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.

fun naturist events this spring in the USA

Sorry for having been quiet the entire month of March, but I was busy getting new material in Florida 🙂 While it’s not ready to be published yet, I’d like to announce a few events that sound like fun and well in the spirit of αctive naturists.

In a little more than a week, from 9-12 AprilFlorida Young Naturists will hold their 7th Naked Spring Bash. Joe and I visited their event in 2011 and had great time! And I must say, this year’s schedule looks even better, so it’s a shame I can’t return to the Sunshine State soon again. I like their emphasis on dance workshops this time.

On the 18th of April, Travasuns will have their monthly Indoor Pool Party in Long Island, NY, which will be my last, and unfortunately only second, this season. I usually go to their events throughout winter, but this yeah I’ve had schedule conflicts. It’s a low-key event at a rented gym with saunas, hang-out pool, pizza and wallyball.

Austin Naked Yoga will host Naked Yoga Camp for men on 7-10 May at Lotus Ranch in Wimberley, Texas. My friend Eddy will teach a movement workshop there, say hi if you attend it!

YNOTU (Young Nudists of Texas United) will host their second Nude Games on Memorial Weekend,  22-25 May, at a campground near Dallas. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend again, but the program looks like fun: flag football, tug of war, a few varieties of volleyball among other things. However, it seems to me, they downplayed the athletic component this year. If any of you go there, I’ll be happy to hear your thoughts!

Thermen am Europa Center (and Winter Badeschiff) – amazing saunas in Berlin

We continue with Berlin series (it’s not over yet!), and here is something for winter time, and looking at the calendar – particularly suitable for Valentine’s Day, if you’re up for a hot date… Literally! I’m talking about two of my favourite saunas in Berlin (one of them doesn’t seem to be open this winter, however).

Thermen am Europa Center is located in the centre of Berlin. It’s easy to see why I loved it, with multiple types of saunas including 2 hamams, several pools of different temperatures, and large outdoor terraces with views over some of Berlin’s landmarks like Gedaechtniskirche.

naturist 0000 Thermen am Europa, Berlin, Germany

 

The biggest pool goes partially outdoors and is very warm. Due to the narrow shape of its outdoors part though, don’t expect to do laps when there’s more than a couple of people. But if you go there primarily for relaxation, you will definitely get it! Thermen am Europa Center is open throughout the year, so it can be also a good idea for a chilly summer evening, which is not a rare thing in Berlin either…

Well, the description below, is for historic reference, as of now… hopefully they’ll reopen it next winter!

Another option is was Badeshiff , which from November till the end of March becomes used to turn into an oasis of warmth with saunas and partially open-air swimming pool with transparent walls over the Spree River! This not only allows-ed you to enjoy the views, up to the tallest city landmark – Alex TV-tower

naturist 0000 Winter Badeschiff, Berlin, Germany

– but also to appreciate the warmth of saunas in contrast to the chilly winter weather outside.
naturist 0002 Winter Badeschiff, Berlin, Germany

However the water in the pool could be warmer

unless you’d swim intensely 🙂

But why not, keep yourself active in winter too, and you’ll enjoy the sauna even more!

naturist 0001 Winter Badeschiff, Berlin, Germany

Natural steam rooms: traditional naturist pastime reinvented

Saunas provide an easy opportunity to have a naturist experience to laypeople and are among favorite pastimes for hardcore naturists as well, but there is a hidden and unique (please let me know, if it isn’t!) place on the Hawaii island that brings it to the next level: a combination of geothermal steam vents, small caves and lush greenery creates the most natural and idyllic steam room imaginable!

Again, I found out about this natural wonder thanks to the guidebook ‘Hawaii, the Big Island Revealed‘ – and it would be hard to know about it otherwise, as it is on private land whose owner by no means seems to want to advertise it. Luckily, he doesn’t seem to mind the visitors much either, and the place is accessible for those in the know 😉 The guidebook also noted that locals enjoy the natural steam in their altogethers, as nature intended. 

