A couple of weeks ago we were invited by some friends to their dacha over the weekend. There, we had our first banya experience so here’s a little report of how it went:
The dacha house was basically like a normal home with all necessary amenities such as a washing machine and flat screen TV, situated in the midst of a forest not far away from the Yenissei. It’s no surprise that the family spend almost the entire summer in here, especially the grandparents and grandchildren. The banya wasn’t separated from the main house but located next to the kitchen, connected by a washing a room. A woodstove installed in the kitchen was heating the banya but simultaneously also the whole ground floor. (Even so, there was proper gas heating installed in the house as well, probably in case you don’t wanna chop wood and go into the banya sometimes.)
The water cycle
I was a bit surprised that our hosts didn’t deem it necessary to have a quick wash before sitting down in the banya or during the breaks, unlike what I’ve been used to in Finland. (Possibly, the water pipes were still frozen and so they simply didn’t wanna have to get water for washing from outside all the time.) If anything, you could decide to jump into the snow outside the door – same crazy ritual as in Finland. One peculiar thing I had never seen was that cute felt hat which apparently serves to prevent your head from overheating. During the breaks, we relaxed and recovered on the sofa in the kitchen and watched the four-year old son transport bread on his toy truck, before it was finally time to face the snow once again. (Needless to say, you’d run back inside like a scalded cat and praise the hot water that the woodstove had warmed up.)
The birch twigs
As commonly known, Russians indulge in the old tradition of slapping or massaging oneself or each other with birch twigs, which supposedly fosters the blood circulation in your body. Depending on the season, you use freshly picked or dried birch twigs (these ones you got to soak in water first to make them soft again, plus you can pour that same water over the oven stones). The soaked twigs especially don’t hurt but actually feel rather pleasant indeed. Notably, birch is only the most popular type of tree but you can use a large variety of other types as well, such as oak, eucalyptus, linden or maple, which then also have different effects (cleansing your skin by opening pores, disinfecting, anti-inflammation, etc.).
When you’re done with sweating and washing and leave the washing room, you’ll be greated by the traditional “С лёгким паром,” meaning something along the lines of “with light steam.” In other words, you leave the banya relaxed, recovered and liberated from the worries you went in with (and which you will probably be facing again now).
All in all, we had a nice weekend with loads of food, drinks, talks and banya. Apparently, it’s not that much different in public banyas where you can usually find restaurants to rest and talk about anything and everything during breaks or afterwards. But whether the banya is really being used for striking and cementing business deals, I have to find out another time.