full steam ahead in turkey

shopping in turkey“No pain no gain” they say, but is it really worth the sweat and tears to steam yourself in a sauna, sizzle in a solarium or dirt-up for a mud bath? All Denise Ellson really wanted was a hot bath, but she got more than she bargained for in Turkey

“Going to Turkey and not having a Turkish Bath is like going to Sydney and not seeing the Opera House. Or so I was told, as I steadfastly refused to even contemplate the idea of being bathed by someone else. I had never felt comfortable having a massage – in fact I had never had one, and having some complete stranger give me a scrub did not sound like something I simply had to have.

Those around me were persistent however – it was ladies day at the baths and they insisted… I wouldn’t have to be naked, I would be amazed at the tone of my skin once bathed, everybody does it… and so on and so on.

So there I was, against my better judgement, stripped down to my swimming costume in Selcuk, Turkey. I stood in the little cubicle not quite knowing what to do next. A stern-faced Turkish woman pulled open the curtain and handed me a little towel and some funny looking scuffs. The towel was hardly big enough to cover my face, let alone any other parts, but the scuffs fitted fine. I slid my way across to the woman who seemed to be directing things. She waved me into the bathing area and I glided through the door into the hugest sauna I have ever seen – it was full steam ahead – literally!

I like hot places, and this was steaming. The room was decorated with shower stalls, plenty of bodies and laced with steam, steam, and more steam. The centre of the room was obviously the most holy place – a large marble table arose from the floor and I could see women, in all states of undress, lounging across it, being gently bathed. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad after all!

I found a little shower room with no-one in it and proceeded to wash my hair, just sitting there with the hot water running all over me. I thought I was in heaven. All I desired was a hot shower – and it felt so good. I was so relaxed by the time I was called to the marble table that I wandered over as if I had done this all my life. I slowly lay down on the table, arranging my body one limb at a time, and felt the warmth soaking right through me. Then I met my bather.

She was dressed in a long skirt and a white bra. She motioned for me to lie down on my front, and before I knew it, off came my top. Before I could mouth my distress at this, I was being scrubbed with a loafer up and down and all over! It wasn’t the gentlest of massages, but I wasn’t about to protest as she had my bikini top hostage – I could see it draped over her upper arm. By the time I had ascertained that I wasn’t about to get it back, she had started on my legs. I thought I might be able to relax a little, and I did, until she gave me the biggest wedgie I have ever had. I had been under the impression that the bits covered by my bikini bottoms were to remain that way, but buxom Bessie had other ideas!

I was then rolled over and the process was repeated on my front. It may have been OK if I didn’t have the constant compulsion to fix the bottoms of my swimmers, which were not feeling very well aligned to the bits that they were meant to be aligning. Not that I could have done anything about them anyway – buxom Bessie had my arms, and was shaking them about like they were trees being uprooted in a cyclone. Then she started on my head, and just when I thought it was about to come off, she pushed me off the marble table into one of the shower cubicles.

I watched the skin drain off my body and onto the floor before disappearing to the place under the cubicle wall where all skin that was once alive and has now died goes, and thought with relief that my bath experience had finally ended. My bather thought differently – she arrived back at my side, and before I could say “Wedgie Queen”, she had me up on the table and covered in a thick lather of soap. She then methodically polished me up and down, front and back, and then told me to sit up. I did this without questioning and she proceeded to wash my face followed by my neck.

This would have been well and good had I been able to breath through the process, however to wash my neck, buxom Bess had thrust my face into her rather ample chest and instead of enjoying the massage I found myself just concentrating on staying alive. For what felt like forever, she continued to shake, hack and knead me until I was done. I knew it had finally finished when my little scuffs were put back on my feet, my bikini top was placed into my hands, and I was pushed out the door in the direction of the change rooms.

Somewhat vaguely I wandered into my cubicle and just sat there, deciding then and there that going to Sydney and not seeing the Opera House wouldn’t be such a loss after all!”

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* photo by Sally Johnson – Intrepid Photography Competition

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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Well written! Your experience is almost exactly like mine, just subtract the other people, and the option of clclothing. Definately one of the most “cultural” experiences of my life!!!

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