Maybe it was the brochure images of reclining models wrapped in embroidered linen. Maybe I had failed to sufficiently research Turkish bathing traditions. Whatever the reason, I was taken unawares when the attendant ripped my towel off, exposing me to a group of strangers in an exquisite marble room. I learned this fast, plunging into communal nudity the way one dives into a cold pool of water. While the history of public bathing is rooted in ancient Rome, Turkish baths, or hammams, became popular under the Ottoman Empire and came to function as an important social and religious ritual within Turkish culture. I was sitting in the hammam built by Suleyman the Magnificent in
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And no, I was not about to be ravished by some devilishly handsome Turkish man I met over champagne on my first class flight over. I guess not all dreams come true. Not me though. As much as I love being naked alone in my own house, I am far from an exhibitionist. This is, of course, not my fault. The blame falls entirely on a mischievous gap-toothed boy named Sydney Tweet who pulled off my bathing suit top in the crowded daycare pool the summer before 4th grade, scarring me for life. But I digress. After 24 hours of travel and a few nonstop hours sightseeing around Istanbul , my body was begging me for solid hot food, a detox and a long nap. As the sun was setting over the high mosque spires dotted around the Sultanhamet quarter of the old city, I tucked into a 5 course dinner of roasted lamb, savory bread dips and soft, flavorful veggies at a nice little back alley restaurant.
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A trip to the Turkish bath is a delight and a chance to leave shame at the door. In smaller establishments, you might have male attendants doing your wash, but there will be women on hand if this makes you really uncomfortable. There are usually a few options to choose from at a Turkish bath house. Typically, the attendants at reception will speak English or will present to you a menu in English. In female-only hammams, almost everyone will be naked.
Before you can decide whether you hate or love going to a Turkish bath or hamam , you need to experience it at least once. First you need to decide whether you want to visit a historical hamam or a Turkish bath in a hotel. Next, upon entering the establishment, you have to select and pay for the service of your choice. Regardless of the service you choose, you are allowed to use the facilities for as long as you wish. I picked the traditional style service, was handed a carton box containing a new scrubber and led into the camekan — a splendid entrance hall with several stories of wooden cubicles. Yes and no. There is some strict hamam etiquette to be followed.