So, these natural “steam rooms” are located in the otherwise not very notable forest north of intersection of Kamaili Rd and Pahoa Kalapena Rd.

view 0000 steam vents, Hawaii, USA

You’ll have to guess where the trails are, as they are not very distinguishable in the beginning but get better by the steam rooms.  Some of those are hard to notice behind the plants,

view 0003 steam vents, Hawaii, USA

but you’ll sense the heat and see the steam. Now, how is this for a steam room?

naturist 0000 steam vents, Hawaii, USA

An individual cabin adorned with ferns and orchids!

If you’re with a bigger group AND have a ladder, you may go for this steaming hole in the ground!

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Next to it, there was a small cave with a ladder installed already. Then, I noticed steam coming above a meadow below.

view 0001 steam vents, Hawaii, USA

I went down there and took a chance for using the space for my personal hot nude yoga session (based on Bikram yoga sequences I used to do 2 years ago). This was a unique opportunity to do hot yoga in an open-air space, and it felt amazing.

view 0002 steam vents, Hawaii, USA

As darkness fell, I was staring at the first stars, and, getting warmed up by the heat from the depth of our planet, I couldn’t help thinking of being one with our vast universe, and my nakedness only facilitated the feeling. The lush vegetation around and the chorus of crickets and coquí frogs also reminded me that we were lucky to be in the part of the universe suitable for life; and I personally felt very lucky to be in that particular part of the universe that made me feel life was amazing!

enjoy the spring: naked sport events and a show (NY, Berlin, Texas)

This time, I’m not kidding about naked sport events. I was shocked (in a good way) how many people took my April Fools joke for real – I got quite a few emails requesting the details! Well guys, if you’re ready for mud wrestling with freshly squeezed garlic in the morning at a venue without showers, I know I can rely on you! 😀 Well, we do plan to organize naked sport events and classes, and clearly there’s a demand for that!

Tomorrow is going to be my last Winter Indoor Pool Party party this season (organized by Travasuns in Long Island, NY). Well, I guess we can clearly say the spring has arrived to New York, but it’s still a bit too chilly to enjoy nakedness outdoors. We’ve been to a few of Travasuns’ winter pool events, and it was always fun. It’s a low-key event at a rented gym. They offer saunas, hang-out pool, pizza and even volleyball, which is often unofficially dubbed as naturists’ favorite sport. Given that volleyball is indoors too and surrounded by walls, we rather play it as wallyball

naked wrestling 0001 Tiergarten, Berlin, Germany

On the weekend of 10-11 May in Berlin, Tam and I plan to have naked acro-yoga and wrestling jam sessions. Please contact us by e-mail or comment here, if you are interested in joining, and we’ll send you details re timing and exact location. This is also pending on the weather. We haven’t decided as to how many sessions we’ll have, but our approach is the more the merrier. We’ll take advantage of Berlin’s healthy attitude towards nudity and do at least one session in its central park – Tiergarten – don’t worry, we won’t be arrested for doing acro-yoga naked there like in San Francisco. Wrestling might work better by one of numerous lakes in Berlin, as we’re likely to get sweaty. Here is a sneak preview from our naked oil wrestling match a couple of years ago (photos courtesy of Joe). Come and join us!

naked wrestling 0000 Tiergarten, Berlin, Germany

YNOTU (Young Nudists of Texas United) will host Nude Games on Memorial Weekend, May 24-26, at a campground near Dallas. Unfortunately, none of the people form our group will be able to attend, but it seems like fun. In the program: flag football, tug of war, water and sand volleyball, beer mile, 3-legged races, potato sack races, bean bag throw, Frisbee toss and egg toss, yoga, Latin dance class. Highly recommended!

And we’ll have our round-up end back in New York. My friend Alexander Kargaltsev, who I’ve already introduced here because oh his variously themed photo works that often involve nudity, is now developing a play, Crematorium, that sounds shocking and looks beautiful, and it will have plenty of nudity too.

 Former Ukraine. In the south of Putin’s Crimea, a giant factory with chimneys is built: a Crematorium for gays. Four couples are picked to test a new machine to turn them straight. Torture, interrogation, death and cleansing in the fiery furnace await them.

