Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Pancakes and Saint Petersburg

Pancake Day in Dmitrov

So all these years I thought that Thanksgiving was my favorite food holiday. Little did I know that moving to Russia would change my mind. Three words. National. Pancake. Day. In Russia this happens once a year and is an excuse to stuff your face with as many of the thinnest, most delicious pancakes you can get your hands on. Well.. that’s what I did anyway. This holiday is about more than pancake eating however and signifies the end of winter and the beginning of spring. On this day, all over the country, towns, and some families build a large woman out of wood and burn it, to represent the end of winter.
In Dmitrov, there was a huge festival, similar to that of a fair in the US, with face painting, people in costumes, music, dancing, and of course, pancakes. This took place in the massive square in what we like to call “downtown Dmitrov.” It was a really cool experience to be a part of. There were kids running around everywhere, the weather was great, and everyone seemed incredibly happy and excited to “burn the lady” and to get rid of the dreary winter days! I of course, took part in the pancake eating, but my cohort Brittany wanted to get more involved. There were men and women walking around the fair with free gifts to give out, if you were willing to sing or dance, or basically do something goofy to draw attention to yourself. Brittany decided, that in the middle of hundreds of Russians, she wanted to sing the Canadian national anthem so she could receive a free gift. So with some help from one of our Russian teammates, she flagged down one of these gift givers and sang her heart out. It was hysterical. On a side note, when she saw me videotaping the event, nerves kicked in and she may or may not have forgotten some of the words. Needless to say, she still got her free gift.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
Shortly after Pancake Day in Dmitrov, we had an off weekend, so Britt, our teammate Iya, and I decided that it would be a great time to head off to Saint Petersburg for the weekend and see the city. It was a quick and easy trip, with just a short hour and 10 minute flight to get us there. We left on a Saturday morning and grabbed a Starbucks as soon as landed to get us ready to go for the day. The names on our Starbucks cups? Beyonce, Madonna, and Shakira.. who else.  The Russian baristas obviously loved our creativity.

We took a shuttle from the airport to the metro and after a couple stops we were in the middle of downtown Saint Petersburg, on its main street, Nevsky Prospect. This street is the gateway to most things in Saint Pete’s and has hundreds of restaurants and little shops. The city is known for having a more European feel that than of Moscow and I definitely found this to be true. From the canal running through the city, to the buildings, to the diverse population, I couldn’t remember if I was in Italy, or Germany, or Russia. It was pretty cool.

Saint Isaac's Cathedral
View from the top of Saint Isaac's Cathedral
Our first stop was to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. This church is probably the most beautiful building I have ever seen and when you’re walking down Nevsky Prospect, it just sort of appears on a side street. You would never think that it would be tucked away where it is. But it is absolutely spectacular. The church was built in memory of Tsar Alexander II and was built on the site where he was assassinated. This building is one of the main attractions in Saint Petersburg, for obvious reasons.  One of my other favorite places on the trip was Saint Isaac’s Cathedral which was a short walk from Nevsky Prospect. We didn’t go inside this cathedral but we did get to climb 262 stairs and take in a view of the entire city of Saint Petersburg from the top. Even though the weather was a little cloudy that day, the view took our breath away (it was either the view or the 262
stairs.. can’t be sure). The walkway on top of the cathedral went all the way around the building so we were able to get a 360 degree view of the city which was pretty awesome.
The Hermitage Museum

The ceiling in the Hermitage
Our other major stop on the first day was at the Hermitage museum which is one of the oldest and largest museums in the world. I can’t lie, I’m not much of a museum person and my friends aren’t either but the rooms we did go into, in the Hermitage, were amazing. We saw the room where the royal throne was kept, which really made me want to break a million rules and sit in the throne. I resisted. We also saw the library which was pretty brilliant. The best part was the stair case and ceiling when you entered the museum. I could have stayed in there for an hour just staring at all the detail in the architecture. 

The Throne!

