[This post ended up wayyyy longer than I thought it would, so I'm splitting it up into three posts instead.]
Part 1 - nearly missed out on naked men
My trip to Banya almost didn't happen. Work lasted longer than I'd hoped, and had a couple of surprise last-minute errands (run home for just-remembered contacts, go buy solution), thus I got a much later start than I'd hoped. I figured 3+ hours at the spa would still be reasonable, so I went anyway.
After checking in, undressing, and soaking in the hottub for a while, I started doing the usual circle: sauna or parilka (wet or dry hotroom), plunge into frigid water, rest in cool briny pool, repeat many times. It was just what I needed, on so many levels.
As I said, Thursdays are men-only nights (Tuesdays are women-only), and on those nights, it's clothing optional. Unsurprisingly, I suppose, there's a large gay contingent on Thursdays. I suspected this, but didn't assume.
In the end, though, it just doesn't matter, and that's the cool part. This place has the most amazing un-Seattle-like social workings. It's just a bunch of guys relaxing, with literally nothing to hide. It's not about sex (which is against the rules; this is largely adhered to), it's not about class or looks, it's just friendly interaction. In this town, that seems to be unheard of. It's a blast. Of course, all that manflesh walking around doesn't hurt.