Hammam Guide

Tag: evening

A Forgotten Basement in Beyoǧlu

by oldskool on Jun.30, 2010, under Beyoğlu hamams

Nur Hamamı. Hamalbaşı Cad. No. 14. Beyoǧlu, Istanbul. (0212) 249 81 12. Men: 7am – 12 am. 16 YTL plus 5 YTL for kese, 5 YTL for massage.

The other day I was walking down the hill from the Galatasaray high school in Beyoǧlu toward Kasımpaşa – a well traveled stretch of street that I have been on a million times – and I noticed a small hamam on the right side.  It had a sign and a set of stairs going down below street level. I was surprised at having never seen it before and made a mental note to return. I returned a week or so later after a particularly late late night out of drinking, dancing, and not quite so much sleep (the detailed reasons of which I’ll omit ;) . I went at about 9pm or so and was beckoned into a small reception room with changing rooms to one side, a TV hanging from the ceiling, and a congenial owner. It was rather plain, an unadulterated space somehow forgotten amidst the rapidly developing and ‘chic’ landscape of Istiklal that was really more village than capital city.  I changed and went into the bath which was also quite small. The room was hot enough and square. It was also completely no frills. Besides the marble göbek taşı and basins on the walls the ceiling was stained and cracked and a bit mildewy. It was not, however, dirty. One corner of the square was reserved as a separate room for shaving and depilation (traşlık odası) while another part of the bath served as a very small dry sauna. Both corners fit no more than 1-2 people.

I laid down on the marble stone and dozed in and out working up a sweat and dimly aware of the one other bather slumped against a side basin. He was an older man, grey and fleshy. He had his peştemel wrap completely off and draped across the top of his thighs so that he could wash his bits. I did note that it was only a partial wash. His tired gaze was on me and his hand moved in a regular jerky tell-tale rhythm. Oh well, I thought. No touch, no talk, no eye contact and everything will be fine. I’m content, and he will soon be as well. After he left, the keseci walked in for my services. The keseci was fairly unresponsive, despite my barrage of questions I had about bathing life which made me slightly concerned that I would be treated like a slab of meat rather than anything else.  I asked him if he was from Istanbul and he grunted yes. I pressed, “not from Tokat?” He looked up, jarred and perhaps offended slightly and indicated no way. I thought it a perfectly good question – all kesecis are from Tokat. They have the monopoly on that profession. He was an exception, though perhaps of Tokat extraction. I wasn’t convinced. Surprisingly, the kese and massage were in fact quite good. Completely average and serviceable. He cleaned between each of my toes (a new but lovely method), gave me a brief but firm massage, cracked my neck from side to side, and didn’t drown me in boiling or freezing water. The water came in waves – from hot to warm to cool, as it should. His personality went the other way it seems. By the end of the session, he seemed to have warmed up to me.

When we were done, I sat outside in the reception room. The owner was very meticulously wrapping me with many towels, rubbing my shoulders and placed a little rug under my feet. I asked him some questions about hamam culture today in the 21st century and his bath. The bath was a modern one, only 21 years old. As to the lack of people, he said that it was typical in the summer months to be so, but the winter was more crowded. I was somehow skeptical. This was a forgotten basement in Beyoǧlu. Maybe it catered more to the Tepebaşı crowd, though I wasn’t sure. He also talked about age and bathing culture. According to him, bathers ranged from 20 and up. When I asked further about why the young generation didn’t bathe as much, he said it was a problem. Although everyone has baths and showers, they can never get as scrubbed clean as in a hamam. He had a good point. I don’t remember the last time I saw my grey dead skin roll off my body. The youth, he continued, also devote no time to sitting in a hamam and enjoying a quiet peaceful space for part of the day. In a country such as Turkey with about 50% percent of the population being under the age of 28. This is a significant change in hamam culture. The fast paced life indeed has claimed our solitary quiet meditative time. We can’t even ride a train without listening to something in our ear or multi-tasking. With the internet, portable and computer games, iphones and every other electronic device there is hardly any time to acquire patience anymore. Just sitting with no stimulation has become a thing of the past – or a thing one does a couple of times a year while on vacation at a beach somewhere. Although all quite obvious, I had never heard a bath owner actually talk about these things before – the bath as a place of escape, a temple of echoes in a sea of urban chaos. And this bath in the center of Beyoǧlu off Istiklal, was just that. Nothing fancy or expensive, but a perfectly serviceable hamam. I sat with him awhile and then walked back up stairs into the clamor of Istiklal.