Here is the preview video.

The shows are set for 29 May – 1 June at Shetler Studios & Theatres, New York. You can buy tickets online.

Hope to see you at these events in New York and Berlin!

some upcoming events in NYC area

Thanks to Travasuns group, even in the cold time of the year we can gather for social naked activities at a monthly Winter Pool Party in Long Island. The next one is this Saturday, March 1 . I’ve been to a few of their events, and it was always fun. It’s a low-key event at a rented gym. They offer saunas, hang-out pool, pizza and even volleyball, which is often unofficially dubbed as naturists’ favorite sport. Given that volleyball is indoors and surrounded by walls, we can also play it as wallyball.

For someone not ready to take it all off at once, there is a perfect opportunity on Friday night: my favorite night club in New York, Pacha, has a No-Pants party with DJ Michael Woods, who is one of the best producers of progressive house and trance music around. From their press release:

Yup, you heard right. Pacha Has Woods! And when you’ve got Woods, the last thing you need is your pants. Pacha is pleased to invite you to take them off – take them all off. A staple of the modern clubbing era, the No Pants Party is quickly becoming the stuff of legend. Rock out with your everything out all night to the waist-down sounds of our brand new resident: Michael Woods!#PACHAHASWOODS FREE ADMISSION TIL 2AM WHEN YOU CHECK YOUR PANTS AT THE DOOR!

Let’s see how far we can go with rocking out with our everything out, and if Michael Woods himself joins the craze!

Two weeks later, on Thursday, March 13, we’ll have “New York Naked Painting Party – World Tour Kick Off!”  at the Highline loft. RSVP@SocialExposureNYC.com, get tickets here. The title speaks for itself, and I’ve already posted about their previous events at Gallery Bar. Their next event will be in Mexico at Hidden Beach Resort in the end of March.

I would also like to mention the film called ‘Stranger By The Lake’ (L’inconnu du lac). I heard about it a few months ago from a friend in Paris, and now it made it to a couple of cinemas in New York. It’s set at a nudist beach and cruising area by a lake in French countryside. It is a very powerful psychological drama about reckless passion, friendship, loneliness… It is very realistic and has no music soundtrack, and yet it’s also beautifully shot. Given that I don’t want cruising culture to be associated with nudism, I need to point out right away that, curiously, cruising itself was done clothed, while most conversations and other interactions were done in the nude. I wonder if this fact made the film so emotionally powerful, as there are studies showing that people are more compassionate and empathic when they see images of naked people as opposed to clothed people. I’ll say no more, I don’t want to spoil it for those who hasn’t seen the film yet.

‘Naked holidays’ in New York

Maybe you assumed from my last blogpost that the naturist season is over in New York area, but it isn’t at all! Besides the ongoing naked yoga classes with my friends (and there are even more options, e.g. Zensual yoga), I’m planning to attend two events in the next days.

Tonight, I’m going to an off-Broadway show with naked performers – Naked Holidays, right by Times Square!

I went to their performance last year with a colleague whose friend is playing there, and we are going together again. It is a fun show, and it’ll definitely put me in a more festive mood, as I usually notice arrival of winter holidays with a sort of surprise.

This will be the second year that NYC is left out of what seemed to become a traditional Nude Year’s Eve :-/

But thanks to Travasuns, we have an ‘early Nude Year’s Eve’ – this Saturday, December 28. I was at the previous event, and it was a lot of fun. Although Travasuns has a fame of bringing mostly ‘older’ crowd,  there was no shortage of activities and I saw many familiar faces from events of YNA, Vita Nuda, or local beaches. Judging by the calendar, they might be as well the most active nudist group in winter season. They offer saunas, hang-out pool, pizza, but what’s especially cool is that they manage to provide volleyball in winter, which is often unofficially dubbed as naturists’ favourite sport. First, I was quite sceptical about indoors volleyball, but in the end my friends Yassin, for whom it was the first naked event btw, Sergei, Liza and I just couldn’t stop playing and were the last ones to leave the field…

