There weren’t many “must dos” for either Pat or myself in Turkey.  Mostly the plan was to simply travel around, eat good food, absorb a bit of the culture, and if we found a little sunshine along the way, so much the better.  One thing that I knew I had to do before leaving Turkey, though, was go to a hamam or Turkish bath.  Back home in Corvallis, we had a hot tub that we used four or five times a week and both Pat and I have missed being able to sit in the warm water under the stars.  Oregon is also home to several natural hot springs scattered throughout the Cascade Mountains which we frequented several times a year.

During our wanderings around Istanbul, we found one of the more famous hamams:  Cağaloğlu.  It is over 300 years old and the all-marble bathing rooms are quite beautiful.  It is also outrageously priced compared to other hamams, although still less than a 60-minute massage back home.  Despite the over-blown tourist price we decided to go for it.  If it is good enough for Omar Sharif, I suppose it is good enough for us.  (There was a newspaper clipping displayed in the foyer showing that he had been there a few years ago.)

Upon entering this large public bathhouse we were both given a pestamal (wrap) to wear, but I quickly realized that it was mostly for the trip from the changing room to the steam room area.  Sorry guys, this hamam is not co-ed; there are separate bathing rooms for men and women.  When the hamams are co-ed I believe pestamals are kept on at all times, and Pat informed me that in the men’s section at the Cağaloğlu Hamam the men stayed wrapped the whole time.

The steam room is ringed with marble basins filled with water.  I saw several women using the small bowls sitting on the basins to pour water over themselves and I followed suit.  I relaxed next to the basins for several minutes until an attendant arrived to bathe me.  I haven’t been washed by another person since I was a child, so I wasn’t sure how I would feel about being washed by a stranger.  Honestly, it didn’t feel much different from getting a massage – except that I was buck naked and my towel was 20 feet away.  It was quite relaxing, and after having several layers of skin scrubbed away with a loofah I felt cleaner than I had in a very long time.

One word of warning though, you really shouldn’t go to a hamam more than one time a week as I learned the hard way.  I have a few raw patches on my arms from a second vigorous loofah experience that happened too soon after the first one.  Ouch!

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