There are elements of travel that make you feel like you are at home. It can be anything from a familiar face to a familiar food. Sometimes it’s just sitting in a popular ex-pat coffee shop and hearing English speakers all around you, like I’m doing at this very moment.
But then there are those times when you know without a shadow of a doubt that you definitely are not in America anymore. These next few posts will be about a few of those moments, starting with our Turkish bath in, well, Turkey of course.
Taking A Bath In Istanbul
Tom and I lay nearly naked on a giant hot stone slab with ten other foreign, sweating bodies. The steam of the room condensed on the ancient dome ceiling above us and dripped down onto our faces.
Supposedly, this is where the Suleyman Sultan himself came to bathe hundreds of years ago.
With visions of beautiful masseuses, soft towels, extreme pampering, and enticing aromas of herbal infusions, I sort of tricked Tom into agreeing to join me for a relaxing and authentic Turkish bath (a.k.a. hammam) experience. After all, how can you go to Istanbul and not go to a Turkish bath?
Our experience was certainly authentic, but relaxing might not have been the right word. We had a spa experience quite different from the Burke Williams back home. Here's what we got instead:
Part 1: Forty minutes of cooking ourselves on a hot stone slab in a room as hot as a sauna and as humid as Florida in July.
I lay quietly on the hot stone trying to reassure myself of the pore-cleansing and toxin releasing benefits of this torture, but Tom was not so patient. He thought to himself, "I'm paying for this!?!"
He lasted about 2 minutes on that hot stone till he sat straight up and lurched forward to cool himself under the faucet protruding from the opposite wall. To his surprise and obvious disappointment hot water flowed all over his head and down his back.
Within minutes I heard the click-clack of his wooden shoes as he finally gave up and walked out of the room to commiserate with another disgruntled spa-virgin husband in the “cooling" room.
Part 2: A complete rub down, scrub down by a large Turkish man wearing nothing but the equivalent of a red gingham-checkered tea towel.
Remember that time in your life when you didn't have to bathe yourself? Your mom just sat you down in the bathtub and washed you from head to toe. Now picture that same scene, but this time you are an adult and your mom is a half-naked Turkish man with a hairy back. That's precisely what transpired next.
And to make matters worst, Tom had to sit and watch as the burly Turk rubbed me down, his wife. He again thought to himself, "And now I'm paying for this?"
Part 3: Smashed somewhere between a Turk and a hard place.
Next came the massage (a.k.a. beating). Massage tables have come a long way in the last 500 years, with soft padding and a hole to put your face. But we signed up for the "authentic" experience, so we didn't benefit from any of these modern advances.
Instead, we climbed onto a long marble table, and got a lesson in Newton's Third Law, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." Each time our masseur pressed down on our back, the stone slab below us seemed to press right back up. At some point as the stone slab beneath me dug into my collarbone, even I began to think, "we're paying for this?"
Part 4: Cooling down, or so they call it.
Finally, the massage was done. Tom and I were both a little bruised and very much relieved to have this experience finished. Or so we thought we were finished…
As we got up from the stone torture tables, our masseurs pointed to the hot stone slab where this whole ordeal had began and sent us back for 15 more minutes on the grill. We lasted about 30 seconds till we ducked out early to cool down in the "cooling" room where we were served hot tea. Yup, you heard that right...hot tea to cool down. Crazy Turks.
But in all seriousness, we really did love Istanbul (outside of the Turkish bath beat-down). The city is colorful, the people are friendly, the food was rich, and the tea was delightful.
And since I don't have any pictures of our actual Turkish Bath, below are a few other highlights from our time in Istanbul. You can also visit our facebook page to see more photos.
I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!