Looking forward to these events! Stay tuned for reviews 🙂

Orr Hot Springs and Montgomery Woods

While winter’s attempt to reinstall its reign over New York City on Monday night failed totally, with the morning rain washing down almost all snow and the afternoon sun dealing with the rest, my friends in Europe are still suffering from yet another particularly long and snowy winter. So, here is probably my last blogpost of the winter season. Well, this one is from Californian ‘winter’, so don’t expect anything like jumping in the ice hole in the Moscow River, or frolicking in the snow by the naked gym in Paris… but rather soaking in hot springs! California has lots of those, so Niko and I spent some time choosing which ones to visit on the way from Eureka to San Francisco. Orr hot springs called our attention by having a reputation of providing exquisite tranquility; it is a cute rustic resort with small cozy cabins, excellent self-service kitchen, and of course saunas and baths filled with natural thermal water.

naturist 0000 Orr springs, CA, USA

Orr hot springs are quite easy to reach from Bay Area, but seclusion is one of their key words. There is no cell phone service, no wi-fi, and actually, not even an official webpage! I don’t think there is a lack of visitors though, thanks to the word of mouth and reviews in Yelp… and websites like this one 😉 Therefore, to make sure there is a spot for you, reservations by phone are required +1 (707) 462-6277.

We arrived quite late in the evening and had the main bath for ourselves for a while.

naturist 0001 Orr springs, CA, USA

It was gorgeous full moon night, and mist gathering above the hot springs made the whole place look mysterious.

naturist 0002 Orr springs, CA, USA

In the morning, the mist highlighted sun rays peeking through bamboo.

naturist 0006 Orr springs, CA, USA

… and the mist that condensed on the grass around hot springs, provided another pretty display – hoar frost – and a proof that it did get down to freezing temperatures during the night.

naturist 0007 Orr springs, CA, USA

Not a problem though, if you are surrounded by hot springs and saunas.

naturist 0012 Orr springs, CA, USA

After absorbing the heat of thermal waters, it feels just great to walk around butt-naked despite the cold.

naturist 0004 Orr springs, CA, USA

By the way, the whole resort is clothing optional except for registration desk.

naturist 0005 Orr springs, CA, USA

We explored the territory of Orr for a bit,

naturist 0008 Orr springs, CA, USA

and after the check out time in the cabin (noon), we decided to go for a hike.

naturist 0009 Orr springs, CA, USA

Unfortunately, there are no trails starting at the resort, but there are some in its vicinity, in the Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve.  The afternoon was getting quite warm, and as we turned away from the main trail, I felt comfortable to get unclad.

naturist 0010 Orr springs, CA, USA

This trail mostly featured young redwoods, as the area was probably still recovering after logging. One of the huge redwood stumps looked like a stage.

naturist 0011 Orr springs, CA, USA

We didn’t see much wildlife except for a few birds and a couple of these ancient-looking creatures, red-bellied newts.

red-bellied newt 0016 Orr springs, CA, USAred-bellied newt 0017 Orr springs, CA, USA

It was the first time when I saw an adult newt, as previously I only saw juvenile forms (efts) of a related species in Harriman State Park, NY. Adult forms aren’t that bright, except for the belly in this species. By the way, only preparing for this blogpost did I find out that their red belly “serves as a warning to potential predators, as [they] have enough of a neurotoxin … in their skin to easily kill an adult human”.

Speaking of warnings, soon we reached a fence with a sign saying that there was private property further up the trail and no trespassing was allowed. Why wasn’t there any warning in the beginning of the trail? We turned back and went down to the main trail, which went through old growth redwoods, including some of the tallest trees around!

naturist 0013 Orr springs, CA, USA

We didn’t have enough time to explore the whole trail, but even the trees near the beginning were impressive.

naturist 0014 Orr springs, CA, USA

In this forest of giants, we looked somewhat Lilliputian, but it made us appreciate only more the splendour of nature.

naturist 0015 Orr springs, CA, USA

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!

naturist 0003 Banya, Serebyany Bor, Moscow, Russia

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