Being a spa fan, I had looked forward to visiting the Hamam, or Turkish Baths, during my holiday. Before that, the closest I ever had to experiencing one was the Morrocan version of Turkish Hamam at Bangsar Village. Hmm.. that was like 5-star when compared to the popular ones in Turkey.
And I managed to cover 4 hamams in 15 days. By the time I got back to KL, my skin had become so smooth. Really, LOL! I have to say that no hamam was perfect though. Each one had its’ own pros and cons. However, the first hamam I went to on my second day in Istanbul was the most memorable. It was kind of like being nurtured back in history. And a shot of hot steam in cold Winter was heavenly.
‘Cagaloglu Hamami has remained more or less unchanged since it was built on the orders of Sultan Mahmut I in the mid-18th century. It’s a favorite for the makers of TV ads, who consider it an essential element when selling their soapy wares! Celebrity bathers are rumored to have included the likes of Franz Liszt, Florence Nightingale and Tony Curtis. Cagaloglu is listed in 1,000 Places To See Before You Die. ‘
I arrived at a colourful stain-glass door and stepped in. A man greeted me at the counter and showed me the list of treatments available. I opted for the most luxurious one, I think it was 50Euro for an hour treatment. After paying, he took me pass the cafe and lounge into another room. I got to choose a soap for free. It was a tough choice, they all smelt nice. I decided on Honey. He showed me a range of Kese or square scrubbing mitts to choose from. He said it was better to purchase one for hygienic reason. I went for the hardest and most expensive one, a black piece. Guess I was in for a treat, and I didn’t know if I’d have time to go to another hamam.
He then asked me to go straight into the lavish Camekan, the women’s changing section. One of the women there greeted me and showed me the individual dressing cabin. It has a desk and a small bed to lie on. I closed the door and locked it with the big golden key. I could still see the happening outside as the top part of the door and wooden wall next to it was covered with glass. I changed into a pestamal, a distinct check red and white cloth worn at hamams, and stepped out. The old-fashioned wooden clogs made me fumble badly. A woman showed me the washroom. After I got out, I found a pair of plastic sandals laid on the floor. I laughed. Apparently, my lack of skills was obvious to everybody.
My therapist was a big-sized, bubbly Turkish woman with short curly hair named Nuva. She took my hand, opened the big wooden door and and brought me into the steam room. There was a big Gobektasi in the centre of the room. The hot hexagon-circular-shaped marble platform was meant for lying or sitting on but it was empty at that time. In fact, the only guest inside seemed startled to see us, probably because she was not wearing anything. She quickly turned to the wall.
There were several marble wash basin stations next to the walls around the Gobektasi. Nuva gestured towards the one next to the door. She made pouring water gesture with her arms and left. I sat on the edge on the marble next to the basin and looked around. There were two taps, for hot and cold water. Feeling warm from the steam, I use the copper scoop and poured water onto my body.
After a few rounds, I sat back down and took it all in. It was beautiful. A 300-year old bath, the architecture was ancient and very intricate. There was a leave-shaped design behind each basin. The mostly white and a bit of light grey marble colour was a bit run down, yellowish, but the signs of age added the place’s charm, I think. The whole ambiance was so calm and peaceful.
Before long, another woman walked in. She went to the other guest and asked her to lie down on the Gobektasi. It was time for treatment. Nuva walked in shortly and asked me to do the same on the other side. I got up on the lukewarm marble slab and lied down. She asked me to put my hands above my head. I stared at the inside of the high dome top. I could see the fine carved ceiling and shiny holes resembling round disco lights. It was kind of hypnotising too. At times, I felt like it was the rays of the sun piercing through, it wasn’t glaring though. I soaked in the whole atmosphere, feeling very relaxed.
Nuva adjourned to one of the wash basins, removed her clothes and quickly poured water onto her body. Then, she re-appeared in a bright swimsuit. She took the black bath mitt I brought in and started scrubbing my skin. It was so soft to the extent that I wondered whether she was doing it properly. LOL! And she used it on my face after that, without washing it first, err? She then asked me to turn around. She gave me a light back and neck massage before asking me to sit up so she could massage my arms. Then, I had to get up and walked to the wash basin nearby where she would pour water over me. She would also pour water on the marble platform to get rid of the soap before I could lie down again. Telling me what to do was tricky with her very little English, but at least I understood her.
She repeated 1 more round with skin peeling mixture and told me that after the third massage, my skin would become smooth. The final round, she used a piece of cloth and lathered some soap into white foam. I could feel the delicate bubbles multiplying on my body, and before I knew it, I was covered in foam. I nearly got a bit in my mouth. LOL! It was slippery too, and it was tough to stop myself from sliding around too much. And yeah, I had to get up and walk to the basin 3 times altogether. It was kind of strange.
During the final wash, she asked me to sit down on the marble edge at the basin so she could wash my hair. After she was done, she gestured towards the other basin and instructed me clearly, “Water, water, water. Steam, steam, steam. Understand?” Apparently, she was using the basin we were at for her bath. LOL! I did as she said and stop from time to time to enjoy the steam.
I was a bit disoriented at first without my glasses. I could see, but the haziness from the steam plus my lack of vision made it all seem rather dream-like. During my treatment, a few Caucasion guests had come in. By the time I was done, the Gobektasi was filled with mostly naked women covered in foam, with a therapist attending to each of them. Apparently, everybody went for the luxurious package. At least, the therapists ‘arranged’ the women neatly at a comfortable distance from each other. And I think only 1 woman was wearing a pair of bikini.
Around 2 hours later, I got out of the hot room and changed into a towel. Then, I re-entered the Camekan and got dressed. A woman knocked on the door to hand me a free gift in a plastic bag, it was a pair of black cotton panties. After that, I slowly put on my sport shoes in the women reception area and absorb it all for the last time. A staff offered me a drink, I ask for apple tea, it was not free, LOL! And finally, I put on my bulky Winter jacket and left.
Anyway, I soon learned that visiting one hamam may opened a new window, but I was far from understanding what hamams were all about.
For better pics, click here: http://www.cagalogluhamami.com.tr/
p/s: This is not a hamam review, just an account of what happen at the point of time that I was there:)
Originally written for Hazia’s blog