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Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Mixed Turkish Baths and Hammam - Part 2

Mixed Turkish Baths and Hammam

In which I tell you about visiting a Turkish bath near Ephesus and my 1st time in a Hammam in Marrakech.

After such a good time at the Turkish baths in Istanbul (see my Blog: Roman Baths/Hamman/Hammams - Part 1), I was eager to repeat the experience the following time I was in Turkey. As it was, I had joined a group of 10-12 people and we were touring part of eastern Turkey before boarding a gullet for the Turquoise coast.
We were on the 3rd-4th day of our trip and we were hot. 40+ C every day and even though we were travelling in an air-con minibus, we were hot and sticky. Our guide was a lovely young girl and when we reached a small town near Ephesus, we asked to visit a Turkish bath. She asked around and as luck would have it there was a local place and that afternoon it was the mixed evening.

Mixed Turkish baths 

Usually Turkish baths (and Hammam too) have separate rooms for men and women. I think this particular one was catering for the tourists and had mixed sessions.
So there we were into this small provincial Turkish bath – seriously the main room was much, much smaller than the one for women only I had been in Istanbul - a bit disappointing for me, especially as there were lots more people congregated in it and it was a fairly modern building and no antique features.
Anyway, here we were lots of us British, Germans, Dutch… all congregated in the ‘hot room’ and we were like sardines on the central marble platform, trying to relax and sweat it out whilst making an effort not to bite the foot of the person in front of us, millimetres from your mouth and avoiding to get in contact with the people either side of us. And … the masseurs were men!!
Old – they seemed very old – wizened old men. I must say they were good in their art and I received a vigorous strong massage. They also asked permission to wash you under your bathing top… however, it wasn’t the best or more relaxing experience! I put it down to experience and ever since I have only taken women only Turkish baths and manage to relax plenty.

Going to the barber…to get a massage 

Before we step into another continent’s bath story (or should I say Hammam) let me tell you what happened the afternoon after our experience at the mixed Turkish baths … One of our party decided he wanted a wet shave as he had tried it once before whilst in Turkey and “there was nothing like it”. In our free time, three of us went looking for a barber. Now – I know I said this town was equipped for tourists; obviously the vicinity of Ephesus made it a good stopping point – however hardly anyone spoke English! So, there we were, trying to find a barber, not a Turkish dictionary between us, and lots of miming and finally, in a little back square, we find one!

The shop was rather old fashioned – it had one of those spinning red and white poles outside (not working) and inside had very old fashioned push up barber chairs [like the one you see in old American movies, where the bad boss is having a shave when someone attempts to murder him].
We entered the shop and – like in the saloons in western films – all conversation stopped. Our friend mimed a shave and sat in a chair he was pointed to and proceeded to enjoy his wet shave, which also included a rather nice massage of arms and shoulders, all the while us two waited sitting in the shop.

I love massages and, while waiting for our friend to have his shave and massage, I started hankering for a massage too. After our friend had finished and paid, I asked him if he thought it was ok for me to pay the same and only have the massage…seconds later we explained to the barber and his assistants what I wanted and, among baffled locals, I sat on the chair just vacated by our fellow traveller.

The chair was so high I could touch the floor when elevated and my feet dangled in the air. You have to imagine the stupor of the locals: a woman sitting in a barber’s chair…! And so, among general amusement, I got a shoulder massage by the barber’s assistant and then two young lads (barber’s sons?) each got hold of my arms and started massaging – rather vigorously and at times painfully – my arms. It was fantastic! It did not last more than 5-10 minutes max and it really un-knotted all the muscles in my shoulders… when finished I stepped down and paid. They did not want me to do so… therefore I gave the money to the young masseurs, who were delighted.
We stepped out of the barber shop and a few more curious faces were lingering around to see this extravagant European woman who had been sitting in the barber’s chair to get a massage! :-) What a laugh… even thinking about it now brought a smile to my face and brought me back to that summer evening. I must confess the following day I had bruises on my arms where the strong little fingers had so vigorously massaged my arms! Price you pay for being unconventional...

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