Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Hammam Experience

This past week, a dear friend and I made our way over to the Mosquée de Paris. We were looking for an afternoon of relaxation and detox.After a bit of confusion - the entrance to the hammam is through a small door behind the pastry counter and not through the main door on rue Quatrefages- we found ourselves transported into another world. I'm glad I took the time to read a bit about how it works online, because it was like pulling teeth to get the cranky woman at the front desk to share any information with us. Nor were any of the rooms marked, so it's difficult to know where to go and in what order to do things unless you've read up beforehand.One thing that is nice is that they give you several different options - you can buy just an entrance into the hammam, or a massage, or a gommage - or you can do what we did and choose one of their formules. For 48€, we got a ticket for the hammam, a packet of black soap, a gommage, a 20min massage and a tea. You could also pay extra for a towel, robe, pareo, sandals or scrubby glove.

Once you have your tickets, you need to put your name on the massage list. Just a head's up - the massage area is right next to the front desk, which means anyone and everyone walking by will see you getting your (topless) massage. But there are obviously no men allowed in, so it's not that big of a deal.
After putting your name on the list, you walk straight ahead and down the steps. Turning right will take you to the changing rooms, where you will need a 1€ coin if you want a locker (you'll get it back at the end). Once you're changed, you need to backtrack a bit in order to get to the hammam.From there, you're expected to take a quick shower before going into the steam rooms. You'll walk by the "gommage" table, where a small woman will be vigorously scrubbing down someone. (Again, this is right in the open for everyone to see, so it's not for the shy).

Then it's on to the steam rooms. They are in order of hotness. The first is used as sort of a warm-up/waiting room. The second is the largest and has several enclaves where you will spend most of your time. There are buckets located all over the room, you should take one and fill it up. You can open your packet of black soap here and lather it into your skin. Those that have chosen not to get the "gommage" will use the scrubby glove in this room.
Once they've gotten used to the heat, most people will go sit in the the third room for a short period of time. It is HOT in there. The minute you walk in, your face feels like it's on fire. I made the mistake of breathing through my nose once and I'm pretty sure I burned my inner nose-hair. The closer you stay to the floor in this room, the cooler it is.

Then it was back to the middle room for a bit, with a shower in between to cool down before the gommage. What to say about it? Let's just say it's not for those with delicate skin. You lay on a plastic table and the little old lady just goes to town, scrubbing you from head to toe. She's very thorough as well. I told her that she must have tired arms at the end of the day, and she said yes, and that it was especially difficult now during the period of Ramadan since she couldn't eat or drink. Can you imagine standing in a boiling hot room all day long doing physical activity, with nothing to eat or drink? It's pretty impressive. She had a little tip dish out, so we both brought her a little something back at the end to thank her for her hard work.After the gommage, you can either go back into the steam rooms, or take a shower and head back to the main room for your massage. It's a little hard to know who's in what order, so if it's busy, you have to try to keep an eye on who got there before you. At this point, you can ask for your tea, or you can wait to have it afterwards in their café (and maybe give one of their pastries a try!).When it's your turn, the masseuse will ask you to lay your towel on the table. She'll then basically douse you in massage oil. Like the gommage lady, she means business. She'll find your knots straight away and go to town on them. She kept saying to me "Too much tension! You have too much tension! And you spend too much time on the computer!" C'est pas faux.

After the massage, you can either lounge around for a bit more, or take a shower and change. We opted for the latter, and then went out to sit in the café for a bit.The verdict on the experience? It was interesting if nothing else - though I wouldn't exactly call it relaxing, and the lack of information/instructions was frustrating. My skin did feel really soft though, and I imagine I would be a bit more at ease the second time now that I know how it works.

  • Bring your own towel to save money. But bring an older one, because it will get covered in oil during the massage.
  • You might also want to bring a bottle of water and your own pair of shower sandals.
  • Try to go during off-peak times if you want to avoid the wait. We went mid-afternoon and only had to wait behind 2-3 people for the gommage & the massage. It was about 5pm by the time we left though and the hammam had filled up considerably.
  • I'd read online that most of the women in the hammam go topless, but at least when we were there, most women were wearing both their bikini top and bottom. A few of the older women even had on one-piece bathing suits (though they had to take them down for the gommage & massage). So if you're a bit shier, you shouldn't worry at all about keeping your bikini top on - no one will look at you like you're strange.

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Blogger Diary of Why said...

I wish I had read this before I went there with my sister! We had much the same confusion as you, starting with how to get in, what the procedure was, how to get a massage, etc. And for the massage, she really does apply the oil everywhere. I hadn't brought any shampoo, so I walked out with a head full of grease and had to go straight home afterward because I was so embarassed at being a greaseball. An interesting experience for sure. :)

August 28, 2010 at 4:43 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I remember one of my french teachers got married to a Morocan in Moroco, and she went through something similar before the wedding, apparently they such about rub your skin off with the gommage.

August 28, 2010 at 6:50 PM  
Blogger L said...

Great review!

August 28, 2010 at 11:06 PM  
Blogger wcs said...

"Scrubby glove" just cracks me up!

August 29, 2010 at 9:08 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

Whenever you want to go again, let me know. Sounds like a good afternoon!

August 31, 2010 at 6:04 AM  

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