It all started on the midnight train from St Petersburg to Moscow over glasses of black market champagne. The guide regaled tales of the Siberian wilderness and the beauty of Lake Baikal, the yurts we would stay in which came complete with a sauna. A week later and after a journey on the Trans Siberian Express we came to our camp on the Baikal shoreline for some hiking.
With no showers the only place to wash was the sauna, my first experience of the Russian variety. My tour group, all strangers, decided that we had to experiment or stay dirty and as we women sat in the dark and worked up a sweat the cosiness and intimacy was one I will never forget. It’s where you can really get to know your fellow traveller and yet be as distant as you like. As the birch twigs swished in the way our guide had shown us we laughed as we cleaned ourselves in this new environment. All too soon we had to leave and cool off. Where else but the river adjacent to the sauna where we all jumped in with shrieks. I had never felt so clean and refreshed. One of the ladies, an English vicar’s wife remarked to her appalled husband that they really should get a sauna for the garden.He of course stayed away from the sauna.
Two nights later after a wonderful supper we sat taking and the S word came up again. This time some of the guys joined us in the cabin, all of us covered in towels and just soaking up the peace and the joy of the heat on a cold Siberian night. More water on the fire and more steam. We sweated away and yet felt so relaxed with the odd nervous giggle. Birch twigs swishing away in the night and the smell of pine and woodsmoke. Then the heat was just too much for us all to bear and we all ran quickly to the icy river where a very quick plunge and a scream awaited us as the water cooled us down.
There are some parts of a holiday that stay in the memory for a long time and some of the strongest are the shared experiences of something very special indeed.
If you are invited to share the sauna or the banya- take the opportunity and enjoy.