Day 2 (evening)Temperature: 5 degrees
Weather: dark sky, cool night
One doesn't come to Turkey without experiencing at least once in their lifetime the famous Turkish Baths. Otherwise, it would be as if you were visiting Egypt without seeing the Pyramids. With that in mind, tonight of all nights was the night for me to see and experience by myself the so much talk about "Turkish Baths"! Michel reluctantly came along!
The hotel’s taxi brought us directly to the front of the “Cemberlitas Hamami – Historical Turkish Bath” building located right in the old sector of the city, a 30 minutes ride from the hotel. With so many Turkish baths businesses in Turkey, this was the one I chose to go to due to its popularity with tourists and photographers and for being a regular location for films and fashion shoots. But most importantly, I chose the Cemberlitas Baths for being commonly hailed as one of the most beautiful Turkish baths in Istanbul…..convincing me once and for all that I had made the right choice!
Cemberlitas Baths was built in 1584. From the outside, the building looked quite small with its narrow entrance door all squeezed in between other buildings. Plus, because of the road height having increased over time, the building now had a deep entrance being ten steps below street level. As the old saying goes: “Don’t judge the book by its cover”, so once inside, I was definitely in for a surprise.
At the ticket office right at the entrance, our reservations were confirmed having been done beforehand by the Conrad Hotel’s concierge desk. So, for 100 Turkish Lira each, we were given a black sarong-like garment, for modesty, a coarse mitt for scrubbing the body down, a towel and tokens to give to the attendants. Men and women were then sent off to separate sections of the building.
So, after saying goodbye to Michel, I went my very own separate way in which a series of steps were mounted bringing me directly to the second floor. I was greeted by an attendant, a young Turkish woman with a bad hair day who looked more like a man than anything else with her shape and coarse voice. She could hardly speak English but just by pointing, I knew what she meant. A locker was assigned with a key and slippers given.
Around me, women, young and old, fat and skinny, sagging boobs, various sizes, cellulite problems……you name it… were walking around topless. No one was completely nude. It was quite a show….but nobody cared, neither did I. I quickly undressed and put all of my clothes in the locker, my camera as well. No pictures were allowed on the second floor and I could understand why!
With the towel wrapped around my body, the Turkish attendant then pointed in the direction of a door. It was the hot room. Stepping inside, I was instantly brought back into time as I admired the domed ceiling supported by 12 arches rising from marble columns. The dome was pitted with glass that looked like elephants eyes in which during the day, the light channeled through the steam making polka-dots on the floor. It was a breathtaking décor which made me relive the era 500 years ago.
It was hot, it was steamy. Many women were lying or sitting on the huge centered marble slab awaiting their turns to be scrubbed. I was directed by my personalized scrubber to do the same.
A steamy sweat was what I had after lying on the hot marble slab for a good 20 minutes or so while looking all around me. I felt just like Cleopatra awaiting her bath in this roman looking ancient room.
My personalized scrubber eventually showed up. She was a short middle aged Turkish woman, quite large….like four of little old me…. with a huge pot belly hanging over her small black panties that could hardly be seen in between the creases. She wasn’t topless but wore a tight see through black bra with her big sagging boobs sticking almost out as they bounced all over the place every time she moved. Her long black oily hair was tied in a ponytail with sections hanging in her face. She was all wet and sweaty from the heat. In other words, she looked awful just like all the other Turkish middle aged scrubbers! You get the picture!
But she did the job….ahhh yes…. and excellent she was! I was covered in milky soap suds, scrubbed, exfoliated and washed all over my body with a coarse mitt…. and this quite roughly at times….from head to toe, sideways, and back, you name it, she did it. The private parts however were not touched! I was then lathered all over again and washed with a cloth and soap-massaged. Hot water buckets was poured all over me while she did her job. The whole bath process took a good fifteen minutes and I hate to admit it….but…. it felt terribly good!
After the scrub, I felt lighter, much lighter as if a good five pounds of dead skin was taken off me. A little embarrassing in a way! I was then directed to one of the private cubicles around the room that had taps of running water. There, my personalized scrubber washed my hair and vigorously rinsed me with buckets of water ….… almost drowning me in the process!
Thanking her, I was directed to the cool room, a place to sit and chat or swim in a small cemented pool if you wanted. Well, that’s exactly what I did and swam topless in the pool. Ha, Ha! The water was lukewarm and to my taste. I was the only person there as well and felt just like a queen again!
You think this was good…well…the best was yet to come! After a good fifteen minutes or so, I got out of the pool and left the hot room heading in the direction of….guess where….the oil massage room! Lucky me!
On a bed under very bright lights, I lay on my stomach, my head resting down on a padded ring with a hole in the middle. As uncomfortable as I was lying on my stomach, the massage…..ah, the massage…. did it ever feel goooood. My entire body was rubbed all over with a herbal-based natural oil and given one of those fantastic relaxing and refreshing whole-body massage by again, another Turkish middle aged woman who didn’t speak a word in English. The aromatherapy oils smelled quite nice and helped me to relax. The entire process lasted half an hour after which, I felt just like new, maybe wrecked a little from all of this bone cracking but felt just like a brand new me and refreshed!
My hair was still wet. I headed down to the change room and after quickly getting dressed, my hair was dried with the blower. Many other women were having head massages or facial clay masks, something I never considered or even thought about. Maybe some other time, an excuse just to come back!
As I headed downstairs, Michel was already waiting for me in the lounge, his Turkish bath and massage, having been finished a good hour earlier. We exchanged comments and experiences where mine were good but his….guess what…..he would have very much preferred a woman giving him the scrubbing and the massage!
It was 9:00pm when we headed out the doors after having been informed by the Cemberlitas Baths reception desk person how to take the Tram, a much favorite and cheaper method of transportation than the taxi. We had learned our lesson the previous night with the taxis and were not so soon ready to be taken in again.
As it turned out, the Tram station was just across the street from the baths. After buying some tokens, the high-tech engineered Tram shortly arrived and after hopping in without any incidents, the doors quickly and electronically closed and off we went down the tracks and into the night.
It was that easy! Also but most importantly, we also knew where to get off….at the last station, this one being situated close to the Dolmabahce Palace. From there, we knew quite well our way around and back to the Conrad Hotel, a 30 minute walk.
Walking along the Bosphorus Strait at a relaxed pace while admiring the boats cruising down the sea with all their lights on was quite pleasant. The moon was full, the streets were crowded without being overcrowded and even though the wind was cold, it was quite a nice night just to be walking.
By coincidence, the hotel’s yellow taxi that had brought us to the Cemberlitas Baths earlier in the evening happened to be passing by. After recognizing us, the driver briefly stopped and inquired if we wanted a ride back to the hotel in which we declined. Even though he was one of the hotel’s taxi and they are supposed to be trusted, I knew quite well that he had made a small detour when he brought us to the Cemberlitas Baths costing me at the end, 10 TL extra. You see, I was by now quite familiar with my surroundings, knew my way around this section of the city but most importantly….couldn’t be fooled by any of them anymore! So from all of the bad experiences I had, I was by now fed up with all of these Turkish taxis! Plus I had found an even better way of transportation….hurrah for Tramways!
We eventually made it up the hill and back to the hotel all in one piece! By then, it was 10:00pm, I had experienced a real live “Turkish Bath”…..and guess what….survived the pleasant ordeal!
Note: some of the pictures of the Cemberlitas Baths were found on the internet.... since no pictures were allowed inside the building. Enjoy!