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My First Hamam

by admin on Mar.07, 2009, under Beyoğlu hamams

Galatasaray Hamam. Hours: Men’s side 7am-10pm, Women’s side 8am-9pm. Prices are listed in Euros: 26 for a bath, 35 with a kese, 38 with a massage, 44 for kese and massage, 57 for the ‘Pasha’ treatment – oil massage. Beverages are free.

Visited Dec. 19th, Friday, 8:30 pm.

This hamam is located just off of Istiklal Caddesi in an area
populated by tourists, a fact that seems to permeate the
experience of the hamam. The two of us visited the hamam in
December, on a rainy night around 8pm even as the hamam was
to close not far after. The owner greeted us quite warmly,
prices were discussed (interestingly, they were listed in
Euros, another sign of the solicitation to non-Turkish
bathers) and we decided upon a full service experience,
despite the time constraints. This would include the general
admission to the hammam, but also massage and kese. After
being shown to adjacent rooms, the two of us changed into our
peştamals and wooden shoes and were led to the central
hamam proper. Inside there was a quite large stone, emitting
high heat (much to my liking) and the two of us lay upon it for
approximately twenty minutes before the keseci entered. A note
about the space itself – this hamam was quite large, and
again nicely heated, I imagine that 8 men could lie upon the
stone comfortably. At the top of the wall (as the dome starts)
there were neon lights emitting a rotation of the color
spectrum; the revolution was a bit off-putting, however, the
light itself not as much so. (continue reading…)

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Kilis Hoca Hamamı: the best thing next to Paris

by oldskool on Mar.02, 2009, under non Istanbul hamams

Kilis Tarihi Hoca Hamamı

Mahmet Pasa Sokak (Behind the Paris Hotel), Kilis.  348 8138618.  Males 7-11 am and 5-11 pm.  Females 11am-5pm.  Not expensive, but you’re in Kilis anway, so just go.  Designed and built by Canbolat Bey in 1545.

http://www.kilis.gov.tr/html/HocaHamami.html

You might cry Stockholm syndrom, but as I lay on the warm stone, waiting for the medieval exfoliation experience, the keseci’s focus impressed me.  He only stopped twice, once to grunt at the 15-year-old boy doing a pull-up on the sauna door lintel, much to the dismay of the cheering onlookers, and again when the kids stole his soap.  We needed that soap.  The keseci needed it to swirl around the plastic tub with hot water, into which he would dip a cloth bag, blow into the bag, and wring an unimaginable amount of soap suds over my prone body.  I needed it because I’d spent the last few days on a fantastic jaunt around south-central Turkey, and I’d haggled with just enough hoteliers and fruit sellers to seek out a good scrub-down in a strange town.  Jeff, Steph, and I found ourselves in Kilis.  If you ever do the same, go to the Kilis Tarihi Hoca Hamamı. (continue reading…)

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Hot Bath, Hot Girl, Cold Beer

by admin on Jan.01, 2009, under Beyoğlu hamams

Galatasaray Hamam. Hours: Men’s side 7am-10pm, Women’s side 8am-9pm. Prices are listed in Euros: 26 for a bath, 35 with a kese, 38 with a massage, 44 for kese and massage, 57 for the ‘Pasha’ treatment – oil massage. Beverages are free.

Visited Dec. 19th, Friday, 8:30 pm.

