Turkish Baths and Baklava [Also, the end of phase one.]

Saturday, January 21, 2012

This has been such a great Saturday.

I'm sitting in my apartment, with this week's episode of The Office playing on my computer, crackers nearby and a cup of fresh squeezed apple juice as well. This is a great way to spend this evening, after a very eventful and amazing day.

I slept in a bit this morning, and then got up and got ready for another one of the "must-do's" in Turkey: the traditional hamam, or turkish bath! Our group has heard a lot about this unique, and a bit unusual experience, but I knew I had to try it for myself. The idea of sitting around in a steam room with a bunch of semi-naked people around, and then getting vigorously scrubbed down by a fat Turkish woman didn't seem that appealing, but I knew I had to try it. And let me just say - it was amazing, unusual, and a little bit awkward all rolled into one.

Basically, we went to one of Istanbul's more tourist-y hamams, the Çemberlitas hamam located across the Golden Horn in the old city. The entrance was squished between what I think was a soap shop, and a kebab restaurant, and looked a bit out of place. I didn't realize how huge of a complex it was until I got inside.

This building is OLD. And by old, I mean it was constructed in the 1500s. Back when this is how people showered everyday! However, it has been renovated a lot, so it looked pretty modern. We walked into the reception area, where we were greeted and paid for our bath packages. I purchased the traditional bath and scrub-down (yes, you don't even have to wash yourself!) and a full body massage. Go big or go home, right? After all 6 of us girls got our tokens and scrubbers, we were led into the changing rooms/lockers, where we each were told to undress and put on a pair of what looked like bathing suit bottoms, and a towel to wrap ourselves in. After getting all situated, another attendent came and led us to the "hamam room" which is kind of like an American steam room.

This was the largest building in the complex. It had a high dome ceiling, with skylights in the shapes of stars and circles, and was WARM. Like, enough to make you sweat, which was the purpose of it. In the middle of this room was a gigantic marble slab, which was hot (I think there was a fire warming it underneath). There are sinks all around the edges, with taps providing hot and cold water to wash yourself with. We were led in, and then laid onto the hot marble to sweat for a bit before our actual bath. It was quite relaxing, once you got over the fact that there are a bunch of half naked women all around, getting scrubbed down, washing themselves, etc. Once you accept the nudity and deal with it, relaxing on the stone was really pleasant.

The Turkish women who actually perform the bath and middle-aged, slightly overweight, and rather funny. The one I had basically doused me in hot water and then proceeded to scrub my entire body down ridiculously hard - like, hard enough that layers of my dead skin were literally peeling off! It was both disgusting and amazing at the same time. She then grabbed a pillowcase looking thing that somehow created a bunch of soap suds and washed my body, rinsed and then washed and rinsed my hair. Having someone bathe you is an interesting experience...I wanted to talk to the lady, but I also didn't want to get soap in my mouth, so I decided on just smiling the entire time. I think she got the message. It was all so funny though, how normal this was for her, and how she would get me to flip over by slapping my back or smiling at me while she washed my face. I think she likes her job.

We sat in the jacuzzi room for a while, laid out on the stone for another 30ish minutes before someone came in and took us to another room for our massage. The hot oil massage was heavenly - the old lady that was performing the massage was spectacular! I felt knots being rubbed out and it was so relaxing. After the massage, we rinsed off in a shower and then made our way back up the stairs to the changing rooms we began in.

I didn't realize how clean I really was until I stepped back into my own clothes and the cold and rainy weather of Istanbul. Like, literally - I felt pure. I felt like a baby straight outta the womb, I felt so incredibly clean! I still feel that way now. It was incredible - I can't believe bathing like that all the time, just like people did hundreds of years ago. Anyway, it was an amazing experience and I can't wait to do it again sometime.

We went out to lunch with the group that went to the hamam that morning - 6 girls and all 7 of the guys, and then Ben and I stopped off at a local pastry shop to try some chocolate covered baklava. Let's just say I was clean and my stomach was satisfied! The baklava here is FANTASTIC. I would eat it all day if I could. It started to rain pretty heavy afterwards, so we jumped on the tram and headed back to our apartments, where I stopped at market near Galata and picked up some stuff, and then came back home to take a short nap. Our flatmates made dinner (pasta, salad, pickled veggies, yum!) and now I'm relaxing before bed.

This is also the end of phase one! Here are the different phases:

1: Two week long language course in apartment flats
2: Two week excusion to seven churches (hotels, home stays, etc)
3: Seven weeks at Yedittepe university! Staying in guest dorms
4: Cairo, Egypy!
5: Israel!
6: Palestine!

And then I am home! Ridiculous!

Regardless, I am staying in the present and getting excited for the next two weeks! Much love to everyone back home in California, I miss you all dearly!

Respectfully submitted,