Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A road trip to Central Russia and authentic Russian banya experiences

I could not have asked for a more perfect holiday, driving around the Golden Circle of Russia, living a #Travelife. Here we saw birch tree forests and small wooden houses with delicate paintings and lattice work, in between visits to the landmark towns of Russia, full of history and architectural beauty overshadowed by colorful Russian Orthodox churches and massive Kremlin fortresses.


A stay in a farm in Yaroslavl, Russia


BETTER OPTIONS


After exploring the thousand-year-old town of Yaroslavl, right by the mighty Volga River, we drove in search of a farm where I’d booked a simple log cottage for a night. I’m not really into spartan lodgings, but these were just about the best accommodations in Yaroslavl we could find.

Yes, I looked at all our options, but this was the absolute best overnight accommodations anywhere for miles.

Our 60-square meter wooden cottage costs $60 along with a buffet breakfast and afternoon tea. In cities like Tokyo or Paris, this is the equivalent of a modest lunch for two; so you can understand my initial trepidation at having nowhere else to lay my head down on unless I preferred a bed at a nearby monastery in the town of Rostov or a small room with a shared bathroom in a private guesthouse inside a building built in the Soviet era.


A stay in a farm in Rostov


Well, this farm stay in Rostov, in the countryside of Russia, provided me with a new perspective. We also stayed at exclusive resorts favored by Moscow’s elite on this particular trip, you see -- think six 21st century villas on a massive private estate with about 30 people to cater to every whim (although none of them spoke a word of English); and this certainly provided a mind blowing contrast to this farm. Interestingly, it was this simple little place with chickens and goats that made me happiest.


A stay in a farm in Rostov


REAL LIVING


I loved this experience of ordinary Russian life. We walked in quiet fields and paddocks of no particular beauty, and then we had homemade cheese and fried bread with fresh herbal tea picked from the garden on our porch. I even ate berries picked straight from the bushes.


A stay in a farm in Rostov


In the evening, we sat outdoors very happily with Russian vodka and a tray of hearty appetizers including brown bread, pickles, sour cabbage, dried meats, and pâté. Even sleeping on rough cotton on a plumped up mattress on a hard bed was not as dreary as I expected. I truly was thinking the worst.


Russian appetizers to eat with vodka



THE RUSSIAN BANYA EXPERIENCE


The next day, we rented the farm’s sauna cottage for my first authentic experience of a Russian banya. The farmer had already fired up the sauna with logs when we walked over, and so the place was ours for about three hours. 

Inside was a table with fresh leaves picked from the garden for tea and beyond this was the famous Russian sauna clocking in heat at 120 degrees. Ready to bake us, basically.




We were to sit in this sauna for several minutes with felt caps to protect our heads; then we were to get out and quickly stand under an improvised shower that was really a wooden bucket filled with freezing water, with a string attached to it. You get the picture.

Extreme heat, extreme cold. And then back again for more. And more. Some people might call this sadistic, but the Russians call it the way to good health. And afterwards, I felt ever so fine in Russia, living a #Travelife.


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