Sunday was the Moscow city tour. We had one practice, ate lunch, then went off into the city. Our first stop was Red Square where we learned a little about the history about the Square as a whole and about each building. We stopped to take as many pictures as possible, especially when it came to St. Basil's cathedral.
After Red Square we hopped back on the bus and saw many different landmarks, statues, parks, and more. At each location the bus stopped, and we had about 10-15 minutes to take pictures, and take in the scenic views. There were street vendors everywhere, but they were expensive and tourist-y, unlike the market we went to the day before.
We are bonding with the Russians more and more each day, and excited for more cultural experiences together.
Friday was a training day so we never left camp grounds, but that didn't stop us from having a good time. After our second practice of the day we experienced a Russian banya or sauna. It was the same as an American sauna, but it was fun to sweat it out with our fellow Russian teammates.
Later that night we attended a dance class that turned into more of a dance competition. After attempting- key word being attempting- to learn how to dance the salsa and jive we took matters into our own hands and started a dance party, during which we taught the Russian swimmers how to do the Macarena. Surprisingly we knew almost every song they played since the same music that is popular in the US is also popular in Russia.
The following day we went to a giant market filled with street vendors selling everything from WWII military first aid kits to handcrafted bowls and plates to hundreds of matryoshka dolls. Straight from the market we left for the much anticipated circus. Unlike the typical American three ring circus, there was only one small ring.
I was fascinated by the bears that could walk on two legs, ride bicycles, and jump rope all by themselves! There were also acrobats who flipped blindly through the air and brave performers who climbed under and around speeding horses. I'm looking forward to my last few days in Moscow!
Days 5 & 6 of the Russia trip were pretty exciting. We visited the Kremlin and saw many rare items. Unfortunately they said no pictures were allowed inside. However, we were able to come within 50 feet of the Russian president, but he was leaving as we arrived.
After the Kremlin tour we went to the United States Embassy and had a barbeque. It got pretty chilly, but Skoog saved the day by building a fire to keep everybody warm. It was a good day.
The next day we left after practice to go to a Russian banyan, or sauna
as they say in the states. We also went fishing there and played paintball. Paintball was amazing but fishing was a bit of a let down for me as my line snapped and I lost my fish back to the murky depths of thr tiny lake we were at. Pretty successful days for everybody here on the other side of the world.
So today was fairly typical, woke up and had breakfast. It was business as usual, eggs, meat, potatoes. Practice was either free or stroke. After practice we had the news jumped on us that instead of having outdoor games in the afternoon we had afternoon practice. I died a little inside. But we persevered. After afternoon practice we had dinner and instead of the promised nocturnal (although it doesn't actually get dark until 12) games we were forced to listen to a mediocre trio pianist, violin, and clarinet. By the time we got to playing our games we barely had an hour to play since our curfew is at the early hour of 10. And so concludes another wonderful day in the vast wilds of Russia.
Day 2 in Moscow was training, shopping and team building. We ate breakfast first (the food takes some getting used to), which included chicken, eggs, and other things we all eat blindly. Chicken drumsticks for breakfast is one first. The hardest part about eating is that nothing is what it seems. Our American minds tell us its one thing, and it turns out being a completely other thing.
Training that day was shorter and less intense so we got to know each others speed, and learn how the Russians train, which is surprisingly different from how Americans train.
We had lunch, then went to the mall. It was the Mega Mall in Moscow. It surprised me because most of the stores I could go to anywhere in America, like Gap, American Eagle, and Ikea. It was interesting to see how Russians dressed, and interacted with each other.
After that we had team building. We were split up into four groups, and had to complete in challenges like egg drops blind banana relays, and making balloon towers. Most of the Russians can't speak English at all, so sometimes communicating was a challenge. We found ways, though, using hand gestures, or having one kid translate. The Americans are teaching the Russians new words, and leaning their names.
Day 3 in Moscow was movie night. After breakfast, we trained, which was more intense than the day before. We split up into three groups: Distance free, IM/Stroke, and Sprinting. Each group had both Americans and Russians, and different sets. The pool is amazing, with high gutters, blocks with wedges, and things on the bottom of the pool that flip up to make a wall for 25 yard training. We had doubles that day, so between sessions the Americans hung out in dorms, the lobby, sat outside with the oversized chess set, or rode bikes around the campus.
We had another practice which was more technical, and then we watched a movie as a group. The movie was a documentary about different parts of Russia, and how they live. We had a short follow up meeting, then went to bed, ready for the next adventure together.
Privet from Russia!
Thursday our travels began as we headed off to Washington DC. Of course, nothing ever goes as planned. Our flight leaving Chicago was cancelled so we had to book a new flight into a different airport in DC. Everything worked out fine except that we ended up in a different airport than our luggage.
In Washington DC we met up with two teams - one from Florida and one from Oregon. In total there are 20 swimmers on this trip. While in DC we trained at George Mason College's pool, had a meeting with the State Department to receive details on the trip and participated in numerous team-building activities.
Friday afternoon we left DC on an 8-hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany. From Frankfurt we still had another 3-hour flight before finally touching down in Moscow. It was difficult to spend an entire night on an airplane but most of us passed the time by sleeping or watching movies. We arrived in Russia to find that my suitcase, as well as those of two other girls, had not made the long journey. Fortunately they just arrived so we only had to manage one day without them.
We are staying at the Russian National training center - must be like the one in Colorado Springs. Living and training with us is the Russian National Junior Team. Some of them speak English quite well but most don’t so communication is a little tricky sometimes. Its fun to talk to them and learn about their daily life and culture - we actually have a lot in common! The Russian swimmers are amazed that we all have iPhones. In Russia they cost the equivalent of $1,000.
The food here is pretty good but it’s different from what we are used to so everyone is already searching for any American food they can find. We are training in a beautiful 50-meter pool within the training center. Today we left the training center for the first time and drove 30 minutes to a huge indoor mall. It was very similar to American malls but had both Russian and American stores. So far I've met many new people and I look forward to experience more of Russia's culture in the next two weeks.
Elise Vondra, Dennis Kostidis, Rachel Stoehr, Austin Skoog and Coach Laurel are headed to Moscow as part of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission program. The group leaves Thursday to rendezvous with similar groups from Multonomah Athletic Club (Multonomah, OR) and Pine Crest Swim Team (Ft. Lauderdale, FL). The U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission program seeks to increase cooperation between the two countries through "cultural exchange through the lens of sport".
The delegation first heads to Washington, D.C., then to the Ozero Krugloe National Olympic Center in northwest Moscow for two weeks of training and other cultural activities. In 2010 a squad from Russia enjoyed a similar exchange in the US. Joining Coach Laurel on the coaching staff are Alex Nikitin (Multonomah), a former National Team swimmer from the U.S.S.R., and American Swimming Hall of Fame Coach Jay Fitzgerald (Pine Crest). Coach Laurel is no stranger to the international deck having served the US National Team at the 2010 Jr Pan Pacific Games and the 2011 World Championships.
LFSC is proud to have been selected to send athletes and a coach to Moscow for this program and look forward to sharing their experience when they return.