We flew Turkish Airlines from Antalya to Istanbul which in itself was a bit of a drama. The landing was the absolute WORST I’ve ever experienced and I swear I thought we were going to go spinning off the end of the runway and explode into a ball of flames. It was HORRIFIC. Naturally, David and I have just signed up for the Turkish Airlines frequent flyer programme. They have super cheap deals from Dubai and you just can’t argue with the price!! Of course being dead probably overrides that but we survived this time so fingers crossed for next time.
Anyway, the next three days were spent in the northern part of Istanbul which was just teeming with young, funky university age people. There’s a major pedestrian-only street called Istiklal St. which is jam packed with tourists and locals at all hours of the day and night. It’s full of little side streets with restaurants, markets, cafes, bars, fish and vegetable vendors and street food. It’s a vibrant, young, cultural part of town. We spent the whole of one afternoon drinking local beer (Efes) and playing backgammon on a little table out on the sidewalk. From time to time, waiters carrying trays of Turkish tea would swish past. It was idyllic.
The next day we decided to try out a Turkish Hamam (bath). We were given a little cubicle each to get changed out of our clothes and into a miniscule little dish towel that, personally, did very little to cover my modesty. But I was in a hamam, and you get naked in a hamam. I was mentally prepared for nudity. Both David and I were really surprised that we were going to be able to do the hamam together as they normally separate the men and the women. But the only other people there were three Spanish ladies and they had said that they didn’t mind seeing David naked (I bet they didn’t)!! Or him seeing them naked. Gotta love the Europeans, eh??
So a hamam is hot. Very friggin’ hot. You enter a warm room initially to get used to it and then you enter an extremely HOT area in which you immediately start to sweat profusely. We were lead to one of the many marble basins around the room in which hot water was trickling from a tap and shown how to fill a small bowl with water and just pour it over yourself. It actually hurt. So you keep doing this for a little while until you think you’re going to melt and then, when you think you can’t stand it anymore, you go and lie down on a massive marble slab in the middle of the room which is so hot it is actually painful to touch. And you try to relax. Eventually, if you don’t pass out, you kind of get used to it and your muscles start to relax. That’s the point I started having mild hallucinations. Fun!!!!
We lay there a while, until a dude wearing a towel came in and motioned to David to come and sit on a small marble stool where he proceeded to loofah David all over. We both laughed (rather hysterically) at how much dirt comes off the skin. It was a bit gross. Rubbed red raw David lay down on the slab again and it was my turn. I looked around for the lady that was going to rub me down when it dawned on me that there was no lady. Just Dude In The Towel. Hmmmmm. I looked at David. David looked at me and shrugged. I shrugged back, dropped my towel and got loofahed. I figured if the Spanish ladies were OK with getting rubbed by a guy whilst naked, far be it for me to be any less Europeanly sophisticated and cosmopolitan. I have to admit, if I’d been in my twenties, I’d have run a mile. Approaching 40, I’m no longer as precious about exposing myself to strangers.
After the rubdown, it was time for the full body massage. David got soaped up and absolutely pummelled over the next 15 minutes. I was lying on the marble slab trying to relax but all the yelps, screeches, gasps and moans had me in stitches (and a bit nervous because I was up next). Dude In a Towel delved so deep into David’s muscles that two weeks later he was still sporting bruises up and down his arms, legs and back. When it was my turn, I got lathered up, back and (ahem) front, and enjoyed a relaxing, slightly gentler, massage. When it was over we lay out some more and then got up to rinse off with slightly cooler water which was really refreshing. All done we went back to our cubicles to lay down, cool off and then get changed back into some clothes.
But behold dear readers, that was not the end of our hamam experience. Oh no, it wouldn’t be enough to be slightly controversial. It always has to go just that little bit further on the scandal scale. Check it out:
Before entering our cubicles we saw the owner of the hamam being interviewed by a film crew. It was in Turkish so we had no idea what it was about. No big deal. Whilst in the cubicle, I could still hear them and it started getting a bit heated (pardon the pun). I was dressed by now but didn’t really want to go outside so stayed in the cubicle for a bit until the interview sounded like it was over. So, I exited the cubicle, still very uncomfortably hot, a bit lightheaded and sweating like crazy. I sat down to wait for David and suddenly the cameraman started pointing his camera in my face. I tried to ignore it but after a minute I started getting a bit anxious and called out, “David?”. When he answered, I said, “They’re filming me, can you come out please?” which didn’t get much of a response. So I was left with some guy filming me for god knows what purpose, and I was SWEATING!!!! Eventually, the reporter came over and asked me in halting English if I wouldn’t mind being interviewed. In my lightheaded state, I agreed and she began by asking me if I’d felt uncomfortable at all during the hamam. I wanted to say that her crazy cameraman had made me more uncomfortable in 2 minutes whilst fully clothed than Dude In A Towel had done in the hour we’d been practically naked together, but I didn’t. I just told her that at no time had I felt uncomfortable and that everything that occurred in the hamam had seemed appropriate and professionally handled. She seemed so disappointed by this response that she asked, “Are you SURE you didn’t feel uncomfortable at all?”, and I reiterated that I didn’t.
Interview over. I then asked what the interview was for and she said it would be on national television that evening. Then she looked at me funny and asked if I’d heard of Molly. I said no, and this is what she told me. Molly was an American tourist who had come to the hamam and whilst being scrubbed had felt that a towelboy on the other side of the room had looked at her in an inappopriate, sexual way. She hadn’t said anything or made any complaints at the time, but after returning home to the States, had a think about it, decided that she’d been violated, and filed sexual harrassment claims against the hamam. The film crew had come to interview the owner, the workers and now it appeared, the clientele. Not getting what she had hoped for from me, she then moved on to the three Spanish women who had just come in wearing their towels, still dripping wet and red faced. I don’t think she got what she was looking for from them either.
The whole incident was a bit of a shame actually because I had really enjoyed the hamam a lot, and then was made to doubt the validity of the experience because of the interview. But after a bit of thought, I decided that I was not going to let someone else’s experience taint my own. I had felt fine during the entire experience, and I was going to continue to feel fine about it. In fact, if we’d had more time, David and I would probably have gone back for another hamam.
But alas, alack, we had to get back to our life in Dubai, and here we are now, experiencing it, living it, loving it and gathering more stories to tell in future ejo’s.