Monday, December 7, 2009

Last day in Bergama

By Claire
Remember the ride we were given by the carpet salesman from the Acropolis to town? There were a couple of other guys riding along with us and while we were at the grocery store the next day, we ran into one of them. He recognized us immediately—I guess we really don’t blend in—and greeted us as if we were old friends. “Merhaba! How are you? May you be well.” Shortly after that, we saw the Tourist Information woman who also greeted us as familiar friends. This has been a fun experience. I’m also amazed at how often I see the same people over and over again. This is a town of 58,000 people!

This is the woman at the bread store where Chuck buys bread every day:

Yesterday, she was across the road but waved to him to let him know she would be right back. He is greeted every morning and she was quite pleased to have her picture taken on this day.

We are finding it really difficult to leave this wonderful place. We’ve been here for six nights and find that it is an easy, comfortable place with friendly owners and an easy way into town. Our only challenge has been the Internet and how to find it. The first time was fine and only .75 TL but that was because I had pre-typed everything and just had to copy and paste the text and upload pictures. That did take me 45 minutes which would have cost at least €2 in Italy. Dealing with email, however, is something of a nightmare and I’ve mostly given up. The keyboard has quite a few Turkish symbols where our comma and period are located—things I use all the time. I would love to find a place that offers wireless but so far, no luck. We’ll see what the next place brings.

Meanwhile, we have been talking about going to a Haman (Turkish bath) for a few days. We decided that today was the day. We walked over to our usual dolmus stop, just missing one. After about 10 minutes another came along and off we went. Chuck said “post office?” to the driver but received no response. We decided to just hope for the best. We should have gotten off at a familiar spot a few blocks from the post office but thought that since it had been mentioned, the driver would take us closer. Oh no. We ended up on a one hour tour of the entire city. It was quite interesting and kind of funny. We saw lots of areas we would never have seen and did finally find a place to get off, not far from the post office. We went to the Tourist Information place again, this time to find a place to copy our deadbolt key and to find out where the Hamam was located. She looked over at a young man sitting there and told us he would take us where we needed to go for the key. We got the information about the Hamam and took off with the guy in search of a key maker. We wound around several small streets, walking directly into a key shop. Turns out it was his brother! We had him make two copies and walked out quite satisfied; we’ve been trying to accomplish this task since the robbery on November 8.

On to the baths….

We had read up on what to do in Rick Steves and Lonely Planet and made the decision to by our own kese, a rough exfoliating mitten, since they are used on everyone and neither of us felt like sharing dead skin with former clients.

Haman from 1513

Claire’s experience:
We entered the Haci Hekim Hamami and holding up our Kese’s tried to explain that we wanted to take a Turkish bath. We were asked if we wanted to be together. I wasn’t interested in having some big guy bathing me so I opted for the women’s side which turned out to be next door. Saying goodbye to Chuck, one of the guys escorted me inside and told the sweet faced young woman what I wanted. Who knows what they actually said to each other? I was ready for anything. In her scarf, billowing pants and blouse, she smiled at me and led the way to a small room and indicated that I should take my clothes off and handed me a pestemal (pehsh-teh-mahl) to wrap around myself. I asked for a toilet and she led me through a rabbit’s warren of narrow, floor to ceiling marble hallways. Finding the usual Turkish toilet was a relief. You don’t want to have a full bladder or a full stomach for this experience. The difficulty was finding my way back but I made it. Everything was sparkling clean, quiet and soothing. I joined her in my pestemal and the flip flops she provided and followed her to a small, round, domed, steamy room, everything marble but the wooden slats on the benches. The floor was hot when I took the flip flops off as she motioned me to relax and sit back while showing me how to douse myself with hot water from an aluminum bowl. I knew from my reading that this stage is to get your skin softened up. She left me for about 15 minutes while I alternately doused myself and relaxed, enjoying the steam and thinking about all the incredible experiences we have had on this trip. I felt almost giddy with my love for this country and this experience. Now if I could just get my right butt cheek situated comfortable around these wooden slats.

