Aug 23, 2017

Turkish Bath Adventures

When organizing my romantic getaway in Antalya, Turkey, I had only intended to be naked in front of one man, rather than four.  

Let me start at the beginning.
On the night of our arrival, Jake and I sprawled out on the king-sized bed in our hotel room. After 12 hours of travel from London, we were exhausted. The sounds of the sea and passing cars wafted through our 10th-floor window.  Jake rolled onto his side to face me and said, “I have something special planned for us.”

“What is it?”, I asked hesitantly.  Jake is a very active person and I was worried that he would say something terrible like ‘couples hot yoga’.
“You and I are getting the full treatment at a Turkish bath in town”, he said, “We both need a massage.”
“”  I was still reluctant.

In the four years that I lived in Turkey, I’d never managed to go to a hamam.  Whenever I’d admit this to friends they’d say, “Really?  We have to go!”  But I never found the motivation to organize a day of nudity with my buddies.

Despite this inexperience, a couple of years ago, I had to write a magazine article about the Turkish bath process called, “How to Hamam”.  I consulted my friend and coworker Dilek, who told me over Gchat exactly what goes down.  

“Do I have to be naked?”, I typed.
Leaning in close to my computer, I tried to shield the conversation from colleagues passing by.  
“No.  You can wear a swimsuit bottom.”
“That’s fine.”
I sat, perspiring slightly, watching the pulsating dots at the bottom of the chat box.
“...but whoever you go with will see your tits”.
Blood filled my cheeks as I dimmed my screen.

Back in our Antalya hotel room, I smiled warily at Jake.
“Let’s do it.”

turkish bath
(Photo: TripAdvisor)

Jake chose the Sefa Hamam as it was the top rated Turkish bath on TripAdvisor.  When we went the following afternoon, we were greeted by two mannequins clad in checkered towels outside the entrance. Large photographs of smiling co-ed whities positioned on either side confirmed my suspicions that this establishment catered exclusively to foreign tourists.

I took a breath before pushing the wooden door open.

The interior was dim and musky. The walls were covered with dark paneling that had seen the effects of many years of damp.  A wood burning stove near the front desk radiated heat, making my eyes water.  I had to squint to make out the receptionist.

“Hello”, I said in Turkish.
“Welcome!  How can I help you?”
I pointed to the laminated card of services on the desk. “Everything we want.”
“The full service?  Of course, madam.”
He asked if it was alright that the attendants were men.  Typically, genders are divided in a hamam, with male attendants (tellak) for the dudes and female attendants (natir) for the ladies.
“Problem there isn't”, I responded, “but” - I gestured wildly between Jake and myself - “we together?”
“Yes, of course.  You can go together.”

sefa hamam
It was actually much darker inside (Photo: TripAdvisor)

After paying, we were lead to a shared changing room with two large paned windows facing the entrance. I peered out of the glass.
“If someone walks by they can totally see us”, I whined.
I turned around to see that Jake was already completely naked.  It was no surprise as he frequently describes clothing as ‘torturous and restricting’.
“Nevermind”, I grumbled as I peeled off my sweaty t-shirt.

I’ve always been a bit weird about nudity. In middle school, when everyone let their recently acquired boobs flop about in the locker room, I would retreat to a bathroom stall to change out of my pointless Limited Too bra.

Back in Turkey, the hamam had provided us with waterproof sandals and special towels called peştemal. I handed the latter to Jake.

“We have to wear these”, I said thrusting the flimsy cloth to his chest.

Jake wore his low on his hips, while I wrapped mine tightly around my body.  I decided to keep my skivvies on.  Bikini bottoms would have been ideal, but I’m a one-piece woman.  

how to turkish bath
False enthusiasm on my part
After emerging from the changing room, a man dressed identically to Jake appeared. He was in his late sixties. His shiny bald head came up to my nose. The man smiled and his bushy mustache splayed across his face.  
“Come through here, dear guests.  Mind your heads”, he told us in Turkish.  
He disappeared though a low pointed doorway and we followed him into uncertainty.

