*Disclaimer I do not recommend traveling during a pandemic*
I am a simple man.
I enjoy playing video games, tending to my pet snake and a healthy mixture of staying indoors and spontaneous travels. If you asked me when I was 15 where my first international flight would take me, I might say Greece, Japan or Switzerland. I would’ve never thought it would be Turkey.
I went there to visit my brother and his girlfriend, Nastia, in November of 2020. Everything about that trip was enriching, but the greatest pleasure was interacting with the locals.
Shortly after I got to Turkey, I went with my brother to get a haircut. The barber was about a 15 minute walk from our apartment and, on the way there, the roads of Turkey change. There is asphalt for about 5 minutes, then a shift to brick, concrete, and back to asphalt. There are run down restaurants, closed businesses and slow moving traffic through little souvenir shops and markets. The opening of the barber shop was home to about 6 or 7 Turkish residents, gingerly sipping tea, talking amongst themselves, and giving soft glances at us tourists.
The proprietor of the establishment ushered my brother into his shop, gesturing for him to take a seat. The barber glanced at myself and Nastia before asking, “Would you like some tea? Water?”
“Have you ever had Turkish tea, Jeremy?” My brother asked with a hint of urgency.
“No but I’ll try it.” I said with an excited smile.
The barber pointed at Nastia, “For you?”
“Oh I’m fine with water,” Nastia had some water with her, and I can’t quite recall how it happened, but the barber gave me some money to purchase water from the store parallel to his shop.
By the time I returned, my brother was getting his hair trimmed and my tea was waiting on a table. It came in a small glass on a plate with some sugar cubes and, funnily enough, both the plate and the cup were exactly the same dishware we had at our apartment and that the other tea drinkers were using in the neighboring shops.
“How is it?” my brother asked as the barber worked around him with the utmost studiousness and modesty.
“It’s really good,” I said honestly.
Nastia and I chatted while my brother and the barber also chatted. People came in and out of the place, interrupting the business, and apologizing for the inconvenience to the barber. I wish I had got his name, he cut hair like Brady throws a football.
I needed a haircut too and a couple days later I went to get mine from the same man. The difference was, after he used a straight razor to trim my beard, back of my neck, and sideburns, he torched a stick and singed the hairs around my face to get, what I told him was, the best haircut of my life.
This experience was perhaps the most intimate connection I had while in Turkey. There are few times you have fire and a straight blade to your face.
But the most memorable would’ve been the Hammam, or Turkish bath, I visited the day after Thanksgiving. My brother’s friend Alessandro, who was also in Turkey at the time, implored the three of us to try out a Turkish massage therapy known as Hammam. We all agreed and went to meet Alessandro, his girlfriend, and three other friends at the spa.
I was nervous, definitely the youngest there, and not totally insane about changing into nothing but a paper thin cotton towel in front of a bunch of people. Nevertheless, I went into the changing room and came out looking like a Greek/Turkish bigwig.
The first step of this Hammam, after changing, was the “dry spa.” We entered a part of the building with cherry red, hot embers smoldered in a pit, incubating a wooden room to a balmy 90-100 degrees fahrenheit. The employees brought us electrolytes so we wouldn’t pass out. It was the second hottest I’ve been in my life, the first being a 120 degree hot spring in Colorado.
Once our skin was sufficiently sticky and moist, we took a ten minute break in the changing room, equipped with large sofa-like chairs. Then came what’s called the “wet spa.” Again, another 90-100 degree room except, this time, it was clouded top to bottom in menthol infused mist. The higher up one stands, the harder it becomes to breath, the hotter the smoke, and the more we all laughed at the process. Once ten minutes passed, it was time for the real fun to begin.
The next phase was an exfoliation. The men and women were split up and I was led to a room that was all marble. There were about ten or more round fountains lining the perimeter, about eight feet apart and, right in the middle, a gigantic marble table big enough to fit my brother, Alessandro, Alessandro’s two friends and myself flat, belly down. We each had an employee who scrubbed us face to feet with a porous sponge, soap, and body temperature water. The water turned a grayish color from all the dead skin and dirt coming off of us. When the procedure was completed, we showered off the soap and felt like a new human, but we were far from finished.
There was another short wait and then the massage. But this was a solo venture.
Each of us were led by the woman who scrubbed us down to a private room. You lay flat on a massage table and get the most thorough massage of your life. There were cracks in places I didn’t know I had. The masseuse untwisted knots I would’ve never been able to untwist myself. It was an hour of pure relaxation.
All in all, the Hammam lasted three hours; it cost roughly $25 and we got a free ride back to our apartment, courtesy of the owner.
An Irish friend once told me, “You have to travel, you’ll learn so much about yourself, get out of your comfort zone and see the world. Travel alone too.” I could not have been more thankful for that advice. I was able to assure him that I have traveled internationally and that I will reiterate his advice for anyone else on the fence about travel. It’s important to remind myself that if I have a plan of action and know what I’m doing, traveling abroad can be the most rewarding experience of your life.
*Disclaimer I do not recommend traveling during a pandemic*