I was alone—a blessing I think—and just allowed my thoughts to wander. When she returned I thought it was a very savvy tourist because she was in a bra and had a pestemal around her waist and wasn’t wearing her scarf. When I realized that all her preparations were for me I figured out who she was. She motioned for me to remove the pestemal and lie down on my stomach whereupon she began scrubbing me all over with a cloth that felt like sand paper. It wasn’t bad, just thorough. Then she motioned me to turn over and scrubbed every inch of my front. After that she soaped up the kese I had brought and really dug in, motioning me to sit up. I felt like a child again as she scrubbed my arms and legs and feet. Rolls of skin came off—rather horrifying to think I’ve been walking around with that stuff! Down on my stomach again she soaped me up with some kind of soft pocket thing that she blew into then scrubbed me all over again, bubbles exploding all around me. Sitting up again she shampooed my hair and massaged my head. Then she turned to my body once again, gently massaging and squeezing all my muscles, working on my feet, finishing with the chop-chop motion along my legs and back. The finale was being doused repeatedly with the bowl of cool, then hot water. Motioning me to stand, she wrapped me in a huge, thick Turkish towel and went to work on my hair with another. “Finish,” she said, and I followed her back to my little room to relax and change. My back was stinging just a little but what an experience! I sure feel clean! The price was 30 TL (€12.90) and I tipped her 5 TL (€2.15). She smiled and nodded when I asked for a photo.

Chuck’s experience:
Today was the day we decided to do a hamam – Turkish Bath. The first challenge, as always, was how to find it. We had been given directions to one; but, we wanted to confirm its status at Tourist Information before we hiked over. Turns out that our target facility is “finished.” But, there was another: “400 meters and turn right.” Right! We tried to use the out of scale map to locate it - “It's here near the Red Basilica, somewhere.” “OK; I'll ask someone...again.” We stumbled upon an open market that we had heard about and entered. A woman was trying to catch our attention to sell us something; I asked about the hamam and showed her the map with 'Turkish Bath' on it. She was unsure and checked with her husband. She returned and gestured and spoke in Turkish. OK; it's around the corner and across the street. But, we wanted explicitness at this point – we had been riding and walking for 1-1/2 hours trying to get here. She walked us around the corner and pointed. Damn! The building we had assumed was a mosque and that we had already passed by twice was the building in question. So much for assumptions. Sometimes I think you could throw us out of an airplane and we wouldn't be able to find our way down.

We entered and tried to convey what we wanted. They asked if we wanted to go in together. I was not sure if they were gathering information or preparing to reject us. They finally clarified that Claire could go next door to the women's section. Did I want a massage, too? “Yes; the works.” Abdul directed me to go to the changing room, put on the pestemal and slippers and return to the main room. One of the books said to leave on your underpants; so, I did—even though I felt silly and thought I might get a less thorough treatment. He showed me through the door and explained, pointing, to wash myself and then go to the steam room; he would return—as I understood it—in 20 minutes for the rest of the treatment.

I bent down and filled the bowl with hot water from the spigot over the wash basin; I poured it over my head; it was hot and felt wonderful. My job was to completely cover and wash myself; this took about 8 minutes. I then moved into the steam room and relaxed into the heat. After a while I began to listen for the door to open and for Abdul to return. It seemed to take forever; I became nervous, thinking that I might have misunderstood him and that maybe I was to call for him when I was ready. Finally, he appeared, shortly after another customer entered; I could not tell if the new arrival was a local or a traveler; but, I decided to leave him alone and we never spoke.

Abdul picked up my kese (fiber mitt) and my towel; he inspected the former and hung the latter on a peg—wish he'd told me about the process. “Lie down.” He thoughtfully provided a pillow for my head so my head wouldn't dip down and wouldn't have to lie down on hard marble; I loved it, at first. I was face down; he sloshed more hot water over me. He applied some kind of exfoliant to the kese and rubbed with considerable pressure; it did not hurt; but, it certainly seemed to remove the external layers of skin. “Turn over.” Repeat.

