Friday was the day. And although it involved a slab of hot stone, some slapping and a lot of scrubbing and bubbles, it had nothing to do with 50 shades of anything.
I enjoyed my first Turkish hamam, in the heart of Nicosia, very much and in case any of you are tempted to try it… here’s a low down on the experience.
The hamam is much earthier than a UK spa day. Think ancient stone, lots of oriental rugs and hangings, wooden cubicles with floaty curtains – there is nothing clinical about it at all – although being given towels and flannel slippers was a reassuring start. My ‘experienced’ friend advised me to strip off to my bikini bottoms and put the tea towel/small table cloth around my top half. Leaving our belongings locked away we wandered past an inviting looking area, with curtained wood-lined booths, Turkish carpets, cushions and little tables with Turkish tea pots on, where a couple of ladies were relaxing. Putting new meaning into the verb – ‘to lounge.’
Down a marble flagged passageway we went into another changing area and shower room and then into the heart of the hamam. This was a steamy room, entirely lined with grey and white marble stone where a massive hexagon (I think) shaped marble platform formed the centrepiece. Up above was a huge white domed ceiling with light coming in from a spattering of star shaped windows in tinted glass of yellow, green, blue, turquoise and white. There were about 5 doorless rooms and alcoves leading off from the slab where I noticed a copper cauldron was also standing ominously. Each of the alcoves had a pair of brass taps with a large brass bowl under them and an ancient jug standing by. There wasn’t a shower in sight…or a mirror thank goodness!
We lounged around on the large warm slab for a while and a man in a tea towel, wisely made an exit. Some little time later, just when we wondered if they had forgotten us, a fairly large woman in another tablecloth came in all smiles, remembering my friend from previous visits. She pulled off her tea towel, and was now dressed just in large black lacy pants and a bra. It’s Ok we’re all girls here!
I was to go first apparently and she told me to lay on the edge of the slab face down.. seconds later the little table cloth had been whisked away and I was left in just my pants. Tea-towel man please don’t return…
Although I couldn’t see what was happening (I discovered later by watching my friend’s session), I could feel the sensation of jarfuls of hot water being poured on to me. I was then scrubbed quite hard all over with a rough flannel, which was interesting. It felt a bit like my skin was being sandpapered off and when I sat up for my arms to be scrubbed, I could see all the dead skin that had indeed been literally scraped away. It was all soon washed off with plenty of jugs of very hot water. But apart form the vigorous scrubbing, there was also some slapping. Part way through my bottom was slapped quite hard, not just for fun, but simply as a ‘Turkish sign’ for me to turn over. Ok so that’s a new one – please don’t anyone else use that as an excuse for smacking someone’s bottom.
The last part of the session was by far the best. The huge cauldron at the other end of the slab revealed its purpose. It contained what looked like cotton pillowcases that were cooking inside it, in a soapy hot mixture. These were then taken out and shaken so that they filled with air and somehow out of these cotton balloons a mountain of bubbles was squeezed and draped across my body. I felt like I had dived into a tropical cloud and it was ten times nicer than any bubble bath I’ve ever had. This went on for a few minutes, delivering a delicious soft sensation on my newly scraped skin, until I was head to toe in bubbles. Then the massage started – head to toe again. It was quite different having a partially clothed lady with plenty of padding moving me about to massage different areas of my body and lean her weight into my back with her arms. I don’t remember being that intimate with a total stranger before. She was all smiles and very friendly – saying a few words in her limited English (which is 100 times better than my Turkish).
After it was all over, I felt like a new woman! My skin was tingling and my muscles relaxed and even the soles of my feet felt soft. After a shower, there was an opportunity for lounging on the floor with the Turkish cushions – like all Turkish ‘ladies who lunch’ would do.
It’s a shame the hamam isn’t a little nearer because it’s the sort of treatment that would work well every Friday afternoon to set me up for the weekend… Please let Thorney Island have one of these by September!