Despite an initial unsavory experience in Istanbul, Turkey, it turned out to be an amazing trip.
One of my favorite experiences in Istanbul was going to the Turkish bath (aka hammam). It was not only one of the most invigorating and relaxing experiences I had ever had, I was also amazed at how familiar it all felt. There were so many similarities in a Turkish bath to the Korean bath. I loved that I could find so many commonalities in a culture that I had previously thought was so different from mine.
I started off in a large, warm room covered in from ceiling to floor in marble. I felt incredibly peaceful in the warmth of the marble while wrapped in a soft Turkish towel. After several minutes, I moved into the hot steam room where I gulped in large breaths of steam and my muscles further relaxed in the heat. I stayed until it became unbearably hot, and then returned to the large room. I then immediately splashed myself with cold water from the marble sinks. I repeated this process couple times until I was called for the full body wash.
A strong, motherly woman called me into a smaller room. She first took a washcloth and scrubbed my body. I loved seeing the dirt, oil, and dead skin cells fall away to reveal soft, newer layers of skin underneath. After being splashed clean with warm water, I was then covered from shoulder to toe in big soap bubbles as the final step.
I can say with full confidence that I had never felt as clean and relaxed as I did in that moment in my entire life.
I completed the whole bathing process with mint tea time and an oil massage.
The full body wash was the part that was the most familiar to me. Koreans have a custom of getting rid of dead skin cells by meticulously scrubbing the body with a rough washcloth. Korean bathhouses will also offer services, similar to a Turkish bathhouse, for someone to scrub your entire body.
In addition to feeling incredibly pampered and rested, I loved the experience because it reminded me that despite how large our world is and how many cultures fill that world, our similarities will always be greater than our differences.