My friend and I were ready to relax for an evening before an early flight to Cyprus the next morning. The weather was chilly and it was drizzling so we wanted to warm up in a steamy bath. We also didn’t want to walk far. So we chose the very central Galatasaray hamam. It is located within 15 minutes from Taksim or Tünel at the end of a side street off Istiklal. The street turns the corner at the hamam, marking its position rather prominently. A large sign saying “historic Galatasaray hamam” (in Turkish of course) above the door was rather glaring but upon entering the inside was immaculate. The atrium space with its central fountain and three floors of rooms around the courtyard was beautiful and quiet, decorated like a lavish palace. As we were coming in a single foreigner (likely a tourist) was leaving. It seemed he came down from an upstairs changing room. The bath operators were calling out to him as he forgot to pay for his ayran, which he thought was included. They are not apparently (though the prices say beverages are free). Another foreigner-tourist was coming down the stairs from an upstairs dressing room. He was also a single male. Apart from those two, we didn’t see anyone else at the bath. On this Friday night it was all foreigners, all tourists. However, as I spoke Turkish, we seemed to be given slightly different treatment. We were given ground floor changing rooms, sparing us the climbing of the circular staircase for no reason. That was about where the non-tourist service ended.

A rather pricey price list (in Euros) was shown to us, and we were directed to rooms to change as if we had never set foot in a hamam before. We were given horrible Ottoman style wooden clog-stilts which seemed to me a treacherous accident waiting to happen. Surely wet floors and wooden raised clogs which don’t fit your feet and leave them sliding all around are not the way to go. But, sharing in the experience, we shuffled rather lamely toward the heating room, passing an intermediate room of showers and a massage bed. The hot room was beautiful and very spacious. The bathhouse is from the 15th century (1481) and appeared old and monumental. Though perhaps the Ottoman Sultan Beyazit II, who founded the bath, did not intend to include the piped in “Orientalist” belly-dancing music and hidden lights in the walls which projected colors that changed from red to green to blue on the ceiling. The large central stone radiated intense heat from the center and we were made to lie on cardinal points of the stone. As the stone was immense we ended being rather far away from each other. When I made an atttempt to sit closer to my friend, I was shooed back to my first spot and made to lie down. Was this an attempt to keep us two men at a platonic distance? Or to maintain a photogenic symmetry to the bathhouse should anyone else enter? Nevertheless, I found it interesting, as at the least, we were being treated like tourists who had never bathed before and had to follow a certain protocol.

After about 15 minutes, we were nice and sweath. I was enjoying the space minus the music which was ridiculous and masked the gentle echoes and dirps that are part of a bathhouse. The lights, I was getting used to. I had left my given place on the sotne and my friend and I were sitting closer on the stone and chatting. Two keseci entered, one for each of us. They were big, burly, lumber-jack type mustached men. The kese and massage were nice and in a bizarre order. My man massaged me quite vigorously, cracking my spine and joints and being generally chatty, probably as I spoke passing Turkish. As he had me turn over, he completely lifted my peştemel off and then laid it down again. I was surprised! The careful finagling of towels so as to avoid nudity was not so sacred at this moment! After that he led me carefully to the edge near a basin where he kese-ed me and then soaped me down. He also leaned in close, almost whispering, saying that if I were to ever come again I had to ask for him specifically. Then I would get good treament. And the more I came, the better the experience would get. This was not sexual, he was not implying that he would give me any “extra services” only that I could have longer massages and keses.  I noted that he already was giving me a longer kese than my friend who didn’t speak Turkish. Then he whispered, and if you want to come in with a girlfriend, I could let you bathe here together in private. But only in the evening. Wow. Was that the benefit of being in a tourist bath?

He led me out and bade me take a shower. The showers were freezing. I balked completely, but he demonstrated for me, jumping under the water and insinuating that the cold shower after the hamam was the manly thing to do. How could I say no? I showered for under ten seconds. When he and his friend provided us with warm and dry towels for us, they had us take our old pestemels off and wrapped us. Again our nudity was not prevented by careful wrapping and gazing the other way. He left me saying with the utmost seriousness, “hot hamam, hot girl, cold beer,” like an older parent giving advice. We sat for a while completely toweled, then changed, and said goodbye to our kesecis, the register man, and the manager, who all shook our hands goodbye and told us to come again. Though the prices were steep and we were given the tourist experience of a Turkish bath, it was a refreshing hour and a half in a beautiful space, which we cherished as we darted home in the pouring rain.

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