Turkish hamam

I lay down, as instructed, on the hot flat marble floor in a steamy atrium. As I gazed up at the light streaming through the holes in the high domed ceiling, waiting for my pores to open, I found myself wondering what was in store…

Stripping down to your pants and being scrubbed mercilessly from head to toe is really something every visitor to Turkey should experience.  I’m sure we Brits are much more self conscious and prudish than our contemporaries. It was actually refreshing to be scoured, rinsed, soaped and massaged thoroughly without having to worry about whether I, or my masseuse should be embarrassed by my state of undress. We didn’t have more than three words of shared language, so there was no chitchat. She tapped me to tell me to turn over, or just put my body in the position she needed it in. My aching legs from thousands of kilometers of cycling were rubbed and pounded supple again. She found the twanging knots in my shoulders and scraped past the grazes from my recent crash. Ribbons of grey, dead skin fell away with the pans of water she tipped over my head.

As I lay down again for a final few relaxing minutes, local families poured in after Friday prayers for their weekly communal bath. Women of all ages and their small children were splashing, chatting and giggling together, creating a lovely atmosphere. It seemed the perfect place to assist less mobile, elderly relatives to wash and dress, with easy open space and plenty of folk on hand to help. It made me wonder if sharing this intimate and yet mundane everyday activity with others may be a way of learning to be comfortable in our bodies and appreciate beauty in all shapes, sizes and ages?

After all the cumulative weeks in the saddle, with limited access to hot showers, I was in need of a good wash. And afterwards I feel like I’ve stepped out of the old me – shed my skin, like a snake, to emerge fresh and gleaming and ready for our next stage of pedalling. I don’t think I’ve ever been this clean! I wonder how long it will last…?

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