After 24 hours of travel getting from Miami to Istanbul, I wanted to do what I always do in a foreign country where my dollar goes further than the local currency, indulge. Usually that’s grubbing at nicer places than I can normally afford, drinking top-shelf liquor, and of course…a massage.
I have been to a bath house before (went to one in Budapest), and I felt more like I was at a pool club rather than a hammam (Turkish Bath house), but that’s not what I walked into in Istanbul.
There are no beautiful Asian masseuses at Turkish Bath Houses.
The hostel I was staying at gave me a brochure for a couple Turkish Bath houses, but suggested I try the Gedikpasa Bath House because it was so historical, and that they would pick me up and drop me back off. After glancing at the cover images and seeing beautiful women in bikinis giving massages, I was sold. 10 minutes later I was chugging down the old cobblestone streets of Istanbul in a van with some other tourists all headed for the same destination.
When we arrived, I was escorted to a changing room where I was instructed to get butt naked and wrap myself in a sarong. I obliged and was then shown to the first room in the Turkish Bath House experience. It was a large domed atrium with a few old Turkish men sitting along the walls dousing themselves with warm water that is fed from hot springs below the building. I tried not to look at them. The “host” then told me to head to the sauna and relax for a bit, then come out and do like the old men, wash myself.
I entered the sauna and my breath was sucked out of me. That shit had to be 150 degrees. I sat down and tried to relax as my pores burst open and I began sweating more than an 8th grade boy’s arm pits.
I lasted about 3 minutes and then decided I best get out of there before I passed out. I entered the room where I originally saw the old men washing themselves, but they were no longer against the walls. They were now face down on a huge marble slab in the middle of the room being vigorously rubbed down with soapy water by hairy shirtless Turkish men…NOOOO!!!!!
It was my turn…
After seriously questioning what the hell I was doing, I was summoned for my “massage” Trembling, I slowly crept towards the marble slab. The masseuse told me to lay down on my stomach, and before I could even get comfortable, the onslaught began.
He threw a scolding bucket of sudsy water over my body and began ruthlessly kneading my shoulders and working his way down my back and all the way to my feet. I was wincing in pain as he squeezed my skin with the force of a crab’s claw.
The next part of my “massage” involved body contortions…My ankle was grabbed as well as my hand and the two were brought as close to touching as my beaten body would permit. I yelped in pain. He then did the same thing to my other side and I felt my spine crack as my back was twisted even further. after about 15 minutes of evily manipulating me, he actually slapped my ass (over the towel thank god) and then brought me over to the side of the room where he threw more buckets of water on me. I was crumbled.
He then sent me into the cooling bath which was basically just a cave with a bunch of dudes swimming around in it like toddlers. weird. I jumped in to wash off the violation I had just endured and then climbed out as quickly as possible.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any gayer, I was hand-dryed by two men with towels and then handed a glass of tea by a smirking teenager. He obviously knew what I had just experienced, and as a westerner, was not used to it, or will ever be. And to think, I got all that personal service for a mere “$25″. I’m just happy no happy-ending was offered because I think I would have just put my head through the wall and ended it then and there.
While the Turkish Bath House was an experience, I don’t know if I’ll ever go back, actually, I know I won’t. But, I guess it’s just part of embracing the culture! I guess…