Russian and Turkish baths in NYC

When it is cold and gloomy, one of the best things you can do is to go to a bathhouse – as I did yesterday, while the cold spell is back to the US Northeast. New York City has several options. The biggest one is probably the Spa Castle with Korean saunas in Queens, but if you prefer a more central location, Russian & Turkish Baths in the East Village is a good choice. Some friends of mine don’t like its dated look, but I actually find that low key style appealing; the room of Russian sauna (banya) looks as if it has not been renovated since the opening of the bathhouse in 1892.

Although the bathhouse is called Russian & Turkish Baths, it has also two Finnish saunas (dry and hot), in addition to two hammams (Turkish steam room, relatively mild temperature), and a bigger banya (Russian sauna, very hot but with humid air, sort of a mix between Turkish and Finnish ones). There are also massage rooms with treatments (e.g. mud scrub). But my favorite treatment there is actually performed right in the Russian sauna room. It’s a traditional Russian banya massage (aka platza, a yiddish term). It is a whole body massage that includes soap wash and whipping with oak branches. It may look a little rough, but in fact it feels very relaxing. As they claim, “the oak leaves contain a natural astringent, which will open your pours, remove toxins, and actually take off layers of dead skin”. And it does feel so. Platza is finished with a dip in the cold water pool, which is supposed to train your vascular system. Yesterday, I used the birch broom which I brought from the Ivanovskie Bani in Kiev. I first massaged two Brazilian friends of mine, and then one of them massaged me. But if you don’t have such a broom and don’t know how to do platza, you can ask local masseurs – they are really good!

On a side note, coming to the US after Germany, I have to mention that saunas here are clothing-optional only in single-sex setting. (This is also increasingly common in Ukraine and Russia.) So unfortunately for heterosexual couples or mixed-gender groups, they will have to walk around in shorts soaked in sweat… If you want to hang out naked, Russian & Turkish Baths offer one women-only and two men-only time slots.

BTW, they regularly offer special deals and discounts through Groupon, kgbdeals.com and savelocal.com, so keep your eyes open.

Ivanovskie Bani (sauna) in Kiev

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On the recent visit to my homeland, I spent a few days in Kiev; pretty much the only option for a naturist experience in winter was to go to a sauna. My friend Sergey found a public sauna online that sounded particularly appealing, and we ventured there with two more mates.

Ivanovskie Bani indeed fulfilled our desire for a traditional Russian sauna (banya) experience. It is located literally on the  Dnieper River, in a modified boat. It has a traditional ambience, and already in the locker you can smell “venik”, a special sauna broom, typically made of birch or oak branches, which is used for massaging. After the lockers, there is a room with showers and a massage table, and then a steam room. You can hire a local masseur to do the banya ritual for you, but we just bought “veniki” and did it ourselves. Though one of the fellow visitors thought that our massage technique was too rough and showed a milder, calmer version with softer and slower moves (but it felt like the heat penetrated even deeper).

Regardless of the kind of massage you prefer in the steam room, after absorbing all that heat, you are supposed to cool down, and this is where Ivanovkie Bani truly stand out: you can splash in the waters of the Dnieper River right outside its doors, and if you are not too shocked you can meanwhile enjoy the views of the river banks with such landmarks as Kiev Pechersk Lavra (Kiev Monastery of the Caves) and the Motherland monument.

Well, it could only get more striking in much colder weather, when the river would be frozen, as it happened when we went to a banya in Moscow a couple of years ago.

After repeating the ritual a couple of times, we felt both relaxed and energized. We had some tea before leaving in the cafe (they don’t serve any meals there, but you can bring food with you or order something more exotic, like crayfish, in advance).

Even though the location is central, it’s not easy to get there without a car (and if you call a taxi, it may take a while for them to arrive), but it’s totally worth it, especially if you want a relaxing break from the busy city life without leaving the city!

PS Keep in mind that most banyas are gender-segregated, and in this one the only women day is Wednesday.

banya with an ice hole in Moscow

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While there is hardly any evidence of the snowstorm Nemo in NYC anymore, and most of the city dwellers yearn for warmth and summer, here is a naturist take on dealing with the snow in Moscow, a city where snow cover stays for 3-5 months a year.

So, luckily Russians have ‘banya‘ – traditional steam room, often located next to a lake or river, and there is a whole culture around it. Unfortunately though, the traditional Russian steam room is becoming less and less common, especially in urban areas. Most ‘banyas’ in Moscow would rather offer dry Finnish saunas, and even steam rooms there are more of Turkish style than Russian. This is mostly because traditional Russian banya requires wood to produce heat and a lot of steam, at temperatures much higher than Turkish hamam,  which makes banya much more expensive and complicated to operated. Another part of banya ritual – skinny-dipping in some natural waters between the sweating sessions – is even harder to achieve in urban environment.

