Ecks and the City: A pampering fit for a czarina
To get into the spirit of the Sochi games, I decided to try the famous Banya experience, then got beaten. With leaves.
Getting whisked with birch leaves
I was in utter shock when Vasiliy, my Russian masseur at the Sanduny, a private Russian club at Finch Avenue and Dufferin Street, shoved me into a shower-like stall, then pulled a yellow rope, which led to a wooden bucket full of the freezing cold water being dumped all over me.
Was I on Candid Camera?
After my initial shock, I realized how wonderful and rejuvenated I felt. I went for the “whisk massage inside the sauna” described as “a real Russian experience.” But getting a Russian massage is not for the faint of heart.
The 15,000-square-foot Sanduny club boasts steam rooms, saunas, cold pools and Jacuzzis, along with a restaurant, called the Red Square (which serves up all kinds of Eastern European fare), and other lounging areas where you can drink any one of their 20-plus kinds of vodka and beers.
Upon arrival, first, I get into my bathing suit, in the clean change room, and enjoy the Jacuzzi and cool saltwater swimming pool. Then, because, you know, I’m that brave, I hit the Russian sauna, the hottest of the three, with 5,000 kilograms of hot stones burning in an oven reminiscent of something that would cook a pizza. After 10 minutes I’ve sweated off at least two pounds, and I’m drenched as if I had just done a hot yoga class. Then, Vasiliy asks me to enter the 100-degree sauna and lie on a towel. Next thing I know, I’m being whipped (or “whisked,” technically) with Birch leaves and bamboo sticks. When he whips my stomach, I am holding my stomach muscles incredibly tight.
“You are like a Russian!” Vasiliy says, impressed, after explaining that most people can’t last that long in that sauna. (The purpose of being beaten by these different types of leaves, in case you’re wondering, is that it’s good for your skin, making it look more toned and supple.)
Most members (who, according to the brothers who own the spa, Yasha and Fima Sitsker, are non-Russian) spend hours there, and I can see why. It’s clean, the murals on the wall are gorgeous, and there are a number of lounges, not to mention several spa treatments.
After the bucket of cold water is dumped on me, I’m told to go back in the sauna for a few minutes to warm up again. When I get out, there is a pail of ice waiting for me where I’m supposed to dunk my face. I do. It feels glorious after the heat.
“I’m going to get the chef to fix you something,” says Yasha. Their fish, meats, soup, perogies and pickled vegetables are my favourites.
After I get dressed, I’m served a hot cup of tea made of honey and mint, and as Yasha says, “a special ingredient to flush your system. It makes you pee.”
By the way, you don’t have to be a member to go to the club. They offer day passes for $40. Famous celebrities who have been to the club include numerous Russian NHL hockey players like Nikolai Andropov, and the entire Maple Leafs team.
Upon leaving, I saw three non-Russian men talking in the cold pool about being “fatherless,” and I realized that this place is also special where men and women can open up to each other without judgment.
The next morning, I admit my back feels bruised, as if I just worked out. But my skin looks great. I’ll go back. I can take it.
Post City Magazines’ columnist Rebecca Eckler is the author of numerous books. Her latest, The Mommy Mob - Inside The Outrageous World Of Mommy Blogging, will be released April 21.