The hamam encapsulates what I like about Turkey, I thought today when I was lying on the big stone in the centre of the hamam with my eyes closed, waiting to get my massage.
In Holland, I would go to the sauna now and then with a friend, and to be honest, that was nice mainly because of the company, not because of the whole sauna setting. Squeeky clean, bathrobes so white it hurts your eyes, shiny new furniture matching nicely with the tiles on the floor and the curtains, and irritating things like music everywhere and rattling groups of women disturbing the relaxation. The staff is so friendly that it feels unreal and gets on your nerves. And there are rules. Like: no drinks or food beyond this point, no entry to the relaxation room with only a towel around your body, no feet on the sofa, and eating something you have brought from home is strictly forbidden – just to mention a few.
Then let’s describe Turkish hamam. It’s clean, definitely clean, but for the rest, everything is different. The towels they provide to wrap around your body are washed but old and a bit frayed. There is no music, you only hear the sound of taps running and water dripping and splashing. And a bit of talk, but that sounds more like murmurings because people whisper and there are no groups of women having a noisy day out with the girls.
When you get your massage, the staff treat you firmly: if they need you to turn over from your back to your front, they don’t politely ask with a soft smile but just tap your shoulder silently. And if you want to eat an apple you brought from home, or even a whole meal, well sit down, go ahead and eat. The table in the entrance hall where women sit to have a break, a drink or a bite to eat, wobbles a bit, and the chairs are not new and shiny and colour-coordinated with the tiles on the wall, but comfortable – or not comfortable.
Turkey is less polished, a little rough. And that suits me perfectly.