So apparently Russian bath houses are all the rage, a bit like the Scandinavians and their saunas, so being the willing tourist I am I thought I’d sample a bit of it. My guidebook had it down as a ‘must see’, I was tired from sightseeing all day, perfect plan by all accounts, although apparently it was a little flawed.
I enquired from the hostel girl (who certainly wasn’t the brightest pea in the pod) about a cool bath house in the city from a ‘genuine experience’, she gave me some directions and to be honest they were sketchy at best, anyways it had been a long journey to Moscow (81 hours on the train) so I went looking for the address with new found levels of motivation, eagerly awaiting a hot tub, steam room and some serious downtime.
The genius hostel girl had chosen not to write either the correct phone number OR the actual address OR even the actual name of the place so when my mates and I couldn’t find it, we’re were in a spot of bother. I asked person after person and no one knew where it was, the closest we came to someone recognizing it was an old man who didn’t know exactly but he heard there was a “gay people’s bath place” around here. Hmmmm, alarm bells should have rang then for me and my 3 (male) friends, but nope, it didn’t’ even register.
It took us over 2 hours to find the bloody place, but when I descended down the dingiest stairs into the basement of some shady building I began to wonder if this could really be the right place. I banged on the door, some creaky lock was unlatched and on we went.
The 2 staff members spoke no English so when I walked in they were shocked to say the least. They were giving us some very strange looks, casting a few giggles too, but I just put that down to us being foreigners. We tried to tell them we wanted to enter the bath house, we asked for bathing suits (unnecessary apparently) but after much laughter we finally paid our $30 and entered.
The area was pretty small, cosy would maybe be a better word however the alarm bells turned into sirens when we realised the entire place was kitted out with naked dudes and chicks on the wall, teaching the kama sutra a few new moves, I didn’t know 2 dudes could bend like that. There were not-so-personal shower rooms at the end of the corridor, and then the centre piece.. a huge (orgy?) sized circular bed, with silk streets, and a massive oval shaped mirror on the ceiling and on the wall were sitting proudly in the centre of the complex. Interesting. Suddenly the sly glances, giggles, confusion and ridicule were making a lot more sense!
Luckily enough the boys and I had clearly not made our innocent intentions clear to the Russian staff outside, but amidst the confusion it turned out we had booked the whole place out for the 4 of us, so we were safe, almost.
Not to be outdone, we stayed for our one hour session as the only dudes there, sinking our cheap booze and playing some horrible Russian hiphop. 1 litre of vodka later, ample nudity between friends, saunas and plunge pools and we made a discreet, if a little sheepish, exit from the place.
I know it’s normal to be stared at when you’re a foreigner in a new country, but the looks we got upon leaving that place should never be cast on anyone, that was a true walk of shame! I wanted to scream ‘we just had a few drinks and chilled in the sauna, it’s not what you think”, but it would be a waste of time. So I slapped my mate on the ass, and we walked back to the hostel. Happy travels!