Hammam Guide

Tag: tourist

Cemberlitaş : The Sultan’s Treatment

by kirkdc23 on Feb.12, 2010, under Comment, Sultanahmet hamams, Uncategorized

I go to Turkish baths more than most people here.  That the owner of one of the city’s major hamams is a partner at my firm just encourages this habit.  For example, Selcuk (my boss) and I went to his hamam just following our student’s final studio exhibition night.  We thought we’d sit around with a bunch of other dudes in towels on a hot stone table, enjoy the steam, and hash out the semester.  Then have a wizened but shockingly vigorous old Turkish man scrub, soap, and massage till just semi-consciousness.  (Replace “dudes” with “babes” for the female side.)  I’ve been a big hamam fan since my first in winter ’09, but going with Selcuk raised the bar.  He’s not only business partners with the hamam’s owner, but he also understands “service” in a way I never will: a very Turkish way.  Typically, the massage guys treat a European tourist somewhat like confused but valuable cattle that may offer tips.  Hey Kobe beef-to-be, come here, sit, turn, sit up, slap on the back, ok you’re done.  For Selcuk, the guys layed out two towels and pillows for us right on the stone table, pushing other customers away, brought water, knew him by name, how are you Mr. Selcuk?, etc.   Once finished and sitting in his little cubby room, Selcuk had the normally surly attendant delicately serve tea and manually dry him with at least four fresh towels.  Even the change in my own treatment, from wary recognition of a semi-regular customer to outright fawning in front of me, was startling.  Who am I?  In the American service industry, would a customer even want this sycophantic display, let alone be able to ask for it?  But Selcuk is “a big man,” and “this is Turkey.”  I mean, it’s hard to describe without oversimplifying through caricatures, but the whole scene and the attendant’s behavior was genuine.  The tradition of overt subservience to a person of stature is still very much respected here.

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Barrels, Boys, and Bad Bad Kesecis

by admin on Jun.29, 2009, under Sultanahmet hamams

Sultanahmet Hamamı (or Park Hamamı)

Divanyolu Cad. Doktor Emin Paşa Sok. No. 10

0212 513 7204

www.sultanahmethamami.com

I have always seen this hamam ever since I was in Turkey. It is advertised fairly widely on internet sites and guidebooks, also going by the name of Park Hamamı. It is also ‘considered’ a bath where gay activity takes place. Having all of this in mind, Kirk and I set off after a fabulous dinner to find a totally different bath – the Gedikpaşa bath near the Covered Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı). We were surprised to find it totally gutted and in the process of renovations. So Sultanahmet Hamamı was our second choice. It was rather late – maybe ten at night.

Let’s be clear – this is a tourist bath. Upon entry, we negotiated the price of kese and masaj down to 30 YTL each. We were led into one changing room for the two of us, which I found interesting, but not at all unusual. Men and women, however, shared both the changing rooms and lounge room. We walked into an oblong space where there was a door for men’s and one for women’s. A very unusual arrangement! In the men’s bath, it was rather dim and a bit run down. There was the main hot stone in an L shaped room with the stone in the corner. Between both wings of the L was another room. It was actually fairly crowded with, surprisingly, several Turkish young men. I waited while Kirk got his kese started.

Then the keseci beckoned me – he was a typically huge man with a gigantic belly and, of course, from Tokat. In fact, if these posts haven’t been mentioning this factoid – almost all kesecis come from Tokat. I quickly warned him that my left arm was not to be touched as it was hurt. Although I was clear, he didn’t really care. He treated me like a piece of meat, giving me a cursory soap and massage. Each time I flipped, he didn’t rearrange my peştemal, but it just lay there in disarray. As I was in that limp-bather mode, I couldn’t even fix it properly. So I was just on display in complete disarray, hanging out, several times during the massage. I felt so dirty! Like I had been sexually used and just left there. And the arm. Oh the arm. He paid no attention to the fact that it was hurt and several times let it just flop down, banging, on the hard marble. Let’s just say that it was, without hesitation, the worst kese experience ever. The website mentions that all of their kesecis are “trined and professional” people. I almost should have gotten his name to do anyone reading this the service of NOT asking for him. Nevermind the keseci, the bath gets my worst vote. Ever.

Now, there were some good points to the experience. First, in the corner there was a really cool looking 4 foot tall wooden barrel. I kept staring at it and wondering what it was for, secretly wishing I had one of my very own. Later I learned in the brochure that it is for an “aroma therapy soak” showing some guy in there with a drink in one hand and a silhouette of a moose behind him. Second, were the Turkish young men. They were each getting kese-ed and soaped around the navel stone and I just sat to the side and watched them with fascination. The reason is that as the keseci massaged and stretched their limbs, they were moaning and groaning quite audibly. This stimulated the keseci to massage and stretch them more, and so the experience continued. But what was really interesting was that in almost all of the young men, the keseci was only massaging them. He was not doing anything contortionist or painful. It was a pseudo-sexual moment between these two men, as Kirk pointed out. So I did not see anything overtly gay or cruisy at this bath – but wondered if young men come here to get ‘worked’ over in what appears to be a normal experience but is made into a charged sexual fantasy.

As I exited, my keseci gave me my towel rather unceremoniously – not draping it around my shoulders and placing one on my head as is custom. Of course since I couldn’t use my left arm I couldn’t do this myself. At this point, I asked, irritably, for a little help. He huffed. After changing, Kirk and I had tea in the lounge watching giggly toweled foreign girls next to us. The manager came to talk to us and asked how it was. I held my tongue, as nothing good would have come from my mouth. Kirk said, well the kese was a bit short and could have been far better and was rather gruff. The manager smiled awkwardly and nodded, “evet, olabilir” – yes, it is possible.

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Çemberlitaş Hamam: great for friends, especially if they pay.

by oldskool on Jun.12, 2009, under Sultanahmet hamams, Uncategorized

Çemberlitaş Hamam. Men’s and Women’s separate.

Address: Vezirhan Caddesi 8, Çemberlitaş (exit at Çemberlitaş tramvay stop)

Hours: morning to night, but strangely hard to find on the internet.  eh.

Prices: Bath 35TL, Massage-Kese 55TL, Massage-Kese-Oil-Hot Stones 95TL

Bevvies not included.  http://www.cemberlitashamami.com.tr/hamam_english.htm

Except for the price, Çemberlitaş has everything I want in a tourist hamam.  It’s old, built in 1584 by Mimar Sinan; restored, evidenced by the all-wood salon and clean, bright sıcaklık; and fully capable of handling a full range of hamam-goers, from Amish grandmother to seasoned veteran (yours truly, ahem).  That range of experiences makes up the meat of this post.  First, a bit about the hamam’s SOP:

(continue reading…)

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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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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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