The title of a rather cheesy song by a Swedish girl called Emilia that was a big hit somewhere in the late nineties. More than ten years down the line it still pops up in my head every now and again. In spite of being a big girl these days, it still is a big, big world too. Which I find hugely fascinating yet intimidating at occassions...

Monday, 27 December 2010

Hamam - The Turkish Bath

What to do on a rainy day in Istanbul? Go to the Modern Art Museum! Topkapi Palace! Shopping in the Bazaar! But today was exceptionally dreary. In fact, it made not want to go away more than 100 meters from the house. And what did I spot within that distance from the house? A tiny little hamam that was also catering for women. Very low key and inexpensive as I'm not finding myself in a touristic area. So I decide that this place is where I'm going to spend my afternoon.
Upon entrance, this is pretty much what I see:

Only this place is tiny, like I said, and there's NO MEN in there. It's females only. All the ladies beckon me to come in and one of them explains me what the prices are. Ten lira for the hamam and another ten for ke┼če (washing) and massage. From previous visits I remember I have to keep my knickers on: first occasion I -unknowingly - walked in exposing myself and this was NOT appreciated.
An old lady takes me to the steam room where I'm left for a while with a plastic bowl. Immediately the heat is going to my head so I automatically start pouring luke warm water over myself. I observe these days it is allowed to expose one's privates: a couple of women are not wearing their underwear and nobody seems to mind at all. I'm surrounded by women who busy themselves with washing their hair, scrubbing one another's back, clipping their toe nails and chatting a lot! The ceiling is high so it sounds pretty loud..
When the old lady comes back in she invites me to lie down on the hot stone in the middle of the room. As soon as I'm on my back she starts to scrub my skin with a rough wash cloth. This is not for the tender hearted: she's rubbing so hard that the skin peels off in little black rolls. This is a quite familiar phenomenon for hamams: people usually can't believe they're that dirty, but usually they don't clean themselves that thoroughly... Front, back, legs and arms. After that, she washes all the dirt and grime away and I'm left by myself for a while again. She comes back asking the other women in the room for some shampoo; you're supposed to bring your own here which I haven't done. She makes me sit in front of her on the floor to wash my hair. This makes me laugh: back to the days where I was a very little girl with my gran! Than back on the hot stone again. Time for some soft washing. I like this bit, as they use lots and lots of foam. It is collected in a long, hollow washing cloth after which you disappear under it! I love the traditional product that is used, a soft green soap smelling of roses. I'm being washed and while some of my muscles are being squeezed. She leaves again and this time doesn't come back.. When I decide enough is enough - after all, how much heat can a person take? - I find her near the entrance. We're finished. Somehow disappointed about the massage, though I should be ashamed of myself: an old lady like that doing such labour in that temperature! Ofcourse I leave very clean and very relaxed.

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