However, there is at least one banya in Moscow that boasts a proper ice hole in the river. My friend Kolya just found it online, and I am not sure, if there is any alternative within the city boundaries. It operates as a rent facility with up to 8 person capacity for 3000 roubles an hour (2hrs min) – for arrangements call +7 (495)507-45-52 or +7(925)002-80-72. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is located in one of the biggest parks of Moscow, Serebyany Bor (Silver Pinery), on the banks of the Moscow River (upstream of the city), next to the well-known nudist beach. This is where I used to hang out on warm days during my student years (I described this beach but unfortunately never managed to get any proper photos there), but this winter was the first time I appreciated this place with all the snow and ice.

Upon arrival, we first tried to get the music equipment work (there was a proper turntable and good loudspeakers but we didn’t bring any music with us).

naturist 0010 Banya, Serebyany Bor, Moscow, Russia

Then we realised it wasn’t why we came there and went to the steam room. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough steam for a proper Russian banya (it was rather a modified Finnish sauna), but it was good enough to make us sweat. And after all, the main reason why we chose it, was not even the sauna itself but the ice hole in the Moscow River.

Kolya was the first one to go for a quick dip, but he practices bathing in ice holes regularly, and even without banyas nearby! It took me a little while to get ready.

naturist 0000 Banya, Serebyany Bor, Moscow, Russia

The next one already dived in without any hesitation!

naturist 0008 Banya, Serebyany Bor, Moscow, Russia

It is difficult to describe the feeling, but it is quite close to euphoria! after heating up in the sauna, it actually seems as the right thing to do. Rapid changes in temperature is supposed to train your cardiovascular system to control the tonus of blood vessels. Just don’t stay in the cold water too long.

naturist 0006 Banya, Serebyany Bor, Moscow, Russia

It was also nice to chill out inside the cabin and look outside the window at some people… playing beach volleyball in the snow! That was some anti-nudist volleyball though, but I won’t judge them as the temperature was below freezing after all.

naturist 0011 Banya, Serebyany Bor, Moscow, Russia

One of the pleasant side effects of our trip to banya was realising that when people are confronted with ‘casual’ nudity, they are actually fine with it (similarly to the World Naked Bike Rides in NYC and Madrid, or at a naked stroll in San Francisco, for example). There were numerous skiers passing by the ice hole while we were skinny dipping, and we got a lot of smiles and encouragement!

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I wonder how many winter visitors of Serebryany Bor witnessed something like that… but I hope those who did were inspired!

naturist 0001 Banya, Serebyany Bor, Moscow, Russia

Acro-yoga in the buff (which was too much for San Francisco)

Here are the photos from our acro-yoga session in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco that ended in such a dispiriting manner, with rangers issuing us a citation for “expose genitals”. Well, but it was a lot of fun until they arrived, and it’s worth sharing the pics, so you can see what our authorities consider an inappropriate sight for a city park as opposed to horse manure that police left behind them 😀

As Wikipedia says, “acro-yoga is a physical practice which blends elements of yoga, acrobatics, performance and healing arts. These three ancient practices form the foundation of a practice that cultivates trust, connection and playfulness between partners.” It is definitely a great exercise for balancing and stretching, and needless to say, all those aspects intensify  only more, if you do acro-yoga naked.

I first tried acro-yoga at Burning Man this year and was looking forward to doing it again; Dan’s  idea of doing it in a park in the buff sounded fantastic (as we didn’t know rangers wouldn’t allow it). So, we started from a folded leaf pose, which for me, being in the role of ‘flyer’, was mainly relaxing and getting comfortable with the idea of being dependent on Dan, the ‘base’. Other poses involved more power and strenuous control of balance.

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In the beginning, we did poses that used support of base’s hands.

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The we followed to the poses, where I was balancing on Dan’s legs only.

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It felt like I was learning to fly! The last one that we managed to do before the rangers arrived was the most difficult to maintain.

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But it felt amazing, because I lost understanding of where up and down were while I was looking at the sky!

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We’ll definitely try to find a place where we could do acro-yoga in the buff in open air without being disturbed by rangers.

Country Club in New Orleans

In the aftermath of Frankenstorm in New York, I would like to post some happy photos from New Orleans, another city that 8 years ago suffered severely from a hurricane, and actually much stronger one than Sandy…

Despite being surrounded by water, New Orleans is not known for beaches, let alone naturist beaches. But there is a clothing-optional club with an open air pool, jacuzzi and bar all surrounded by lush tropical plants. It is called simply The Country Club, and the atmosphere is very laid-back.

