A lot of the things regarding my trip to Istanbul were really axed in luck. Bad luck for my visa, bad luck with the timing, bad luck with the nightmarish airline and airport experience to get there, and yet good luck in that my travel companion and I had a free place to stay at the home of a good friend of mine, good luck in that she arrived to pick us up exactly as we exited the arrivals gate despite unexpected car troubles, and the best luck of all: meeting a friend of a friend who had a friend who gave out gift cards to a hamam in exchange for an article on the experience, a task that is right up my alley. Before I retell the details of the experience, I should disclaim that I had no previous experience with hamams, whether they be cheaper ones, or more or less traditional ones or anything. That said, the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı was an amazing Hamam experience that I would definitely recommend to anyone in Istanbul who can squeeze it into their budget.
I had woken up that Sunday morning quite early in the interest of getting some work done on a pressing school paper, with my friend and host joining me in school work and my travel companion taking the opportunity to sleep in. From the first waking moment, I wished I were relaxing in a Hamam instead of researching gender neutrality in a 2012 issue of the economist, but if I'd known just how wonderfully relaxing and refreshing the experience would be, I don't think I would have gotten any work done at all. At around 1:00 the three of us left the apartment towards Kadıköy, where my travel companion would meet up with our second Istanbullu friend and we would split up in two groups: my travel companion and a local to the cheaper, traditional hamam that was in our price range, and my local and I to Kılıç Ali Paşa, which would definitively not have been in my price range without the gift certificate I received from Kaan at Atdaa (to whom I am really, truly grateful!) Upon arrival at the nearest bus stop, we initially thought the building that turned out to be Kılıç Ali Paşa belonged to the mosque, the outer architecture being very traditionally beautiful.
Once inside, we thought we had accidentally set foot in a very fancy Scandinavian spa: great open space, very high ceilings, white linens and clean decor, all lit up by the sun streaming in from the windows. We sat down as we waited for the lady at the desk to be free and were immediately offered covers for our shoes and a homemade strawberry juice, the recipe of which I desperately need. While I used the restroom my friend settled everything at the front desk and soon I was whisked away to the changing room, where I donned my bikini, wrapped myself up in my Turkish towel, and told myself to stop freaking out about how fancy this place was.
Confidence rallied and giddy giggles reigned in, I went out to meet the lady who led me into the hamam proper. The room is in one word, stunning. All clean pale grey marble, tall domed starry ceilings, and relaxed women enjoying the steamy air, I immediately felt my worries melt away. I was sat down by one of the many sinks lining the walls and doused in warm water from head to toe before being ushered to lie down on the center rounded heated marble structure. I lay there for anywhere from 15-30 minutes (there is no concept of time in a Hamam, only relaxation), before I was kindly told ("Lady! Come please!") to follow one of the hamam workers to another sink. At this point I was told to take my top off (I saw it coming what with all the topless women around me, but my shy, prudish mind had avoided thinking about being half-naked too much; turns out that when the moment came, I was too relaxed to be self-conscious) and the scrubbing began. I don't want to gross you out with too-explicit accounts of the amount of dead skin dutifully yet gently removed from me, but suffice it to say that it was probably enough that you could have created a second me, if only you had the extra guts and bones lying around somewhere.
Other reviews I had read about the Hamam experiences as a whole all warned me about the sometimes too vigorous scrubs that left you feeling completely raw in the aftermath, but my experience was not like that in the least: I was definitely relieved of a lot of skin, but in no way was it painful neither during nor afterwards. Worry not, potential Kılıç Ali Paşa visitors, your skin is safe. More than safe really, three days later and I still feel as soft as a baby's bottom all over. I was soaped up and shampooed and buried in foam (all three equally pleasant experiences, although the foam was without contest the most impressive feat), taken to be dried off, wrapped up in clean, warm towels, and brought back to the main room where I had entered to sit back, relax, and contemplate my experience.
It was in those moments, clean and warm and happy, that I thought about how lucky I was, in many more ways than I could list in a short article, but most of all, how lucky I was to have been given the chance to go to this beautiful place, which I would never have thought to splurge on myself, in the beautiful, chaotic and lively city that is Istanbul. As my friend unfortunately confirmed to me a bit later, not all hamam places are as wonderful as Kılıç Ali Paşa, so if you're looking for a hamam experience in Istanbul, be thorough in your research and give some serious thought to making a good place for it in your budget. But if you ask me? If you are looking for an exceptional hamam experience, you need not look any further than Kılıç Ali Paşa.