BOB CORBETT'S TRAVEL JOURNAL -- 2006

Journal 16 -- May 31, 2006:
Visit to the hamam

By Sally Ryan Sharamitaro

Note: This entry is from Sally not Bob.

What an incredible experience today at the Hamam (the official name of it comes later).

After I left the bench outside the Grand Bazaar I walked through the lovely shaded pathway crossed over to the bank street and wondered if I would feel at all uncomfortable walking the street alone for the first time. I needn't have worried or wondered. I was very comfortable. Didn't even have to fend off any carpet touts along my way. And found my way quite nicely just as I knew I would.

Then when I got there I was happy to see another woman at the desk wanting a Turkish Bath. I found out later that she is a French woman who comes there regularly.

Then it was my turn and all I needed do was to look down at their desk top which has their price list in every language and in either lira or euros. So all you really need to do is point. I pointed to the Sultan's Package (again I will need to check the brochure to know exact wording) I paid the 30 euros and got back change.

The man at the desk walked me to a door that said "Ladies Only". He then said to follow the French woman, and I started to but was stopped by another young man there who motioned to me to follow him. I did, wondering where we would be going. It was he that told me the French woman comes there often. But.... as this was my first time, he wanted to explain a few basics of the bath to me. Those basics were few, but mostly it was to let me know about the exfoliation process that would be a part of my package.

The masseuses use a kind of glove that has no fingers to do the exfoliation. I had two choices, he said, to have her use what I will call the "community" glove, or I could use what other Turkish people and the French woman use, a silk glove of my own that I would then take with me and bring back whenever I return. I of course had to have one of my own, and have this awesome silk glove.

So I purchased my own silk glove for 10 lira, and then he told me I then could go right into the Ladies Section and the ladies there would help me. And they did.

I walked through a small hallway and through the door and then down to the left through another dark hallway to a large room that had what they call cabanas all around it, and a second floor balcony with more cabanas numbered so the women could find their own cabana. In one corner there was a woman seated at a reception desk, she got up and walked over to help me. All around the center of the room were chairs and small tables with various staff persons waiting. It turned out that the French woman and I were their only customers at that time.

I was shown to my own cabana, where I was given a wrap and a pair of wooden sandals. The receptionist turned me over to another woman who told me I was to undress there, and when I was ready I was to come out wearing the wrap and sandals. I did what she said, went into my cabana, which was small but held a small bed and a table the size of a telephone table, and had hooks and a hanger for my clothes. I put on the wrap and the sandals and locked (with help) the cabana door keeping the key with me ... oh and I took my new silk glove!

I wobbled out and the second woman ushered me through several doorways. First a doorway to a very large hall, on the left side there were tables with stacks of towels, small and large towels I was to find out later. Straight ahead was the WC and to the right there was a long square marble platform, where other staff women sat and talked. We walked past the platform and through a closed door.

We were in the sauna/massage bath area. And what they say about saunas you can believe. The woman led me to the right past where the French woman sat and showed me to my own marble seat. There was a huge octagon shaped marble platform in the center and all around the outer walls there were small marble gutters to carry the water away. Then there were two separate marble steps. The first one was for your feet the second step you sat on... right next to a small cistern (marble sink with two decorative faucets, one cold, one hot. She handed me a round tin pan about 3 inches high and showed me that I was to dip into the sink and fill the pan with water and use to cool myself as I sat and sweated out whatever toxins that I had brought in with me.

It was a fun experience so far I thought, but something very different than I had imagined...Then at one point the French woman whom I had at least seen turned around and said hello to me. After the staff woman left, she said .... be sure to pour water over your head. Up to that point I hadn't but after I had been there several minutes, that felt sooooooo good. And so thatís what we both did for at least 10 minutes. We sauna'd and cooled off, pouring the blend of hot and cold water onto our head and bodies.

I didn't realize it at first, but the next woman who walked through the doorway was the French woman's masseuse. She was a fairly large woman and had a shiny silver bucket in her hand. I couldn't help but notice that she, unlike the French woman and I, had a pair of (red lacy) underpants on. She situated herself in back of me (the room had four separate nooks and so not every cistern area was visible to me) in a nook and I heard her turn on the water there, and then I heard her pouring water on herself.

I thought she was another customer, so I wasn't expecting her to walk out of the nook a few minutes later with a black swimsuit on carrying her pail, and situating herself on one of the octagonal sections of the center marble platform and she then motioned to the French woman to come to her and lie down there. She did and her Turkish massage began. I was able to watch the process with interest and expected my own masseuse to come through the door any minute now.

Sure enough an even larger woman came through the door with an even larger silver colored tub. A good sign that she was not another customer. She was clothed in the same way (not red) and she did what the other masseuse did ending with the swimsuit too. I imagined later that was the only way that the masseuse could work in that environment. The swimsuit and the underpants were worn during the dressing and undressing process to hopefully prevent offending any customers.

