Hot steam, icy pool, refreshing beer and warming tea - mm... sounds delicious. But... not knowing what exactly will be happening and what you are expected to do after paying the entrance fee to one of Moscow public banyas can make one hesitant about going.
I hope this guide to banya rules and etiquette will help you feel more experienced even before you go and fully enjoy it. The guide is based on Krasnopresnenskye baths visit, but the routine and customs are more or less the same in every public banya in Moscow.
At which moment should I undress?
Banya consists of several rooms: a resting room which looks like a spacious changing room with separate booths - here you leave your clothes and your belongings (valuables can be left in a safe at the reception), rest between sessions, order drinks and food. Here you take off your clothes and put on a bathrobe or wrap yourself in a towel. And when you go to a steam room you take this robe/towel off and sit on it.
Why do people beat themselves with birch branches and must I do that too?
This treatment is performed with birch or oak twigs (веник - venik) - they are sold dried and have to soak in water for at least one hour to absorb water and restore their flexibility. Being "beaten" with a venik is not painful at all: purpose of this "energetic tapping" it to beat steam down to your skin, creating additional heat and stimulating blood circulation. If you don't feel hot enough, a venik should help. Beating someone with a venik is physically challenging as it has to be performed at 80-100 degrees Celcius. Some people do it by themselves, others ask a friend or order it as a service.
What if I will feel too hot?
A steam room is prepared by a professional steam maker (банщица - banschitsa) every 40-50 minutes. To summon people for a steaming session, she rings a bell (it is "he" in the men's section). Visitors come in and take places on the steps or at the second deck. Be aware - the higher you climb the hotter it is! Start with lowers steps. Then she locks the room to not let anyone open the door suddenly from outside while she will be splashing water into the heated insides of the stove - a gust of air can burn her face. After she closes the stove's shutter, she waves a towel above her head to spread steam around the room. If the heat bites your face, put your hands on it. It is also important to wear a felt hat (can be bought on the reception desk). Steaming with a locked door lasts for about 5-10 minutes, then she opens the door and wish everyone "a nice steam". Now you can change your seat, beat yourself with a venik or leave the room for other activities. An etiquette rule: keep your voice down in a steam room.
What to do between sessions?
It feels great to interchange steaming with cooling down. Swim in a pool, take a cool shower, rub yourself with snow and ice and order a drink at your seat in a resting room.
Walk around wearing comfortable flip flops with a good grip. Eat a couple of hours before banya - do not go there hungry. Protect your head with a felt hat. Start with lower steps in a steam room - it is cooler there. Protect your eyes hiding them behind your palms when a steam maker says "glazki zakryvayem" (close your eyes).
What to bring?
You will need:
- a towel (полотенце - polotentse) - can be rented at the reception desk
- optionally - a sheet (простынь - prostyn) to sit on - can be rented at the reception desk
- optionally - a bathrobe (халат - khalat)
- a felt hat - (шапка - shapka) - can be bought at the reception desk
- rubber flip-flops with good grip
- soap, scrub, cream, shampoo, shower gel
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