We were led into a modest room and I felt a wave a humidity wash over my body.  In the center was a square marble platform, called a göbek taşı, just big enough to fit two people. The attendant motioned for us to lay down on it.
“Hot it is?”, I asked.
“Only a little bit.”
Jake and I awkwardly reclined and looked up expectantly.
The man smiled again and told us he’d be back soon, before shutting us in.

Due to my proclivity for sweating, I usually hate being overheated.  As a child, I would refuse to get into a hot car, insisting that I would faint.  My parents and brother would sit in the boiling vehicle with all the doors and windows open, impatiently waiting for me.

But this room in the hamam was not the Steele family’s ‘92 Dodge Caravan. The heat from the marble on my skin quickly shifted from painful to relaxing.  I closed my eyes and embraced the perspiration that gushed from my every pore.

About 10 minutes later, our scantily clad guide returned.  He beckoned for us to pass through an even smaller door into a second room that was considerably hotter than the first.  It was shaped like Tetris T with the three offshoots surrounding a larger stone slab. Marble basins, called kurna, lined the walls.

Small diamond shaped windows were cut in to the high domed ceilings and the cloudy day did its best to project the geometric shapes around the room.  The space was clearly meant to accommodate large groups of people, but Jake and I were its only occupants.

inside turkish bath
(Photo: TripAdvisor)

Again, we were told to recline on the göbek taşı, which was significantly warmer than the previous one.   

The friendly attendant spoke quickly, before disappearing through another door.
“What’d he say?”, Jake asked.
“He said we’ll go into the next room in fifteen to twenty minutes.”

We lay there in companionable silence. The trickles of sweat from my armpits and between my breasts had turned into ceaseless torrents.  But instead of feeling like I had been deposited into an inferno, I was shocked to find that I was actually enjoying myself.

Some time passed.

"Do you think it's been 20 minutes already?", Jake asked.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if the man had said that he would come to collect us or if we were meant to enter the third room at our leisure. I asked Jake to investigate.   He approached the mystery door and I propped myself up on my elbow to watch.

His 6’4” frame had to bend nearly 90 degrees before he could open the door, which groaned loudly in protest.  A few moments later, he shut it and snuck back to the marble slab.
“There are two people in there getting a massage”, he said, “a man and a woman.”
I suddenly felt tense.  “Oh, god.  Were they naked?”
“Yes.  Mostly. I only got a good look at the guy.”
“He just had a rag covering his butt crack.”
“Jesus H.”
We both lay back and stared up at the ceiling.  I turned to look at him and said, “Even though this totally isn’t authentic at all, I’m really glad we’re doing this together”.
“I am too.”  He grinned.  “So what happens next?”
I grabbed his hand and stared at the diamond windows.  My voice reverberated off the domes as I confessed, “I have no fucking clue.”

Finally, our friend emerged from the tiny doorway and beckoned to us. We entered a small dark room, measuring about 10 by 15 feet. Two people sized platforms rested along adjacent walls.

Our guide asked us to lay down on the separate blocks.  A second attendant entered, who looked similar to the first, but about twenty years younger and a few inches taller.  He, too, wore only a towel.

He smiled kindly and approached me, while his older counterpart attended to Jake.   The man began to pour buckets of piping hot water on top of my body.  I clamped my eyes shut and sputtered bits of liquid from my mouth.  After the initial shock wore off, it was surprisingly soothing.  

Next, it was time for the thorough scrub. The tellak seemed pretty wise to the fact that I wanted to keep my boobs covered. I think the clenched fists around my towel were a good sign. He rolled my towel up to my chest, so that, apart from my breasts and dorky panties, my entire body was exposed.

My frayed underpants and unruly bikini line were probably also strong indicators that I’m more of a lights-out-by-9 kind of woman. Glancing down, I decided that it was finally time to upgrade to a triple blade razor.

Just then, the attendant began pulling a rough glove, called a kese, firmly across every inch of my exposed body. The sandpapery mitt painlessly peeled away layers of skin. I had my peepers shut tightly the whole time, afraid of losing a lens or worse, making uncomfortable eye-contact with the attendant.

