Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Night at the Banya

A few months ago, Ryan told me that he wanted to take me to a Russian "banya" or bath house.  Apparently he had spotted one in a shady strip mall near where we live.

"A Russian banya?" I replied incredulously. "Like, where you sit in a sauna and then jump into an icy pool and then they whack you with reeds?"

"Exactly," he said, and we both had a good laugh, and that was the end of it.

Well, imagine my surprise when I was going through a coupon mailer a few weeks later, and I spotted a 50% off coupon for the very banya that Ryan had seen near our house.

I couldn't resist.

Ryan knew that I had a surprise belated-Valentines outing planned for his day off of work, and on Monday, he woke up to this:

"Open me to find out what you're doing on your special date."
Each doll had part of the message:
"We are going to a Russian crepe cafe and the banya!"
Ryan served a two-year mission for our church in Russia, and he majored in Russian at BYU, so you better believe he was excited about our Russian-themed date.  First we went to brunch at a Russian crepe cafe and tried oladies (fried pancakes filled with apples), vareniki (boiled dumplings filled with mashed potatoes), and blini (crepes filled with homemade farmers cheese and cranberry).  The food was yummy, and I just love little family-run restaurants.  The owner/cook came out to our table to ask us how we were enjoying our experience, and I put Ryan on the spot by telling her that he speaks Russian.  She immediately said, "Are you Mormons?":)  Then they spoke Russian to each other for a few minutes, and I enjoyed every minute of it.  I think my husband is smart.

That evening, we left Noah Bug with my dad, and Ryan and I made our way to the infamous banya.

Now, I know what you're all thinking--because it's the first thing that I thought when I heard the word "banya."  Will I have to be naked??  Just typing that word makes my cheeks red.  Before I made the appointments, I wanted to make sure that no one would see me in the nude, but I didn't know how to ask the question, and I felt too stupid to actually utter it over the phone, so I sent the manager an email and asked, "What would I be wearing during an appointment?"  Hahaha...prudish American!  She responded that Russians do not wear anything while at the banya, but that I was welcome to wear a swimsuit (problem is, I only have one-piece suits with shorts).  She also said that, "should you choose to be nude," the facility is completely private--only my husband would be anywhere near me during the appointment--and any time the "sauna therapist" came into the room to heat the stones or to do the "oak leaf treatment" (AKA whack us with reeds) we could cover up with the towels that are plentifully available for such use.

I know this is going to shock a lot of you, but Ryan has seen me in the nude before, so I decided I could probably handle this little adventure and decided to live on the wild side and give it a try.

Here we are, fully clothed and headed out for our date, wearing Ryan's stylish уша́нка hats (yes I just used a Russian word--thank you Wikipedia!):

Also wearing my Russian matryoshka doll apron.  Didn't wear that out of the house.
And here we are, arriving at our classy banya:

Despite its location in a tacky strip mall, the banya itself was actually extremely nice inside--so surprising.  It was super classy and relaxing.  We were greeted at the desk by a beautiful and exotic Russian woman who looked like she should be in a spy movie, and then we met our "sauna therapist" Vladimir who had the thickest accent I've ever heard.  He explained how the evening would go, but I couldn't understand a word that he said.

He showed us to our changing room, where Ryan put on another stylish hat that was waiting for him:

Translation: 100% Man.
Not kidding.
They then took us to a cozy sauna room where we lay on our stomachs facing each other, towels strategically draped, and baked in the intense heat for several minutes.  I am slightly claustrophobic, so I couldn't decide if I liked this part or not.

Then, as Vladimir put it, it was "plunge time."

Outside of our sauna, there was a totally private little pool--about 8 feet x 8 feet x 8 feet--full of ice cold water.  It took me a few moments to get my courage, but then I dropped my towel and cannon balled in.

Ryan and I couldn't stop laughing.

Basically, this process repeated several times.  We baked, then we plunged, then our legs and backs and arms were whacked with a bunch of oak leaf branches, then we were slathered in a honey mixture, and we baked some more...

it was super funny...and super fun...a little bit refreshing...a little bit bizarre.  Definitely worth trying once in my lifetime.

And the best part?  I got through the entire experience without anyone seeing me in the nude who had not seen that sight before.

Thank goodness.


  1. haha! this cracks me up! I TOTALLY want to go to the Russian Banya. We had bath houses in Korea and they were amazing. Too bad they weren't private just for husbands and wives. I'm pretty sure I as always the fattest and hairiest in korea. Seriously. Koreans don't even have hair under their arms or legs and like I shaved ever on my mission. I would seriously LOVe to take Thayne to one some day but Korean bath houses are all female/male. Love the story. Love the date. Jealous. :)

  2. That's hysterical. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Funny post! What a memorable date! :)

  4. RACHEL! I am DYING. Like, really, actually laughing out loud. The last post about the V-Day plunger when I said "only you"? Yeah, this is sooooo much better. "AKA whack us with reeds" and "I didn't understand a word he said." HAHAHAHAHA. Where do you come up with this stuff?? You make my heart smile. PS I am proud of you for taking a real, legitimate Russian "plunge." I mean, if you're gonna do it, DO IT.

  5. This is great! Love it. Can you send some of that incredible Ryan-esque romance to Snyder? Mike needs a dose. We're up to our eyeballs in kids here and the last time we went out together on a date was JULY!! Egads!!

    But SO FUN! Good for you!

  6. You are brave. I don't know if I could have done that.

  7. I dont know what else to say but LOL. I loved this so much that I read it out loud to Matt tonight :) thanks for the story telling - and for giving me a knowledge base of banyans - I am totally going to be keeping an eye out for one :)

  8. I went to a turkish bath with some other female students while during a Ricks College study abroad. I'll never forget it. It was way more uncomfortable then the Banya with your husband sounded. You guys are way too fun. There is no way we would ever plan this type of date.

  9. Haha...I love this story! You've got to take advantage of the experiences you can in this life right? How in the world did a Bayna get in Aurora, CO?

  10. Love this story!! The way I can relate to this is when the family went to a bath house in Korea. It was quite the experience for a 13 year old. I wonder what Tanner remembers of the experience? He was 9. When the family gets together we will have to reminisce about our bath house experiences! Thanks for the good laugh!

  11. Know my favorite part of this whole post? That Ryan wore that ridiculous hat out in public, especially to the banya. The Russians must have thought he was an absolutely ridiculous American. :) FUN!

  12. Sounds like fun! I went to a real banya in Russia, and it wasn't quite as nice as your experience. I remember a lot of naked women and a lot of cockroaches.

  13. That's very cute -- how you told him about your surprise with the matryoshka dolls. I'm glad you had fun for your first banya experience. It might seem odd, but regular perusal of a banya, much like a sauna, can lead to improved health. So it's not a bad thing to do it again some other time.

    iHealth Saunas


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