Soaking in Seben’s thermal baths
Wilco Van Herpen
Seben is a nice small village with old wooden houses.In Turkey a very popular way of spending your weekend or holiday is going to a thermal bath. While living in Turkey I have visited quite a number of thermal baths varying from very old thermal baths (one I visited was in an antique Roman city called Allianoi and was at least 2,000 years old, but due to a dam that was built near Bergama that beautiful thermal bath is gone now) to recently built thermals.
This time I arrived in Seben, a small place in the northwestern province of Bolu, aiming to find a thermal spring there that had been long forgotten by mainstream weekend tourists. It was already late; the sun set at 6 p.m. and we arrived around 8 p.m., so I could not see anything of the surroundings. The doorman who welcomed us wrote down our identity information, gave us our keys and wished us good night. No restaurant to have a bite, no café to have a drink; we were on our own. The little rooms we stayed in were sober, very sober. The only thing there was to do was go to bed and hope that the next morning would be a pleasant surprise for us.
Waking up the next morning we had a surprise, but I’m still trying to figure out if it was a nice surprise or a shocking surprise. The same doorman welcomed us again and served us our breakfast. After breakfast it was time for the “big” tour because there were a couple of reasons to be here. Seben is a nice small village with old wooden houses. Near Seben you can find an old “castle” of the Phrygians and the place we stayed at had a natural thermal bath. I was most curious about the thermal bath; how would it be? Modern or old, big or small???
So far I could not work out where the thermal bath would be. Wherever I looked there was nothing that resembled a thermal bath or the entrance to it. The doorman proudly started the thermal tour. About 100 meters from my room there was a small building half built in the ground. It was a strange red building with two entrance doors and two pictures; one of a man, and one of a woman. The pictures looked quite modern; this in contrast with the building. I wondered if people would come here to sit in the water of this thermal bath and pay money to stay here. The rooms we stayed in were really very sober and the thermal bath was not appealing (at least the outside wasn’t). Proudly the doorman showed me the entrance and the dressing rooms. As in so many places in Turkey before entering the pools there was a little cabinet filled with the typical cheap plastic pool slippers. I took off my shoes and put on a pair of slippers.
Passing the entrance on the left, there was a small pool filled with water. It was very warm and the lens of my camera was immediately covered with a thin layer of steam. In the corner of the pool there were three points where you clearly could see how rich the minerals in this water were. It looked as if I were in a cave with stalactites hanging down, but this was just the result of a couple of years of water dripping down into the pool. The way this thermal bath looked from the outside and now being inside, what a difference. A man tried to open one of those water holes with a long iron stick, a job he probably had to do every now and then because of the rich mineral water. I felt the temperature of the water and it was hot, very pleasantly hot, and the stalactites added to the mysterious feeling of this strange place.
This was definitely not the kind of place you would find in those fancy tourist guides about Turkey. But at the same time this place had something, something I cannot describe but that attracted me. At least there were no heaps of tourists, no big super deluxe buses that bring in tourists; no, this place was a more Spartan kind of place. I felt like an explorer and, this might sound strange to you, I liked the place. I wondered how the other pool would be and fortunately the doorman did not keep me waiting any longer. At the right side there was another door leading to the big swimming pool. He opened the plastic door and there it was. The floor was covered with marble and attached to the wall I saw at least three marble sinks and then there was another door leading to yet another room. This place was amazing. I quickly changed and went into the water. This was nice, having the whole pool to myself. How is it possible, I wondered, that such a place that I did not like at all gave me such a nice feeling? It must be that feeling of discovering, going back to basics, that you still can find in Turkey. Turkey has changed a lot in recent years, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. But to be in a place where almost no tourist would come gave me a good feeling. Tourism with all its luxury is nice, but it is also very nice to see the unspoiled, untouched Turkey. This Spartan thermal bath turned out to be a good choice; one that reflected Turkey in a certain way. Rough on the outside, but once you are in there is a certain atmosphere that surrounds you and takes you away in its magic.