Mid-molting, I heard the sound of a fist hitting Jake’s back as his attendant let out a victorious yelp. I was about to check on my partner’s well-being, when another bucket of piping hot water was dumped on my face.  I decided that if Jake wasn't complaining, who was I to meddle?
turkish bath suds
Actual photo of me and my tellak (Photo:

When I could sense that the attendant had left my side, I looked and saw him walk over to a sink to fill a long mesh tube with dense, fluffy foam. As he turned back around I shut my eyes once more.  Suddenly, I felt myself being enveloped in warm decadent bubbles. It was effing heaven.

The man went to refill the tube with more suds and I snuck a peak at Jake.  He was turned on his stomach, completely nude, save for a redundant washcloth covering his crack.  I repositioned the soaked peştemal across my chest.

After being drenched a few more times with buckets of water, I was lead to the sink area where my attendant roughly washed my hair.  Finally, I was told to stand up while he wrapped dry peştemal around my body and head, careful to avoid looking at my body.

I turned to Jake and saw the he too was comically clad in red and white towels.  Our respective companions motioned for us to go through the door and out into the lobby.
turkish bath antalya
Looking blurry, but feeling good.

We drank apple tea and ate fresh fruit, while we waited for the oil massage.  The receptionist who was about our age struck up conversation in English.  We talked about the failing tourism industry in Turkey and the economic crisis, which led to the upcoming referendum.  Sensing he may have been an Evet, whereas I was a staunch Hayir, I moved the topic to the bath house.
“So, how old is the hamam?”
“About four-hundred years old."  
I took a moment to marvel at the centuries of booties that have sweat where my butt has sweat.
He continued, "We’re one of the only Turkish baths to still use fires.  Newer ones have modern heating systems.
“In the olden times, when women were completely covered, a man would have his mother ask his fiancee to the hamam.  That way, the mother could get a good look at her body and report back to the son.”
turkish bath ottoman times
The Olden Days (Photo: Wikipedia)

I was about to point out that women also have reasons for wanting to know what was under their intended’s peştemal before saying “evet”, when our towel-clad friends reappeared.  The two men beckoned for us to follow them into another room with two massage tables.

After laying face down, my attendant removed my towel so that it was nothing but Laurel and the damp black underwear on center stage.  I gripped the sides of the table in trepidation.

He began by rubbing my calves, working his way around my thighs. A wave of fat roiled just ahead of his oiled hands as he kneaded his way slowly up my legs.  I would normally be mortified by this unabashed highlight of an imperfection, but I felt only relaxation.

Next, he pulled my underwear into a rather uncomfortable wedgie making his intentions quite clear. Before I had a chance to feel embarrassed, he began massaging my bottom. And, like, he really went for it.  The cellulite on my ass undulated like a bowl of Jell-O and I didn’t care.  I was in paradise.  

After that, I was putty in his hands.  It doesn’t get much more intimate than someone taking two handfuls of your bare booty and rubbing them simultaneously.  I made a mental note to request regular butt rubs from Jake.

The man continued working his hands across my body. Apart from my breasts and what little skin my makeshift thong was covering, nothing was out of bounds.

He draped a clean towel across my body and told me to turn over. I was on my hands and knees when the receptionist walked past.  He glanced over, undoubtedly getting an eyeful of my breasts and belly which hung slack like a lactating cow.  Again, I didn’t care.

I lay on my back and brought my towel up once more to cover my chest. After generously applying more oil to his hands, the attendant worked the slippery liquid between my toes and fingers, on my face, through my hair, and perilously close to several orifices.  

Finally, after a deep scalp massage, it was over.  

Jake and I were lead back to our shared changing room.
“How do you feel?”, I asked as I pulled my jeans on over my oiled legs with some effort .
“Amazing.  You?”
I bulged my eyes out to create an expression I hope emulated pure bliss.
Jake laughed and I kissed him.  He tasted like bread dip.

We put on the rest of our clothes and left the changing room.  On the way out, Jake and I saw our attendants.  They had also changed into their street clothes and seemed wildly out of place in 21st century garb.

“Thank you so much.  Health to your hands”, we told them in Turkish.

