Today I went back to my cultural roots.
It was the perfect occasion.
My childhood friend flew in from London to pay me and another pal a visit. Our friendship started in the 1st grade when her family immigrated to the US from Ukraine, where it was fated that we would meet. My family had also immigrated from Kiev about a year prior and I was already experiencing the joys of coloring by number without the faintest clue what any of the colors were in English (Stop yelling lady, I have no idea what color G-R-E-E-N is).
This history coupled with her relocation (abandonment) to England meant we needed a real bonding activity to utilize our few days together to the fullest.
The two of us plus the third (non-Russian speaking and scared) leg of this tripod in tow, we settled on the only fitting activity we could come up with:
The Russian Bathhouse.
Quick history lesson.
Everything you’ve heard about a Russian “Banya” is, well, true. This famed Russian pastime, traditionally enjoyed by men, involves scalding hot saunas, the unique experience of being whacked by various forms of tree branches and the fittingly loud atmosphere of bathers being absurdly social in 200 degree heat after which participants enjoy rounds of salami, herring and an appropriately Russian alcoholic beverage.
A quick search and we found the Red Square Spa – a new establishment that has been getting some buzz in the Chicago area.
The three of us entered the building, were immediately met with the sight of groups of men in white robes (in what looks like a 5-star restaurant) feasting on chicken, borscht and vodka shots and quickly paid our admission in order to receive a robe and towel (bed sheet) to sit on (lest our butts get burned).
Let’s get the party started.
The next 4 hours were full of relaxation, massages, vodka, new friends and salty fish.
The highlights include:
- Sipping on Moscow Mules in the sauna
- Making friends with extremely friendly (inebriated) fellow Eastern European peers
- An up close and personal deep-tissue massage performed by strong Russian male. (As someone who usually asks for the “less painful option” in the massage realm, I’m not sure why I chose to have my very first deep-tissue massage at a Russian bathhouse. Whoever was in the room next to mine might have been scared).
- Playing the “tell a boy secret” game while sitting in the female-only steam room (Yes. This happened)
- Forcing non-Russian friend to recite Russian words while in the Sauna (she knows 4)
- Feasting on dried packages of “Taranka” (super salty, cured and dried Cod-like fish). I made a request for this favorite snack of mine and it was produced from the back where they keep a few in case they have requests (obviously). This might have been the highlight of my day. My mom and I used to devour packs of this fish.
We laughed all day. We experienced extreme amounts of sweating. We told boy secrets (if this doesn’t bond you, nothing will).
4 hours later we found ourselves at friend’s place laying on the couch too relaxed to move, oscillating between the rest of the dried fish (clearly, they let me take the entire package home) and 5 boxes of girl scout cookies.
Pretty exceptionally Awesome experience.
I recommend it.