By Brian, NSLI-Y Russia, Summer
The Russian “banya” experience is unlike any other. It proved to be, in the end, my most memorable experience with my host family there. The first time my host family told me we were going to the countryside “dacha” I was curious, but very naïve about what that meant. Little did I know it meant an entire day of picking fresh vegetables from a home-grown garden, swimming in a nearby stream, roasting local meats from a butcher, playing volleyball with friends, and “relaxing” in a giant wood-fired sauna called a “banya.”
Bathers are supposed to wear only a canvas skirt and a wool hat. And before entering, you’re supposed to lie down on your stomach while someone else hits tree-switches across your back that have been dipped in special oils that have a cleansing effect. The “banya” gets heated up to over 145 degrees Farenheit, and steam is made by throwing cold water on rocks that cover the wood-fired furnace. It’s hot, intense, and lots of fun—definitely an unforgettable experience!