After an early morning and a bit of a travel day, were pretty tired and after a great meal back on Nevsky Prospect, we called it a day.
Our new friend at the Fortress
Sunday was pancake day in Saint Petersburg so I was lucky enough to experience the best day of the year twice! After a much needed sleep in on Sunday morning, we headed to the Peter and Paul Fortress on the other side of the bridge from downtown Saint Petersburg and Nevsky Prospect. It just so happened there was a huge celebration happening there including the burning of another wooden lady and more pancakes! Just like in Dmitrov, there was music, entertainment, people in costumes, and a lot of fun things to do. We took a lot of pictures with the different characters and props that they had set up around the fortress and again, we got to climb to the top of the building and walk all around with a great view of the other side of the river in the background.  
On top of the Fortress

We spent most of the afternoon at the fortress and after a snack back on Nevsky, we headed to an exhibit called “Little Russia.” We were told that it was a bunch of tiny dioramas or Russia that showed the different parts of the country, from east to west. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what was saw was absolutely amazing. The exhibit was huge and more detailed than I could have ever imagined. The tiniest pieces moved, the people moved, the grass and the water looked incredibly real, lights flashed, police sirens made noise, and the lights in the exhibit even went off to represent nighttime. It was one of the coolest things that I’ve ever seen and showed just how much work the builders put in to make it operational and functional.
One of the many parts of the "Little Russia" exhibit

Sadly, after spending a couple hours in the exhibit, it was time for us to head back to Moscow on a late night flight. Our trip to Saint Petersburg was definitely one of the highlights of my time in Russia and I would love to be able to go back in the summer time to get the full affect of how beautiful the city is!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

End of February

Well, I took a brief hiatus from blog writing due to the holidays, but now that my time in Russia is winding down, I think it’s about time for some updates! I returned to Dmitrov shortly after the New Year, with a new foreign teammate named Brittany. She is Canadian and played at Providence College and then for the Boston Blades. We had actually never met before the 9 hour plane ride to Moscow together. What better way to get to know each other right? Wrong.. Brittany was nice enough to change seats with a random Russian man who wanted to sit with his friend, so she was stuck in a middle seat between a few people she didn’t know. What a trip that must have been. I was asleep in the comfy window seat. Sorry Britt.
Shortly after we returned to Dmitrov, we started right in with practices, with only 5 days or so until big games against the SKIF 1 team that defeated us a couple months earlier. Unfortunately for me, a few days before we were schedule to play SKIF, I fell in practice during a 1v1 battle drill, hit the back of my head on the ice, and got a pretty good concussion. I spent the next couple days in bed, trying to rest, which only added to the jet lag and fatigue from the concussion. Needless to say, I was a wreck. Couldn’t stand up or walk around without feeling dizzy, couldn’t sleep at night because my body was so confused with the time difference. Anyhow, after a few days in bed, I needed to get out so I walked across the street to the rink and forced myself to sit through the two tough games against SKIF. It was extremely hard for me to sit there and watch my team play (on the one hand because it made me really dizzy) but also because I knew these were games we had to win, and I couldn’t contribute. It was definitely tough, but luckily, my team pulled through in regulation time during the first game, and in a nail biting, pull your hair out, shootout the second game. I was thrilled that my team had won, but I knew that I needed to get some treatment and rest for my concussion. After making sure it was safe for me to fly, I headed home about mid January to see my doctor in the states, and make sure I would be back and ready to play for the Euro Cup in top shape, in March.
After a couple weeks at home, seeing my doctor, and following a treatment plan, I was ready to get back on the ice and to return to Russia. I played some pick up hockey with a group of guys at home that I grew up playing the game with, and felt great. This was the best I had felt in weeks and was really excited to be back on the ice and to be returning to my team in a short period of time.

During all of this time at home, some of my amazing and incredibly talented teammates represented their country in the Olympics for the Russian National Women’s Hockey Team. So obviously, I watched every game they played, which were (lucky for me) no earlier than 730 am. It was really cool to watch my teammates and friends compete in their home country in front of all their fans. They played three extremely good games in the preliminary rounds, winning all three, but unfortunately lost in the quarterfinal game against Switzerland. Throughout the games, my teammate Iya was updating me on the happenings around the Olympic village and was also nice enough to skype me into the opening ceremonies! She also sent me pictures of her with some of my favorite hockey players.. Sidney Crosby.. Patrick Kane.. and even Dan Bylsma, the coach of my favorite NHL Team, The Pittsburgh Penguins. I’m still coping with the jealousy.

