Hammam Guide

Bathing with Mom

by admin on Jun.05, 2011, under Asian side hamams

Aziziye Hamam. Kadıköy Haydarpasa Rıhtım Cd. Recaizade Sok. No:17-19 Kadıköy. Mens bath: 0216 349 14 65
Ladies bath: 0216 449 06 13 Cell: 0216 449 06 13 E-mail: aziziyehamam@gmail.com Hours: Seven days a week
Mens bath06:00 AM to 23:00 PM Ladies bath06:00 AM to 23:00 PM. Fees: bath: 15 YTL, kese and massage 15 YTL.

My mother wanted to go to a Turkish bath while she was visiting me, and while going to a hamam has been on my list of things to do since I arrived in Istanbul six months ago, I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Mom would have been happy to go to the “hamam” in her hotel, which offers “an authentic Turkish bath experience” in their state of the art spa, but I was dubious. I was also sort of dubious about Aziziye Hamam http://www.aziziyehamam.com/ – the website is in perfect English and it offers directions from Europe, two sure indicators that it’s geared to tourists- but the website promised beautiful Ottoman architecture, and showed pictures of old guys wrapped in towels, so I figured we were bound to have a more authentic experience than making an appointment at the concierge’s desk for a massage by the lap pool.

The building had an unassuming salmon facade, with separate entrances for men and women. We went in the ladies’ entrance and down some marble steps into the entrance room. A half naked woman stood before us, vigorously toweling herself. An old woman in a headscarf was laying on a bench to our left, gently snoring. The room was lined with two stories of wooden cubicles, the upper level reached by a tiny set of marble stairs. In the a cubicle on our right there was a woman, stark naked except for slippers, applying deoderant and picking her toes and other private activities. We stood there, uncertain what to do. We stood there, uncertain, and tried not to stare. The naked lady in front of us stopped drying herself and disappeared into a cubicle. I noticed a modern drink machine in the corner, incongruous against the marble and dark, old wood. After a few minutes the door at the opposite end opened and a middle aged woman wearing nothing but a pair of black panties and some rubber slippers emerged in a billow of steam. She ushered us up the tiny, twisted marble stairs into cubbies, (the wrapper from a sanitary napkin was laying on the bench in mine) made sure we each had a pestemal and slippers, and left us. Mom and I had a brief conference through the wall separating our cubbies about how much to leave on, and then we both emerged in our underwear, wrapped in our pestemals.

Downstairs two more plump, middle aged ladies wearing black panties and slippers ushered us through the door into the steam room. There was a large navel stone in the middle, and areas on either side with low stone shelves and stone basins with taps. The bath attendants put us in a corner, each with her own basin, and gave us plastic bowls and demonstrated that we were to pour water over ourselves. They disappeared, and we looked at each other, perplexed. Another woman came in and sat in the corner opposite ours. She unfastened her wrap and began dousing herself repeatedly with water, so we did the same. Aside from the weirdness of sitting there half naked with my mom, it was pleasant. The steam room was gorgeous. There was a dome over the navel stone with a window at the top that let in a little light that filtered down through the steam. The tile work on the ceiling and in the dome were exquisite. It was nice to sit there in steamy drowsiness on the beautiful, warm marble benches and pour water on myself when I got too hot.
There was an old woman on the other side who was taking an inordinate amount of time to shave her nethers. Across from her were a group of young woman laughing and chatting and soaping each others’ backs. I was surprised at their youth; I’ve been given to understand that young Turkish people don’t go to Hamams much anymore. For the better part of an hour we were the only foreigners there.
“Better than the hotel, huh, mama,” I murmered. “This is a real Turkish experience.”
She nodded, pleased.

After a while I started to get restless. I’ve never had the patience to sit in a sauna or take a long soak in a tub and I was beginning to get very thirsty. I was just beginning to fidget in earnest when the trio of middle aged ladies in their underpants came back, and with a series of grunts and gestures, got us to lay down on our pestemals on the navel stone. First my attendant scrubbed my back and legs with a rough cloth in long strokes. She slapped my thigh to indicate that I should flip over and then she did my front. Then she took me over to a stone basin and rinsed me, and rinsed the gray pills of dead skin from my pestemal, and pushed me and grunted at me until I was laying down on the navel stone again in the correct position. She soaped me up with a bit of bar soap and a washcloth, front and back, (I think she used the same cloth for me and my mother) Finally I was taken back to my basin and she rather lovingly shampooed my hair and left me to finish rinsing myself.

Full disclosure: I worked in spas in the US for years. And the whole time I was there the voices of every beauty school teacher and every boss I’ve ever had was screaming in my head about the sanitation, which, by OSHA standards was non-existant. I’ve never been a germophobe, but if you are, perhaps you should stick with the hotel spa. Everything was covered in soap and hot water, and the worst I believe you could catch in such a place would be ring-worm or a touch of athlete’s foot. Also, if you’re expecting some TLC in the massage forget it. The whole thing took ten minutes, tops, and was rather rough. Also, perhaps because I worked in a spa for so many years, I’ve lost some of my boundaries about nakedness and touching, but I feel I should warn you, ladies: your boobs will be manhandled. They will be scrubbed and soaped along with the rest of you, as will your inner thighs. The lady wearing only underwear and a grim expression will move your underwear wherever she needs to- pulling it below your butt cheeks one minute, yanking it into your crack the next.

Over all it was a nice experience. I left feeling softer and smoother than I have in a long time, and profoundly relaxed, and it was nice to do something that’s normally so private, bathe, in such a communal atmosphere.

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