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).
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.
The next one already dived in without any hesitation!
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.
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.
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!
I wonder how many winter visitors of Serebryany Bor witnessed something like that… but I hope those who did were inspired!