After 14 hours and two time zone changes on the train from Kazan, we arrive in the bustling metropolis of Yekaterinburg.
Yekaterinburg is the fourth-largest city in Russia, one of the most important economic centers in the country, and nicknamed the “window to Asia” as it straddles the continents of Europe and Asia.
This is where we cross into the Asian side of Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway, but we have no plans to stay in the city.
On this leg of the journey, our local connect is a team of professional off-road drivers, and our mission is to venture deep into the Ural Mountains.
The Urals are a long and narrow mountain range cutting through Russia from north to south, and mark the western edge of Siberia.
It’s funny, we’re a long way from home; in a remote territory with perfect strangers who speak a foreign language and have completely unique perspectives – and yet, this moment feels all too familiar and even comfortable.
Stories start rolling in as the grill gets fired up.
We welcome new friends in the dark and enjoy, honestly, what is one of the most delicious meals I’ll have in Russia.
And just like anywhere else, when the drinks start flowing, anything is possible.
Our fearless leader Yaro continues to surprise us with new experiences and today’s no different.
After a morning hike, we pack up camp and make our way through the woods into a Pagan community for lunch.
We get a brief introduction to their way of life over a hearty bowl of soup and then take a scenic cruise on a homemade yacht.
It’s a random, thought-provoking afternoon with a group of people I probably never would have come across in any other scenario.
But in the midst of trying to make sense of it all – it’s time to press on – a Russian Banya awaits; True Russia Travel!
With our gear tucked away in the cozy cabin, we head out for tonight’s festivities.
At the end of the road, overlooking this small rural village is a massive compound and at its center – a beautiful wooden mansion.
It’s home to a good friend of the off-road team and where we’re invited for dinner.
Alright, Let me cut in and add some better context to these visuals (and emotions).
Everything starts off relatively calm.
We sit together in the small sauna or banya as the temperature rises with each additional pour of water over the stove.
We go in and out a few times to control the heat and rehydrate.
This is all fine and good, but the real banya experience hasn’t even started yet.
The traditional ritual begins by laying on a bed of hay.
Now, take note, this is all usually done completely naked, but for YouTube filming purposes we had to cover up.
A cold, wet towel is placed over the head.
and then, one designated person proceeds to hit, I mean, massage the entire body with dried branches and leaves.
The branches are dunked in very hot water before each set of whacks, and the therapeutic process continues on both sides.
and when it’s all over, I have never felt more alive.
Let me be very clear, this isn’t Russia, not completely. Everything you’ve seen in this video – the alcohol, guns, banya and backwoods,
They are only one very small aspect of Russian culture.
I understand, These are often the loudest stereotypes of this massive country, but my goal in this video was to show you the real people behind the cliches.
We had an amazing 48 hours with this crew, doing the same things I’d do back home camping with friends.
But to put all Russian people and culture into this weekend would be completely wrong, and hopefully the variety of videos I make for this series will show you new perspectives, because that is ultimatly the point of this channel – to open your mind to foreign places and travel deeper.