Spend a Couple Hours »Russian and Turkish Baths

Going to the Russian and Turkish Baths that have stood on 10th street since 1892 is nothing if not a unique experience, especially for anyone shy and WASP with a limited comfort zones. You step into the building and offer up your valuables to a private lock box, in return you're handed a key that opens a locker and can be used like a room number for any special treatments you decide to charge. It's best to bring a bathing suit to change into because you'll be getting wet, wet, wet and next time I'd bring along my own flip flops because the ones offered up are monstrously big.

Starting in the main room, just below the locker area, you'll step into the semi public showers in a room that also houses a freezing cold dunking pool. Several sauna rooms lie off this main room. In the Russian Sauna room, you'll get hotter than you've ever been in your entire life. Huge white buckets of ice cold water are available to throw over your head to keep yourself from overheating. It's an extreme experience but even with the water poured regularly over my head, I couldn't stand the heat for longer than a couple minutes. Slightly more bearable is the heat from the Turkish Room that smells of eucalyptus and has a refreshing cool shower to step under by the door. The aroma therapy room was the most popular the day we visited and filled with a warm steam that is quite invigorating once you get used to breathing it in.

But the experience of the baths cannot simply stop with the saunas. If you're going to go you may as well go for it all the way and try the singular experience of one or two of their treatments. You'll be pressured to book a massage, oak leaf beating, or scrub even as you are getting changed in the locker room. While it's tempting to give in immediately, take your time to get relaxed and situated in the non-fancy, un-self conscious environment before you commit. Waiting will make you feel more in control of your destiny because once inside the little steel rooms, you belong to your masseuse.

Experiences vary greatly from person to person. My lady Rose must have sensed that I was a sensitive one, because in my dead sea salt scrub and subsequent massage she treated me like a new born babe. She even went so far as to offer small tokens of propriety by covering my crotch with towels. The treatments are not terribly cheap, so if you had to choose only one, I'd go for the spectacular scrub that features lots of water rinsing and left me smelling like baking muffins and returned my skin to baby softness. My massage was gentle and lots of slimy (in a good way) lotion further softened my skin.

Jim and Adam however, had quite a different experience, one that I'm proud of Jim for being so open about – though he really didn't have a choice. Their dude offered no towel, you're going to be swinging and swaying with your legs spread, your body twisted (at one point to Jim's horror his neck was cracked like an apparent attempted Mortal Kombat finishing move) and your breath nearly knocked out as a burly man crawls across your back. Jim will admit that any hang ups were his own, his dude couldn't have been less concerned with our uptight American bodies than a Pet Co employee is concerned with cleaning puppies. In the end it was fun, it was different, but it's best to be prepared for something wilder than you may be used to. Go with knowledge — or even better: with someone who's gone before.

Lastly, to complete the whole experience, you must take advantage of the sun roof deck. I laid down watching the clouds go by (an activity not always easy to do while living in the city) for about an hour. The total cost will be higher than you might expect (taxes and gratuity must be added) but for such an extraordinary experience, it's worth it. Still, an open mind and a willingness to go with the flow no matter where it takes you are absolutely necessary to appreciate it. The squeamish need not apply.

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Posted on July 13, 2009

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