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She Spa-a-a's In Turkey

You're right--usually "Her Spa Stop" features luxury destinations where life's daily stresses will be soothed away by gentle massage, low-fat, tasty food, and awe-inspiring surroundings. Not this time. Hold onto your seats. Prepare to be transported, by Ottawa writer Laura Byrne Paquet, to a decidedly different (and really fun) spa experience. Laura, a member of the Journeywoman network, writes...

Our guide couldn't believe I wanted to go to a public hamam-a Turkish bath. In a hopeful voice she reminded me there was a nice hamam in our hotel.

I had seen the Turkish bath in the Falez Hotel, a glitzy establishment overlooking the Mediterranean in the Turkish resort of Antalya. Indeed, it did look nice. In fact, it looked like a Western spa. Antoinette, a fellow writer, and I agreed that we hadn't come all the way to Turkey for an experience we could have had back home. I assured our guide that we'd rather go to a real Turkish bath.

Not what she expects...

Eventually, she sent us to the Nazir, a hamam tucked behind the Tekeli Mehmet Pasa mosque in Kaleiçi, the old quarter of the city. Like most Turkish baths, this one reserved certain times of day for women. We arrived in the mid-afternoon.

An interior-lit plastic sign advertising RC Cola dangled over the Nazir. Below it, a threadbare cotton curtain hung in the narrow doorway. Pulling that aside, we stood at the top of a set of stairs opening onto a dim, round room that had the dank smell of a YWCA, minus the chlorine.

A black thong & flip-flops...

A slim teenaged blonde wearing a white bra and bikini bottom stood at a small counter near the entrance. On the main floor of the hamam we spied a beefy woman with cropped red hair who looked as though she would be more than a match for a Hell's Angels gang. She wore only black thong underwear, a gold chain, and flip-flops, and she looked up at us expectantly.

Haltingly, with many interjections of the few Turkish words we knew and a lot of hand signals, we indicated that we wanted a shampoo, bath, and massage. The price for the package was three million Turkish lira, about $7.50 Canadian. "What a deal!" we assured each other as we made our way to the tiny wooden changing stall the young woman had pointed out.

She strips down to her glasses...

Not knowing exactly how to proceed, we stripped down to our panties and wrapped ourselves in small cotton towels that looked more appropriate to drying dishes than covering bodies. Not thinking clearly, I kept my glasses and Antoinette left her watch on.

We entered the steamy main bath, an octagonal room lit by cutouts in the stone roof. Water gurgled continually from numerous taps, and sluiced away through open channels in the floor. The only other bathers, an elderly woman and a toddler, were naked; we immediately realized we were overdressed. I returned to the stall with our remaining personal possessions, while Antoinette submitted to the ministrations of the Biker Masseuse.

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