Peter and Paul Fortress sunbathers at Lenigrad Fortress.Living in Germany for nearly two years, I was considering heading home in Spring 1984 when the opportunity to go to then-Soviet Union on a student trip came up. I leaped at the chance. OK, so it would be early March — thus a likely cold, icy transitional season – but to take in then-Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and Moscow was on my bucket list.

Naturally, myself and several others on the trip found the mandatory museums unbearable – I mean, who came to Russia to visit exhibits of Monet and Manet in museums there? So we would bus into town with the group, then immediately take off to wander the streets and take in real life in back courtyards and shops.

The subject: The Peter and Paul Fortress is the birthplace of the city. Situated right next to the Neva River, its looming stone walls had housed, among other things, a military base, burial grounds of Imperial families, and the home of many government departments. Today, it is mostly a museum, but urban traditions continue. Like this one….

The inspiration: Passing near the river and looking across at the stone walls of Peter and Paul Fortress, I suddenly spied all these semi-naked people. What the heck were they doing there in the middle of the winter? It was, dare I say, freezing! Turns out they are nicknamed “walruses,” and are indeed sunbathers who come to turn their faces and bodies to the sun during the long dark Russian winters. They gather in a relatively windless corner along the beach below the fortress wall that tends to warm up. (Warm being quite relative, I’m sure.)

What a sight that was! See those boards? Well, heck, it may look warm but don’t be mistaken. The last thing you want to do is lean your bare back against that cold stone!!

Take a real close look at all of the mini-scenarios going on outside the walls of the Peter and Paul Fortress: the man on the far right looking as if he’s posing for a Gucci ad, the woman third from right who perhaps stopped for a little Vitamin D after some shopping and just unzipped her pants while still wearing her “Ushanka” fur ear hat (and a real don’t-mess-with-me stance), and a couple of men just making their way past are fully wrapped in wool. Take a few minutes to really look at what’s going on.

Artist’s tools: I shot slide film back then on my old Nikon FM SLR. Oh, I loved that camera. All manual, interchangeable lenses, a no-fuss mechanic, and a super compact and durable body. Too bad it was stolen a few years later. With my background in journalism and influence from photojournalism, I tended to shoot strictly wider angle. Without remembering exactly, this could have been an 18mm lens, although I sometimes switched out to a 50mm.

I recently found my trove of slides from that trip to the Soviet Union in 1984, and we scanned them all the best we could, thus the slightly grainy appearance of the Peter and Paul Fortress sunbathers. That’s what happens when slides are left unprotected for 30-plus years! Processing? Nah. Why ruin the vintage look.

Explore more in the Photographer's Diary

Cloud reflections create “feather canyons” on Rocky Mountaineer train

We were getting closer to our destination for the evening in Whistler and passing glorious high-mountain lakes. But instead of shooting up and out at the mountains, I decided to shoot down at the unimaginably beautiful cloud reflections.

Read More

Dali old town in China full of surprises, culture and history

On our entire trip through the Yunnan province in China, monks were irresistible subjects. Mostly they were quick to get out of the way of photos, and you had to be quick at stealing a snap. These two, though, were casually strolling down the street in Dali old town.

Read More

Entranced by light on a Hurtigruten stop in Honningsvag Norway

I was entranced by the light. Honningsvag is of course beautiful in a simple way, but mid-day in November in northern Norway the sun is already pretending to set. This time of year there is only twilight for a few hours mid-day. The light sparkles off the windows of the homes and paints the hills with a red glow.

Read More

Louvre Museum: Historic meets modern in Paris

Depending on who’s talking, the Louvre Museum in Paris is the second-most-visited site in the French city. And the world’s most-visited museum, with nearly 10 million people touring the grand halls in 2016 (although that number slides up and down a bit from different sources). This, for example, is where the Mona Lisa resides.

Read More

Peaceful evening in Old Sacramento on the river

A beautiful stream of reflected light fell across the river from Old Sacramento and its lights. I was standing on the opposite side of the bridge from Old Town. Now, if only that goose would swim over into the right place….

Read More

Thai Park Berlin a feast for eyes and tummies seeking yum Thai food

Germany’s capital of Berlin offers every international food imaginable, in restaurants, street markets or, in the case of the most authentic Thai food in the city, spread across a park. Thai Wiese (Thai Park) comes alive every weekend with arguably the best Thai food in Berlin.

Read More

Bathing in pollen: Ladybugs and poppies

When thoughts start to turn to spring and flowers, the question arises, where to find wildflowers and perhaps butterflies and ladybugs too? The hunt is on for the expanses of color, the bees, the butterflies and the beauty. In Northern California, we go looking...
Read More

New Orleans Jazz Fest: jazz everywhere you look in Nola

New Orleans isn’t just a Mardi Gras party town. Think jazz music everywhere you look! On street corners, in parks, on balconies and, of course, in clubs. Then there is the jazz highlight of the year, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest in late April, a.k.a. just New Orleans Jazz Fest.

Read More
Follow Me

Therese Iknoian

Traveler at HI Travel Tales
Little did her parents know that a short trip to Europe in high school would launch a lifetime love of travel, languages and cultures. Trained as a news journalist, Therese Iknoian spent a decade as a daily newspaper journalist before launching a freelance writing career specializing in outdoor, fitness and training. All the while trotting the globe, her focus finally turned to travel. Fluent in German, Therese runs a translation business ( working primarily with companies in the outdoor/sports/retail industry. Also a French speaker, she loves to learn a bit of the language wherever she goes -- gdje je kupaonica? Мне нужна помощь! -- often embarrassing herself in the quest for cross-cultural communication and the search for great travel discoveries.
Follow Me