Without warning cold water was being sluiced all over me, drenching me head to toe. Not long after strong hands were roughly scrubbing months of grime from my back. Those hands belonged to a half naked local woman with enormous, pendulous breasts. Throughout this experience no English was spoken.
But hang on, you’re probably wondering what on earth is happening. So let me back up.
After my brief journey though Eastern Turkey I took an overnight bus from the Black Sea city of Trabzon to Safranbolu, a gorgeous historic Ottoman/Turkish museum town.
The bus trip was one of the most unpleasant overnight bus trips I’ve ever encountered. At the many stops the lights would be turned on and the destination yelled out to the sleepy-eyed passengers.
Needless to say when I arrived early in the morning in Safranbolu I was tired, grumpy and my second bout of food poisoning for my trip was starting to kick in.
But all of this didn’t deter me from heading out into the jumble of cobblestone stress lined with white and chocolate brown, half-timbered buildings that make Safranbolu so special.
In the centre the winding lanes were vine covered and full of souvenir and locum shops. It was so picturesque.
By the afternoon I was flagging and starting to feel miserable for myself. One of the downsides of travelling alone is there is no-one to look after you or out for you when you feel sick or rubbish.
Then I struck on what I considered a brilliant idea. An idea I thought would help make me feel better. A hamam, better known as a Turkish bath! A quintessential experience for any visitor to Turkey and one I’d not had when I’d first visited Turkey ten years ago. An experience I felt really should be done once, and it meant lying down and relaxing – right?
Well that wasn’t quite how things worked.
The Turkish bath in Safranbolu was inside an old building topped with many domes and steam coming out of chimney like stacks.
When I walked into the women section of the building it opened into an open room lined with little change-rooms. I was directed to one of these where I was told to strip to just my knickers (I wore my bikini bottom!) and was given a sheet type cloth to wrap myself in. My bag and clothes were locked in the room and I was then escorted into the baths.
I had the distinct impression photography would’ve been frowned on or not allowed given the nature of the experience but this photo is similar to what the first room looked like!
I was led into a large domed area with four alcoves coming off it. Under the dome was a large marble slab. I was taken into one of the alcoves and it was indicated I should sit on a low marble bench. Suddenly the woman who had escorted me was pouring cold water over me and told me ‘shower’ indicating I should continue to pour water over myself.
I ‘showered’, sat for a bit not knowing what would happen next. With nothing happening I decided to lie on the big marble slab in the middle of the alcove like the local women. The slab was warm and soothing.
Soon a woman approached me and showed me into a different alcove where a marble topped table was. My sheet was draped over this and it was indicated I should lie on top of it.
Within seconds of lying face down on the marble slab a large well-endowed local woman was roughly scouring body. Not even my face escaped the rough treatment! The dead skin and grime could visibly be seen and after my body felt like a new born’s – pink and soft.
Next warm water was poured over me, over and over. Rinsing the sloughed off skin and dirt. It was indicated I should turn over and then the soaping began. It included a kind of massage. After I was soaped up on both side warm water was sluiced all over me again. My hair was washed and my head massaged. I was then told ‘shower’ again and given conditioner for my hair.
And as abruptly as it had started my Turkish bath in Safranbolu experience was abruptly over. I truly felt like I’d had a genuine experience in not only a wonderfully old and beautiful building but a place where the local women gather to experience this on a regular basis. A place where there were no other tourists and the experience was not modified for tourists. And more importantly I hadn’t felt that clean in many months!!
Have you a a hamam or Turkish bath experience? I’d love to hear how you found it!
While in Safranbolu I stayed at Cesmeli Konak. A cute hotel in a gorgeous traditional building full of Turkish features and so close to the centre. For two nights I paid 50 euro for a standard double room.
To get to and from Safranbolu I travelled on the fantastic bus network that criss-crosses Turkey. The bus stop for Safranbolu is in the new part of the town and many hotels like mine were in the old section, approx 2km away.