You may want to listen to some Gogol Bordello while reading this...
Sitting in a Russian bathhouse in Ulan Ude
It don't matter how much we sweat, we just cant agree.
Vladimir, who is running the Baikal Ethnic Hostel in Ulan Ude together with Tania, invited us for a true Russian banya experience. A banya is something very close to a Finnish sauna, although a Russian and a Finn would probably have a lengthy argument why exactly it is not.
So we sat down on the wood in the hot room and Vladimir started pouring water on the stones of the oven that is heated by a fire. Steam filled the room. He poured a second scoop from the bucket and it started to get hotter inside. The third scoop was filled with beer. "Russian tradition", Vladimir said. He insisted we sit on the top bench. When the sweat was running he took leaves of white birch trees out of a bucket and started hitting us with it. "Good Russian tradition" were his words. He started hitting the arms, then legs, then chest and back and finally the soles of the feet. "Very good tradition".
Vladimir kept on pouring water on the stones and hitting us with the birch branches while continuously saying "good Russian tradition" or "very good tradition".
It felt like Populärmusik från Vittula.
It became unbearably hot.
More water on the stones.
More hits with the birch branches
I had to storm out and stood in the cold Ulan Ude night for a while staring at the red marks on my body..
..and I thought the 29 °C on the train from Irkutsk was hot.
We repeated the procedure 2 more times.
It actually is a good Russian tradition.
Other things to do in Ulan Ude when not sweating in a banya include:
Taking a trip to the Ivolginsky Datsan and listen to the chant of Buddhist monks in Siberia, an interesting mix of Buddhist temples and Siberian style houses in which the monks live.
Spinning some prayer wheels. Clockwise.
deciphering this writing on the hill (any guess???)
Meeting the locals
visiting the ethnographic museum
finding out that your head actually IS smaller than Lenin's!
I crossed from Russia to Ulaan Baatar in Mongolia by now, checking out some tours to the countryside for the next days.