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Travels in Russia

Russian Remonts
Stop Theif!
Almost Worth Staying For
Offshore Your Rubles in Swiss Accounts
Russian Women
You Can Buy Anything in a Russian Kiosk!
What Did Russians Eat Before Potaotes?
Anything Can Be Scrap Metal
Serious Soviet Pollution
Day-Tripping Around the Garden Ring
The Russian Poezd
Yeltsin's Family
Soviet Photography
Happy Times in HTML Hell
Road Runners Rule!
Piva is Good!
A Subaka Says What?
Soviet Swimming
Manly Russian Men
And Peter is a Distant Second
Invest in Russia?!
The Zen of the Line
But He Went by the Name of Lenin
That Looks Just Like My Dom
Russian Adoptions by the Dozen
Internet Cafes Are Everywhere
Going to See Mama Russia
Going to the Movies
Russian Visas
Eta Notebook Batteria, Durak!
Fidelity is Not a Brokerage
Soviet Suburban Living
Taking the tramvai
Cash Transfers Across Russia
Time to go...
Do Your Spring Cleaning Now!
Reclama Nation
Russians Do Tours
Going Local
Pecktopan = Restaurants
Yevgeniy Primakov, Who?
101 Reasons Why NATO's War Sucks
A State Secrect: Women's Ages
Russians Blew up the US Embassy!
It's Dacha Time Again
I Love Me a Starlite Diner
Anything Goes at Night
Yesho Piedesat Gram Vodkoo
Shock Thearpy
IMF & Reform
Zoos Should Be for Politicans
There Was Giligan, And the Skipper Too
The Regions Exist?
Do You Believe the Media?
What is Russian Feminism?
Russian Music Rocks
Bye Bye Fast Food
Yest Klooch?
Addicts Are Addictive
Racism in Russia Too
An Education in Russian Politics
Orphans Are Lonely
Making Bliny
Nasty Newspapers
#51 If you get the jokes
Sick as a Dog
Those Crazy Russians
An Open Road Ahead
Iron Felix
You Can Buy (Almost) Anything in a Market
Education Makes Elections Happen
Ice Cream in Winter
Superstitions Are Sneaky
The Adventures of Flat Jon
Ice Fishing in Sibera
Death is Painful in Any Culture, Anywhere.
Lenin is Alive
Every Thing is Leaking
New Russians
Go Dollar!
Corruption is Endemic
The Joe-Cool Moscow Crew
Taxes Will Find You
I'm Driven Mad
Holidays Last and Last
It's All About Location
Taxies Take You Everywhere
Russian Religion Re-emerges


Russia, August 9, 1999

Nothing Like a Birch Branch Beating!

What to do in Kazan if you have two-day travel dirt on ya

Nice and cool in the morning!
Nice benches to the left
Like all that column carving?
What I wandered to
A little Tartar reminder
The Tartars showing off
Not the banya, but close to it
Enjoying the sunshine
You could say I was feeling a little dirty earlier today. I'd left Moscow, for the last time, on Monday, and it was now Thursday.

Early Tuesday morning, 7 am to be exact, I stumbled off the train from Moscow, in Nizhny Novgorod the first stop on my slow, but eventual crossing of Siberia for China. I was still asleep, and so was the city, so I stored my bags at the train station, and wandered out to wake a few people up.

I would have too, if I could find anyone. The citizens of this "new" Novgorod (the original Novgorod is by St Petersburg) were not as foolish as I, they were still asleep. I noticed my foolishness and the solution: an empty park bench. A good nap later, I set off to see the city. I'd heard from my cabin-mate on the train that their kremlin (fort) was beautiful and a nearby bank was the tallest in the region. The kremlin was beautiful, but like Moscow's, there isn't much to see inside of it, just government offices. I never did find the bank.

