Adventurous Kate contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks!
Getting naked in public is not the kind of thing I set out to do on a regular basis, but in Istanbul, I knew I had to experience a traditional hammam, or Turkish bath!
These communal bathing facilities are an institution in Turkey. A traditional hammam includes a bath, a heavy-duty body scrub, and a soapy massage. There are additional services like oil massages and spa treatments, but most people just stick to the basic three services.
You can do hammams for very cheap – think 20 lira ($12) – but only if you leave the touristy neighborhoods of Istanbul, of course. That sounded like a good price to me and my friend from the hostel who decided to join me, a fun and spritely gal who shall heretofore be known as the Aussie Ginge.
However, general laziness beat out our desire to save money, as it so often does, and we ended up walking to the cheapest hammam in our neighborhood, right across from the Sultanahmet tram stop, “TURKISH BATH” written in giant neon orange letters.
An Icelandic girl staying at the hostel had been telling me about her hammam experience the day before. She took the metro to a random neighborhood, found a hammam, and was the only foreign woman there. She wore a bathing suit, as did a few women there.
Did she like it? She loved it – up until the point when the lady gave her a wedgie so that she could scrub her butt cheeks.
That did it for me. There HAD to be an adventure in a visit to a hammam!
Part One: Getting Naked
Aussie Ginge and I paid our admission fee (a somewhat painful 50 lira, or $29) and changed into our bathing suits. We were each given a small red and white plaid towel just barely large enough to wrap around ourselves.
And then the hammam lady took a look at us and shook her head.
“No bathing suits.”
Really? But the Icelandic girl –
“NO bathing suits. Wear nothing.”
All right, then. Aussie Ginge and I lost the bathing suits and waddled out into the hammam lobby, the tiny red plaid towels barely covering what they needed to cover.
We followed her through a maze of hot, steamy rooms into the women’s section of the hammam.
The hammam lady turned to us, smiled, and without saying a word, PULLED THE TOWELS OFF US as naturally as one would pluck a tissue from a box.
And suddenly Aussie Ginge and I were standing fully naked as the lady put the towels on the ground for us to sit on.
Well. Hanging out with your new friend from the hostel just got awkward.
AG and I sat on either sides of an overflowing basin and were each handed a bucket. And so commenced part one of the hammam experience, the bath: scooping out the hot water and pouring it over yourself as you sit in a steam-filled room.
As strange as the hammam may sound to the average prudish American, it’s not weird or uncomfortable at all. For 30 minutes, we relaxed, chatted about our world travels, and poured hot water over ourselves.
That’s when the massage ladies sent for us.
Part Two: Scrubbing Down
AG’s masseuse was the lady who had plucked the towels from us earlier, only now she was wearing a bikini. My lady, however, was only wearing bikini bottoms – some might say for ease, but I’m convinced it’s because there exists NO BIKINI TOP IN THE UNIVERSE that could contain those swinging things before me!
My summers as a bra saleslady at Victoria’s Secret gave me a lifelong ability to accurately gauge a woman’s bra size with only a glance. This lady, in my estimation, was a 42F, and they were not unlike two cantaloupes dangling in a sack of cheesecloth.
She put my now-drenched towel on the table and indicated for me to lie down on my stomach. I turned me head to the left and panicked.
Turning to the left meant that I would be facing her dangerous breasts, which surely would careen straight into my face at some point.
Turning to the right meant that I would be staring directly up my friend AG’s butt crack.
I turned left and closed my eyes tightly.
The next step was the body scrub. The lady put on an exfoliation glove and scrubbed hard all over my body, even my face. YEOUCH. It felt like she was scrubbing each pore free of decades and decades of extraneous skin.
I’ve had body scrubs in the past, and the result of a particularly intense exfoliation session has always the same – sticky gray-brown lumps of dead skin rolled together. I expected to see this when I sat up – and gasped.
My skin was covered in black, wavy lines of dirty, dead skin. THIS is what a real exfoliation looks like! My God – how much dirt was on my skin?! Was this dirt from Jordan last week, from Mexico last June, from Cambodia last year, from Ireland ten years ago?!
We are so dirty, and we have no idea.
Part Three: Massage Time
I lay down, still shocked from the exfoliation, as my lady began the soapy massage. She filled a perforated bag with soapy water and squeezed it over my body before brushing me with the bag – and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the softest thing I’ve ever felt in my life. Newborn babies, you’ve just been one-upped by a plastic bag.
And then the massage came, the massage felt great, and for a moment, it felt like one of those four-handed massages of which I’ve heard so much. Nope, it was a hand and a hand and a boob and a boob.
There was nowhere else for them to go! Of COURSE they would be hitting me all over.
Call it instinct or call it common sense – I knew what was going to happen the moment I saw exactly how large her breasts were. The lady leaned over to massage my right arm and BOOM!
Giant boob smacked me RIGHT in the face!
“Oop!” the lady said quickly, almost apologetically, and went about her work.
Disoriented, I just decided to let it go and chalk it up to the experience.
A final hair wash and rinse-off from the lady and I was ready to go on my way. I thanked her for providing me with an experience I’ll never forget.
Part Four: Recovery
Finished, my lady bundled me up in dry towels and hustled me out to the lounge area. It was time to hang out and drink delicious apple tea. Though an appletini would probably have been a better tonic at that moment.
Aussie Ginge and I met up again, gossiped about our sessions – her lady was not nearly as well-endowed as mine, and thus her face was not a casualty of swinging bazoongas – and took advantage of the free hair dryer before heading back out into chilly Sultanahmet. I then decided that I hadn’t abused myself enough for the day and went to see Breaking Dawn.
The Overall Experience
Yes, this hammam was a strange experience. But I wholeheartedly recommend it – there’s really nothing like it, and I can’t imagine going for long without having all of that black dirt scrubbed off of me again!
Just be cautious with the large-chested women. Believe me, they’re dangerous.