Experience an authentic Russian banya
In the middle of St. Petersburg, a ten-minute walk from Alexander Nevsky Square, stands the city's only remaining wood-fired public banya, Mytninskie Bani. As is the case with many other banyas, there is a luxury compartment, as well as spaces that can be booked for private events. However, I want to experience the banya at its most authentic, so I take the cheapest option.
The cashier says that an hour of bathing costs 145 roubles (about € 3.70). After paying for admission, I go to the women's dressing room. In addition to a towel, a seat cover and sandals, my bag contains the traditional Russian banya snacks: dried fish and a bottle of beer. The final touch is a felt hat, which makes it easy to blend in with the local ladies and protect my ears from the heat.
The hat is a necessity. The heat of the banya feels much more intense than in a Finnish cabin sauna.
The hat is a necessity. The heat of the banya feels much more intense than in a Finnish cabin sauna. According to tradition, banyas go back to bread ovens, which were used for bathing as late as the 19th century.
The idea of a bread oven came to mind when a door in the wall of the dim room was opened, and water was thrown inside. Those sitting on the benches were quick to say when they had enough. I willingly leave the throwing of water to more experienced visitors.
Whisking with bundled tree branches is something that is taken seriously: the most enthusiastic beat themselves with two whisks at once, and the leaves fly all around- The whisks, or veniki are not made only of the birch that is familiar to Finns. The aroma of oak and juniper can is present in the area. In most banyas it is possible to buy veniki on the spot.
The humid steam soon becomes too hot so I slip into the washroom. People generally do not spend too much time in the heat, but washing and cooling off in the dressing room is a longer process. Elderly ladies who have the appearance of regular clients talk in the washroom. When I start to leave, one of the women wishes me "S legkim parom" freely translated, it means "have a nice bath! Fortunately I know how to answer spasibo, or thank you.