I had visions of an exotic, relaxing, unwinding experience. What I experienced was jarring, unsettling and disturbing. Lonely Planet did say that one must experience a hamam though they warned that many today were tourist traps.
We had gone to the Cemberlatis Hamam near the Blue Mosque at Istanbul. This was recommended by our local travel agent and Lonely Planet. Its call to fame was that it was designed by Sinan, the architect of the Blue Mosque, and was around four hundred years old.
I went in for the ‘luxury package’ hamam, soap scrub and oil massage which was 80 liras or 40 euros per person. Kainaz did suggest going for the basic package in case we didn’t like it. She was right. We should have done that.
You expect a certain amount of finesse, luxury and hospitality when you are paying 40 euros or Rs 2400. Especially in Turkey where one got used to experiencing the same.
Well, here’s what happened. I entered the large . I was directed to a changing room where I was given a towel and two tokens. I wrapped the towel around me and walked tentatively back into the lobby. Someone then directed me to another room. Here I saw there was a round marble platform with a few vessels lying there. A few people were lying on th platform. One or two were getting massaged. And there were a few like me who were walking around with disturbed looks. By then I knew I was not getting my moneys both. The surroundings were damp and looked 400 years old. I could see soot in the grills when I looked up at the dome like ceiling. I did not feel good or relaxed. A far cry from, say, the Thai massage parlours.
Then a man with a towel around his waist appeared and asked me though gestures to lie down on the platform and to rest my head on an aluminium cup. He then gave me a cursory, painful rub over, which passed off for a massage. He nexttook a loofa, worked up a soap lather on me, took me to a tap and asked me to clean up. He then looked at me, smiled, winked and said “massage good? Service! Service!”. This was the only time in Turkey that someone openly asked us for tips.
He then pushed me into another room which turned out to be the oil massage room. This was the only redeeming feature of the experience and contributed to 50% of the cost. The massage was good but I was too tense to enjoy it. In fact he even asked me to relax a couple of times. He was the only one who spoke English. Though I seriously doubt whether it lasted 30 minutes. The room was clean but didn’t really give you a good feeling.
Next stop was the shower cubicle where I went and had a shower and then came out in a wet towel wondering what to do next. I stepped out into the lobby when one man took me back in, put towels around my head, torso and waist and sent me to the changing room.
I then waited for Kainaz. She came out from the women’s section a few minutes later and looked shell shocked. She hated it as much and more. She said the women’s section was even worse. It had no shower cubicle, no soap, no changing rooms, no one to wrap you in towels at the end. She too said that the oil massage was the only redeeming feature but was nothing unique. Her ‘soap massage’ in the hamam was quite surreal though. I was recently reading a new Bond book set in the seventies which speaks of a hamam in Iran with scantily clad women doing the massages. Seems it was pretty much the same in the women’s section. Except the women were of the same seventies vintage…so you had grandmas in granny panties. ‘Bizarre’ was how Kainaz described it.
To add insult to injury Kainaz picked the tab AND lost her fairly expensive glares there.
The hamam left us dazed and confused. Well not really – we are pretty clear that we will never recommend it to anyone.
- Avoid this
- If you want to feel relaxed take the Bosporus cruise or have an apple tea in a local cafe
- The prices change and the next day what we paid seventy for was 80 liras