Wednesday, 31 October 2012

My hamam (Turkish bath) experience

My visit to Istanbul would not have been complete without a Turkish bath experience. Also called a hamam, historically, the baths had a functional (cleansing) role as well as a social role with women in particular using it as a place to escape from daily life.
I visited the Cagaloglu baths, which is listed as one of the 1,000 places to see before you die and boasts a selection of famous visitors over its 300 year history!
Entrance area and men's changing rooms, which looked very similar to the women's section
After selecting an exfoliation and massage experience I made my way to the women’s section, where I was directed into a private cubicle to change. I stripped down, wearing underwear only, and covered myself with a towel and was directed to the hot room (which is slightly cooler than a sauna) and told to relax for 10 minutes before my treatment.

The room was beautiful with marble floors and walls, pillars and beautifully decorated sinks. The lighting was very dim and because of that very flattering. In the middle of the room was a large marble slab, which is where the scrubbing happens!
Obviously I couldn't take photograph while having the bath, but hopefully you get the idea! 
I had expected that the towel we were given would be used to keep key areas covered during the treatment so to see so many women walking around completely nude was a surprise. It was even more of a surprise when my towel was stripped off me and I was splashed with warm water before being told to lie on my back on the marble slab.
The exfoliation was something like this!
Using an exfoliation mitt, I was scrubbed down front and back and directed to feel all the dead skin that had been removed. With my hand held I was walked over the sinks and splashed with water again before being massaged using a soapy water combination. The massage was very gentle and should have been very relaxing; however, not knowing where the hands of my attendant were going to be made me a little uncomfortable as she jumped between body parts!

The final part of the experience was a another splash with water and then a hair wash, which took me back to the days of being a child washed in the bath my mum. I was directed to sit on the floor in front of the attendant as she poured water and soap suds all over my face and I did my best to breath.

Finally a few more splashes of warm water and one of cold and the treatment was finished. At this point I was led to the cool room and my hair and body wrapped in towels. After the treatment you are free to hang around in the baths as long as you wish but I headed out.

Men's experience
Having gone to the baths with a man I couldn't help but ask whether his experience was the same. Men usually completely strip down and wear nothing underneath the bath-wrap but their modesty is maintained throughout the whole treatment. The massage was described to me as "more of a physiotherapy experience" with a lot of being bent around being involved and pressure applied for a deep muscular treatment that also included joints being cracked! Being a dry massage made it even less comfortable. This was then followed by a rinse and exfoliation and finally some chill out time.

We both agreed that although we enjoyed the experience, we wouldn't be rushing back any time soon. That being said, not knowing what to expect made the experience more uncomfortable so if there was a next time I would feel more prepared. Also my skin does feel amazingly smooth now, which I am hoping I can maintain that with my usual exfoliation products.

If you are thinking of heading to a Turkish bath, here are my personal tips:
  • If you aren’t comfortable going completely nude, bring spare underwear or bikini bottoms to wear as they will get soaked,
  • Remove your makeup, I went in with a full face, including a perfect flicked eyeliner I intended to share with you, but of course the treatment means you will come out with a bare face and it would have been better if I had properly cleansed,
  • Bring toiletries, in particular a deodourant and moisturiser,
  • Tip the attendant.
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