As a member of the US National for the last 3 and a half years, I obviously was following some of my good friends and former teammates on their journey throughout the Olympics and had to ultimately root for my home country, but I was incredibly proud of the way my Russian teammates played and represented their country. Women’s hockey in Russia still is not developed even close to that of women’s hockey in North America as far as numbers of registered female players. There are only around 550 registered female hockey players in all of Russia. However, I think this will drastically improve in the years post-Sochi. I was told that for the first time ever, women’s hockey was broadcasted on the first Federal channel in Russia, which is a huge accomplishment for the sport. Many people that normally wouldn’t get to see women play the sport of hockey, became fans, and I think this is something that will really help Russia in the next 10 years as more and more girls will want to play the sport.

Upon returning to Dmitrov a week or so ago, I jumped right back into practices and workouts and have been feeling symptom –free which is awesome. Shortly after I came back, I got the chance to visit a beautiful place called Sergiyev Posad, which is about an hour from Dmitrov. Sergiyev Posad is the

Russian Orthodox equivalent of the Vatican and has dozens of beautiful, magnificent churches and medieval buildings. Brittany and I took the short trip to see the buildings with one of our teammates who doesn’t speak much English. Her parents drove us there, who spoke no English. So that was quite an experience in itself but they were incredibly nice and laughed at us when we put on our seatbelts in the backseat (apparently no one does that here even though the driving is scarier and Boston, Montreal, and NYC combined).  My favorite part of the trip was going inside one of the churches that was literally lined wall to wall, floor to ceiling with gold. This was one of the few places that we were not allowed to take pictures, but imagine the most gold you could ever put into one place, and that was it. It was beautiful. Like a typical North American, I was a little surprised by what we found when we went to use the public bathroom.. you'll see what I mean.

Something else that has shocked me since I’ve been back is that it has actually been sunny for about 3 or 4 days in a row. This never happens in Dmitrov. Usually it’s sunny one day out of 7 if you’re lucky. We have really been taking advantage of being able to be outside and get some sun, including an awesome sunset snowboard trip to a hill about 30 minutes outside of the city. Now.. I haven’t snowboarded since I was probably 12 years old, and I was no Sean White, I probably only went three times when I was that age. But it was a beautiful evening and a few of us were sitting outside and decided.. why not. Two of my teammates are pretty good and have snowboarded for multiple years. Brittany, Iya, and I, had never done it, or had only done it maybe once. We knew it would be pretty hilarious. News flash. I’m still no Sean White. I made sure that I had a helmet because I knew it wasn’t going to pretty, but after spending the first run pretty much completely on my butt, the second and third runs went a little better. The chair lift? Disaster. They don’t warn you that that’s probably the hardest part of the skiing or snowboarding experience. It was a lot of fun though.

We also had a couple games against Arctic University and we won both pretty decisively; 11-0 and 9-2. These were the first games that the Olympic girls had played since their loss to Switzerland, so I’m sure it was tough for them, but they played really well given the circumstances. After our second game, our roommate Zuza was nice to enough to let Brittany and I tag along with her, her brother and his girlfriend, to our first KHL game in Moscow! I wasn’t sure of what to expect from the game because I had never been but it was a cool experience. The rink was smaller than that of an NHL rink, obviously, but it was pretty packed and incredibly loud. There were cheerleaders, massive flags being waved throughout the entire game, and the fans were constantly cheering and yelling for the home team, Atlant. It was awesome.

Now, we have two more away games next week and then the week after that we leave for Germany and for Euro Cup. I couldn’t be more excited to play in these games and be back in Germany!

Look out for the next blog early next week after Iya, Brittany, and I take a fun weekend trip to Saint Petersburg!!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thanksgiving Edition

To those of you that celebrate the most delicious and un-nutritious holiday on the planet, Happy Thanksgiving. Those of us who are in countries that don’t have boxed stuffing are extremely jealous.

