Wednesday, September 2, 2015

How to Relax like a Sultan (a Turkish bath primer)

The hamam, or Turkish bath, is an experience. It is probably the most relaxing bath experience and I should know - I've been scrubbed on the floor of Moroccan bath, I've been beaten with branches in a Russian bath, I've sweated in a Finnish sauna, and I've taken my share of "regular baths."

I was lucky to experience the Turkish bath at one of the best baths in Istanbul, Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami. Built by the renowned Turkish architect Sinan, it reopened recently after a long renovation. I have to be honest, this is an expensive experience at 150TL ($50) and therefore isn't representative of all hamams but let me share with you my experience.

Some housekeeping:
-The bath is unisex, so Bev and I had to go at different times (she reports the same great experience).
-You'll also want a reservation to guarantee you can go at your first choice time.

From your first minute walking in, when you're greeted warmly by the proprietor, you're at ease. Once you're checked in, you're served a delicious sherbet (a fruit infusion/juice, not the ice slushy, more later). You lounge in the beautiful antechamber. In some time an attendant comes to explain the entire hamam process and gives you a key to a locker in a private changing room. Here you strip down*, put on slippers, and wrap yourself with a towel.

You follow an attendant into the main chamber and you're directed to sit in an alcove. The first attendant rinses your body with warm water, your feet with cold water, and gives you a glass of water. He then directs you to a heated marble slab at the center of the hall, where other men are already lying down to sweat. Here you're instructed to lie down, the attendant will return in about 20-30 minutes.

As you lie on the hot slab you stare at the ceiling dotted with circular patterns of skylights, some circular and other six point stars. The room is silent, except for the occasional water or body movements. As the sun moves, the lighting changes. You get really meta, and reflect on how long it's been since you've reflected in silence without your phone.

After some time your personal attendant arrives and after introducing themselves, begins the wash.
-First a hot water rinse,
-Next a soft sponge wash,
-Now a scrub glove scrub,
-Now the soap, foamed in unbelievable quantifies until you're covered like a blanket,
-Now more washing,
-Now another rinse,
-Finally a shampoo and rinse

OK, you're nearing the end and, and it's time to move to the drying chamber. Here you're towel dried and then wrapped in more towels. You  say goodbye to your attendant and return to the relaxation chamber. Here you're offered tea and can relax as long as you want.

I emerged cleaner than I've been in years and so incredibly relaxed. I hope to return again soon!

*Your attendant will skillfully wrap the towel while washing to ensure your privacy, however if you prefer you can wear a bathing suit.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome. Definitely on my list now. Thanks for sharing! Looking forward to the new uber-relaxed Sam. :)