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Russian Banya Experience

St Petersburg, Russia, 191317
16 Kudos
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After watching a couple of documentaries of celebrities like Anthony Bourdain and Chelsea Handler going to Russia and taking in doing the Russian Banya (bath) thing, we just had to try to experience it first hand ourselves. Young Russians don't generally get into the tradition as much as the older generations, so our friends told us to go at this one on our own if we wanted. So after searching online and making some inquiries we ran across a reasonably priced offering on AirBnb experiences for a private banya event. Usually if you go to a banya on your own, the men go their own area, and the women to theirs, and don't mix as it's generally done in the buff if you're a true Russian. But for about $80, we scheduled a private session for the two of us with a guide.
We were directed to arrive at a designated time with a towel, swimsuit and flip-flops which we had brought all the way from the U.S. for just this purpose. On arrival we were taken to a large area reserved just for us, with changing rooms, a lounge area with pool tables and tables for snacking, and the banya itself, which included a large cold pool area, and the big event, the steam room. So the deal is you get all changed, don the cute little felt hats that are traditionally worn for whatever reason, wet down your venik branches (a type of birch), and go into the steam room. After getting the heat on by pouring water on the hot stones, our guide showed us how to whack each other with the branches to get some blood flowing to the surface and do whatever venik is supposed to do, which was pretty fun and hilarious in itself. Then after you're about to pass out, you exit to where there's a large wooden bucket of cold water suspended over the doorway with a rope, pull the rope and get hit with an icy blast of cold water before stepping into the cold pools to cool off. It was bracing to say the least! And after making this circuit a few times, you have some snacks and refreshments, traditionally vodka and dried fish, but we just had soft drinks and chips. I'm not sure that alcohol would be such a good idea for neophytes like us anyway, as the sudden temperature changes were making us quite loopy by themselves, and I had to hold on to the wall to make sure I didn't go down with a little bout of dizziness from it all. Another one and done, we had a great time and really enjoyed the funny hats and branch beating just like on TV, but not sure it would be worth the trouble to repeat due to the cost and gain ratio. So if you ever go to Russia, check out the AirBnb offering and go experience this quintessentially Russian tradition. You'll feel like a local for sure!
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1 Comment

by mimpimanis

12-07-2019

Whack each other with branches! Hilarious