Stripped and Whipped: The Russian Banya According to Galya

October 10, 2011

I thought I knew what to expect when Galya invited me to use the banya at her dacha. From what I’d heard, it was a sauna. Just—Russian. Sort of like “blini” are really Russian crêpes. Argue with me all you want. They are crêpes.

It was my first time at the dacha with my host mom Galya and her best friend Natasha. After a long day of mushroom picking and exploring the pleasantly cool afternoon, Galya led me to the innocent-looking wooden building (the banya). I found myself in a cozy little room that hosted a bed, an armchair, and a dresser filled with felt hats. There were towels and bathrobes decorating the wooden walls, and a closed door that seemed to lead to the sauna portion. My admiration of the sweet little room was interrupted by my host mother ordering, “Okay! Time to strip!”

I wasn’t that fazed since I had expected to be allowed only a towel, maybe a bathing suit. But then Natasha walked in from the sauna, completely naked—except for a felt hat perched on her head. I turned in embarrassment and saw Galya, now naked and donning her hat. “Come on! Quickly, quickly!” Galya hastily shoved a hat at me and hurried through the mystery door with Natasha. I guess I didn’t get a towel after all!

I finished undressing and put on my new hat. Cracking open the door, I was met with a blast of dry heat and blinding darkness. “Shut the door behind you!” came a muffled call from ahead of me. I closed the door and realized that I was in a very narrow room between the changing and the sauna portions of the banya. A small amount of light was escaping from a closed fireplace, and it lit up the door directly ahead of me enough for me to fumble with the handle and tip-toe in.

Galya and Natasha were lying on the wooden platforms, pretty typical for any sauna—what made the difference here was the protruding, ceiling-high fireplace that heated the room and smelled absolutely heavenly. I lay down until Galya and Natasha decided we’d been inside long enough. They popped up and rushed out the door. I scurried off behind them, but when I reached the changing room they weren’t there.

“Sarah, over here!” I turned and saw Galya filling up buckets with a hose outside buck-naked in her front yard. I inched out, nervously peering around for scandalized neighbors. “Это очень полезный!”[1] From out of nowhere, I was drenched with a bucket of freezing cold water. Galya and Natasha poured the remaining buckets on themselves, then began heading back into the banya.

“Don’t forget your hat!” Galya cried. I followed Galya and Natasha back in and lay down again. After a moment, Galya got up. “Stand there!” she commanded. Natasha and I stood in the corner and covered our faces while Galya threw a jug of water into the fireplace, producing smoke and steam that curled around us. I began turning back when Galya ordered me, “Turn around!” After I turned my back to her she then said something I didn’t understand. I bewilderedly answered, “Okay.” Then Galya whacked me from behind with a tree branch. “Oh!” I cried out, whirling around with my hands over my derrière. “Turn, turn! It’s the best massage! Очень полезный!”

So I turned around and let her beat me with the branch. After she and Natasha took turns beating each other, we went outside to pour water on ourselves again. When it became clear that we were going in a third time, I chuckled to myself, “Ha, this can’t possibly get crazier.” We steamed again, beat each other with branches again(it actually felt pretty good, I have to admit! They soak them in hot, perfumed water for a long time before the “massage”), and then headed outside. This time we were wearing bathrobes, so I figured we were done.

I followed Galya into her yard, past the dacha, out the gate, and down to the river. She stopped at a little bench and, in public and in broad daylight, stripped and jumped into 10˚C (50˚F) water. “Come on in! Это полезный!” And you know what? I did. It felt fantastic!

The entire third step was repeated one last time (Did I think I was done? Ha!), but that time it ended with us diving headfirst into deeper water from a little bridge. My dear readers, blini may be crêpes, but nothing can compare to the Russian banya experience! Besides, it’s очень полезный.

Signing out,

Sarah


[1] It’s very useful! (in the sense that it’s good for you)

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4 Responses to “Stripped and Whipped: The Russian Banya According to Galya”

  1. sarahinthegoldencircle said

    To see photos of the banya and the river we jumped into, check out my dacha post at: https://russianyear.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/galyas-dacha-a-day-in-pictures/
    Or, you could just scroll down the page!))

  2. Аня said

    What an amazing experience!!!

    • sarahinthegoldencircle said

      Haha it really was! Anya, I know you’re from Ukraine–is the banya as popular there as it is here in Russia?

  3. […] Stripped and Whipped: The Russian Banya According to Galya […]

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