That’s what my friends told me as I left the UK for a week’s holiday in Istanbul. Being a stereotypically reserved English girl I was not sure stripping off in front of strangers was my idea of a holiday. Nevertheless, on the last day that’s exactly what I did and here’s what happened.
I opted for a well known Turkish bath in the centre of Istanbul and made the reservation online to avoid any language problems. Entering the Hammam was like going back to the Sultan’s era — beautiful marble and wood decorated the room. I was welcomed with a glass of Turkish ‘cay’.
After being handed a peştamal (the classic cotton Turkish towel) and some wooden jandals I was led to the changing room. Trying to retain some modesty I decided to wear my bikini although that didn’t last long!
I then clumsily set off into the inner Hammam trying not to break my ankle in the wooden clog-like shoes. I entered through a small door into a large bright room where there were other clients in varying degrees of undress. They lay in the middle of the room on a large heated raised area that was situated under a beautiful domed roof.
I joined the other clients laying on the heated stone so that my body could adjust to the heat and relax. After 15 minutes of relaxation which mainly consisted of me sweating about 3 litres of water I was led into a smaller room for the main treatment. Once there I was met by my friendly attendant who was stripped off to her shorts and bra. She gestured for me to take off my bikini top which I reluctantly did. The attendant then proceeded to exfoliate me with a special mitten. Oddly there was something satisfying at being scrubbed and I was shocked at the amount of skin that came off me.
Next came the rinsing. Clearly Turkey has never experienced a water shortage! My attendant then soaped up a large kopuk and deposited the soapy foam on top of me. Once I was completely covered she proceeded to massage me as I sat there for about 20 minutes. My modesty hidden by mountains of foam meant I was able to enjoy the cleansing massage.
After more rinsing my attendant proudly announced the end of my treatment asking if I had enjoyed. What’s not to enjoy? Being scrubbed, washed and massaged by someone else.
The attendant then asked if I wanted an oil massage for relaxation. In the pampering mood I thought why not?!
I was taken off to a small room with a massage table. I hopped in the table and made myself comfortable enjoying the breeze coming through the large open window. Then my masseur came in and told me to take off my only remaining item of clothing — my bikini bottoms. I was horrified at the thought of being naked especially lying next to an open window. However I duly complied and stripped off. Once I managed to forget I was lying there naked I managed to relax and enjoy the experience. The oil massage was just the right pressure and very relaxing.
By overcoming my English modesty issues I had a memorably relaxing Hammam experience and would recommend it to any visitor to Istanbul.