called Judas Tree), wrung a cloth into the soap, then flapped it about until a bunch of tiny soap bubbles formed on it, and those she wrung out all over me - much like a bubble bath without the bathtub. This continued until I was just one giant soap bubble lying atop a marble slab. Then the massage began, and as promised, she was very gentle, and she asked me every couple of minutes if I was okay. From starting in the hot room at the faucets until the very end, every time I had to move, she grabbed onto my arm in a vise grip that ensured if I stumbled, she was not about to let me go down. At the end, she had me wrap in a clean towel and escorted me back out into the cold room/lobby, where she served fresh and delicious lemonade.

From start to finish, the hamam experience was the utter lap of luxury. I'm not one for massages. I like the spa as much as the next girl, but I like body wraps and facials. NO massage. The hamam was completely different and instead, was a bit like a return to infancy, where someone is in charge of everything from bathing to wrapping you up in a towel. It was a chance to relax and let go completely, allowing other people to be in charge of my every move. A treat, indeed.
Because photos were absolutely forbidden (for obvious reasons), you'll just have to use the link above to see how impressive this hamam is!

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