Being quite conservative and a tad body conscious, this was something I needed to do for me. I refused to fall victim to the over priced traps of comfortable experiences and instead sought out a bath of the masses- frequented by local patrons (though I learned this is becoming a retired practice) and light on the wallet. Through a bit of research I found a spot that sat comfortably afoot a beautiful mosque aside the Theodosian Land Walls, Mihrimah Sultan Mosque Hamam.
I walked up to the door hesitantly, L by my side. As my hand touched the door I looked back at him with a look that bordered terror. “Are you going to go?” he asks quietly? I shrug and walk in.
I’m received by a smoky room and a few large fellows sitting in towels in a circle. I was capable of nothing but staring. What the hell is this? In muffled English a man walks towards us, cigar hanging from his mouth. “We take im here, lady, on side.” Thank God.
I turn the corner and find a separate entrance. I walk in and poke my head inside. This time, a circle of women with similar attributes staring at me. Turkish words…I shake my head and shrug mumbling something stupid like “No Turkish”… together they coon “Turist!!” laughter. Perfect.
One woman walks forward, tells me the price for the full experience (whatever that means) and I agree. She gives me a key, points, and tells me to undress.
I walk in a small room off the center salon. I undress and wrap myself in the pestmal. I’m guided downstairs to a marble room with several enclaves. I am sat in one with a small bowl and marble sink with flowing water. She leaves. I sit there clueless and just sip my water. Despite reading about etiquette my mind goes blank and I just sit. Suddenly I notice I’m not alone. Across the way from me sits a fully naked older woman taking the bowl, dunking it in the overflowing sink and pouring it over herself. After I get over my shock, I realize this is what I, too, should be doing.
I begin by pouring the water on my arms and legs, preserving the pestmal. I soon realize this is absolutely ridiculous and loose the pestmal. I sit there overcoming my discomfort and admiring the body confidence or acceptance of all the women around me bearing every size and shape you can imagine. I’m inspired and fall into the groove of the routine until my attendant returns.
She guides me to a massage table where she begins scrubbing my body with a loofah type item while singing a Turkish tune. I close my eyes, ignoring again that fact that I’m laying there almost completely nude and savor the experience.
We walk together to another location in the marble maze and she takes a similar bowl and continues to pour it over me. Next is the massage during which I can’t help but let out a sound that can only be identified as part laugh/part squeal when she gently smacks my bum to signal its time to turn over.
The experience is complete after I’m guided back to my dressing room, quickly dress and return into the world.
I spot my man across the courtyard area and I hurry to him. having experienced something I can’t even begin to detail.We stroll together along the walls, ready to hop a ferry back to our Asian residence of the moment.
Mihrimah Sultan Mosque Hamam (at foot of mosque of same name)
Karagümrük Mh., 34091 Fatih/Istanbul Province, Turkey
Cost including massage: 40 Turkish Lira
Note: This is not at all spa-like. It’s a truly authentic bath experience that is for all those with the nerve to try it. This particular hamam is very basic, clean and inexpensive. The attendants are friendly but speak very little English.