Photos and post by Karen Sze
Ever since my first experience of a full body Thai massage in Phuket, Thailand when I was 20 years young – I was hooked for life. This started my mainstay of self-care without me realizing it on a conscious level. Massages, reflexology, acupuncture, cupping, body scrubs, hot stone massages, deep tissue massages – the list goes on and on. After some of the treatments I would come out bruised or sore but it was all worth it because for me this was the good pain that many athletes talk about after a good workout.
So when I was planning my trip to Istanbul, Turkey, one of the first things on my bucket list was visit a real Turkish bath. I was so excited about it I woke up extra early and walked there from my hotel after a quick breakfast. I got there just as the historical Çemberlitas Hamami opened for the day – no one else was there yet. I mean literally no one! Only a man at the front desk who spoke some broken English. He kindly handed me a Turkish cotton towel called a peştamal, which is a traditional cotton body wrap and the key to a locker. Typically I would have been asked which services I wanted that day, so I made my request for a massage after the other staff arrived at work.
As I arrived early, I had the freedom and privilege to enjoy the whole space to myself for a bit and was able to capture some hot & humid photos of the place. (Please excuse the poor picture quality.)
I was amazed at the space. The Çemberlitas Hamami has been in operation since 1584. Many of its original designs by the famous Mimar Sinan has been maintained or restored. I adored its clean lines, simple decoration and tranquility. The gigantic marble pedestal in the hot room felt like slabs of butter; warm and soothing to the touch. There are bathing basins called kurna and smaller alcoves called halvet, suitable for private bathing.
I could just picture how centuries of women have gathered here after a long day to chit-chat and catch up on the latest gossip or simply to just relax after a long day.
Most bathers were comfortable being “au naturel”. There were also some women that were a bit more body conscious who bathed while sporting a swimsuit. Nevertheless, I think we all shared a wonderful and relaxing experience.
Personally I lounged around for 3 hours that splendid morning which included a rejuvenating massage with aromatherapy oil and the famous scrub down by a very strong female attendant – I’m glad she was well rested and ate a full breakfast before attending to my sore muscles. I don’t know how many layers of skin she exfoliated off my body that day but I was red like a cooked lobster afterward and can feel my blood flowing right to the surface of my skin.
Afterwards, I rehydrated my body while lounging on their roof top café.
One interesting thing I learned that morning was that, the simplest way to make fluffy bubbles is to rub a damp pillow case with a bar of soap. Catch some air with the soaped pillow case, hold onto the open end and slowly squeeze the air out. The smallest bubbles are created through the pillow case – go on, give it a try!
Since my visit at the Çemberlitas Hamami, I’ve enjoyed relaxing in the famed Gellért Thermal Baths and the Szechenyi Thermal Baths while exploring Budapest. I must say each locale provide a unique experience and I would love another opportunity to be pampered by their attendants.
Lesson of the Day: Knowing how to love yourself, take care of yourself makes everything better in the Universe.