On our last day in Istanbul we had a couple of hours to spare before we had to get to the airport. So we thought it was a good idea to finish off our stay in Istanbul in style with a visit to the hammam. There are many hammams in Istanbul, some of them in beautiful old buildings, some of them very touristy. We chose the local Azziye Hammami in Kadikoy, just a couple of streets away from our hostel. It was an interesting experience.
First of all, they have a website that’s in perfect English but there’s nobody who actually speaks a word of English. Ok, just “hello”. At least that’s how I was welcomed. Men and women go separately so they have different entrances. The man who welcomes you hands over a cloth and a pair of plastic slippers and assigns you a private small wooden dressing room.
After you have undressed and wrapped the cloth around the waist you can enter the bathing area which consists of two rooms. The first room is where the massage and scrubbing takes place. Before it’s your turn you walk through the door to the second room.
The second room has a big marble plateau in the middle where you can sit on. All around there are marble kurna’s (basins) to wash yourself. It’s hot and humid inside. I’m all alone in this area so no examples. I have no idea what to do next. I guess washing myself. But do I have to take off the cloth first? I don’t take any risk so I keep it on while I start throwing some buckets of water over my head. Then I discover another door. It’s the sauna.
The sauna looks familiar to the one at home so no surprise here. Wooden benches all around and even an hour-glass to keep track of the time spent inside. The only problem is that I’m already totally wet when I get inside so that doesn’t improve the sauna experience. I sit here for a while. When I get out it would be nice to have a cold shower or something but I can’t find one here. So I go back to the first room.
Now there’s a man who was probably already waiting for me because I’m immediately directed to one of the basins and put down on the marble seat next to it. When I sit he starts to scrub me with a scrubbing glove. It’s a kind of rough approach but it feels ok. I see several layers of skin disappear. He doesn’t speak any English so all communication goes in a sort of prehistoric way. It matches the treatment.
After the scrubbing I’m directed to lie on a plateau (marble of course) about 50 cm high. The man starts soaping me head to toe with a big sponge. It’s like being in a car wash. Then he starts the massage. Now if you’re expecting some sort of smooth Thai massage…
I had to yell a couple of time as he’s cracking my bones, pulling my arms and bending my legs into positions that they never have been before. At a certain point I even thought he is gonna break one of my toes. The massage lasts for about 10 minutes and trust me… you don’t want it to last any longer.
Now the last episode of the treatment. Back on the stone seat I’m being soaped head to toe again. I’m covered in so much soap that I can’t hardly breath without getting my mouth full of foam. It’s in my nose, eyes, everywhere. To finish it off he cracks my neck. Twice. Then some buckets of hot water to clean and after that I’m guided to the cold shower (ah, there it is!). I’m sort of relieved when he makes clear that it’s finished.
After the massage you can spend some more time in the sauna and or bathing area. There’s no time limit anyways (well, until they close of course). When you’re all done you go back to the area where the changing rooms are. The same man who welcomed you will give some towels as well as a dry cloth to put on. Then he dries you off professionally and wraps the towels around the body. You can have a nap in the private changing room if you wish (there’s a bed). After you’re done you put your cloths back on, pay and leave.
Now I know it sounds maybe like a really awful experience but actually it wasn’t. Ok, when he cracked my toes it was a bit painful. The rest of the massage was rough but it felt good in the end. Besides that, it seemed he knew what he was doing so I had put confidence in it. It was an authentic experience in a hammam that’s still mostly used by the locals and I would definitely do it again. I felt very relaxed and clean when I came out and I think that’s what it’s all about.
But it’s certainly not for the faint of heart.