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Ice Swimmers Brace Themselves for The Thaw

Published: April 4, 2006 (Issue # 1158)


The thaw began this week in St. Petersburg and the city seems ready to melt and disappear.

But for walruses, the name given to those people who like nothing better than to swim in holes cut into the frozen River Neva, rain and rising temperatures signal that the ice-swimming season is winding down.

April traditionally marks the end of ice-swimming fun. The frozen river flows again and soon after, beaches become crowded with fair-weather bathers.

Some walruses turn to cold showers, ice filled baths or punishing fitness regimes for consolation, but there is still time to catch them swimming or even to test the water oneself before the end of the season.

During the Epiphany celebrations in January, when temperatures plummeted to less than minus 30 degrees Celsius, nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky declared on television that This is why Americans cant understand what a Russian is! before plunging into a pool cut into the ice at Lake Bezdonnoye near Moscow.

Indeed, the idea of swimming outside in such extreme conditions is alien to foreigners of many nationalities. There is, however, method in the madness.

On a corner of the Peter and Paul Fortress, a sketch of a walrus marks the spot where enthusiasts meet to swim all year round in the River Neva.

Andrei Korotkov is one such swimmer. He is quick to reject the term walruses morzhi in Russian which is often used to describe winter swimmers, as it encourages an image of exclusivity.

This is not a club. We are all individuals and everyone is welcome here, Korotkov said as bystanders nodded in approval.

It is of no importance whether you are a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim it is just a question of the strength of your soul, Korotkov said as he gestured to the Sobornaya-Kafedralnaya Mechet, St. Petersburgs biggest mosque, nearby. Anyone can swim in the Neva as long as they are strong spirited.

The pastime is a great leveler and contrary to Zhirinovskys remark, Korotkov said it is certainly not exclusive to Russians.

Scots, Finns, Germans and Englishmen all swim here, he said.

When someone is half-naked at the edge of icy cold water their profession, religion and nationality seemingly become irrelevant.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Aug. 28


Learn more about the citys upcoming municipal elections during the presentation of the project Road Map for the Municipal Elections being presented this evening in the conference hall on the third floor of Biblioteka at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. Steve Kaddins, a coordinator for Beautiful St. Petersburg, which gives residents an online forum to lodge complaints about infrastructure problems in the city, will be on hand to answer any questions. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and is open to all.



Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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