Currently, my favorite spa in the whole world is at the Bilkent Otel conference center in Ankara, Turkey: Sanitas Spa & Wellness. I have actually worked out flight scenarios that would lay me over in Ankara or Istanbul, long enough for me to go to that spa for a massage. If you know me, you know that’s pretty high praise since I have very high standards.
It’s not my fault; blame my mother.
She decided to get her massage therapy license when I was a junior or senior in high school. That meant she had to do 5 or more practice massages a week. I was the “unlucky” soul available for practice on at home. My brother was away at uni and my dad traveled a lot for work. My mother grew up on a dairy farm which means two important things in this story:
1. She has a strong work ethic. If she’s going to do something, she’s going to do it right.
2. She is no stranger to manual labor. She knows how to use her body to make work efficient and is quite strong, especially in her hands. My mother has more knot locating (and relieving) power in her pinky than my latest masseuse did in her entire elbow.
So, because of that, I know the amazing benefits of massage. I regularly incorporate them into my life as part of my self-care. While I have high standards and am pretty hard to please for regular massages at “home,” I will try out any form of massage while traveling. To date, I’ve had massages in Spain, India, Malaysia, Turkey, Costa Rica, and I’m sure somewhere else I’m not remembering.
Massages can be a bit awkward. First of all, you are laying there in skimpy underwear, on a table covered in a light sheet or towel. Then it gets even more awkward when as you’re laying there, the Jonas Brothers show up for a photoshoot. And apparently you’re in the way.
So, here’s what happened.
The week before my work trip to Ankara was super busy. Friends came to town, plus I had a bunch of social events to attend, and a jam packed 4-day weekend music event with a lot of time on my feet. I had (barely) enough breakfast stuff at home for healthy starts to my days through the weekend. For lunches and dinners, I had plans to eat out with people. So, I didn’t go grocery shopping for the week.
Monday morning after all that fun brought severe thunderstorm warnings. I didn’t dare take a Lyft to buy 1.5 days of groceries only to get stuck at the store when all the drivers decided to park and wait out the weather. (That happened Saturday when I went to brunch!) The flaw in that plan was that all the local restaurants and cafes also closed up early due to weather forecasts. With nothing in the house, I ended up eating the few crackers I had. And then all the candy I had bought my sister. I was supposed to take it with me when I flew out on Tuesday evening…
Monday afternoon I had discovered red discolouration around my armpits which I assumed was sunburn. I seem to always miss those areas when applying sunblock. By the time Wednesday rolled around it was clear it was actually a rash from something. I rarely get rashes but it didn’t completely surprise me. I hadn’t made too much time to take care of myself for a whole week and my diet had been total crap for just as long. That, added to 18+ hours of airplane time, was all the excuse I needed to book myself a massage as soon as we were checked in to the hotel in Ankara on Wednesday evening. It just so happened, my favorite spa in the whole world was located at that very same hotel.
After getting a good, muscle relieving body massage Thursday after work, my muscles were feeling good but I also wanted to get a relaxing, mind and soul massage. So, I booked the Ayurvedic Shiro Abhyanga for 21:30 the night before my 03:30 flight out on Sunday morning.
Well, we finished our program early, just before lunch, on Saturday but it was raining so wandering around doing touristy stuff wasn’t really a good idea (so said the locals). With the new schedule, I decided to move my massage up to 17:00 so I could join my colleagues for Iftar at 20:15ish and not have to rush to get to my massage after with have a gut full of food, impeding my much-needed relaxation.
Three of us decided we’d get lunch in lieu of touristing since most of our colleagues on the program were fasting for Ramadan. While they rested, we enjoyed a leisurely and delicious Italian meal. I looked at my watch at we paid the check and realized it was 16:15. My plan to not be rushing with a gut full of food had not worked out.
What not to do an hour before a Shiro Abhyanga massage:
Eat buratta, caprese, pizza, and tiramisu w/ a cafe. (But it was so delicious!)
Since I was running a bit ‘late’, I didn’t have time to use the spa amenities like the sauna or steam room as I had during my previous massage. Unfortunately, that meant I didn’t get to find out what the last of three buttons in the sauna shower did. It sounds unimportant but that’s because you don’t know (yet) what buttons one and two did!
So, there I was, nice and relaxed in the sauna ahead of my muscle relief massage on Thursday evening. When it was a few minutes until my appointment, I got out and picked the only shower room available out of the four in the spa area. A male employee was wandering around collecting towels and cleaning the other shower stalls. (At least I assumed that was what he was supposed to be doing.) He seemed to just mosey around, relocating things every now and then.
The entire spa area was dimly lit, but then there was the shower stall tunnels. I opened the narrow frosted glass door, expecting a small-ish square shower stall, not much deeper than the door was wide. Instead, I was standing at the opening of a tunnel of shower space. The stall was no wider than the door but went back about three times the width of the door.
