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Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Cultural Plunge

Today we did a very Turkish thing and went to the Hamam. What is a hamam you ask? It is a Turkish Bath. We went downstairs to check out the Hamam in our hotel. We discovered that for a good price we could get a sauna, use of the Turkish bath and a Kese for a reasonable price. The English translation of Kese was simply this: To be rubbed with a rough cloth! We had experienced a Turkish bath when we were here in 2002 so we decided to indulge. We went back upstairs to put on our bathing suits, which it turns out, was a completely unnecessary thing to do. The kind, small Turkish man who was staffing the desk led us to the changing room where he proceeded to explain to us that we should get completely naked and wrap up in a over sized kitchen towel. OK, we thought. Act like a local. Our only concern was that some of our friends might suddenly appear around the corner! But we trusted the process and took the plunge. Literally. The first thing he said to do was to get in the sauna for 15 minutes. 15 minutes in a sauna is quite a long time. When we were well-roasted, we dipped into the small cooling pool and walked across the way to the hamam. The hamam was a room made entirely of marble with piping hot water running out of numerous spigits attached to the wall. A cold water faucet was also available if you needed to cool off a bit. The marble was so hot that it made it difficult to sit down with only a thin dish cloth between your bum and the marble. Our new Turkish best friend told us he'd be back in a moment. He just needed to change. He returned in swim trunks, argyle socks and Adidas tennis shoes! He invited Doug to lie down on the marble slab that he had prepared with the right temperature of water. He also asked him to remove his dishcloth and lie face down. I was sitting right there taking this all in, knowing that I was next. Good thing I've gotten somewhat used to the whole "naked thing" from living in Sweden. Still...He began to scrub Doug's back with a rough glove. Then he took a net with some soap in the bottom, got it wet and opened it up like a pillow case filled with air. Then he took the bubble that he had created and scrunched it together over Doug's body. A big load of bubble bath appeared all over Doug's body. It was very cool. When Doug was finished he asked him to go dip in the cold pool and then get back in sauna. I asked Doug to come back into the hamam as I didn't really want to experience this treatment alone. It really was a delightful experience and honestly, the whole "naked thing" was really not a big deal. He was very discreet, although I have to admit, I would not have done it if Doug hadn't been there. I did almost laugh out loud however thinking of most modest friends. They knew that they would have rather died than subject themselves to this treatment!
Our Turkish friend scrubbed and massaged almost every inch of our bodies. Note that I said almost. In between each step, he took a bowl full of hot water and poured it over our entire body. It was truly a cleansing and refreshing experience. After we finished in the hamam, we dipped into the cool pool for a couple of minutes, then back in the sauna for 5 minutes, then a cold shower. Now I feel very clean, very relaxed and also very refreshed. I would frequent the hamam often if I lived in Turkey. And the price compared to the Swedish bath houses was hard to beat. photographic evidence of our adventures in the Turkish bath!