Thor Winther is an engineer by profession but has been travelling the world full time since late 2015. He is the author of www.worldwidewinther.com, a blog focused on budget/backpacking solo round-the-world travelling.
This is a short post about a banya that we went to in yekaterinburg. For those of you not fully grasping the russian language – it is a bathroom.
They take many shapes and forms but according to our hosts in yekaterinburg, the one we tried in moscow (with a shared room etc) is only something you find in big cities. A real banya is different. To prove this, the hostess, Kate, found us a banya outside the city which was a “real” banya and she even convinvced one of the other people (a russian called Dim), to take us there and show us how it was done. Both because we have no idea how things work there and also because it was a little hard to get there apparently. In either case, how nice of her!! The hostel was omnomnom hostel in yekaterinburg. Props to that place.
Getting to the Banya
Well as it indeed was hard to get there we opted for the taxi as it was apparently only 200 rub (30DKK – 4 EUR) if you are with a local and you dont mind riding in the back of an unnamed, anonymous, old lada with a psychopath behind the wheel… luckily we dont
We got in the cab but after like 10 mins we had to stop because apparently the drivers wife was about to give birth and as such – the taxi driver had to leave… like now. We got out and waited for another cab (praising us lucky to have a local with us who could explain this and get a new cab)
The rest of the trip in the cab went fine except for the fact that nobody knew where it was and we drove around for a little while speaking russian but we finally got it. again GOOD thing we had a local to help with all that.
Inside we opted for the only room available – which was actually a two story appartment with an adjacent sauna, “cool off room”, and wc. It also included a pool table a bed, a couch, tv, dvd, music, and free roomservice. Well. Nice 🙂
From there on out we just had a good two hours. Apparently what you do is heat up the sauna, order food and beer (and women apparently was very common and only like 1000 rub – we didnt do it though) and wait. When the sauna is warm one person goes on his stomach and is repeatedly beat with a warm leaf stick thingie that burns like a thousand suns and you are sprayed with 80 degrees water and after this hell is over you jump into a cold pool of water (20 degrees is cold) and go out and relax with beer and food. I know it sounds bad but it really isnt. Afterwards you are extremely relaxed and feel great – definately worth the time (and money – including the cab rides it was about 3000 rub = 450dkk for all three of us).
We heard some russian music, dim showed us pictures and told us about himself, we ate and had a good 2 hours. Afterwards we took a cab home, saw some cool mirror / fear theme parks and went for a beer. Dim invited us to his home region if we wanted and also, he said him and his mother might be coming to copehagen next summer… by car! interesting. Looking forward to that so much.
Well, where to begin! The last time i wrote was 4 days ago and as you might know by now. We don’t sit still!
The day in Moscow (25th july) went fast – we saw alot of monuments, took a free walking tour, ate some russian food, met some other tourists and even decided to meet up with one of them in Irkutsk as he (a german) also arrived when we did.
There is one thing i would like to mention from Moscow though – we visited the oldest banya (bath house) in Moscow and it was great!
From the outside it looks like a restaurant and it even says pectorah (restaurant) on the outside… which is kinda true. You then go in and people in towels are walking around. We were met by an english speaking russian who told us about the classes of the bath from highest to lowest and we opted for middle (1800 rubles each). When we got in, I for one was quite surprised. It actuallyt was a restaurant! We got a seat each and we were assigned a waiter. Everybody could order food and drinks and all kinds of massages and leaf treatments and whatnot. All while sitting naked in your towel. You then interrupt your food to go in the sauna to warm up and then go straight into some colder pools (20c) to cool down. Go back to the restaurant part, eat, drink, repeat.
We spent an hour there as we were in a hurry and quickly decided to try this again! Inside I believe that russian mob gangsters and rich businessmen were doing business. There were private cabins and lots of servers – even on second class. Finally we also bought a hat.. mostly as a souvenir but everyone wore one inside.
At 00:35 we boarded train 100 to Vladivostock!
We were riding third class. which meant 60 people crammed in small space. We knew nothing and noone spoke English. It was great! There is loads to speak of here, even though nothing really happened. Except for the evening where we met some crazy russians that gave us food and vodka in full excess. Read more about this on my travel companions travel diary:
Let me instead just show you some pictures we snapped:
Well there you have it. A picture explains more than a thousand words! 🙂
We met some russians on the train. They were all going from moscow (where they live) on the trans-siberian railroad to several russian cities and the first of them being yekaterinburg. At the same time as us 🙂
First arriving in Yekaterinburg it was a very weird feeling. Dear reader i don’t know if you’ve tried to be in a city where you understand nothing and know nothing and noone speaks your language. It’s a strange yet somehow appealing feeling. You find yourself out of your comfort zone and you succumb to basic communication. Pointing and general miming. We read from our guide book that the station is about 2km from the city centre and also that a hostel named Omnomnom was a good place to go. We also had a map of the city centre.
We went to a tram/bus station and quickly discovered that a map or a plan of the public transportation was nowhere to be found – let alone in english and decided to go with plan b. Find a nice looking babushka and point at the map saying your best russian “lenina” (for lenina street). Luckily she understood us and helped us get on the right tram. Things went smooth from there and with the help of our map and a couple of friendly strangers we found our hostel AND it wasnt booked! Although well hidden in a residential complex. We then dropped our bags and started wandering the city.
A side note is that they where 3 women working on the tram: 1 to drive, 1 to speak in the loudspeaker system and 1 to sell you tickets… and the tickets were about half a euro a pop. I can’t believe they get paid very well with such cheap tickets and 3 people working just one tram but thats another story.
