The North Africans have their hammams, the Finns have their sauna, the French have their stench and the Russians have the glorious world of banya.
It is absolutely essential fr any visit to Russia to go to banya. It is a world of naked people all thrashing themselves into oblivion. No, it's not the hot new sadomasochistic trend of Moscow nightclubs, it's the weekly pilgrimage to the sauna. The Russian banya is simple - stoke a huge wood-burning fireplace and heat a sauna to the point of eye-scalding heat. Once you are utterly and thoroughly roasted you take a bundle of birch leaves and beat yourself, and others, with it. Then, when you are cleansed of all your toxins and remaining moisture in your body, you jump into a freezing cold plunge pool. And then you repeat - over and over again.
After that you shower, shave, lather, exfoliate, moisturize, nap and otherwise treat yourself like a goddess for another 2 hours and you leave feeling refreshed and possibly a little battered.
After having done banya a couple of times it got me thinking of the ritual of it. All the bathhouses have a similar concept and they are focused on the ritual and the community. North American women go to the spa and are told how to feel good. In Russia, the women all get together and chat, without abandon, about how to make banya good for you. It's about exploring and creating your own ritual.
I would love to see something like this in Edmonton, we do at home spas and spend gazillions dollars a year on doing something I just did for $20. All we really need is a big communal shower room, a sauna, a plunge pool and a humbling nakedness to complete the community that is banya.