12/30/10

Moscow - Sandunovski Sauna/Bath House

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Once again, we're back to flying those fantastic four and five day long winter trips to Moscow. These extended stays, provide us with a great opportunity to do "what Russians do" in the winter - they head for the "banya" (the Russian bath house).

So what is this "banya"? Well, it's a Russian spa/sauna, a restaurant and a bar all packed up into one place - A perfect place to relax, defrost and detox your body Russian style.

While you visit, you may have a full meal, drink a variety of alcoholic beverages, sweat in scorching hot saunas and dip in freezing cold pools. It sounds awful, but it's great, I promise. The banya is a very popular activity for Russians of all ages during and a preferred meeting place for politicians and business men.

If interested in a "banya", head to the fanciest and most historical one in central Moscow, The Sandunovski Bath House, which is located only a couple of blocks away from the Kremlin. This attractive bath house, was originally built in the 1890's for the nobility and was later refurbished to it's original architectural splendor in 1992. In the 1900's, the Sandunovski bath house, was frequented by famous people like Leo Tolstoy and Alexandr Pushkin. Today (thank the communist gods) it welcomes everyone.


Banya attendance in Russia, cuts across all ages and social classes and it's considered a great equalizer. Everyone, regardless of class or rank is treated the same while at the banya. Russians also believe that while the church is good medicine for the soul, the "banya" is the best medicine for the body. As a result, most Russians consider a visit to the banya an integral part of their daily lives.

If you decide to visit the Sandunovski Bath Housee, plan your visit carefully. Have your hotel concierge write the address of the bath house in Cyrillic, so you can take it with you. This way, you can ask for directions if you get lost. Also, have the hotel call ahead to make a reservation in your name. FYI, there are two levels of spas in the women's side - one is fancier (second floor) and the other (main floor), is the equivalent to a general public admission.

For your first visit, I recommend you purchase the "higher end" ticket, just in case you need extra help navigating the rules of the bath house. All banya services - drinks, food, massages, slippers, towels, scrubs, etc.- are available "a-la-carte" and for an extra charge. If you decide to go, just bring yourself and all else will be provided.

Be prepared to shed your clothes in an open space with all other spa visitors. They provide secured lockers (behind the spa counter) to store valuables. The essence of the banya experience (as I discovered) is to alternate repeated visits to the hot sauna with cold showers or dips in the freezing cold pool. Do it for as many times as you can stand it. In between these sessions, catch your breath in the lounge, drink some shots of vodka and relax.



After a few sessions of hot and cold, a massage, a body scrub, birch branch back whacking plus some delicious, hot mint tea, I felt my body the most relaxed I have ever felt. When I walked back to my hotel, my feet felt like they floated above the snow and I could barely feel the freezing cold chill of the night. I understood then why the banya was so popular in Russia, specially, during the winter months.

FYI - Folks will be walking around the banya completely nude, wearing a cone shaped, felt hat. Don't freak out. While this is definitely odd looking, the hats serve a very important purpose. They protect the top of ones head from burning while inside the very hot Russian saunas. Who knew these were kept so hot? If you go, protect your brain cell and the top of your hear and either wear the obligatory cone hat or a simple towel wrapped around your head.

Hope you enjoy the banya! as much as I did!

Nastrovia!


PS- Sandunovsky Bath House has a different entrance door for men and women. The men's entrance, is right on the corner (photo enclosed below); The women's entrance, is half a block down the street that runs to the right of the men's entrance. (Photo enclosed above with lady entering)


Sandunovsky Baths

Full Name: Sandunovsky Baths, Moscow, Russia
Cost: From Rbl1000; children from Rbl300
Opening Hours: Daily 8am-10pm
Address: Building 3-7, 14 Neglinnaya Ulitsa 107031
Directions: Kuznetsky Most Metro
Contact Details: Sandunovsky Baths
Phone: +7 (8) 495 625 4631 or +7 (8) 495 628 4633 (private banya)

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