Russian Wooden Banya

These past few days in Moscow were very interesting, but I have to say that my Sunday was another big step in my Transiberian pilgrimage. On Sunday morning, I woke up early to go to a Polish Mass in a Russian Catholic Church, one of two Catholic Churches in Moscow. Another thing I love about the Catholic Church is that the Mass is always the same, in any language, but it was definitely pleasant to hear a language I spoke and to feel the familiarity of my Polish culture. At the end of the Mass, I found a woman who was from Belarus and had a Polish mother show me where the metro was. She was so wonderful and it would have taken me twice as long if I had tried to find it myself, since it was around a 25 minute walk.

Later, I looked for the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, which a hostel worker told me was in this far off suburb of Russia. I followed his directions and ended up in some random town or towns outside of Moscow. Then I got out and walked for 2.5 hours looking for this cathedral. I thought it was odd that this famous Cathedral would be in such a random and far off location, but I just kept looking. I spoke to many people and everyone would lead me in a different direction. I finally figured out that some people had no clue because they would tell me it was on the other side of the street, when that wasn’t possible since I was looking for an odd number and the even numbers were across the street. I was in a rather precarious neighborhood; it looked like typical housing in Eastern Europe, we call them “bloki” and it looks similar to housing projects and is, of course, unsafe as you’ve got a lot of poverty stricken people living in thousands of these apartments. I walked through many lots of these bloki, past many drunk men and finally found a church. Of course, it wasn’t the church I was looking for, but it was definitely a really neat sight to see a beautiful red Russian orthodox church in the middle of these grey run down bloki. So, after a few hours of this, I finally hopped back on a metro four stops from the metro I was originally on and went back to the hostel to wake Sharon up at around 1:30pm. (She had stayed up all night).

As it turned out, we looked up the Cathedral in her book and I had already been to it! It was the first church we walked into in the Red Square on my first day in Moscow! This morning definitely made for an interesting detour.

After that, we went to one of the oldest Russian bathhouses in Moscow. It was an incredibly luxurious experience for around $40. At first, we walked into a marble building, and went into the waiting area. We got undressed, wrapped towels around ourselves, had slippers given to us and then went inside the room. Then, we unwrapped the towels and sat on them in the steam room to open our pores. After we were incredibly hot, we jumped into these round wooden individual baths that were filled with cold water. We would then repeat the process, but every second time we went into the steam, we were allowed to beat ourselves with the bundle of sticks you see pictured above, a bundle of birch and oak leaves to improve circulation and speed the process of removal of toxins. I think it was working pretty well because I felt light headed immediately after I got into the cold water after the hot steam.

In between this process, we would drink lots of water and eat a snack we brought with us. It was wonderful because at one point, I went in on my own and I was just in there with one other English-speaking Russian and all these other naked women. She told me to cover my eyes and all of a sudden this boiling liquid was thrown our way. It was fantastic. and then the ladies kept saying it wasn’t hot enough, and they’d raise their hands up and feel the air above and say, hotter and hotter and they kept this dialogue with the woman doing it and it got SO hot that I couldn’t handle it, but they wouldn’t let me leave. I’m glad I stayed because I got a totally intense experience. When I got into the cold water after that, I felt so good.

We’re off to Suzdal right now and then to Perm to see a concentration camp museum, so I’m not sure when I’ll have a chance to write again, but I will try very soon.