November 11, 2010
Istanbul, Turkey

"You cannot go to Turkey and not experience a Turkish Bath" is the first thing every backpacker mentioned to me when was headed to Istanbul. Turkey wasn't even on my radar – I wasn't planning on coming here. I traveled to Greece to run the 2500th anniversary of the Athens Marathon when I learned that all I needed was an overnight train ride to get from Meteora to Istanbul. Well if it's that easy...

After watching the early twenty-somethings at the hostel pre-gaming with vodka shots via ass-tampons (seriously, this is a thing men and women are doing to get drunk. Why?! This is how far people will go to avoid consuming calories, apparently), I decided I'd rather indulge in more of a cultural experience. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars at an expensive five star hotel for a Turkish Bath, I found a highly recommended local and authentic business to relax and immerse myself into the Istanbul way of life. 

I walk down a quiet, dimly lit side street, the bustle of the main drag muffled as I enter a shady looking building which opens up into an ornately decorated wood and marble common space. There are private changing rooms circling two floors. I'm lead into one by a woman not much older than myself who speaks very little English. She points to a starch blanket that resembles a red-checkered picnic tablecloth. I look back at her as she motions to my clothes "all off" she points to the tablecloth "on" back to my clothes "all off" tablecloth "on." Ok. Strip. Got it. She gives me some privacy as I nervously undress, trying to keep an open mind.

I step out, the cloth barely covering my bits, and the woman leads me deep into the building, through a dark room and into a brightly lit circular clay space with a large dome ceiling, a handful of water basins lining the wall. She turns on one faucet then, without warning, yanks the cloth from my body. I stand there naked, eyes wide, as she places it on the lip running the length of the wall which is about as high as a curb - "Sit!" she commands. I squat, completely exposed, on the towel as she stands before me in a floor length sweater, sweatpants, and slippers. She fills up what looks like a deep frisbee with the running water and aggressively throws it in my face; I flinch as she snaps "Wash!" She does this a couple more times . "Wash!" I'm handed the frisbee as she turns, beelining out of the room. I squat there completely alone, dumping water over my head listening to the rushing water echoing all around me. I'm afraid she won't come back, though I'm more concerned other people are going to join me. Please don't let anyone else come in here. PLEASE don't let anyone else come in here. Just me and the frisbee for at least twenty minutes before she does turn.

Aaaaaand she's only wearing a thong now. I squat there, both our boobs are on display now as I become painfully aware that I have done zero research on what a Turkish Bath actually entails and I. am. fucking. terrified.

She rips the frisbee out of my hands and shuts off the water. "Come!" I stand. She steals my towel again and leads naked me into the dark room. I have no idea what is about to happen in the dark room. I'm frantically looking around for an exit strategy as she lays the towel on a massage table. "Lay!" 

It's a bit high off the ground so I need to awkwardly throw a knee up for leverage, like a toddler trying to climb stairs – I balance myself and lie face down. "Flip!" Dammit.

Warm water has been running during my struggles; she piles mounds of soap bubbles all over my body until I can only assume I resemble the Stay-Puff Marshmallow man. She's wearing exfoliating gloves and scrubs my body down as I crush my eyes and mouth shut, trying not to breathe in the suds. "Flip!" The process is repeated. Buckets of water are dumped on me. This is what it must feel like for an elephant to be bathed. "Done!" 

I'm finally allowed to wear a towel again as she points me to the exit to find my changing room. When I exit they hand me a cup of tea and some local sweets; I sit in a chair next to an old man watching a Turkish soap opera until I'm done with my snacks and they show me out.