Since the last blog, our team traveled about 8 hours via bus to play a very talented team in our league called SKIF. The SKIF program contains two teams; SKIF 1, a much more talented and experienced group of players, and SKIF 2, a younger developing squad. Our first two games of the weekend were against SKIF 1 whose roster contains ta couple talented Finnish national team players and multiple Russian national team players with great skill.

The first game got off to a slow start and we found ourselves trailing SKIF 2-0 going into the third period. Fortunately we were able to get a late third period goal, but it wasn’t enough and we lost our first game of the season. We were later told it was also the first time in over 70 games that our program had lost. Disappointing wasn’t even close to the right word to describe it. After a lot of reflection and discussions, we were ready for the second game the next day. Again we came out flat and didn’t make the most of our scoring chances. We lost 3-2.  Not experiencing a loss in over 70 games obviously made our program accustomed to winning. However, to win that many games in a row is almost unheard of in the game of women’s hockey (you’re almost there University of Minnesota) and especially when you are playing in a professional league that is composed of a large amount of players that represent their respective countries. That said, our team wasn’t happy or satisfied with the efforts we gave on the weekend and we know that in order to have the outcome we want at the end of the season, we cannot lose anymore games. Sometimes it takes a kick in the face to bring back the fire and the passion and the will to win. Watch out world.
Though our travel to SKIF wasn’t as eventful as the 8 our airport delay that we experienced on the last road trip. It was highlighted by two major accidents, one on the way there, and one on the way back, that delayed us significantly and allowed for some serious team bonding on the bus. Nothing like packing 20 girls on a small bus for 8 or 9 hours to build camaraderie.
Speaking of camaraderie, our apartment was home to the team Halloween party (which turned out to be only about 8 of us because most of the team left on our two off days). However, 8 people or not, Halloween in Dmitrov was one for the ages. We had two “cats,” one gypsy, one pirate, one robot, a swimmer, and two escaped zombie prisoners.  There was great food, awesome music, and a couple sodas here and there. The party started around 6 and ended with a noise complaint around 1am. Needless to say, we had an awesome time. Highlights of the night included watching the two zombie prisoners try to eat carrots through the tiny holes in their masks, throwing carrots off the balcony at unsuspecting passers-by, throwing a large kids bouncy ball at everyone in the room while they were trying to carry on conversations, and singing at the top of our lungs to Luke Bryan, Rihanna, and various Russian artists. Pictures are worth a couple thousand words in this case. If you’re wondering who the good looking little furry guy is. His name is Lenny and yes. he should be on the cover of GQ. 
Next up - a couple away games about 2 hours from Moscow and a trip to Germany at the beginning of December for Euro Cup qualifiers!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Week 3 – Practice, Bear Crawls, and Condoleezza Rice

Happy Halloween

Our third week here in Russia was definitely tiring, but a lot of fun. The Russian National Team players on our team (which is about 10 girls) were away for the week for one of their camps leading up to the Olympic games in February. They will do this a few more times before the games and when they leave, there are about 8 of us left here in Dmitrov. We still practice, and work hard on and off the ice while they are gone. Less girls on the ice = more repetitions of drills = tired human beings. We had two on ice practices one day, and the other days had scrimmages and practices, as well as weight room sessions. One day we had a scrimmage against each other, our coaches, and few guys that came out to play with us. We played two halves and after the first half, my team was losing, so instead of doing push ups or something, our coach made us bear crawl on our hands and knees from the goal line to the red line. It was pretty hysterical. This reminded me of something that happened during one of our first practices here that I totally forgot to write down. When someone makes a bad mistake during practice.. there’s no getting on the line and skating like in college, or doing push ups after the drill is over. No no.. the coach stops practice, and in front of everyone, makes you do somersaults on the ice (like forward rolls that you learned in 3rd grade gym class.. you all know what I’m talking about). Now.. I haven’t had to do any of these yet, knock on wood, but it is so awesome. When I end up coaching, this is definitely something I am implementing on my team. Because who wants to do forward rolls on the ice while the whole team watches because they didn’t dump the puck in? Not me. Any who, after all the hard work during the week, by Friday afternoon after practice and lift, my body was telling me to lay in bed all day on Friday and watch Glee. And you have to listen to your body right? Right. So that’s exactly what I did.
But back to the week.. it was a ton of fun to work hard and get to know some of the girls a little better. Probably one of the best days was when we scrimmaged against our team owners, directors, and sponsors.

