‘Oh Istanbul, lovely. What are you going to do while you’re there?’ they asked me. ‘The mosques?’
‘Yes’ I replied.
‘The Turkish Baths?’
‘Oh? Maybe…do tell me more.’
I had the picture painted for me – massages, saunas, aromatherapy, healing of body via warm water and relaxation. What us Westerners would refer to as a spa, if you will.
Oh yes, very posh, I thought to myself – nice and therapeutic, just what I need.
LET ME JUST CLEAR THINGS UP FOR YOU RIGHT HERE FROM THE GET GO:
Turkish Bath Houses ARE NOT Western-style spas.
If you’re interested in getting naked with a bunch of strangers and having your breasts fondled by friendly Turkish women, this is the place for you.
I chose the Gedikpasa Bath because the brochure threatened me with ‘…if you don’t come, afterwards you will hear its advantages from your friends and feel sorry.” And to be honest, I didn’t want to feel sorry.
Also, the brochure doubled with the map I was using to get around Eminonu, so I had a direct route to its location from every other tourist attraction in the area. Now that’s strategic.
Although the entire place smelled like tradesmen’s socks, the building was pretty cool bananas. It was built in 1475 by architect Gedik Ahmet Pasa, and the clusters of thick stinky mould on the ceilings and walls looked good enough to go in cheese.
The Turkish women who worked at this particular bath knew limited English. But my masseur’s two favourite words seemed to work.
I followed her into my small cell where I was directed to strip and put on some hideous rubber sandals. I broke the rules and left my g-string on because the language barrier stopped me from being able to ask what was actually about to happen to me.
It was time. I took one small step out of my cell but one big leap out of my comfort zone.
Wrapped in a small – a very small – shawl, I was led through some very smelly old rooms, and through some very tiny old doors, which very much needed some ‘watch your head’ signs.
The roof in the main area was high and grand, and the massive windows allowed lots of bright natural light so I was able to blind people with my pale bare tits.
The room felt not dissimilar to a large echoing pool shed filled with naked and half-naked women. Some of the women were engulfed in bubbles – a child’s dream, I did think. This was the Turkish Bath massage/bathing practice.
I was left to my own devices in the sauna. I fell asleep and woke up when someone joined me. I was sweating like a person who’d fallen asleep in a sauna.
Why the hell am I still in here? Where is that woman? I could have died!
Apparently they don’t come for you. It’s all very DIY. But being the ignorant, awkward foreigner I am, I wasn’t really sure how to do it myself. So I just went and sat awkwardly among a bunch of large naked women enjoying a wash and a yarn together.
I tried to mimic what they were doing to fit in – scooping water out of a trough and pouring it on myself – but I obviously wasn’t playing the part very well. One woman said something to me in Turkish, but all I could do was smile, nod and continue to sit there like a muppet who didn’t know how to wash herself. But she said it again, so I had to say that thing everyone hates saying when they are in someone else’s non-English speaking country – ‘English?’
Her moment of realisation came and she and her friends enjoyed a laugh at my expense. But whatever was so funny got the attention of my masseur.
Yay! It was my turn for a bubble bath!
I stood up with my arms out while she exfoliated me from top to bottom. Then I lay face down on the hard tiles while she covered me in bubbles and performed a strange and slippery massage from top to bottom.
And then she flipped me and the same thing happened on my front, top to bottom… let’s just say my boobs are no longer a sacred place.
She scrubbed and washed and massaged and rinsed. And I came out squeaky clean. And you know what? I really did quite enjoy it. It felt really nice to be bathed by another person; an experience I haven’t had since I was a child and obviously took for granted.
When you’re done with the washing, the protocol is to get in the pool and then the sauna. Or the sauna and then the pool. I can’t remember; I didn’t do it because it didn’t seem logical. Plus I had actually had quite enough by that time and was ready to retire to my cell and remove the tremendously unfashionable flip flops from my feet.
Gedikpasa Bath also offers fish therapy and other types of massage, and it has different sections for men and women. It totally sounds like I am writing a review and trying to promote the place for them, but I’m not. I actually don’t want them to find me because I forgot to give the key to my cell back before I left.
See my 15-second video summarising the experience on the main page.