With us wandering the city of yekaterinburg (more detailed descriptions in my travel companions before mentioned travel log) we noticed a few things. For example: they have starCUPS not bucks – although the logos look similar
And had some coffee at a great place called travellers coffee
We saw some race thing that was going on in town that day:
We also tried to go to something called “the amazing maze” but never managed to do so and generally looked at signs all day trying to read russian.
This all took maybe half the day (until 6 pm).
At 6pm we ran into the russians i talked about earlier that we met on the train. Two sisters and their boyfriends 🙂 They were going to see some “tent rocks” in a forrest somewhere and we decided to join. When we got there the rocks were nice and we snapped some pictures (well I didn’t as my phone was dead). We then continued deeper into the forrest by a huge lake where alot of partying were going on since it was offical navy celebration day. After that we went to a bar called Ben Halls pub which had live music and loots of pretty people – especially the girls:) All in all a very plesant evening with the russians. We enjoyed their company very much and hope it didn’t feel like we leeched in on their party 🙂
The next day i slept for like 10 hours and at the time of this writing we dont know what to do for the rest of the day – but a good bet is to go with one of the other russians staying here to another banya (bathroom) outside town. This time with local help to tell us what you’re supposed to do 🙂
4 days crammed into one post. I could easily spend 4 times as much. For example I haven’t told you about the soviet demonstration that met us in yekateringburg or the hostel and the people living there who apparently likes to sing 🙂
Tomorrow morning begins the longest leg of our journey. 54 hours on the train from Yekaterinburg to Irkutsk.
As we left we felt pretty happy and contend. Things were looking good and we believed that after our visas were in order everything was in control. we didnt see anything troublesome. We felt like this peacock – happy and carefree
Peacock in a large park in warsaw
That changed though. In warsaw we managed to get to the right track, platform and sector although the only number they seemed to use was platform. We were a little worried when the train didnt show on the track monitor 2 minutes before departure… were we on the right track (!?) 5 minutes earlier some polish message was spoken in the loadspeakers which made 9/10 leave the tracks and move somewhere else so that had us a little worried. A quick ask around ensured us that everyone else was also waiting for the train to moscow. 10 minutes later (it was delayed), the train rolled in and we got on.
We were worried that the tickets for this 20 hour train ride was only for seating, not beds but when we got to our numbers we got very happy – it was beds and we had the room to ourselves! We quickly praised lady luck again and took some picture
view from the train (and a smiley face?)
Then the troubles started rolling in. We were met by the conductor and after inspecting our “tickets” he wasnt happy. they were not valid. We later found out that apparently they were russian train system vouchers that had to be changed to real tickets first… and here’s the kicker – it has to be in russia! basically that means that tickets going from warsaw to russia are useless as you first have to be in russia to validate them – crazy russian train system.
We tried asking if there was a way to stay in the room but he said no – even after we starting waving some roubles. He was nice enough to let us ride on 2nd class (normal seats) instead of kicking us out. Then we could get to terespol (by the border where the train holds still for 45 minutes). This should be enough for us to buy new tickets. Luckily he didnt simply kick us out!!
We got there and quickly got in a heated argument with a polish train ticket saleswoman that didnt know what to do with the (in the polish eyes) worthless vouchers, a random nice polish/english speaking woman and us. After some swearing and aggitated voices we were told to follow another (calmer) ticket lady to the platform. We had to wait a little away since it was practically a border we were standing on but the ticket lady was allowed to go there and she talked to the conductors. She then came back with the information that were only valid in russia. Meanwhile I snapped a picture of the border while noone was looking
Well to make a long story short, we had to buy new tickets and then we got on the train and had to get our tickets and visa checked (it ran us 220 eur for two tickets to moscow but maybe its not so bad as we might get our old tickets refunded)
The visa check took about 1hour by a beatiful border patrol woman and after asking us what was in our bags (private stuff and vodka) she accepted our passports and walked away. We got them back about half an hour later.
We thought that we now could relax (we had gotten new tickets with a room similar to the old room so still the nice comfort) but there was one more surprise waiting for us.
When we arrived in Brest, hordes of babushkas, boarded the train with pivo (beer), sok(juice) and all kinds of bread and chicken. They competed intensely with each other, talking hectically and a haggle between what we wanted, how much it should be, and which of the ladies we should buy from started. At the same time we had to move room (the conductor asked us) and I was extremely tired.
After a whirlwind of russian and absolutely no english we had a beer, some peanuts, some juice, some deep fried chicken and some bread. Actually a lot of it. we ended up paying about 1500 RUB, which is approximately 225 DKK (30EUR). Not very cheap relative to what it was but okay compared to the situation and that we were very hungry 🙂
We ate the food and looked out the window. It was pretty nice that we could open the windows and stick our head out without anyone minding. Everyone seemed pretty content with us doing whatever so that was nice.
We waited about two hours for our train underwagon to change as the tracks are different in belarus. They basically lifted up the entire train on huge jacks and rolled these things in under us while we were all in the train. During this time (visa check + train change) of approximately 3 hours, we couldnt go the restroom. Which was pretty much the only thing the conductor DID mind… which is understandable as the feces would have fallen straight down in the workshop 🙂
We then went to bed (Nikolaj wasnt done partying and went looking for someone to party but there was noone to be found). The night passed as we rolled by Minsk and left Belarus behind us. Arriving in Moscow at 11:45 in the day.
We are now checked in at our hostel, the weather is good and the hostel seems nice. Although – apparently hot water is “en by i rusland” as there is only cold water. It’s a saying in Danish that means “a city in russia”. You say that when it’s very unlikely you’ll get it – as unlikely as finding yourself in that exact city somewhere in all of russia. Which is kinda ironic as we are in fact in a city in russia 🙂
As one should always end on a stong joke – this will be the end of this post!
Tomorrow is day 1 of the actual trans-siberian railroad. Exciting stuff