We left Dmitrov at about 6am and drove in 3 hours of heavy traffic to Moscow (a drive that should normally take about an hour). We got to the rink and had to hurry onto the ice to start the scrimmage. We played against about 11 men roughly aged, 25 to 45? Most of them were incredibly talented and we definitely had our work cut out for us. We were told (after the game) that a couple of them had played in the KHL and professionally, which definitely explained why some of them could skate backwards circles around us. Their passing was the most impressive. You would look one way to anticipate a pass, and while you were looking, the puck would whiz by you the other way. But it was a lot of fun to be able to joke around and try your best to hit 6 foot 3 brick walls while they brush you off like you’re a mosquito. One of the men was the owner of our team, one was our director, and multiple others were sponsors of our program and women’s hockey. It was really cool to get to meet some of the people that make it possible for us to play the game we love. They were all very nice and were quick to compliment us and thank us for letting them skate circles around us. Afterward we got to talk with a few of them, including our team owner who, after finding out a few of us were going to spend the day in Moscow, was nice enough to arrange an authentic Russian meal at a great restaurant for us later that evening.
An amazing panorama of a room in the WW2 museum
After a quick coffee to make me forget that I had woken up at 5 in the morning, me, Cherie, and our roommate Zuza spent the day in Moscow. It was a little bit colder than we would have liked, maybe 35 degrees, but we visited a World War 2 museum which was really awesome. They had a ton of artifacts from the war, as well as huge dioramas that depicted scenes from the war, statues and monuments, and a ton of old clothes and uniforms that the
Russian men wore in battle. It was pretty cool and it didn’t hurt that it was indoors.
Afterward, we visited the most prestigious university in Moscow, who’s main building was one of 7 identical structures that Stalin built just after the war. It was pretty incredible. We didn’t get to go inside, but we got an up close view. Shortly after we went to a spot just next to the university that looked out over the entire city of Moscow which was an awesome view.
We made friends

We had a little time to kill before dinner so we visited Arbut street which is the most famous street in Moscow and a lot of people compare it to a European street as far as it’s design. There are no cars allowed on the street so it was nice to walk on the cobble stones and check out some of the small shops along the way.

The best part of the day was the dinner that our owner organized for us. There were probably about 10 of us at the restaurant, which looked like an old castle from the outside. The inside was just as incredible, with wooden pillars, staircases, ceiling, and a massive wooden boat in the middle of the entry way that was lit up with various string lights. The tables and chairs reminded me of something from medieval times and the food was incredible. Now.. if the food in Russia is the only reason why you’re not visiting.. you’re crazy. I left feeling like I had just eaten two Thanksgiving meals and fell asleep in the car about 5 minutes after I sat down. (For those of you that know me well.. yes I know this
Downtown Moscow at night
is normal. I have a problem.. don’t judge me). It was an amazing dinner. As we were leaving, we also noticed a bunch of photographs in the entry way of the restaurant that depicted all the famous people that had eaten at the restaurant. Of course, Alexander Ovechkin was up there (if you don’t know who he is.. you probably shouldn’t be reading this blog.) and then.. Hello Condoleezza Rice! There she was smiling at us from the picture frame. All in all I couldn’t have asked for a better day in Moscow! I met a lot of great people, spent time with great friends, and ate great food. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Week three in the books. Next week’s highlights include a couple huge league games against a very good team 7 hours away in Nizhny Novgorod (google it people). Oh.. and a potential Halloween extravaganza (which they don’t celebrate in Russia).. should be interesting. Speaking of Halloween.. we did carve some pumpkins to spice up the apartment. Some of their names include, Don Julio, George, and Frederick. Please disregard our friend doing inappropriate things to her pumpkin in the photo.

Stay tuned.