So the banya. I read about banyas and what a part of life they are for Russians so I knew I had to try it. I went with the one in the guidebook as they recommended it highly. After probably 30 min of charades we agreed to steam bath, venik (exfoliation using oaks branches soaked in soapy water with eucalyptus oil) and 1/2 hour massage for neck and feet.
As I followed the woman into the steam room she disrobed and directed me up the stairs to some cedar benches. Then she opened an iron door in the 2 story brick furnace and began throwing in ladles of water. Within 60 seconds the temperature began to rise. And rise. And rise. After about 3 min it was becoming hard to breathe deeply. I indicated this to her and she told me to put my towel on the floor and put my head between my knees. (Heat rises so get lower was the idea I think.) This did help a little but I swear it was so hot it felt like my eyelashes were burning my cheeks when I closed my eyes tight. She said something like '80' and I think maybe she meant it was 80* C? I don't know what that is in F, but it was insanely intense!
After 10 min (which felt like 30) I couldn't take it anymore. She took me out to the main bath area and had me stand with my back to the tubs of water. She dipped a large bucket and starting at my feet, she poured ice cold water on my legs, back and then over my head, and it felt wonderful! She poured another bucket over my head and then took me back to the steam room. After a few more min in there I had had enough. I went out to the sitting room where the food, water and tea I had ordered were waiting. My heart was racing but she said that was normal. (Again, remember I am miming everything to communicate.)
Then it was time for venik. I layed down on my stomach and she started softly then got progressively harder. Then she had me turn over and put my hands over my breasts and she did the front. Other women were in the steam room and they were standing on the benches trying to get to the hottest spot in the room!
After this it was time for my massage. I like a good strong massage so I charaded to her 'strong massage! Grrr!' let me just give a word of warning to any of you that might be planning to get a massage from a Russian masseuse anytime soon. They take you seriously! That was Wed, today is Fri and I'm *almost* not sore anymore. It was miraculous for my feet but my neck and upper back are still sore.