With a final wave, Jake and I exited the hamam and walked into the night. The afternoon clouds had been replaced by a starry sky. I breathed in the salty air. At that moment, I felt both literally and figuratively more comfortable in my own skin.  I grinned. There’s a certain weightlessness that comes with not giving a shit.
Konyaaltı Plajı
Rocking my one-piece on Konyaaltı Plajı

Mar 30, 2016

Barcelona on a Budget

On my recent 12-day trip to Barcelona, I tried to keep my spending below €300. If it hadn’t been for the vending machine that ate my money and the generous presents I bought for my friends, I could have done it. (I went over by about €7.) Despite my financial constraints, I had an amazing time and didn’t skimp on any adventures. 

Here are my tips for doing Barcelona on a budget.

t10 card

1. T-10 Metro Ticket 
The Barcelona public transit system is phenomenal, but a single journey costs €2.15! Purchase a T-10 metro card which allows for ten journeys within Zone 1 for only €9.95. It can be used by multiple people and is valid on the metro, buses, trams, and funiculars. The card also allows free transfers between lines. (Psst! You can even use the T-10 card to take the number 46 bus from Plaça Espanya to the airport.)

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya free on Saturdays
2. Free Museums on Sundays
A lot of Barcelona’s best museums are free of charge every Sunday after 3pm.  Lines can be long, but in some cases you can get the ticket in advance.  I went to the Picasso Museum and got a free ticket at 1pm for the 3pm entrance that day.  Other free Sunday museums in Barcelona include:

  • Museu Marítim de Barcelona
  • MNAC: Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (Saturdays)
  • Museu Picasso
  • MUHBA Museu d'Història de Barcelona
  • Museu d'Història de Catalunya (First Sunday of the month)
  • Museu Frederic Marès
  • Museu de la Música
  • Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona
  • Jardí Botànic

Sagrada Familia
3. Free Barcelona Audio Guides 
The audio guide at Sagrada Familia costs €7, but you can download an MP3 of the izi.TRAVEL version for free. The website offers a number of other free Barcelona city guide tours in multiple languages. Visit the izi.TRAVEL website for the full list. 

Free Walking Tour through the Mercado de La Boqueria

4. Free Walking Tour
Of course, the free walking tours aren’t necessarily free as the guides do ask for tips.  But they’re almost always entertaining and thorough.  Plus, you can get insider tips from a local on where to eat, what to see, and (most importantly) what to avoid. Free walking tours are also a great way to get a lay of the land when you first arrive in a city.

5. Montjuïc Cemetery 
Unquestionably one of the strangest places I’ve ever been, this unique cemetery is free to the public. It was built in the late 19th century to accommodate the population growth caused by Barcelona’s rapid industrialization and it contains more than one million burials and cremation ashes. It’s conveniently located on Montjuïc along with a number of other attractions and is well worth the trek.  

6. Free Accommodation  
I was able to stay in an apartment close to Plaça d'Espanya completely free of charge, on the condition that I fed a loveable cat named Arnie every morning. I found the assignment on the Trusted Housesitters website. You can also find housesitting and petsitting opportunities on Mind My House and House Carers.

cool libraries

7. Dipòsit de les Aigües Library at Pompeu Fabra University 
You can visit a 19th century reservoir that has been converted into a university library. It's a little tricky to find, so ask one of the students on campus for directions. The library is also a great place for digital nomads in Barcelona to get some work done. Heads up, you might have to sweet talk the person at reception in order to get login information for the wifi.

Palau de la Música Catalana

8. Concert at Palau de la Música Catalana 
Touring the exquisite Palau de la Música Catalana costs a whopping €18. Yikes! However, a ticket in the nosebleed section for a weeknight concert starts as low as €10. Visit the official website to purchase tickets and see the full program.

9. Souvenirs 
If you want to bring a nice bottle of cava, traditional Spanish sweets, or vacuum sealed blood sausage, don’t waste your money at the airport duty free stores. You can find all of these things markedly cheaper at any supermarket chain.

barcelona meat

10. DIY Bocadillo 
Eating out for every meal in Barcelona gets expensive quickly and cheap restaurants are hard to come by. You can save a ton of money by purchasing food at local supermarkets and preparing it yourself. Bocadillos can cost as much as €5 on the street, but you can make your own for around €1.50. Local produce is also quite affordable and is a great snack between sightseeing.