The Turkish Bath

Originally posted July 20, 2013 by Svetopolis

“With complate-massage you can get a very deep relaxation which helps you feel free yourself from stresses.”

“Where you from?” asked the short, burly man scrubbing me with his hands.

He was geared up for his job as a skin peeler–wearing a swimsuit and a “handkerchief” (scrub glove) used for exfoliating “old skin particles and rests of suncream.”

“America,” I replied.

I was geared up in my birthday suit, as I lay face down on the wet tiles. My face cringed a bit as the mustached man scrubbed away at my legs and back. This process was the Kese or “skin peel” where the “skin nervs get stimulated.”

“Ahh, OOSAH! I like OOSAH!” He continued, “I from Türkiye. Antalya. Where from OOSAH? Teksas, Noo Yurk, Lasangelhas, Lasvegash?”

“Seattle.” Because of the language barrier, I wasn’t really sure how to communicate more than one word responses to this man.

“Ahh, Seettel. I know NBA Seettel.” he exclaimed. “What NBA Seettel?” “Uhh, the Super Sonics?  Ahh, yes! I like!” He replied as if not knowing that “Seettel” didn’t have a basketball team anymore. “I like bassetboll!” He tapped me on my shoulder, motioning me to flip over and lie on my back. “You understand?”

“Uhh, yes.” I think I understood.

I turned over, and he laid a towel over my privates. After scrubbing, he splashed water on me.  He began waving a wet cloth in the air.  It filled with bubbles from the soap. It was a sort of luffa. He began soaping me up with it.

“I like NBA Boston!” he exclaimed. “What NBA Boston?”

“Uhh, the basketball team? The Celtics?”

“Ahh, yes! Seeltiks. I understand,” he said. “Noo Yurk Times. Vashington Poost…” He trailed off in a weird non sequitur, naming American newspapers as he continued soaping me up.

So this what the hamam is like, I thought… Weird conversations with a man scrubbing your back.

I was a confused about the strange conversation I was having with this man bathing me…

“So you profit with health and beauty. You feel like new-born afterwards!…”

In fact, the whole hamam (Turkish bath) process was a bit strange and awkward, but it was a cultural experience in Turkey that needed to be done, nonetheless. When we had first arrived in Istanbul, we had dismissed the bath as too expensive. (I saw a price in Istanbul for an “authentic” bath for €35.) But we changed out minds as prices dropped when we left Istanbul, and on a whim in Antalya we decided to try the Turkish bath…

We came into Antalya from Olympos a bit earlier than originally planned. While Olympos was nice to lounge around and do nothing for a day, we were getting stir crazy on the second. Instead of hanging around Olympos the entire third day we came into Antalya to check out this city of a million. (Our bus to our next stop, Cappadocia, was leaving from Antalya at 10 that night, anyways.)

The city was a pleasant surprise. It seemed pretty modern with a new metro system, but it also had a nice old town called the Kaleiçi with mosques, Roman ruins, Turkish baths, etc. While eating lunch we decided to escape the heat and try out the bath. We settled on the Balik Pazari Hamami, a 700 year old bath built around the time when the city was taken by the Seljuk Turks from the Byzantines.

When we arrived to the hamam, we stood outside the men’s entrance reading the bath’s front sign:

Bath, the following conditions in terms of health are well known:

  • Relieves stress
  • Muscular pain and the pain restricted and resolves joints acar
  • Supports the immune system– Improves blood circulation
  • Reduces nose tilaniklinarini
  • Keeps the skin young and fresh

The curative properties of the bath seemed to outweigh the price. (I’ve had a bad case of “nose tilaniklinarini” lately.)

turkey 1982

As we approached the entrance, a young man in his 20s walked out of the men’s entrance. He invited us both into the reception area, which was essentially the “men’s locker room.” We decided to splurge and get the “works” for 50 tl ($25). This included the bath entrance, a scrub down, a soapy massage and an oil massage. Kat was led away to the women’s part of the bath, and I was led to what seemed like a small closet room with a window. This was the changing “room/locker.” I was handed a towel by the attendant and instructed to use it to wrap around my waist while bathing.

After changing I was then led to the bath. I had to duck under the small arched doors as I was led through the chambers of the vaulted building. The bath itself was much smaller than I had imagined. There was a large room and two smaller back rooms. The floor and walls were tiled and slippery. Faucets stuck out of the walls and marble water basins sat below them. A raised area lined the walls and it seemed like these were used for sitting. Channels ran along the edge of the room to collect runoff. A large dais stood in the larger room. At first I didn’t think the rooms were that hot or stifling, and the water was lukewarm to mildly hot. (This was in stark contrast to the extremely hot saunas and Russian banya I’ve experienced in the past.)

Well, I sat there in the room filling up a metal dish with water and dumping it over me. I repeated this, going back and forth from room to room. I wasn’t sure what the next step in the hamam process was, so I waited. There were a few Turkish men in the bath. The skin peeler came to get them one at a time. As each man was taken by the skin peeler for their kese, I sat and waited not really knowing when it would be my turn. The heat was finally getting to me, so I started dumping cold water on me to cool down. I think I was in the bath for nearly 30 or 40 minutes before the skin peeler finally came.

The skin peel and soapy massage were, to say the truth, nothing less than awkward. Afterwards, the skin peeler dried me off and wrapped a new towel around my waist. I was then led back into the “locker room” to wait for my oil massage.

I was greeted there with a whiff of bad breathe. An older man in his late 50s or early 60s clothed in just a towel approached me and gave me a hybrid kiss on the cheek/hug/handshake. He was my my oil massager. A massage table was set up in a corner niche of the locker room. I was instructed to lie down and the massage began. The clean feeling I had just received from the bath was replaced by a slick, oily film as he massaged my back and legs. A similar, awkward conversation like the one I had with the skin peeler was started up. At the end of the massage (it only lasted 15 or 20 minutes), the man led me back to my “locker” to change back into my clothes.

“Good American give good American tip,” he said with a toothless smile.

(I would like to note, tipping in Turkey and Turkish culture is not obligatory.)

As I changed, I could see both the skin peeler and the oil massager lounging in chairs in the locker room waiting for me with my “big American tip.” I slipped out of the “locker.” I had a €10 note in my hand. It was my only way out of this pinch…

“You good American!”

The oil massager took the money.

Selamünaleyküm (Peace be with you)!” whispered the man into my ear, as he gave me another weird kiss/hug/handshake thing.

He led me to the exit.

“Goodbye OOSAH!” said the skin peeler, as I exited through the main door.

I walked through the door to the world outside, a bit more oily than i ha begun and glad to be done with the hamam. As the bath’s brochure stated, “It-s more than relaxing.” And the Turkish bath was just that, plus more–awkward and uncomfortable at times, strange and weirdly exotic at other moments. It was an experience I wouldn’t do again. Being a fan of the Russian banya (sauna), the Turkish bath had nothing on it. Yes, the hamam is a totally different entity than a sauna, but it wasn’t for me. Nevertheless, I would recommend it to others visiting Turkey. Yes, I think I would. If you have some time to kill and the price isn’t too bad for your wallet, then give it a try. It’s an experience in America that is quite foreign and I think that gives it enough merit for others to experience and see what they think.

  • For 50 tl you get the “works” (20 tl for the bath, 7 tl for the skin peel, 8 tl for the “soapy massage”, and 15 tl for the “oil massage”). The bath, peel and “soapy massage” could have been enough for me. The “oil massage” wasn’t the best massage I’ve had.
  • The process took about 1.5 hours or so
  • Balik Pazari Hamami
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