A steamy Saturday night in Istanbul
Last Saturday evening, Muz and I were on a tram, returning to our hotel after hours of waking around Uskudar. We looked at the tram map and noticed that the line ran straight to Cemberlitas. What’s Cemberlitas? It’s one of the more famous hamams in Istanbul. Muz and I looked at each other. This night was about to get interesting.
We had talked about going to a hamam-why not this one? Scanning our guidebook, we read that Cemberlitas was one of the oldest and prettiest hamams (check) best enjoyed in the evening (check) after a long, tiring day (check). We hopped off the line and walked in.
The basic idea of a hamam is that you get steamy, someone scrubs enough dead skin off your body to make a Silence of the Lambs suit, and then washes you. Afterward, you can get a massage or just hang out on a hot marble pedestal. Sounds relaxing, right?
It probably IS relaxing. If you’re not there between 5 and 9pm. On a Saturday. When most people are going for the same exact experience.
I walked into the main chamber to find women packed, head to toe, on the pedestal. I couldn’t decide if it was reminiscent of a cattle call or a Cezanne painting. I chose Cezanne, and hopped into one of the two heated pools off the main chamber to get nice and hot. It was less crowded than the pedestal, but when I returned to the main chamber even more people had arrived. I got on the pedestal anyway and waited. Finally, it was my turn. My attendant was good, but clearly rushed. My favorite moment was when she exfoliated my arm and gave a magician-like “aha!” when a ton of skin peeled off. I was shocked. She was beaming.
Afterward, I got a relaxing foamy wash, a perfunctory shampoo and listless massage. It would’ve been nice to stay in the chamber afterward, but all the waiting between treatments meant that I was already 30 minutes late to meet Muz. Fortunately, Muz had a good massage and a less crowded environment.
It wasn’t the Sultan-like treatment I’d hoped for, but I have to admit my skin felt “like buttah” the next day. I’d return to a hamam, even Cemberlitas. But RHOB prefers a steamy Thursday afternoon over a steamy Saturday night. For a hamam, that is.