In Russia, we spent two days in Suzdal, a tiny medieval town just a three hour train ride North of Moscow. We stayed in a small bed and breakfast owned by a talkative man named Oleg who laughed at all of his own jokes. Each morning, his Babushka cooked us delicious homemade breakfasts of blinis and tiny cottage-cheese filled pancakes. On arrival, she had a warm Sharlotka waiting for us on the table (a buttery and slightly sweet apple cake, served with tea. I have the recipe!).
Anyway! The best part of our stay was the banya, a Russian sauna. A lot of people have private banyas on their property and there are public ones in the city. In medieval times, the banya was a way for villagers to cleanse their bodies. In Moscow, I am told that they even open the banyas up to the homeless once a year for a good steam cleaning. (!) The heat and humidity is said to aid in blood circulation and increase metabolism. And it feels amazing.
Our banya was a small wooden cabin, built by Oleg himself, located behind the main house. The entry room had a sitting area with a shower stall and bathroom. The steam room was two rows of tiered benches situated next to a brick chamber filled with large stones arranged over a wood burning stove.
- Take off all of your clothes. Wrap up in a towel and put on your Chapka, a felt hat that's meant to protect your hair from the hot hot heat. You may look like a dork (as pictured).
- Post up in the entry room and drink copious amounts of honey wine. ::Hiccup!::
- Enter the steam room. Splash water on the hot rocks to emit the steam. Herb-infused water may be splashed on the banya walls to create a soothing vapor. Commence sweating.
- Vigorously beat your banya partners with bundles of Birch branches. This part feels better than it sounds.
- When you can no longer stand it, run outside and roll in the snow! In my case, I fell in the snow (honey wine?) and Kurt pelted me with snow balls.
- Rinse and repeat.