The next stage was hot soapy water. First he splashed it on, thickly. It tingled. After waiting a bit, he used soft mitts to rub my body, first one side and then the other.

Then there was a (seemingly) brief massage; it felt wonderful; I wanted more, of course. It was interesting to me that there was never a time when the modesty of underwear was necessary; he simply never ventured further than the pestemal permitted, though he did adjust that slightly at the beginning.

Then I was instructed to move over to one of the basins. I got a shampoo that was simply wonderful. It made me think of the time when Mom and I (and sister Penny) lived with our Grandma and Grandpa Bon and Mom would wash my hair. I was about seven years old. I really looked forward to that: It felt good to be washed and to be touched. This was an era when there wasn't a lot of touching or physical affection. I recall that Gary, the grandchild of the woman next door, would get his hair washed during that period. He would run screaming at the prospect of a shampoo, never stopping until his hair was being dried. I could never understand that – why would you run from something that felt so good?

We were finished, now; Abdul instructed me to return to the changing room. I had read that you were able to relax at this stage until you were ready to face the world again. I lay there for a while before Abdul knocked and entered. He apologized – I suppose for leaving me so long without towels, which he laid over my body and wrapped around my head. I was in heaven. I'd be there still if I hadn't begun to worry about the probability of Claire having finished and having to wait for me at our designated spot. But, I have no complaints, really; I would have liked a longer period for everything; but, what I got was terrific. I stood and thought I might fall over; I stabilized, dressed and left, floating down the street, only partially registering the other people on the planet. TL 30 well-spent.

After our baths, we met up at the Tourist Information place that had nice benches in the sun for waiting. Lunch was next on our agenda and we quickly ducked into a small place filled with people and each ordered a döner kebab. Yum. It was just right.

Sorry but sometimes I just can’t wait--which explains the partially eaten food.

Chuck was still in search of a knife, this time one made in Turkey, and joined a group of men looking at knives.

The quality and functionality weren’t what he was looking for so we moved on. By now we were both ready to head home and relax. We grabbed a dolmus, asking if they went to Caravan Restaurant. The driver looked puzzled, then kind of nodded; he was on his cell phone at the time. We took off and after a few minutes he yelled “MISTER?” Chuck realized he was being spoken to and confirmed that Caravan Restaurant was where we wanted to go. Next thing we knew, we were heading up a hill towards the military base of the other day. Uh oh, this is not the way home……fortunately, he circled back down onto the main drag and dropped us right in front. Ahhhh. We made it.

We paıd and saıd goodbye to the good people of thıs campground, askıng for a photo from the lıttle old man. He was pleased and shook my hand several tımes, sayıng thank you over and over agaın.

To travel is to take a journey into yourself. ~ Dena Kaye


Diane said...

I love this blog entry! I passed on the Turkish bath experience when we were there last year. It sounded as if it would be communal and I am very modest that way. Next trip to Turkey, I will definitely do it. Having been in Turkey a year ago, I can visualize and relate to your experience on so many levels. The Turkish keyboard was a stressful nightmare! The people were kind and wonderful. The food, the history and the landscape, amazing, Turkey is so under-appreciated as a travel destination. I am so glad you are there and your experience makes me want to go back and take Rose and Emily. Wonderful, wonderful . . .

Chuck and Claire said...

Thanks! I just can't find enough adjectives to describe how wonderful this country is. We are thrilled that we have 2 months here. The bath was something I was determined to do even though it took some courage. Naturally I was worried about doing something wrong and humiliating myself or offending someone. It all went perfectly and I have a wonderful memory of that day.

Carol said...

I'm here at the Davis Library accessing the internet because there is something very wrong with my computer. I'm catching up on all of your posts and really enjoyed this one of your experieces in the Turkish baths. Now I know why they are so famous. Hmm, after Claire's comments it makes me wonder how many yards of potentially sloughed off skin I could be lugging around. I'm enjoying your posts and fascinated by the things I'm seeing.