Saunas have been one of the most amazing experiences of my time here in Europe.
So there are two types of saunas I’ve been to. A Russian Banya, and a Hamman which is Turkish. I can’t say I like either one specifically better. They are both different enough to be in two separate categories alone.
Let’s start with the Banya, shall we? In a Banya you walk into a locker room, put on the appropriate attire, set your belongings in a locker and move forward. The first room you enter is a large shower room with benches all around. You bathe, get used to the temperature relax, and take your time. When you are good and ready you move onto the sauna room. This room is piping hot, and you drip out all the toxins you could imagine. While entering this room you bring with you a bundle of birch leaves that have been soaked in water. With these leaves you hit yourself, or whoever you’re with. Sometimes the older women that are in the sauna like to take over and show the younger women how it’s done (kinda like an initiation type of thing), so they hit you to show you how it is supposed to be done. That happened to me last time I was there, I was so excited! The purpose of these leaves is to open your pores. When you factor in the sweating, the temperature, the hitting with leaves I guess it makes sense. So you basically go in an out of the sauna as many times as you want until you’re done. Then you bathe again and you leave. One sauna I went to had an extremely cold pool to jump into once you’ve rinsed after exiting the hot sauna room, but the one in Klaipeda doesn’t have that feature. So that’s a Banya for you. It’s a wonderful experience, and I think all people should try it at least once in their life.
Now moving onto the Hammam. A Hammam is a Turkish bathhouse, and differs from the Russian tradition enough that it is a while different experience. So you walk in, pay for yourself and purchase a grommage ticket. Then disrobe into the proper attire whatever that may be. So the first room is a massage room, everyone is getting a massage in the same room so if you’re not used to that kind of environment it takes a little getting used to. Then you walk into the next room that is where the grommage happens. In this room you grab a bucket and walk onto the next room. This room is all marble with large marble benches that fit multiple people, and a large circular marble platform that fits even more people. This is the sauna room, the temperature is warm and pretty tolerable. In this room people scrub, bathe, stretch, rest, and relax. It is wonderful. The last room is the warmest of the sauna rooms, which also has a cold water pool to dip into. Once you feel you’ve been sauna’d out you wait in line for the grommage table. Grommage is where a woman uses a special exfoliating glove to rub off all the dirty and dead skin. Walking away from that table you feel like a baby’s bottom. It is heavenly. There is also something humbling (I don’t like that word but I couldn’t think of a better one) about letting a stranger wash you in front of a group of women (I guess you could say that parallels the Bible a bit).
I can’t wait to be home, and I can’t wait to share Europe with home.