After lunch, I wanted to see a bit more of the city, but my tricky knee was bothering me, so I took one of the many Avtoline buses around. A unique Russia experience, they are minivans that, after the driver feels there are enough passengers, takes off down a normal bus route. Being somewhere about two (2), cents more than a normal, super-slow bus ride, they are my transport of choice, though those with free bus passes (students, elderly) stay away.

I jumped on random mini-busses till I found myself good and lost on the edge of town. I wandered a bit, then asked how to get back to the train station. A taxi, mini-bus, real bus, and tramvai ride later; I was ready to jump on the train. Well, that is, if it was ready. I still had a few hours' wait, till I caught the train to my next stop, Kazan. Off again I went, getting lost in the Russian countryside!

Yesterday morning, again way too early for humanity, I stumbled off the train into Kazan, capital of the Autonomous Republic of Tartarstan. Here, a few hundred years ago, was the capital of the Mongol's Western Empire, which ruled Russia with an iron fist. Over time, the fist rusted of course and St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow was built in celebration of Ivan the Terrible's victory over the remainder of the Golden Horde in 1552.

The city has an amazing amount of pre-Revolutionary buildings and there is only a light touch of Soviet engineering, owing to its physical and mental distance from Moscow. We are not even in Russia really, but an autonomous republic, which means a lot in this quasi-lawless land.

With a good walk around the city, with a stop for the solar eclipse, and two nights on the train in a row, I was dog tired by last night, and not quite ready for the loud knocking at my door around 10 pm. Seems two young ladies were inquiring if I wanted company for the evening. I politely declined as I watched them head for my neighbor's door. They seemed so lonely, so desperate for company; I was tempted to invite them in for a chat…

Now's an opportune time to get back to that dirty feeling I was talking about earlier. No, I didn't invite them in, I'm a bit more street-smart than that, but I did go to the banya this morning to clean off my travel dirt. We call it a sauna, but the Russians have it much hotter and much wetter than we can stand, so they get to call their version a banya. I'd never been in a Russian banya before today. Yes, shockingly enough, it's true. I tried to rent a dacha with banya the first winter I was here, so I could broil then roll in the snow, but the Russians just looked at me funny when I asked them about it. Apparently, no one goes to their dacha in the winter!

Last fall, when I went to Finland, I experienced a Finnish sauna, but I've always been keen to try out the Russian variant.

There sure is a difference! I went to Kazan's central banya today and had a cleansing time. First I took a long hot shower, then grabbed a bunch of birch branches and headed into the steam room. The heat hit me hard. Almost as hard as the branches of everyone betting themselves silly. With a shrug and a glance to see how it's done, I started beating myself too. So odd, even for a pretty liberal American like me, to be standing naked, in a room full of other naked men, all of us beating ourselves and each other with birch branches. I do have to say I tried not to giggle, and ya gotta swing those branches with a bit of an aim. One swift strike in the wrong spot and everybody starts to laugh as you shriek in pain.

After a few rounds of shower, steam, and striking, I was worn out but invigorated. Those birch branches really do work! I'm not sure if it's the heat or the sap, as the Russians claim, but I'm sure the little red welts that are still all over my back got my circulation going. I cleaned up then chilled in the adjacent cafe until I was cool enough to dress and split (yes, a naked cafe).

What a day! Now I am even more tired than yesterday and I have to catch a train to Ekaterinburg at 5am tomorrow morning!

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1 Comment

Son, Finnish Sanuas are wonderful too!

Cynci, Jenni, and I just spent about an hour in the sauna created by Kristian in the country outside of Helsinki. He built the special wooden sauna house, with the cooling down dressing room.

First, he fired up the wood heater, with bricks and rocks on top, and the wood fired water heater. He left us to enjoy a goddess time.

We three women used hot water to wash ourselves including our hair. Then Jenni spanked us with fresh birch leaves as we danced in our naked splendor. There was even a special little wooden window for the wood smoke to exit so the steam was pure.

What a wonderful welcome to Finland!

Love, Mom

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