As the forecast predicted our last day in Istanbul was plagued by that pesky wet stuff that occasionally falls from the sky, mostly at very inopportune times. Luckily we planned ahead and had two very fun indoor activities to keep us busy during this gloomy day. As per the suggestion of one of our Hostel owners we booked ourselves a session at one of Turkey's authentic Bath Houses (Hammam) for a regular treatment plus an oil massage. This was our last day in Istanbul so why not pamper ourselves a little! We booked late enough in the day to give us time to see the last big attraction that we wanted to explore; the archeological museum of Istanbul.
With the rich history of the Middle East, especially Turkey, you can only imagine how large this museum was. There were buildings after buildings, rooms after rooms, situated on floor after floor. Thank goodness we weren't expected at the Hammam until 5 or we would have never had time to see everything housed in the museum. We walked through room after room of incredible stone carvings, miraculous and intricate sarcophagi, and artifacts from all over the Middle East from Pre Islamic periods to the 19th and 20th centuries. There was even a piece of the Beit Hamikdash (Jewish Holy Temple) but we must have passed it without realizing it because we couldn't find it anywhere (and trust me we looked... everywhere). The pieces displayed were absolutely astounding.
After what seemed like hours of walking around observing God's gifts to archeology it was time to brave the rain and head back to our hostel to get ready for the baths. Since I didn't have an umbrella I decided to wrap my head and attempt to blend in with the local population. That is actually how I discovered that scarves are not the best means of hair protection from the rain...
As Susanna and I were walking through the torrential downpour to get to the bath house we were both nervous and excited and speculating as to what to expect. I have heard about the Turkish bath houses so I had a relative idea of what might take place, but until experiencing it there is no way to really know exactly what takes place inside. Susanna did not want to be naked in front of anybody but I had a feeling there was little way to avoid this... A feeling that was soon to be confirmed.
When we arrived we handed the manager our receipt showing we paid for a regular session plus an additional oil massage, at which point we were led into a private room where we were to undress, wrap ourselves in a towel, lock up our belongings, and then enter the bathing area. Not being a person who likes to be naked, even when I am alone in my room, I was a little apprehensive about undressing and being so exposed, but the towel gave me a rather false sense of security, at least for the moment. Susanna and I turned back to back so as to not make one another uncomfortable, undressed, wrapped ourselves up, and were then led into the bath area by a rather pushy Turkish woman. At first we were led through a maze of steam rooms until we reached a heated room with 4 stone basins filling up with water from faucets above them. When we entered the room I hardly had time to process what was going on when the Turkish woman ripped my towel off threw it on the ground and told me to sit and start pouring the water over my exposed body. Lucky for Susanna the Turkish lady got to me first so she had time to gather her wits and insist that her towel be left wrapped around her. I was already standing there naked in a room with Susanna and the woman so I figured I might as well just continue with the authentic experience... When in Rome, right?
I sat on my towel near my stone basin, which hid most of my body from Susanna's view, and did as was instructed; took the little bucket provided and proceeded to drench myself in the cool water which was a relief in the hot and steamy room. After a few minutes another lady was brought in, and just my luck she was seated right in front of me. I was mortified at this point, and felt so incredibly exposed, but I stuck it out and remained completely unclothed; I kept my eyes to the ground until she was led out of the room a few minutes after arriving. When it was just Susanna and me in the room again I could relax a bit. As I was pouring the cool water over myself the call to prayer rang out and filled the room with such a beautiful sound, and I was finally comfortable in my own skin. It is quite liberating when you can get past the fact that strangers are seeing you naked.
After about 20 minutes or so in the heated room a topless Turkish lady entered followed by an older Turkish lady in a bikini, and they led us to a room with two stone tables. I took the walk to the next room as an opportunity to wrap myself back up in my towel, but as soon as we were in our next destination it was again ripped from me and placed on the table where I was to lie down. At this point one of the massages began, and thought it was very relaxing, I was lying there completely naked with an old Turkish lady putting her hands all over my body and getting dangerously close to places I didn't want her hands to be... I don't really need to spell that one out any more explicitly. After a while I relaxed a bit and was able to enjoy. Then she asked me to turn over... At this point I told myself these ladies are probably so desensitized to the naked body that I should just relax and go with the flow; so that is what I did. At this point they covered my body with oil and warm bubbles and continued the massage. When the bubbles were rinsed away they did a full body scrub to get rid of any dead skin, and then they washed my hair! What treatment!
When the wash was over the topless younger lady took Susanna away and I was left with my masseur. Finally I was allowed to wrap myself back in a towel where I was led to a room with a large hot stone bed. I was instructed to lay on it and just relax until it was my turn for my oil massage. The room with the stone bed was a room that newcomers had to walk through to get to the first room where they would be instructed to wash. As I was laying there a group of 4, young, European women (probably around my age) were led into the room where they were then de-toweled. The sound of their grunts of discomfort were quite humorous since I recently experienced the same thing! After about 20 minutes of laying on the hot stone with my feet submerged in cool water, I was led to a parlor where my oil massage would begin. I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I was, once again, stripped of my towel and left completely exposed. By this point it was no big deal and I was just very excited to get another massage! After my 2nd full body oil massage I was given back my cover and led to the room where my clothes were. I was so relaxed and comfortable that I didn't want to put back on my rain soaked clothes, but since I really didn't think it would be wise to walk through the streets of Istanbul in a towel that barley covered me, I re dressed myself.
Susanna and I both had a blast experiencing the Turkish Hammams and I wouldn't hesitate to do it again, in fact, I really want to go to the Hammam in Ramalla when time allows. When all was said and done I was so relaxed, my skin smooth as silk, hair clean, and I felt completely rejuvenated. When we were all dressed we braved the rain, yet again, and headed back towards our hostel. On the way back I wanted to pick up a few souvenirs so we stopped in a cute little shop right next door to where we were staying. Upon entering the shop the two owners, who had been asking us to come in and visit since our first day there, were very happy to see us FINALLY. The younger owner told me that he had been watching me every time I passed by the shop because he was in love with my eyes. He then proceeded to tell me that I was so beautiful and he loved my green eyes, and then he asked me to leave the Untied States, move to Turkey, and marry him :-). As flattering as the offer was I respectfully declined. However, he did give me amazing deals on gifts. I picked out a magnet that had an Islamic saying written in Arabic and when he started to tell me what it said I stopped him and finished the recitation myself. He was astounded that I knew Arabic and he re offered his proposal of marriage.
I guess if I don't find my gorgeous French, Israeli, Jewish husband, I have an alternative in Turkey! KIDDING MOM!! After buying some great little gifts we headed back to ready ourselves for dinner, one last hookah session, and then some sleep before having to leave the hostel at 3 in the morning to get to the airport. It was one of the best trips I have ever been on and I had such an amazing time, but there was nothing like the excitement I had at returning to Israel. I couldn't wait to get home! When we landed at 9 in the morning we got through security with no problems since we both had Israeli passport papers, boarded the train, and at around 10am I was back home. I immediately went to sleep because I had class 5 hours later.
And with that I end my tales of Turkey! I hope you have all enjoyed hearing about my newest adventure, and you can bet that there will be many more to come :-)
Until we meet again ya chaverim <3,