Readers, I am fresh off a plane from France, and I have to say—no matter how many times I visit Paris, it never gets old. Like New York, my adopted hometown, Paris shifts every day, and if you let a year go by without visiting, you’ll return to an entirely different city.
I’m going to be updating some of our travel pieces to include my favorite moments from the trip, but I thought I’d share with you one of the sillier experiences my friends and I had.
On our last day in Paris, one of my friends and I visited the hammam at the Grande Mosquée de Paris (which, I learned after several misunderstandings on the way in, is pronounced with a silent “h” in French, not a hard one as it would be in Arabic or English). A hammam is a type of Turkish bath with steam rooms, typical to Islamic cultures in the Middle East and Northern Africa. The hammam in Paris is housed in city’s most prominent mosque, just past a beautiful tea room and restaurant, and only women are allowed inside. My friend and I paid for a package deal that included access to the hammam, an exfoliating process called gommage (“scrubbing” in English, which should have been a strong hint as to what we were in for), and a 20-minute massage, finished with a fresh cup of mint tea.
A sign at the front door asked visitors to change into their “claquettes” (“flip-flops”), which was hilariously translated as “tap shoes.” (Likely because claquettes, like flip-flops, is an onomatopoeic word that references the slapping sound of the shoes.) We removed our shoes, but didn’t see where to pick up flip-flops, so proceeded barefoot into the spa, which was absolutely gorgeous, a stunning example of traditional Islamic architecture outfitted with grand columns, turquoise tiles, and a domed ceiling. We were given a small bag with a kind of sandpapery glove for the gommage and a packet of special soap. After changing in the locker room (into bathing suits, tops optional, à la française), we headed into the steam room, where instructions on the wall advised us to cover ourselves in the soap, sit in the hammam for ten minutes, then return for the gommage. Upon seeing our lack of flip-flops, an employee freaked out, sending out a torrent of words and rushing out to get us each a pair. She then continued to speak, so quickly I couldn’t quite understand, telling us to go into the other room. I couldn’t tell if she was asking us questions or giving us instructions, so we went into the sauna as directed, another beautiful room with high ceilings and raised platforms for you to lie on. There was another room past this one, which the woman had mentioned contained a pool. But when we entered, the room was so incredibly hot that we had to leave. We tried to go in three times, and each time the heat was so intense I felt like I couldn’t breathe. It literally felt like my skin would boil if I stayed inside. We made one last go, nearly army crawling into the pool, which was, thank god, cool and refreshing. We then enjoyed the entertainment of watching a half dozen other women try to enter the room, before being pushed out by the aggressive heat.
We had to crawl out of the room again when leaving, and the employee who had spoken to us before told me to lie on a slab by the showers for the gommage. She took the sandpaper glove from my bag and began rubbing me down like I was a rusty oven she was cleaning out with steel wool. It was a bizarrely intimate experience, and I wasn’t sure where to set my eyes as she held my arm over my head and removed every last inch of dead skin from my armpit. So much skin came off me I felt like a snake. It was a strange experience (especially for a ticklish person), but at its best, it felt like scratching a really good itch.
This was followed by one of the gentlest, most refreshing massages of my life, in an upstairs room off a balcony that overlooked the domed entrance, and a sweet cup of mint tea. Honestly, for €70, it was a pretty good bang for my buck, especially compared to what other spas in Paris would charge for a similar experience. I will definitely go back, and plan to add this fantastic spot to our Paris travel guide. But now I know—don’t forget your flip-flops, run to the pool in the hot room, and be prepared to get gommaged out of your own skin.
If you do happen by the Grande Mosquée, set aside some extra time to enjoy lunch in their beautiful outdoor courtyard. We’ve got some recommendations on our site for where to eat and drink in the open air (whether by boat, bike, or bus), in order to take advantage of the last of the hot weather in Paris. And, even if you get caught in the temperamental autumn rain, here are some ideas for catching dinner and a movie in Paris, or how to spend a rainy day in Paris.
For the New York francophiles…
There’s a fabulous exhibit on the famous French jeweler André Chervin at the New-York Historical Society called Enchanting Imagination: The Objets d’Art of André Chervin and Carvin French Jewelers. If you visit, be sure to arrive just before the next hour strikes, as these incredible bejeweled trinkets and works of art, many of which are actually lamps in disguise, put on a small light show on the hour.
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