A couple of weeks ago, I went with some girlfriends for a quick 24 hours away. We headed to Termal, a small, quirky and completely wonderful little place that proudly displays it's award-winning status "Voted gold medal spa in 1911" on the front cover of their brochures.
We had heard about their healing waters, their Turkish baths, steam room, and, most importantly, a break from our darling offspring. So, after a not-so-quick trip through Istanbul's legendary traffic, a short stint on a fast ferry, and a few wrong turns on the other side of the Marmara Sea, we arrived.
While Termal resort is a spa, think old school Eastern European taking-the-waters spa with 25-year-old decor, not shiny, white, fluffy towels-type spa. Our expectation level had been appropriately set and we were more than ready to hit the water, in this case, the thermal baths and hamam.
We started out for the mixed hamam which was also the entrance to the outdoor thermal pool. When I see "mixed", I think men and women, together. Turkish mixed, however, seems to mean "25 or so men wearing small swimming trunks and towels covering their hairy shoulders staring at the 7 foreign women who appear to be the only females of any kind who are about to strip down to their swimsuits in front of us. Yee-haw!"
We quickly decided perhaps this was not the section we were looking for and hightailed it out of there. Once we found the women's spa, we got into the groove. Warm, wooden changing rooms, warmer marble spa room with toasty soaking tub, and warmest steam room. Hea-ven!
After visiting some of the tourist hamams in Istanbul, which are still enjoyable, this haman was like comparing home cooking to carryout. Grandmothers with little girls, friends getting together on a Friday evening, old ladies brushing their hair, teenagers sitting together and singing Turkish pop tunes.
A couple of women started talking to me while waiting for our dried skin to loosen and rub off. One was an English teacher and one was a Religion teacher at a local school. The religion teacher was really interested in who I was and what I was doing there. She even asked my zodiac sign.
The conversation got interesting when she asked what religion I was. Christian, I replied. Then she asked if I went to church. When I said "not on a regular basis" she asked "Why?" I began to wonder if my mom had prompted her to call. Keep in mind that we were discussing religion in a mix between elementary Turkish and English for non-native speakers.
The best moment was a while later when we reconnected in the steam room. She wanted to ask just one more question. Sure, why not.
"In Islam, we have one god, Allah. There's the prophet, Mohammed, but just one god. In Christianity, you have three - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. How exactly does that work?"
What!!!!! I don't know if I can even explain this in English...