Last winter (yes I can say that because we’re officially in spring now, WIN), I spent three weeks volunteering at GROL Garden located in Girne (Greek name: Kyrenia), Northern Cyprus, and I have to say during that short time, I settled quite well in this idyllic little Mediterranean town. Wherever I went around the island, it always felt good to come back to what I was calling home during those three weeks. I found it less crowded than most places I had been to (which in fair honesty isn’t that much to start with) but also the “island-y” feeling it gave off definitely reminded me of Mauritius. For all I know, it could easily have been one of the coastal towns of my home country – except we have prettier beaches, of course.
No, this ain’t yet another division line in the tiny island that Cyprus is although I wonder naming “it” the blue line was in some way taking a dig at the Green Line that divides the Republic of Cyprus and the occupied Turkish part of the island. Also known as the Nicosia trail, “it” actually is a 4.5 km long physical blue line painted on the streets of Nicosia, or rather should I say Lefkoşa, to lead tourists to the main attractions in the city.
… doesn’t always stay in the hamam, because there’s no fun in that.
I had my first (and only) hamam – or Turkish bath as it’s called in English – experience surprisingly in Nicosia, Cyprus and not in Turkey, despite having been living here for a year a half now. Truth be told, I just couldn’t muster up the courage to bare nearly all, etven if it were suppose to make me feel divine after all. Another little secret, it’s all worth the “trouble”.
I was cursed – or blessed, depending on how you see it – with rain during my last days in Cyprus and whilst wandering around in the capital, we came across the Grand Turkish Bath (Büyük Hamam) and immediately I thought it would be a good idea to go there since there was no joy in being outside in such depressing weather. It actually snowed just a few days after I left, so that tells you what kind of weather we were actually dealing with.
Had we not made it to the Greek side of Nicosia that day, we’d have got to the co-ed session that afternoon for some TLC. Thank god that never happened because I doubt I’m ever going to be ready for that. It’s to be noted that hamams are usually a single sex affair and very few, in touristic areas, are co-ed.
What are hamams?
Hamams are the Turkish version of the Roman baths, with similar architecture including their marble interior. Originally a place where men would cleanse before prayer, it has evolved to a social and cultural institution and now to a place where tourists can come to relax and have some TLC after a long day.
Choosing a service
The hamam I went to (and most actually) had different service to accommodate everyone’s need and tastes.
Self-service – DIY. You are given all the “amenities” and left to do figure it out on your own. Definitely not recommended if it’s your first time.
Traditional – Try if you dare. This usually involved a head to toe scrub and wash, by one of the attendants, often in public for everyone else to see. Initially embarrassing but a small price to pay on your dignity. This is the one I went for.
Traditional with add-ons – Different hamams will have different options. The one I went to had different therapeutic and luxurious foam massages.
You will usually pay upfront before you go into the actual hamam so make your choice carefully, although I doubt they’ll object to adding a few things as you go on if they’re not very busy. Continue reading What happens in the hamam…