It is located in the most charming and picturesque residential area I’ve ever seen, Bywater, rivalled only by the neighbouring Marigny (imho).

It is located close to bustling French Quarter, but in this neighbourhood, there are only few quiet cafes.

So it may be your perfect oasis of tranquility in the city. You can simply chill on a lounger by the pool or in a more secluded corner in the garden; there is WiFi, in case you need to work and stay connected to the outside world.

You can also order pretty decent food from the indoor restaurant (far not the best one in New Orleans, but that still means good in the culinary mecca!) or get drinks from the bar by the pool. Speaking of which, there are floating mats in the pool, that is what I call ultimate relaxation!

hurricane flashback

In anticipation of the Frankenstorm, I can’t help recalling last year experience right before arrival of the hurricane Irene to New York City. A friend of mine got a reckless idea of running in the storm. Well, not that reckless, the storm was still a few hours away from the city, and it was a classic calm before the storm. The night was just more humid usual, but there was no wind. And I have never seen the streets of Manhattan so quiet and empty. We headed out to Riverside Park and it started pouring, but still there was no sign of wind.

Our only encounter in the park was a totally wet skunk that was running hastily away from the Hudson River.

Guess what we thought next. That seemed like a unique opportunity to jog in one of New York’s major parks naked, and we didn’t miss the chance!

We ran in the rain up to George Washington Bridge.

It felt fantastic, as if the city was just ours and nothing could stop us… But of course, we had to stop and go back. The storm never really hit Manhattan severely, but we wouldn’t know beforehand. So, luckily, our naked run remained the brightest memory from the hurricane Irene. Who knows what Sandy brings us this time. It is expected to be much longer (up to 36 hours, as opposed to 6 hours of Irene), and it’s definitely not going to be warm, especially if the tropical hurricane does merge with the wintry storm. Also, combination with full moon increases the chance of particularly strong surges, so we should stay away from the river…

Be safe and take care!

beaches of Barcelona

Barcelona is an ultimate tourist destination with countless sights of interest, be it history or art, beautiful views, gastronomic delights, vibrant night life and, of course, beaches. Now, what other major city can boast with a naturist beach in its central area? And not just one, but two!

One beach is located in the southern part of the hip Barceloneta area and is called Sant Sebastià. You can see it on the right side coming down by cable car from park Montjuïc.

Isn’t it great to strip down and dip in the sea after all that sightseeing? The location is especially perfect if you go there after checking out the Olympic site and city news from Montjuïc. That’s what we did.

Another well known naturist beach is Mar Bella. It is a little further away from the historic centre, but you can see the famous ‘Egg building’, for example. It also has a dune with tall grass, which gives it a bit more natural and secluded feeling.

All beaches within the city boundaries have showers, which is useful if you want to continue exploring the city straight after the beach.

Both naturist beaches of Barcelona are full of locals and tourists but are not overcrowded.

You will be most certainly offered a ‘masaje’ right on the beach; we thought it was a good idea, but just did massage to each other instead.

The clothing optional section is big enough for a walk

or even a short run.

But when the sun was high we of course went to swim

or simply relaxed in the breeze

and in water.

Well, actually the sea was quite rough, so it was difficult to relax in water and we mostly played in waves.

Which in the end was a lot of fun!

Thumbs up to Barcelona’s liberal attitude! Actually I read that some people took it one step further and were even walking naked on the streets, but unfortunately the new mayor was apparently looking for some ways to distract people’s attention from economic problems and proposed a law forbidding even walking topless in the city (even for men). Let’s hope the trend will be reversed soon, otherwise we’ll loose just about the only big city with naturist sea beaches in the centre.

Dear passengers, we are landing at… the naturist beach! Playa Guasimeta, Lanzarote, Canary Islands

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naturist 0000 Guasimeta beach, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain

It seems naturists are really welcome on Canary Islands. Right next to the airport of Arrecife there is a quite long nudist beach

naturist 0002 Guasimeta beach, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain

with very soft dark sand, Playa Guasimeta. Airplanes take off just along the beach, but this gives it charm of its own.

naturist 0001 Guasimeta beach, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain

So, if you can’t wait to stretch out and get naked after the flight, just go there and relax on the sand. It’s also a short bike ride from the city.

