Ivanovskie Bani (sauna) in Kiev

русский

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.

North 40 Natural Area in New York City

naturist 0003 North 40 Natural Area, Floyd Bennett Field, New York City, NY, USA

Do you dream of having a naturist area in the Big Apple to have an easy escape from the hustle and bustle? I think we’ve found a perfect candidate place –  North 40 Natural Area, a part of historic Floyd Bennett Field in Jamaica Bay. It is on the federal land and is a part of Gateway National Recreation Area, just like Gunnison Beach in Sandy Hook, so technically, no change in legislation would be necessary to allow nudity there… (Another possible location would be Fort Tilden, as was suggested by one of our readers.) Well, that’s if this place remains a park at all, as there is a controversial plan to build a massive gas pipeline going through this territory! How is this legal?

view 0000 North 40 Natural Area, Floyd Bennett Field, New York City, NY, USA

It will be a big shame for New York City to lose one of the few relatively untouched pockets of nature within its boundaries.

berries 0000 North 40 Natural Area, Floyd Bennett Field, New York City, NY, USA

We were lucky to enjoy this place on a warm weekend in late September, and it seemed like not many people knew about this place. 

naturist 0000 North 40 Natural Area, Floyd Bennett Field, New York City, NY, USA

It felt liberating to disrobe and walk in the buff.

naturist 0001 North 40 Natural Area, Floyd Bennett Field, New York City, NY, USA

Buns and bunnies seemed equally natural to us 😉

rabbit 0000 North 40 Natural Area, Floyd Bennett Field, New York City, NY, USA

We went through a couple of winding trails, and it was nice to see that the forest was actually untouched besides the trails. The only other destruction was probably due to storms like Sandy. It’s hard to imagine what else could have made a tree to fall like that with its roots lifting all the soil under it.

naturist 0002 North 40 Natural Area, Floyd Bennett Field, New York City, NY, USA

One of the smaller trails brought us to the beach. It was full of trash, unfortunately, and we almost left disappointed.

view 0001 North 40 Natural Area, Floyd Bennett Field, New York City, NY, USA

But then we just tried to see what was behind the tall reeds and found a beautiful meadow!

view 0002 North 40 Natural Area, Floyd Bennett Field, New York City, NY, USA

It was a true hidden gem, perfect to relax and sunbathe.

naturist 0004 North 40 Natural Area, Floyd Bennett Field, New York City, NY, USA

Well, apparently our timing was perfect too. Just after we finished our snack break and were ready to leave, the water started soaking from beneath the grass. So, in high tide, this meadow must be filled with water.

view 0004 North 40 Natural Area, Floyd Bennett Field, New York City, NY, USA

Before leaving, we spent a couple of minutes to enjoy the view of the particularly bright moon.

view 0003 North 40 Natural Area, Floyd Bennett Field, New York City, NY, USA

We were not sure if passers by on the bridge behind could see us fully, but we could only wonder why this kind of mooning would be frowned upon.

naturist 0006 North 40 Natural Area, Floyd Bennett Field, New York City, NY, USA

banya with an ice hole in Moscow

russian_flag русский

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

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.

naturist 0000 acro yoga San Francisco CA, USA

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

naturist 0003 acro yoga San Francisco CA, USA

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

naturist 0004 acro yoga San Francisco CA, USA

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.

naturist 0007 acro yoga San Francisco CA, USA

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

naturist 0010 acro yoga San Francisco CA, USAnaturist 0009 acro yoga San Francisco CA, USA

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.

Kiev: central nudist beaches with landmark views

Русский

Last summer I rediscovered the capital of my homeland, Ukraine. I’ve spent most of my adult life outside Ukraine, in Moscow, Berlin and now New York, all of which have accessible naturist beaches, so I was pleased to find that Kiev has its own beautiful naturist beaches in the very centre of the city! Kiev boasts the mighty Dnieper River with some forested islands, that are luckily protected and not used for mansions of the nouveau riche. A couple of neighboring clothing-optional beaches at Hydropark (Gidropark) are located most centrally and have pretty amazing views.

This is how it looks from the bridge on the way from Gidropark subway station.

You cannot really see if it is a nudist beach at the other bank of the river, but trust me, it is! So after the bridge you need to continue till one of the typical city style beaches and take a “canoe-ferry” for 5 hryvnias (approx. 50 cents); from there, you can already see where you should head to 😉

First time I went there on a weekday, so it was relatively empty, and I stayed at the part known as a local gay beach, as my friend advised (he was at work that day).

It was nice and relaxing, except that the music from the opposite beach bar was quite loud, but I actually liked it. It is also possible to go a little upstream and find some small secluded spots.

There is a shaded kiosk where you can buy beverages without having to put on clothes. In the afternoon, I decided to explore the area a little more and went to the southern tip of the island, and it turned out to be clothing-optional too!

I actually liked that part more, as it was more spacious and had a great view with some of Kiev’s landmarks: Motherland monument, Kiev Pechersk Lavra (monastery), and a restaurant styled as Noah’s Ark.

So when I went to Gidropark beach next time with my friends Sergey and Sveta, we headed directly to the tip part. I couldn’t resist mocking the Motherland monument by posing with a bottle of water instead of the sword and a frisbee instead of the shield 🙂

Although the day was going to be fabulous even with those regular attributes of naturist pastime, it turned to be even more fun as someone brought body paint and anyone willing was welcome to join the body art frenzy!

Since it actually was the Independence Day, main themes were quite patriotic and Ukraine-inspired. I had our coat of arms (trident) painted on my chest, but frankly, Sergey did not do a great job, so you can hardly see it on photos.

Sergey himself had sunflowers painted saying ‘Support homegrown’, which referred to Ukraine being the biggest exporter of sunflower oil.


Sveta had hearts colored as the national flag and altogether looked very artistic.

And Petya was arguably the most popular model with the watermelon painted on his buttocks :p The “price-tag” said that the watermelon was sold at 2 hryvnias per hour (whatever that meant!) and that it did not contain GMO 🙂


Having a real knife in the not-so-real watermelon, Petya was probably the most daring model too!

On the other (literally) side, the Independence Day was taken also ironically, as despite the patriotic spirits, it was clear that the country was facing too many troubles.

So instead of wishing a Happy Independence Day, it read ‘Happy Inability Day’, as Ukraine is hardly able to cope with its economic challenges (I could translate it as ‘impotence’ as well, but I assure that is not our problem).

But on such a day, it was hard to think of anything gloomy, so the optimistic side took over!