Which was why it came as a shock when I first set foot in a public Turkish Bath, only to be accosted for cigarettes by Arslan, one of the blue-jacketed attendants of the Karamustafa spa.
"You take Turkish bath?" asked another attendant called Cavit, elbowing Arslan out of the way and handing me a glass of tea. The walls were lined by battered marble and warmed by coal fired stoves; but I was in fear. After all, when you have just seen a large, pink whale of a man lying face down on one of two marble slabs in the massage room, you would also feel a little apprehensive.
"You pay here, sir!" said Cavit and I handed over my Turkish Lira for a "complete" - ie massage, wash, scrub and bath. I was then led through a door into what looked to be a hospital ward. Four beds were lined either side of a large room. Two had orange towels folded neatly on them while the rest were occupied by bodies, either coughing or snoring, and all were entombed in a swathe of beige towels.
I'll be honest. Undressed, with just a cloth around my waist and slippers on my feet, I would have preferred to have gone anywhere but the "Masaj Saloni". Inside, a man was lying flat out on a table with a cloth barely covering his bum. A masseur, whose rippling torso and clinical grin implied a sadistic nature, was dousing him with soap suds from something resembling a pillow case. He ignored me completely. So it was that Cavit led me to the sauna, a small greenhouse affair to the left of the room, and hustled me inside.
That was the last I saw of him and I have to say I felt alone as hell. Turkey is a country where few people speak English and I hadn't yet learnt enough Turkish to say "Excuse me but what do I do now?" So I waited and sweated. And waited and sweated some more. Even a strong, big-bellied man, who came into the sauna after me and proceeded to lie face down on the wooden slats, got ushered in ahead of me. I stood up to remonstrate but the masseur raised his hand and motioned me to wait.
Half an hour later - and by that time I had left the sauna and was sitting on a marble slab - the masseur beckoned me over. Without formality, he motioned me to lie down on the table and began rubbing my back, arms, chest and legs with what appeared to be an oven glove. After that, he washed my head with soap, doused me with (almost) scalding hot water and motioned me to lie face down on the table - with a hole available so I could insert my face. It was quite easy to imagine suffocating, though the sensation of soap suds was pleasant. It was only afterwards that it became agony.
The way he plunged his knuckles into my calves was excruciating. Tears sprang to my eyes and I ground my teeth as he continued up my body, alternatively pinning one arm behind my back to give me a good pounding. On being turned over, I tensed my stomach for another session. Finally he sat me upright and pinned my head so far back I thought my neck was going to snap. It was a tense moment but, when he slapped me on the back and shook my hand, I realised I had survived.
After that I gave the hot bath a miss.
The Karamustafa Spa is part of the Yeni Kaplica or New Baths, not to be confused with the Eski Kaplica or Old Baths which is attached to the five-star Termal Kervansaray Hotel (and which is both more expensive and more tourist-friendly).
Both baths are found in Cekirge, an area to the west of Bursa. Cekirge is the area with naturally hot springs, hence it is where the thermal hotels are found. You can take a dolmus there from the city centre.Reuse content