All of the surfaces were covered in the same dark slate, making it even dimmer once the door closed. Luckily all the fixtures were chrome so I could at least see a glint on them. At the end of the tunnel was a standard overhead shower and also a handheld shower at chest level. I had to pass between a set of water jets on opposite walls before I got to the shower heads though. Centered on the ceiling above them was one of those large overhead rain simulating shower heads. It did not lack for sources of water.
You know that terrible thing that happens in the shower when you expect the water to come out of the faucet first so you can gauge the temp before you turn on the shower head but then as you stand there watching the faucet for water to come out and you are blasted with cold water from the shower head instead? Yeah, I hate that and was definitely not wanting it to happen after being in the toasty sauna.
So, there I stood, an outstretched arm’s length from the faucet-less back wall, contemplating how to turn on the shower without getting cold blasted. With only the two shower heads, and no where to stand to avoid their initial cold spray I wasn’t liking my odds. As it turned out, there was also no knob to turn the water on so I guess that solved that problem… Sort of. I moved back towards the set of shower fixtures on opposing walls a bit perplexed. ‘Maybe I overlooked a control panel as I entered?’ Sure enough, there were three chrome buttons, vertically aligned on the left wall.
3 chrome buttons & 3 shower heads = 1 button per shower head, right?
Reasoning that the top button was most likely to be the ON button and standing a safe distance from the fixtures at the end of the shower, I pushed the button. It immediately went pitch black. Then there was a deafening thunder clap. Lightning flashed. And before my brain could decide if I had been time-traveled back to the storm ridden home I had just left behind in Tulsa, the clouds above opened up and unleashed a downpour on me.
Not that warm kind of summer rain its fun to dance in. No, the freezing cold kind of rain that hurts, especially after a nice warm sauna. The thunder and lightning continued for what seemed like 10 minutes but was probably more like only one. Then it was over. I stood there shivering slightly, not at all relaxed and incredibly curious what the other buttons would do.
Stiffly, I pushed button number two. Every muscle tenses as my entire body braced for another deluge of cold water. I have to say, whoever did the sound system in that shower, bravo! Not only is it loud and surround sound, it’s quite realistic. When those jungle birds started singing all around me, I turned in a circle, relaxing the full body brace adopted for the cool overhead rain that hadn’t come. When I turned, I half expected to see a parrot sitting in a tree somewhere behind me. My brain didn’t have the chance to finish processing that there were no trees behind me. All thought stopped as water blasted my body from two sides. It took a beat for me to realize that the water was room temperature. By then though, what did it matter?
For a short moment, after the chirping stopped, I stared at button number three. Standing there, I felt a bit exhausted. Which makes sense, considering in the every muscle in my body had been clenched and unclenched twice in less than five minutes. So much for pre-massage muscle relaxing in the sauna! I considered pushing the third button. 99% fueled by curiosity to know what it would do but also a teensy 1% nervous. I was also a bit embarrassed if I’m being completely honest.
Did I mention the spa was quite serene? Despite the soft sounds of pool water and light ambient music, you could easily hear the soft steps of people walking. I was pretty certain the unexpected outbursts of thunderstorms and birds of the rainforest had completely destroyed whatever serenity people were enjoying as they lay by the pool. It seemed rude to subject them to whatever number three might be. Plus, I was probably pushing it on time with getting to my treatment room. And I didn’t want to miss out on a minute of muscle relaxing now that I was even more tense!
I was planning to try button three on Saturday.
Alas, there was no time post-Italian lunching, so I just got ready in the locker room. The spa provides: a spa towel (linen) and a shower towel (terry cloth), flip flops, a robe (pink for women, white for men) and a pair of those disposable paper panties. (Do men get those when they go to spas?) After I was ready, I went out to find my therapists. She informed me the oil wasn’t ready and I could wait for a bit by the pool while it heated up. I suppose I could have tried out button three then, it was less than five paces away.
Between the warmth of the room, the dark lighting and the ambient sounds of soft meditative music and water splashing with the occasional interspersed ice falling into the fountain, all of that added to my belly of Italian food, I passed out in one of the papasan-like chairs next to the pool. Apparently a colleague saw me as he went to his treatment. It’s all good. He taught me how to blow an egg out of it’s shell so we’re tight. Maybe I should ask him if men get those weird paper panties…
Finally, massage time!
My masseuse woke me up and showed me to the treatment room. I laid down and she got to work on my Ayurvedic massage. You could more aptly describe it as the purposeful application of warm oil. I have to say, the first time I had one was in India and I didn’t know what to expect so I was a bit on alert the whole time. This time, I was totally ready for it and I was completely relaxed.
Ok, so now we get to the part most of you have been waiting for.
I don’t know how much time had passed. There I was, laying half covered by a sheet, oil dripping on me, completely relaxed. The next thing I knew, a 30-ish white dude with a dirty blonde, half falling-out man-bun, walked in wearing jeans, a Phantom Planet t-shirt, and carrying a clipboard. He abruptly declared, “You can’t be here.”
