Yesterday, after a 7-hour bus ride from Beirut to Aleppo, I decided it was time to try the hammam (or Turkish bath) which I have heard so much about. Rod had recommended that I wait and try them in Turkey but since there is an hammam dating back to the XVth century in Aleppo I thought I might as well try them in various countries to see the difference.
Anyway, I really felt like it so I did it :).
After walking around the old town visiting the souq (market) area and the main mosque, I located the place and entered.
The cashier pointed out a set of small lockers and not knowing exactly what to do, I confessed to him that this was my first time. “It is OK” he said with a smirk, “Just put all your valuables in the drawer”.
Another man came by with a piece of tissue wrapped around his hips and said “Like this”. I understood I had to undress and wrap with that. After this was done, he gave me some kind of nest and a bar of soap. He pointed at a pair of wooden sleepers that I put on and took me to the Sauna room. It was just like any other sauna I have used before so I just sat there sweating.
It got very hot though, so I decided to get out for a bit and was wondering what I should do next. There was a set of other rooms with water basins close to the sauna, so I wondered if I should wash there or somewhere else. “In case of doubt, don’t do anything” goes a French saying, so I decided to try and re-enter the sauna which by that time was smoking very hard. Maybe I should not have added so much water on the floor!
After 10 more minutes of cooking, I was done and came out again. This time, since nobody seemed to come for me and the French saying did not do me any good, I started to wash at one of the basins but got stopped in my enterprise by another man wrapped with a cloth that told me to follow him to another room. It turned out he was the scrubber masseur and it was time for deep cleansing ;).
He sat on the floor close to a water basin, took the nest thingy and the soap from my hands and told me to sit close to him. He first started with the scrubbing. Right arm…”Man, this is strong!” I thought. Left arm, right leg, left leg… “Watch out for the family jewels!!!”.
At this point, he asked “You are French!?”. Hum, how did he find out? My accent or something else?! Well, I did not dare ask and just answered that he was correct ;).
He finished getting two layers of skin off my body and it was time for the cleansing massage. The nest thingy is used like a sponge and he went ahead and showed me how strong he was. That was some deep tissue massage. The moment he jerked my legs around and I felt a sharp pain at the right knee is when I started missing the sweet soft massage I got last time in the US. With that he was actually done and told me to go back to the sauna.
After 5 more minutes in the sauna, I was really well done and got out to cool off. I then went back to the entrance where a man wrapped me in towels from head to toe and enjoined me to seat in front of a glass of tea. I rested there for some time, dressed back in my clothes, got my valuables back, paid, and got out.
I actually felt quite good and maybe the cleanest I have been in months so I guess this hammam thing worked. To finish the evening off nicely, I had a nice Lebanese dinner in a very beautiful old Ottoman house transformed into a restaurant. The perfect cure after that 7-hour bus ride :).