On Friday afternoon, after a week of intense work on a chapter I’ve been writing, I knew it was time. I had to face the inevitable and necessary task of getting a new swimsuit. We scheduled another баня or banya-day for Saturday and it needed to happen. “But Katie, you just had a banya-day a few weeks ago—what did you wear then?” I wore a swimsuit. A very ill-fitting swimsuit. A swimsuit that was waiting for me to forget about it for the briefest of moments in its desire to be to be the next great wardrobe malfunction. The same swimsuit I took on my honeymoon a year ago and which fit perfectly then. But alas, my body has betrayed me and I’ve outgrown my lovely suit.
This is not the first time I’ve endured shopping for a swimsuit abroad. The first time was in Greece. I was excavating a lovely coastal site overlooking the Corinthian Sea, but figured I wouldn’t want to swim (and I really hate wearing bathing suits). The Sirens called to me. The temptation of the clear water after a day of digging in the dirt outweighed my self-consciousness. One afternoon, a friend and I, who was also in need of a different suit, sought out a shop and spent an hour trying on different swimsuits—at least there are a lot of options in Greece! The lovely black bikini with crocheted edges ended up being my most favorite suit of all time.
The second time was in Hungary, just a year later. My best friend and I were backpacking across Europe. When we arrived in Budapest we read about the great Turkish bathhouses throughout the city. The temptation of a relaxing day in warmth was too much for us. We wanted to go, but realized neither of us packed suits. Actually, I think I had packed a suit, my favorite black bikini in fact, but when my bag never made it to Europe, I had to buy all new things, including a swimsuit. After a bit of searching, we found a store and I began the tiresome process again. I found a pink and green bikini which fit quite well and is still in a drawer at home.
At some point, I wore out my favorite black bikini and replaced it with a similar one which fit alright enough, but was never the same (RIP black bikini!). As this replacement no longer fits, I had to seek out a new one…in January…in a land-locked country. It was an experience.
My husband heard one of the shopping centers next to the bathhouse was likely to have them, so we headed there. While defrosting from the cold, we both spotted a wall of them…in a lingerie store. I guess it makes sense, but not where I was expecting to find one. Almost right away the woman working in the store asked if I needed help in Russian. Of course, because I have no idea what I’m looking at. I did not think ahead enough to measure myself in centimeters and have no idea what size I am now. She had me open my jacket, sized me up, and started handing me bikini tops. After about six, she took me to the changing room. I noticed a trend after the first four—these tops do not offer much in the way of coverage…and the uplift! My god. These were worse than the black one I already owned. My helpful sales lady continued to pop in and out of the changing room unannounced to bring me more to try (Apparently, this is quite common with clothes shopping in Kazakhstan. A Kazakh friend told me the thought is, “You don’t have anything I haven’t already seen.” True enough. But still, I’m a shy American and this is weird for me.).
Finally, one fit, covered, and was snug enough to avoid accidents. In fact, it looked pretty stellar and when I showed the woman, she was very excited (two thumbs up!)! While the bottoms are a bit too small (for now!), a new top was the priority.
Knowing I could truly relax in my new swimsuit at Saturday’s banya made the day that much better. A small group of us visited Banya Keremet a few miles down the road from the university. For four hours, we had a big room to ourselves with a private sauna and a pool for cooling off. I forgot how much I like to float around in the water…ahhh…truly relaxing. And the bathroom was even inside the building this time!
I can say with 99% certainty that I have never been in such a hot sauna. Our average temperature was 100°C (that’s about 212°F). It would spike and cool off as well, and have minutes of unbearable humidity. I don’t remember the last time I sweat like that. It was glorious. And a perfect way to spend a -30°F day (but more on that later)!