Monday, January 3, 2011

The End (Kind of)

So here I am in week 2 of life of post Russia, basking in the seemingly endless sunshine and warmth of tropical Beverly Massachusetts trying to finish up this blog. I last left off at the beginning of December after Katya's birthday. That leaves about two or three weeks of stuff, so I'll try to keep it as brief as possible. One of the major highlights of the last few weeks was our excursion to the Russian bath house, or banya. Banyas are quintessentially Russian, and in my opinion, are a must for anyone, even those who have absolutely no interest in Russian culture beyond consuming excessive amounts of vodka. Banyas have an endless history, and endless traditions associated with them. The banya we went to was a 'white banya', meaning the smoke from the wood stove was piped out of the building, as opposed to a 'black banya' where smoke is supposed to filter out through a hole in the ceiling. From what I can gather, the 'black banya' experience can be easily replicated by stripping down naked and setting the room you are in on fire. Obviously, 'white banyas' are more desirable.
The main room in the banya is the steam room. Unlike a "Finnish" banya, a dry heat bath house, the Russian banya relies on hot steam. The banya cycle then starts. Short periods of ten or so minutes in the steam room, alternated with either jumping in the snow, or a pool of water. The day we were at the banya was in the negative teens, with a healthy foot plus of snow on the ground, so I got to do both. The pool was the wildest part. Our pool was outside, so to get to it one first had to slip and slide over the ice. Once out of the pool, steam would come off your body in waves, and any water that dripped off of you would instantly freeze, whether it be to the ground (making a rather lethal ice slick) or the ladder leading out of the pool (often freezing your hands to the ladder as well).
Perhaps my favorite part of the banya however is the birch branches. It is a Russian tradition to beat ones self or ones friends with birch branches. I don't know why this ever struck someone as a good idea, but I found it to be a delightful experience. Not only do you get to channel all of your rage into beating your banya-mate, it feels great to!
The next week was the Baltica beer brewery. If you can remember back to the summer, I did an excursion to Balitca, which ended up being a rather delightful, if not slightly fuzzy day in my memory. This time around we were not so lucky. We arrived at the factory for the last tour (I have a hunch that this was planned) and as such, our "sampling" time was cut painfully short. But such is life I guess.
The last week was spent studying for/taking finals, which I feel no need to reminisce about here. Our time in Russia ended with a lovely banquet held on the last Friday. I won a beautiful Eдинная Россия headband, and took part in a significantly less beautiful reproduction of a scene from the classic film "Irony of Fate". Our plane flight home was also a nightmare, including, but not limited to, being diverted to another German airport because of snow, missing our flight, a mad dash across Frankfurt's airport to get on another flight, and my baggage being lost somewhere between St. Petersburg and Boston for nine days.
And that brings us to the present. This is not going to be my last entry, I still have my volga trip to finish up, so stay tuned!

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