After going to a public bath in Korea, I knew I also wanted to visit one while in Turkey. A few of the other new teachers at my university wanted to go to one of Turkey’s famous hamams too, so we made a girls’ day of it last Saturday. Luckily for us, a customer who spoke some English was on her way out when we entered, so she kindly explained the all-Turkish menu to us and helped us order services. But after she left, we sort of bumbled our way through the rest of the afternoon.
A receptionist took the 4 of us to a private changing room. We weren’t sure what was appropriate, so we changed into underwear/bikinis and went back into the all-women lobby (turns out everyone had panties on, but bras seemed to be optional). They then ushered us into the bathing area, a series of steamy, tiled rooms. Through pantomime and observation we figured out the general process: find a basin station and adjust the hot/cold taps to your desired temperature (warmer being better because you’re supposed to open your pores.) Then sit down and use a provided plastic scoop to wash yourself off. After that we weren’t sure when they would start our treatments, so we wandered into the dry sauna for a bit, sat in the main basin-washing area some more, and just admired the architecture of the domed ceilings and skylights.
Eventually some employees starting gathering us one by one for our treatments. First, the scrub. This entailed sitting/laying on a bench while a woman used a scrubby bath mitt to completely exfoliate us. I consider myself pretty clean, but it was amazing how much crap a person can scrape off the outer layer of skin. Then a quick hop in the shower. Next was my favorite part: getting completely lathered with soap for a full body massage. Another hop in the shower. Finally, we had coffee treatments, not totally knowing what this would be but reasoning that we should try it just because it sounded intriguing. Turns out it means putting a packet of coffee grounds into a bowl with a little water, and smearing the grainy goop all over. I wish I could have taken a picture at that point because we looked completely ridiculous, although I have to say we smelled great. A final hop in the shower and we were free to lounge around some more.
After the four of us finished rinsing off the coffee paste, we went back through the lobby and upstairs for our pedicures. There was only one woman doing them, so we had to take turns. But the lobby included a cafe, magazines, and TV to entertain us while we waited. The pedicure was the most disappointing part of the experience (after 2-hour pedis in Indonesia, this 20-minute slipshod operation was just not up to my standards). But with the entire afternoon costing about $30 each, we all agreed that we’d like to return, especially now that we know what to expect. I probably won’t get the coffee treatment again, but what a luxuriously feminine way to spend the afternoon scrubbing, sudsing, rinsing, and steaming. Now we just need to convince some of the male teachers to go and report back what happens on the guys’ side.