i knew before i left istanbul, i had to go to a hamam. i went to one my first time in turkey (8 or 9 years ago with turkish friends, sort of in the middle of nowhere near the mediterranean coast) and also in morocco (a spa-like one), but today wanted something authentic, clean, and affordable for this adventure.
on the hunt
definitely do the full bosphorus cruise; the three-hour stay in anadolu kavaği is plenty for the (strenuous but short) hike to the castle — a must-do for the view of the black sea — and lunch
i must have researched for over half an hour (and used half my phone battery) before and during the return ferry ride from the tip of the bosphorus. there are two main touristy hamams, cağaloğlu and çemberlitaş, but i knew i didn’t want those, despite the (supposedly) amazing buildings. there’s also a new luxury hamam that looks nice but was a) way out of my price range, and b) not authentic. i finally found kadirga hamam on tripadvisor which looked like it filled all of my requirements. there was one review that looked sketch, but the price and ambiance (according to the pictures) were correct, so i was willing to give it a shot.
it’s a bit hard to find; the map on tripadvisor and google maps (if you search by name) were a street off (trust me, i was wandering around). here’s a map with the arrow at the (approximate) correct location. i walked from the çemberlitaş tram stop, downhill and easy.
you can’t miss the outside:
there are two price options: the works for TL50 and just plain access to the baths for TL30. i got the full package, which included a scrub-down and a massage. there are plenty of other sites out there that tell you how a hamam works, but i only breezed through them so pretty much was at the mercy of the employees’ very limited english. it definitely all worked out, though, since i got the impression that their clientele is pretty much tourists (i’ve read that most turks don’t go to hamams anymore — where are the hipsters to revitalize that tradition?!).
a quickie on how it all went down:
- i got shown to my own room with some cushy divans where i left my stuff and changed into basically a large dishcloth and rubber sandals. there are large windows so if you’re shy, change quickly! the key to the room is attached to a bracelet you wear.
- i was just sitting there twiddling my thumbs so i went out and caught the eye of my attendant, who locked the door, gave me the key bracelet, and showed me to the main hamam room. hot and humid. you can lie down on the raised slab in the middle of the room and/or go to the sauna (where it’s super hot and humid).
- the attendant came and got me after a bit and showed me to a bathing cubicle(? — my term) where i sat on a step and he scrubbed me down with a scrubby mitt and washed my hair. the water was nice and warm.
- he handed me off to a coworker who made me lie down (on a slab, not very comfy, but when in
romeistanbul) and massaged me, except using what i think is soap (it was very sudsy and smelled like soap) instead of massage oil. it was only briefly painful, not any sort of that crazy manipulation shit you hear of (and what i remember i got at my first hamam). he will hike up your dischcloth to the level of hot pants and he did brush against my nut sack while washing my legs, so fair warning to those who are a bit prudish.
- i got handed back off to the first guy who wanted to rinse me off with cold water, but i said “YES!” when he asked “cold?” after splashing a test half-bowlful of water on me (he was very good about that, doing small test scrubs and test splashes) and he switched to super-hot water. O_o. not winning LOL. i was left alone to wash my nether-region and when he came back, he switched to cold water to rinse me off, holding my head tightly (i’m assuming) so i wouldn’t accidentally thrash backwards, cracking my skull open on the marble wall behind me. i made yelpy dog sounds every time he poured cold water on me. he found it amusing.
- i was left alone here, and every now and then someone would pass and motion that i should continue splashing bowlfuls of water on myself. i tried hot, cold, all temperatures in between, not really knowing what to do.
- eventually someone came back and told me to go to the main hot room again where you basically hang out until you decide it’s time to go. i alternated between the sauna and dousing myself with cold water (this time it felt good!) from one of the many sinks lining the walls. i kept this up for maybe 15 minutes and left, although now i wish i would have lied down on the raised slab, but there were three other people in there (all tourists, based on their inability to speak turkish) and i felt a little self-conscious.
- when you’re all done, go back to the lobby where you get a fresh white dishcloth to change into (go back though the door to the warmer room to change, then come back out, kinda backwards, but that’s how it is, i guess). i just left my red dishcloth hanging on some hooks where i saw another one hanging.
- they will seat you at a table and wrap you up in some towels and serve you tea and a bottle of water.
- when you’ve air-dried enough and have finished your drinks, go back to your changing room, change, and voila. you’ve been hamam’d!
all in all a great way to spend over 90 minutes. hooray for kadirga hamam, which definitely fit the bill! my understanding is this is pretty much a standard hamam, nothing fancy, but not crappy, either, so just keep your expectations in check, don’t be chicken, and have fun!