How to Turkish Hammam
Claire and I were travelling through Turkey in August, the height of summer. Each day was a struggle as we attempted to dress modestly for traipsing through Mosques, but also in a way that wouldn’t cause sweat to pool in our crevices and drip down our bodies. This was especially tough for Claire, who is a solid 10, but sweats to such a degree that I was concerned the Turkish police were going to stop us on suspicion of drug smuggling.
On our last day in Istanbul, we decided to escape the oppressive heat of the city and take refuge in a Turkish hammam. A hammam is a traditional bath that begins with relaxing in a heated room, rinsing yourself with cold water, being scrubbed down vigorously, and in my case, being sandwiched between a large Turkish woman’s bare breasts whilst your hair is washed.
There are many beautiful hammams scattered throughout Istanbul; some are in swanky hotels and others are tucked down grimy side streets. Choosing one can be tricky, but since we were poor and wearing clothes that stuck to our skin with every movement, we avoided the swanky hotels and chose one of the city’s original hammams built in the building of the Galatasaray Mosque.
As we stepped into the cool and quiet lobby of Galatasaray Hammam, the sounds of the street blissfully extinguished as the front door swung shut. After choosing our treatments, the woman behind the desk led us into a small room to change and leave our belongings. She handed us wooden clogs for our feet and paper loin-cloths for our lady gardens. Up top, we remained bare-breasted, nipples at the ready for a good steam and scrub down. It is your choice during the hammam to bring along swimwear, but you will feel like a dickhead. All the local woman lounge around naked, and even dressed in paper loin cloths we looked a little silly.
We clomped from the change room into the hammam, slipping over the tiles in our wooden clogs. Clinging to each other so we didn’t fall on the slick floors, I almost had to make a grab for Claire’s nipple, before I steadied myself and continued gliding into the bathing area. Once in, we headed straight for the middle of the room to lie on a heated marble platform. Our original goal may have been to escape the oppressive city heat but we ended up lounging on the hot marble like lizards, our inhibitions gone as we gazed in silence at the beautiful domed roof, sunshine winking in through tiny holes in the ceiling.
The only sound was the occasional murmur of Turkish and the splashing of water as women strolled from the hot platform to the edges of the room, using a bucket to chase away the warmth from the marble with icy cold water from the taps. We spent twenty minutes alternating between sweating it out and rinsing off before two naked Turkish women entered the room with soap, scrubbing mitts and bored-looking expressions.
My bath buddy (for the sake of the story let’s call her Wendy) instructed me to lie on the edge of the platform where I spent the next 10 minutes having every inch of my skin scrubbed raw. Gone were any images I had of being lazily rubbed down with a loofah, this was serious business. Wendy rolled me over and continued exfoliating every inch of my pale flesh, pausing only to gesture for me to alternate positions. When she was finished, I looked down and saw that I was lying in a pile of my dead skin; disgusting yes, but also the most satisfying experience of my life.
I was led by Wendy to the taps, still in a daze at how much epidermis had just been taken from my body, but shocked back into reality when Wendy doused me with a bucket of cold water. I was then lead back to the marble platform and lathered into a giant foam ball. Judging from how hilarious Claire looked, I can only assume I mirrored her; looking like a poodle that had been put through a washing machine.
Wendy took me back over to the taps, sat me in between her legs and then proceeded to rinse me off and wash my hair. It felt oddly comforting to be sandwiched between her breasts, whilst my head was massaged and my hair plaited into a knotty mess. Afterwards, she gestured to the bucket and pointed to me. Confused, I filled it with water and tentatively rinsed myself. Exasperated, she sighed and then gestured to herself and I understood that it was my turn to wash her hair. I thought I was killing it, but judging by her sighs and head shakes I did a poor job.
I reunited with Claire who looked as shell-shocked as I felt and we wobbled our way back to the change rooms. I was in awe of how shiny and soft my skin was, and I couldn’t stop stroking it and whispering, “My precious.” I wanted to ask for Wendy’s number; we had shared so much and I couldn’t bear being just another woman whose skin she had scrubbed with such vigour. But alas, she had already lost interest in me and was headed back in, preparing to soap up the next hapless tourist. I watched her go with moist eyes; how could I go back to normal bathing, without her by my side?
I didn’t have long to ponder, as we paid and were thrust back out to the melting street, my fresh baby skin sensitive to the harsh light and the sweat already beginning to pool between my shoulder blades. I looked across and saw Claire sporting a sweet-ass sweat moustache and shrugged, being clean was good while it lasted.
Cover via Fethiyedays