It was not easy to walk in the wooden sandals, but when my masseuse called me over and pointed to another of the octagonal sections where she had placed her 'work bucket' I again wobbled over. She was friendly, though she knew just enough English to greet me, ask my name and give me the instructions I needed. That was 100% more than I knew of her Turkish language, but we did just fine.

The first process as I already knew was the initial massage. It was done with a lotion of some kind, and was what you would expect. I have to say that my masseuse was a large woman, and strong. And there were times when I didn't need her to be quite so strong. But I was enjoying this very, very much.

After the initial massage (and after each step in the process), I would be told to get up and go rinse off. Not the easiest task for me in the wooden sandals, but I managed it .... clunkily!!

The second stage was the soapy wash...... with their version of a handless broom !! So fun and yet it felt soooo good.

Each stage would start with me on my back, then the masseuse would do the upright chopping technique which I found was her way of saying.... turn over!! A lastly she would have me sitting up and she would massage my arms and my face and neck.

During the third stage the second massage with another lotion, the door opened and a staff person called out something in Turkish and my masseuse stood up and followed the staff woman out the door. I was a bit uncertain at that point what to do, I had been sitting up and the lotion was all around me and without her sitting next to me, I started to slide off the platform! I looked around and asked the other masseuse and the French woman.. should I go rinse off? They both said no she would be right back



This is the main platform for the massage



I need to go back for just a minute to the very beginning. I forgot totally about my exfoliation process! It was done first before the massage started and I can't believe I forgot it!!

Right after I was instructed to come and lay down on the marble platform, my masseuse unwrapped my new mitt and soaked it in her bucket of water, and then she used that to do the exfoliation process. It was done more forcefully than I expected, and though the mitt is made of silk it has a slightly rough surface that does the work. She used it on all of me, and I have to say it does feel as though you have been gently sandpapered. A trip to the sink/cistern for a rinse all over and all that was exfoliated was washed away... then the massage itself began.

Though the other masseuse told me to wait there and mine would return, she finished with the French woman and then walked over to where I was and said she would continue my massage. And afterwards I thought that were I to return for another bath (on another trip?)... given the choice of the two, I would choose this one over my masseuse. My masseuse told me her name and it was something that sounded like Gonoosh. Though I will forever remember her in my memory as Olga the Bone Buster. (Teasing!)

Gonoosh did come back after a while and called me over to the sink/cistern, she sat down next to it and told me to sit on the step below her. Ah... it was time for my shampoo. Twice she soaped my hair, and twice she nearly drowned me with pans of water... and then she rushed away again, taking her supplies and pail with her. All she said was "bathe yourself".

I felt quite bathed, thank you. So I carefully walked in my wooden sandals...Oh, did I tell you that they had only one strap about an inch wide across the toes? And being of a certain age, and valuing my bones and health, I tend to wear only sandals without backs on them. I needed to walk back to my original sink to get my key which is attached to a brass holder.

I put on my initial wrap, took my key, said goodbye to the French woman and walked out of the "sauna" room to the long room with the table of towels. There were staff women there who said take two... one small and one large towel and place your wrap in a tall basket. I managed somehow to do that without any serious incident and followed the ladies pointed fingers out of that room to my very own cabana.

It was cooler the minute I stepped out of the sauna room and I was beginning to feel the effects of the massage. Very, very relaxed in simple terms, though I would urge all of you ladies going to visit Istanbul to experience the Turkish Bath.

I was happy to sit a while on my bed and relax a bit, even stretched out for a few minutes after I toweled off.

I didn't stay and take a nap, mostly because I wanted to get back and tell Bob all about my experience. So, I slowly got dressed, combed my hair with a nice complimentary comb they provided and made my way out, depositing my towels in the tall basket they had sitting outside the cabanas for the wet towels. Walked over and thanked and tipped my masseuse, said goodbye and thank you to all the ladies and headed for the door and hallway that led past the restaurant and cafe, and eventually into the registration area. I thanked the gentlemen there too, and headed for the shaded street with the nice park benches where Bob was reading and waiting for me.

I found him visiting with the two African American women there and he must have told them where I was because they both wanted to know all about it. Fun to go through the process again as I told them what they could expect...and watch their faces. The woman closest to me said to the other one... "just look at her, how relaxed she looks!" But the ladies were with a tour and they said that their time was filled and they were leaving the very next morning.

This Hamam (Turkish Bath) is: Cagaloglu Hamami

In the book of 1,000 places book its billed as the Three Hundred Year old Turkish Bath.

They have five choices of services.

My choice was #5. The Complete Oriental Luxury Service at 30 Euro ($40) The explanation given on the price list for #5 is: Treatment fit for a sultan. Real ottoman royal service, normal body scrubbing and massage followed by foam massage and body wash with hand knitted oriental washing cloth in foam bubbles. We make you feel reborn.

I have to tell you that if not reborn...your skin will feel wonderfully refreshed, and soooooo soft. And (as I did) later, you will also feel totally relaxed and ready for a nap.

I wholeheartedly recommend the Cagaloglu Hamami in Istanbul Turkey ladies for an experience you will never forget.

Sally Ryan Sharamitaro

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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu