30 minutes in a Georgian Bathhouse

I'm taking some time to go back and expand upon stories from my trip that I wish I'd given more time to, or that people have asked about. The number one most requested story was my trip to the Georgian bathhouse, though I have a feeling it loses something in being written down. Also, sorry for the lack of photos, but they tend to frown on that in public baths, what with all the naked folks. 

Turkish bathhouses (hammams) are famous world over for their relaxing atmosphere. Significantly less famous, and exponentially less relaxing, is the Georgian bathhouse (abano). To be fair, there are many bathhouse options in Tbilisi, and I'm sure that some of them are lovely and spa-like. But Abano No.5 was not that place.

I had never been to any kind of bathhouse before. To be honest, I'm not really big on stripping naked in front of a bunch of strangers, much less sharing a communal body of water with said naked strangers. But I decided that my 33rd birthday was as good a time as any to pop my public nudity cherry. And so I found myself at Abano No. 5, the public bathhouse in Tbilisi, at 10:00 on a Tuesday morning.

I like to go into things prepared, so I'd read some blogs about the experience before I went. Everyone loved it, raved about it, said you had to go. I walked in and paid the lady my money, splurging for the "pilling and massage" like the bloggers recommended -  a grand total of $13.

The attendant pointed me downstairs, where I immediately got anxious because there were no signs on the doors. Eventually I saw a man come out of one of the rooms, and so I entered the other door. Four women sat at a table drinking tea, and as I came in one of them, a short but sturdy-looking woman perhaps in her early 50's, rose and took my receipt. She wordlessly pointed me to some lockers and made motions that I was to leave my clothes and go into the showers.

I stood under the shower head, letting the smell of sulfur (did I mention these are sulfur baths?) soak into my hair and skin, and trying to gauge my fellow bathers out of the corner of my eye. Just a couple of older ladies, one who had her granddaughter with her. Okay, I can do this, I can stand naked in a room with old ladies and children. Maybe I can even feel pretty confident in my 33-year-old body while I do it (or maybe that's pushing things...)

Now, based on what I'd read, I thought I was supposed to shower and then there would be some kind of a tub or pool for soaking. So after a minute or two in the shower I went back out to look for my lady and figure out where the pool was. I had not been given a towel, so I stepped through the door naked and dripping everywhere. The lady ran at me, with many instructions in Georgian that I did not understand, but the gist was - stay in the shower until I come for you. Okaaaaay.

Five awkward shower minutes later, while the older women gave me some serious side-eye as they shampooed their hair and took actual baths, and I just moved aimlessly under the spray, she came for me - dressed for work now, in just her bra and underwear. Where was my relaxing pool? Instead I was pushed towards a cold marble ledge on the edge of the same room, where she lay me down. She put on a loofah mitt, squeezed something on it, and started scrubbing.

This was not your typical exfoliation, but a full-on removal of an entire lifetime of dead skin (and maybe some that was still living). The debris piled up on the white marble as she laid me down one way, flipped me over, moved me around. A couple of times as she tried to get to elbows or around shoulders, she used her cleavage to hold my arm in place, wedging my hand right in there so I couldn't escape. She scrubbed very nearly every inch of me until it was raw, save a precious few inches that I am rather grateful she left intact.

Then the "massage" began. She put a sponge in a bag with some soap that smelled like laundry detergent, and then held the bag above me and squeezed out the soap suds as she rubbed me down roughly. She made me sit up so she could wash my hair, with my face bouncing around her ample bosom as she scrubbed my scalp clean. She dumped some buckets of water on me to rinse me off, and then pushed me back under the shower.

Less than 30 minutes later, I was dressed again and back outside, blinking in the sunlight and smelling of rotten eggs (it took multiple washes to get that smell out of my hair). In spite of the rough handling, I left feeling oddly relaxed (or maybe just bewildered), and my skin was as soft as it ever has been or likely ever will be.

A month later I was in Turkey and I knew I should try out the famous hammams... but I couldn't quite bring myself to do it. It was an adventure and I'm glad I tried it, but I think I need a few more years to recover from the abano. 


  1. My experience was roughly the same at a ham man in Turkey and Morocco, you had not missed anything 😊 Tania Porteous


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