JR and I took advantage of President’s Day to spend an afternoon sans kids downtown. It was a gorgeous day and we decided to visit the Royal Bath House to relax in the famous Georgian sulphur baths.
Tbilisi actually means warm river, and the hot mineral springs led to the development of the bath house district downtown called Abanotubani. There is some archaeological evidence finding Roman-style baths in the city as far back as the 1st century but the baths became increasingly popular at the height of the Silk Road. During the period of the Russian Empire, even famous bathers like Alexander Pushkin and Alexandre Dumas enjoyed the healing waters in Abanotubani.
You can enjoy public baths and rub elbows with the locals or you can get your own private bath for more money. For 95 gel, we reserved a private room that included a cold bath, hot bath, sauna, changing room, and relaxation room with couches and chairs for 1 hour. Overall it was a very large space all to ourselves, and we felt comfortable as we changed into our swimsuits (technically you’re supposed to be naked but no thank you very much, we packed our suits).
JR ordered a beer and we enjoyed soaking in the hot bath for awhile before there was a knock on the door. In walked a stern looking woman for my scheduled Kisa (part massage, part body wash and scrub). Even though this was on the edge of my comfort zone I wanted to try a traditional Georgian bathhouse experience. After looking at the historical pictures displayed on the walls of the bathhouse entrance, JR politely declined his own Kisa.
She motioned me toward the marble ledge and indicated that I should remove my suit and lay down. I put my hand protectively over my chest and said “no thank you”, but she gave me a look and a hand motion that left no room for argument. I pulled down the top of my halter-style one piece and gave her an embarrassed look like, um will this suffice? (Interesting note, this is the same swimsuit I was wearing when I was borderline taken advantage of by a masseuse on the beach in Santorini!) She nodded yes. I am NOT a naked person, so this whole scene was particularly humorous for JR.
I laid down on the ledge and she immediately starting sloshing buckets of hot water on me and my now very exposed skin. I was trying hard not to laugh. She pulled out a loofah and rubbed it all over me, and then gave me a swift swat on my thigh to tell me it was time to turn over. This is when JR actually said “this is hilarious, can I get another beer?” since he knew how uncomfortable I was. I was facedown for a bit as she used the loofah on my back, and then she gave me another swat on my butt when it was time to flip back over.
Next, she used some delicious smelling soap and a linen bag to create a ton of bubbles that she sudsed all over me. There was no room for modesty, there was nothing between me and this lady as she did a very thorough job with the washing. She briefly used a small sponge that felt like a brillo pad but luckily it wasn’t too intense and didn’t last long. Finally she doused me with more buckets of hot water, then gave me one final swat and proclaimed “Bce” (pronounced “vse ” – Russian for all done!).
Once my Kisa was over, we had about 30 minutes left to enjoy the baths and the sauna. Despite my awkwardness, the experience was more enjoyable than I expected, and definitely something everyone should try at least once in Tbilisi!