Naturist village Charco del Palo

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An entire naturist colony, the village of Charco del Palo, is a special place for naturists on Lanzarote – you can stay clothes-free even outside of the ocean shore area and don’t need to think of clothes even when you walk to the beach from your house down the streets of the village. naturist 0004 Charco del Palo, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain

Or even if you go to a restaurant? Unfortunately they had a siesta break when we were there, so we could only check the Menü (it was in German, of all languages). naturist 0000 Charco del Palo, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain

It is also a great place for snorkeling and diving, as there are a lot of different fishes and algae on the rocks. About a hundred meters off the shore, there are submerged rocks that make a nice point to swim to. On the way there, I saw some rays gliding by the bottom.

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And there is an arch-like rock formation that you can walk on (and swim under).

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Despite the rocks, the entrance to the water is not difficult thanks to the hand rails. naturist 0001 Charco del Palo, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain

Small children can play safely in the waters of 2 natural tidal pools, as they are shallow and protected from waves.

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If you walk around on the rocky shore,

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you’ll see a lot of shrubs and succulent plants, many of which are you unique to Canary Islands.

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We were in time for their blossom (later March) of succulents,

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so as this parasitic plant called desert broomrape, which doesn’t have its own leaves (well, even some plants here prefer to stay naked!)

plants 0002 Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain

Check this web page for more information and directions to Charco del Palo.

Naturist beach and park in Moscow, Serebryany Bor

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naturist 0000 Serebryany Bor, Moscow, Russia

Serebryany Bor (Silver Pinery) is a unique place in Moscow where you can enjoy nature without having to leave the city, and even in your birthday suite. The only thing that will remind you of the hustle and bustle of the metropolis are the skyscrapers of Moscow-City and, unfortunately, some noise from a highway.

naturist 0001 Serebryany Bor, Moscow, Russia

Otherwise, you’ll be surrounded by the forest and river. The Moscow River is very quiet there, with hardly any current noticeable, so it’s nice for swimming (and even nicer, since you can do it naked). If you swim from one edge of the nudist beach to the other, it’s approximately 2500 feet, so swimming forth and back would give a decent distance of 1.5 km. Just keep closer to the shore, as there may come speedy jet-skiers.

The park is dominated by willows, traditional Russian birches and, as you could guess from the name of the place, pines. It makes it easy to find a secluded place to your liking – with sun or some shade, grass or sand.

naturist 0001 Serebryany Bor, Moscow, Russia

If you’re lucky, a nightingale may provide you a pleasant acoustic background. I was lucky to see such a singing nightingale, although usually they are hard to spot even when you hear them.

nightingale 0000 Serebryany Bor, Moscow, Russia

Speaking of music, if you do want to hear some, stay in the beginning of the beach (closer to the mini-bus station) – there is a cafe with a radio.

naturist 0002 Serebryany Bor, Moscow, Russia

You can buy snacks, beer and other beverages, as well as ice-cream in the cafe without having to dress, so Serebryany Bor is turning into fully functional nudist resort.

Next to the cafe, there a horizontal bar, but I didn’t take pictures there with too many people around. Another horizontal bar is in the woods in the eastern part of the park. I’ve already posted a gifs of me doing pull-ups on this blog, so I think I have to promise to learn something more interesting by the next time 😉

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There are few short trails that are nice to stroll or jog on, and some people even ride bicycles in the buff.

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Of course it wouldn’t be a proper naturist beach without a volleyball field! There are two volleyball nets installed, one near the cafe and another in the center, but unfortunately they are usually taken by the local regulars and it’s hard to join them.

naturist 0006 Serebryany Bor, Moscow, Russia

Already after my last visit to Moscow, a friend of mine found an outdoor gym next to the nudist beach; I’ll have to check it out next time. But even without the gym and volleyball net, we didn’t just sit lazily 🙂 We also did some yoga.

naturist 0003 Serebryany Bor, Moscow, Russia

I found that Moscow-city skyline fit pretty well to the otherwise natural landscape there, and it even inspired me to keep some yoga poses longer, while the photographer looked for the best angle 😉

naturist 0004 Serebryany Bor, Moscow, Russia

I noticed that many muscovites do not appreciate Serebryany Bor too much, with a sentiment that there are much better resorts abroad. However, after having travelled to numerous naturist destinations around the world, I can assure that there are very few urban parks like this, where a beach and a forest are intermingled, and you can swim, play volleyball or sit in a cafe, and all naked! And it’s a nice place to visit even in winter, as there is a banya with an ice-hole! But let’s not talk about cold, the weather is very hot right now in Moscow, so enjoy the summer at Serebryany Bor 😎

PS Google maps is the choice throughout the website, by Yandex provides better service than Google in Russian-speaking domain, so better check out Yandex maps for directions.