Sunday, March 22, 2009

How to Hammam (Day 56)

There are drawbacks to travelling with a toddler. The amount of time I could have spent lounging around Cogalaglu Hammam was seriously curtailed by the image of my husband wrangling Ol in the hammam's cafe. Speedy though it was, I was so SO glad I went. And please don't let your fear of nudity prevent you from going. It's not a stick insect convention. There are ladies of all shapes and sizes, and everyone does their own thing.

First. Do your research. I think if you wanted a local's experience, you wouldn't go to the hammams advertised to the tourists. (Too expensive for the locals; tourists are their primary stock and trade.) That said, if you want to see some of Istanbul's truly beautiful hammams, you need to suck it up and pay the 60-80 odd Lira. I figured if I was going to spend THAT much, I wanted to go to the cathedral of hammams. Be blown away by some architecture while soaking up the steam. Like a gift from the spa gods, the latest issue of Cornucopia was all about Istanbul's most beautiful hammams. The hotel was probably most convenient to Galatasaray, but as the woman's section was an add-on in 1965, I thought, "Eh." It was a toss-up between Cemberlitas and Cogalaglu, and since the Lonely Planet guide liked Cogalaglu a little better, I went there.

Finding it was another matter. Sheesh. The cabbie was not sure where it was and hubby and I must have taken half a dozen or so side streets before finding the sign. (And, btw, you do not need to make an appointment if you're going to one of the more tourist-y hammams. The local ones may be another matter, especially if you want an assisted bathing experience.)

When you walk in, you choose the service you want. You can go cheap and bring your own shampoo and soap, but if you're going to a Turkish hammam you should try the assisted bathing service. Frankly, if I had the time, I would have gone the full monty and had the massage, but, you know, antsy toddler in tow. So. Paid my cash and was shown to a cubicle to change. You place your shoes outside and go inside to, well, do your thing. There's a towel you wrap around yourself, and I stripped fully--no undies.

You have to wear the wooden clogs provided otherwise you may slip on the wet marble. You take the key to your cubicle with you and follow the bath attendant into the steam room to wait for your bather. You can go over to the fountains and poor warm water over yourself or lay on the hot marble and look at the ceiling. What a view, huh?

After about fifteen/twenty minutes of relaxation, your bather lady comes in with the shampoo, soap, bathing mitt and such. She will lead you over to the fountain, sit you down, and pour warm water over you. She will then lead you back to the marble, have you lay down, and scrub the bejesus out of you. After the scrubbing, she will lead you back to the fountain, pour warm water over you again and wash your hair if you choose. And, if you're lucky, she may massage your head and face a little. Then, voila! Your finished. At this point, she led me from the room, took away my wet bath towel and re-wrapped me in a new one. Now, I have to say the one piece of this process I was not totally sure about was the tipping. I mean, you can't take your paper money into a hot steamy room, right? (I did tip after I changed and gave the money to the senior bath attendant, but I thought my bather lady looked a little disappointed when I initially clogged away.) Anyway.

I slowly made my way back to my room, where I could have rested on the bed inside and taken a little nap, but, again, toddler, husband, no time. Just as I opened my door, one of the bath attendant's handed me a goody bag and asked whether I wanted a coffee or tea. Again, toddler, husband, no time. I changed, dried my hair, and made my way to the hammam's cafe. An hour all in all, and that was me moving speedily along. What a fab experience.

And what was inside my goody bag, I hear you asking? Underwear. Clean underwear. They think of everything.


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