16.02.2010 10 °C
Valentine’s Day. What better way to spend it than with a girlfriend in Istanbul? None better!
Lacking gentlemen accompaniment, my faithful companion (and now bosom buddy) Leilla and I decided to cement our bond and celebrate this day of love by going where our friendship had never gone before: the Turkish hamam.
Ladies, leave your inhibitions at the door!
Changing rooms are provided for the timid, but the doors are made of glass. Great! With my Turkish phrasebook inconveniently locked in a cubbyhole, our hamam attendant used complex sign language to deliver instructions, saying something along the lines of: go in cabin, remove all clothing, wrap yourself in towel, put these pink galoshes on, and follow me. Some very sophisticated gesticulation indeed.
Well, it was then or never! We bared all, grabbed our towels, stepped out of our glass chamber, and followed our attendant into a white marble and blue tiled steam heaven, with streams of light pouring in through glass domed ceilings. Observation number one: Beautiful! Once the haze cleared up in my contact lenses however, we made our second useful observation of the day: everyone was wearing underwear.
Clearly, we had missed one sign.
Flapping our arms, we immediately tried signing to our attendant that we needed to go back to the cabin to put on our underwear. Not an easy task. I’m fairly certain she thought we were too timid too remove our towels. So she removed it for us. Then she understood. A lift of the towel, a tsk of the tongue, and off we went to put on some coverage. Phew! Crisis averted.
Feeling 100% more confident with our knickers back on, we returned to the steam room and deftly removed our towels. Like true pros. Nudity? What? We hadn't even noticed.
We sat in the steam room for about 45 minutes, sweating out the toxins and rinsing ourselves with warm water from a marble basin with a small bowl. Sitting around letting it all hang out, any sense of propriety you might (still) have just flies out the window. At last, when our time came, our attendant (I will call her Olga from this point, even though that is not a Turkish name), Olga fetched us and had us lie on a great marble slab in the central area. The hamam is built around one central area with a great dome, and has small annexes leading from this area, all topped with smaller domes, where you sit next to your own basin and sweat and rinse.
So here is where things got really interesting. After being told to lie on my stomach, Olga swiftly yanked my underwear down and proceeded to scrub me like I have never been scrubbed before. Whatever suntan I had did not stand a chance to Olga’s rough sandpaper glove. The experience was quite like a pink rubber eraser on cheap loose leaf paper (...minus the cheap).
A grunt of satisfaction, a slap on the bum, and I was ready to turn over. Once my scrub was completed, I returned to my basin, rinsed, and returned to the marble slab for my soap and lather massage. I don’t think I have ever been washed so thoroughly by another woman, ever, apart from my mother. I felt like a newborn. And looked like one too, all pink and pruny, shiny as a brand-new penny.
Truly, the whole experience was very Roman. Or Roman-Turkish. Whichever. The only thing left to do would have been to swaddle myself in a white cloth robe and cheer on the games at the Coliseum. Live! Live! Live! (I would always have voted thumbs up, for the record). The only other missing factor was one Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. (Any Gladiator buffs here?... Dad).
To cap off the day, Leilla and I popped into a nearby cafe for fresh-pressed orange and pomegranate juice, a delicious vitamin boost after a good scrub and polish. Toxins out, healthy in! Yes!
Thinking to beat the Valentine’s Day crowd, we then headed for an earlybird dinner by the sea at Moda Teras, where we were refused a window seat (reserved for couples). Despite arguing (with heavy gesticulation) that we would be out before any couple got there (the place was empty and it was in fact, 4 o’clock), we settled for a table near the back with a somewhat distant seaview. Ahh to be young and in love. No matter, we were undeterred! Celebrating Leilla’s birthday together with the day of love, the day ended with some deelish deserts at a nearby patisserie and a romantic comedy (in English!) at the local cinema – which is tiny by the way. Despite being a heavily crowded city, the cinema in Kadikoy boasts theatres of about 15 rows containing 6 seats each. Cozy! And Romantik. The perfect way to finish off Valentine’s Day!
I LOVE LIFE!