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Our regular columnist Molly Quell thought she had completed her integration when she went to a Dutch sauna. But now she’s embraced the Netherlands even further.

Last year, I stripped naked in the middle of Amsterdam and wandered around for a few hours.

Granted it was within the confines of one of the most feared and maligned Dutch culture experiences: the sauna.

Like many other heat-and-sweat-loving regions, the Netherlands largely embraces the nude sauna experience. No bathing suits, no towels, just you and your skin. And anyone else you might run into. Neighbours, exes, colleagues.

The nudity might be manageable for many but the mixing of genders is often the bridge too far for foreigners. You’ll be in the sauna with both Kristien and Kees from accounting.

In fact, you could even chat about the latest TPS reports in the locker room while you’re stripping down. Often there aren’t even segregated changing areas.

I discovered neither the nudity nor the men were all that bad. And the relaxation experience outweighed any trepidation I might have about joining the Dutch in their sauna-ing.

Eventually, though, merely lying around in the heat wasn’t enough. All that sitting was great but it lacked purpose. I needed a more active form of relaxation.

If you take all of that wonderfully unwinding sweat and warmth and you add an older woman scrubbing absolutely every last dead skin cell off of your body, you get the hammam.

Historically the hammam or Turkish bath was a basic service before indoor plumbing was widely available. It isn’t unique to Turkey, many parts of the world have public bathhouses. They frequently had bath attendants who soaped and scrubbed you down, and even gave massages.

But Islam has specific requirements for cleaning before praying and many hammams were part of mosque complexes. For many it was a social visit, a place to chat and gossip as well.

Naturally, the hammam followed Turkish and Morrocan immigrants to the Netherlands.

I have visited hammams in Turkey before and enjoyed the experience. Now it was time to find one in the Netherlands.

Together with a colleague who had been suffering through the same long, stressful working hours as I had, we booked an appointment for a hammam in Rotterdam.

Forget the sauna, I am going to the hammam
Photo: Depositphotos.com

I was scrubbed, soaked, bathed, rinsed and washed until I was unrecognizable. I walked out onto the busy Rotterdam street totally reborn. I swear I left five kilos lighter.

The hammam is gender-segregated and technically you have to wear a bathing suit. On my first trip, I chose a modest two-piece that I use for swimming laps but quickly discovered there was entirely too much fabric.

On subsequent visits, I wore a skimpy bikini and lost the top as soon as I crossed the threshold. On my last visit, there was a woman wearing what I would describe as extra-wide dental floss. Modesty didn’t seem to be much of a concern, at least at my venue of choice.

While the Dutch sauna may have more fancy types of heat – hot, dry, infrared, baths, foot baths – the hamman experience simply cannot be beaten. My skin is softer, my hair is shinier and my blood pressure is several points lower.

Most of the other guests (and all of the staff) clearly come from the diaspora. It’s fairly obvious that not only am I not from those communities, I am from even further afield and am an even more recent transplant.

There has been some mild curiosity but mostly folks just want to chat about typical small talk subjects: how relaxing it is, which hair masks are nice, how terrible Dutch weather is.

To top it off, I’ve ended the hammam experience by having dinner at an excellent Indian restaurant in Rotterdam. Now this is globalisation at its finest.



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