Visit to an authentic Turkish Hamam
Today I did what every visitor to Turkey should do, I experienced a bath at an authentic Hamam. The Global Spa Summit organizers had arranged a visit to the Cagaloglu Hamam, built in 1741 and still operating today. While this Hamam could use a little renovation of it's own, it's in remarkably good condition. I can't imagine what any spas we've built in the last 20 years will look like at 300!
I entered the reception area and was shown a list of the services available, which range from "self-bath" to "oriental luxury", which is the works. I opted for the "kese and bath", priced at about 75 Turkish Lira, or about US$48. I was then escorted back to the ladies camekan, a kind of marble courtyard surrounded by 2 levels of changing cubicles. Each cubicle had a narrow bed, sort of like the nurses office in elementary school. I was instructed to remove my clothes and wrap myself in a pestamal, a checkered cloth which you wear like a sarong. I was also instructed to wear a wooden slipper, sort of like Dr. Scholls but much harder to walk in. I'm not sure if the wet marble floors or the wooden shoes are more dangerous!
Next I went to the hararet, or steam room. At Cagaloglu, the hararet is large, featuring a central naval stone that was probably 10 feet across, and the room is ringed with about a dozen separate faucets and basins, some of which have water constantly running. My attendant did not speak any English, but succeeded with hand gestures and a few words to communicate her directions to me. I started by lying on my stomach and she scrubbed me all over with a wet mitt (which she gave to me when I was finished); once she had done both sides she then led me by the hand over to one of the basins and used a bowl to rinse me off.
Back to the naval stone, and my attendant used a bottle of soap on me as though I were the dinner dishes! After squeezing it all over me, she then added more water from a bucket and soaped me up, both sides. More rinsing, and then she sat me in front of her at the basin and proceeded to pour water (unannounced) all over my head and scrubbed my head, neck & shoulders, finishing with a last rinsing. Lastly she wrapped my body and head in separate towels, and sent me back to my cubicle. I felt like I was 3 years old again and my mother had just given me a bath, but not in a bad way!
I laid down to relax for a few minutes in the cubicle, and then tried to pull myself together. The hair was hopeless, although the cubicle does come equipped with a blow dryer and mirror.
On the way out I stopped at the refreshment bar and ordered a "Sultan's Choice", a drink made from banana, milk and honey. It was delicious and I felt refreshed internally, to go along with my really clean body.
As I reviewed the experience mentally, I thought about how nice a hamam experience could be, especially if you could communicate with the client regarding procedure and expectations. However, this kind of language barrier may work in their favor. I could just hear the clients who would complain about many of the steps if they could be understood; since that wasn't an option you just grin and go with the flow. Don't get me wrong, I don't espouse hiring only non-English speaking spa technicians (it sure doesn't do much for retail), but there are certain advantages!