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To fall in love with Moscow in winter...

To fall in love with Moscow in winter...

Russian banya

At first glance, the Russian banya looks like an extreme sport. Friends and strangers beat each other with branches from birch trees in a devilishly hot atmosphere. When this is finished, they  run for the exit to jump into an icy-cold pool. If you're alone, you can always hire an attendant to give you a beating. It is not only a wondrous feeling (trust me), but unbelievably good for you. You get a special burst of energy after taking a steam in a Russian bathhouse, because all of the toxins have been beaten out of you. Your skin becomes clean, taut and young.

Before hitting the banya take a warm shower so that your heart and blood vessels are ready for what comes next. It's not necessary to clean yourself with soap as your skin's natural oils will keep your skin from getting too dry. Some people rub essential oils into their skin. Banya goers wear special hats to protect their hair from the steam and laying down is considered by many to be the best way to enjoy a sauna.

Many people start out their steam on the lower level where the temperature is less intense. Immediately after each turn in the steam room you should take a shower, dive in the pool or roll around in the snow. If you don't rinse yourself off, the skin will absorb the sweat and with it all the harmful substances that have oozed out of your body.

Sledding with a troika of horses

A troika of horses pulling a sled is one of Russia's enduring symbols. Before the age of the automobile this was a popular form of transportation in Russia and they could travel up to 50 kilometers per hour. Nikolai Gogol even made a famous comparison of a speedy troika with the country on the whole: «Russia, where are you hurtling? Give an answer! There is no answer.» Every Russian school kid knows this fragment from Gogol's «Dead Souls.» Taking a sleigh ride today is a winter joy and an unforgettable pleasure.

A ride in a horse-drawn carriage can be a part of an excursion or an art program in Kolomensky Park.

If you are looking for something a little more substantial than a simple excursion and want to ride on a horse-drawn sleigh through a snowy forest, come to the Yauza horse stable. The sleigh can carry four adults or two adults and three children. Dress warmly and bring some carrots and apples for the children to feed the horses and some nuts for the squirrels. 

Dogsledding

Northern huskies are the usual dog of choice for dogsledding as they are very friendly, sociable and playful canines who simply love to run. Unlike a horse-driven sleigh, whips and reins are not necessary for motivation. The dogs are in harnesses, but figure out what to do by verbal commands, without the need for physical cues.  

Swimming in winter

​There are three options in Moscow for communing with winter's waters. See what you're made of and take a plunge through a hole carved into the ice (often in the shape of a cross) in mid-January during the Orthodox holiday, «Kreshcheniya,» which marks the date of Jesus' baptism. Water is believed to be holy and filled with special powers on this day (January 19). Close to the holiday special places in lakes and rivers will be prepared for the occasion. Other possibilities include going to an outdoor pool or taking a winter trip on the Moscow River aboard the Radisson Hotel's yacht. Take a cruise down the Moscow River from the Radisson pier at Gorky Park (or across the river at the Ukraine Hotel) on a ultra-modern yacht with an entertainment program and dinner service (not included in admission). This luxury vessel cruises through the ice and takes its passengers past many of Moscow's major sights including Novodevichy Monastery, Moscow State University, Luzhniki Stadium, Christ the Savior Cathedral and the Kremlin. Passengers can listen to an audio excursion (in English or Russian) by downloading an app on their i-Phone or on an MP3 player available onboard. The yachts set sail practically every half hour from one of the two piers.

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