I sat up, not nearly as shocked as I probably should have been. Instead the following exchange took place:
Me: “Excuse me?”
Man-bun: “We have a photoshoot, you can’t be in here.”
Me: I’m in the middle of my massage.
MB: Well, we scheduled a photoshoot here today and it’s in their contract that no one can be around when they do the shoot.
Me: Well I am going to finish my massage. They can wait or do the photoshoot around me.
Man-bun scoffed and walked back out the way he came. I laid back down, put the warm cloth back over my eyes and attempted to continue my relaxing. Then I heard the sounds of people walking and shuffling around. Partly curious, partly annoyed, I removed my eye cover but I didn’t get up. As soon as my eyes focused, there were the Jonas Brothers, posing for photos. It was all very casual, not nearly as hectic as I would have expected a photoshoot to be.
The whole thing took like five minutes.
They walked back past me to leave and one of them apologized for interrupting my massage. When I say one of them, I really have no clue which one. Joe, that’s the name of one of them. Right? I couldn’t name a single song they sing. No clue how I recognized them, to be honest. My JoBros knowledge goes as far as they are often called the Hanson of the 2000s. (But don’t they have short brown hair not blonde? And don’t they do choreographed dance to their music? And didn’t they break up? Do people just say that because they are both 3-brother music groups?)
I do know they are having a reunion tour this year because a friend of mine accidentally bought two tickets. (Anyone need a ticket to the MKE show?) So yeah, maybe I should have asked for an autograph (sorry Deej!) Or a photo; but they were totally ruining my much needed relaxation time. Not to mention, I wasn’t exactly dressed appropriately and didn’t have a pen and paper handy so… Funny enough, they didn’t seem to care at all I was there – ridiculous bun man and his clipboard.
Thankfully, I was able to go back to my massage and try to continue relaxing but that’s not where the weirdness ended. After my massage was over, and I was dressed, I was cleaning out the bag with the hole in it that the oil had been being poured from. Don’t ask me why I was planning to keep it. I’m sure I thought it’d make a nice souvenir for about two seconds in my post-massage relaxed bliss brain. I can rationalize just about anything to not throw away single-use items and pollute the oceans even more.
So there I was at the sink.
I came to my senses and had just decided to throw the bag out when in walked a friend of mine. She was traveling all over, living out of a van she kitted out. I thought she’d be able to use it for some reason and sure enough she was happy to take my oil bag with a hole in it. She said it’d be super useful. For what I did not get a chance to ask.
Out of nowhere, two colleagues walked in together. I didn’t know knew each other and I had no idea how they would have ever met, one was from Finland and the other from Atlanta. They had come to get my van friend so they could get back to the tourism meeting taking place in the conference space next door to the spa.
Well that explained that! The three of them went back to their meeting but I was a little bummed out. No one had told me about the meeting. If I’d have known, I would have scheduled my massage for a different time. I didn’t have much time to dwell on it though. Quickly, I became aware of something cold, dripping on my head. I fought the urge to look up to find the source thereby exposing my eyes to more of it. Whatever it was had already run into my eye. And it was starting to burn a little.
And then I woke up.
Drenched in oil. My eye towel was slowly slipping down to the side of my head giving the still dripping, but now cold, oil free range to expand its near full body overage by a few more inches. I must have made some kind of noise or moved because the therapist came over and made the dripping stop. The oil dripping apparatus (not a bag with a hole in it…) let out a light squeak as she moved it out from over my head. Then she told me I could get up and shower in the room if I’d like, instead of walking to the locker room or spa shower.
As I swung my legs over the edge of the massage table, I briefly weighed that option but thought, ‘Oooh! I could find out what button number three does! I’m covered in oil. I must look a mess. What if I run into my colleagues, van friend, man-bun or JoBros?’
As soon as my right foot hit the floor, I nearly wiped out, pushing from my brain the last bits of foggy mash up between reality and the very vivid dream I had just woken up from. Thankfully the masseuses had gone to get me tea and missed my hands flailing slip and slide. My feet were so oily it was worse than ice skating! How she thought I had any chance of making it further than the three steps to the treatment room shower, I have no clue. I wasn’t sure I’d safely survive the shower. I mean, oil and water just screamed danger.
Clearly I didn’t slip and die in the shower.
I lived to tell this whole twisty tale of my very weird, but incredibly vivid dream while having an Ayurvedic massage. Over a week later and I would still swear to you I actually saw my two colleagues and my van friend at that hotel in Ankara. It’s been a really long time since I remembered a dream. That’s the weirdest part to me. Maybe it was the combo of the super relaxing massage with the gut load of Italian food that made it all happen.
I suppose I will never know why. I do know it was not the first time I had an incredibly vivid dream on a massage table though. The last time it happened, I woke up in a Costa Rican beach cabana, terrified to move a muscle let alone get off the table. The poor therapist didn’t know what to do. You can read all about that one in my book coming out in September 2019!
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