Sunday, February 2, 2014

В горкого

Okay, so we all know Russian winter can be a total pain in the ass, agreed? Agreed. Lately, things have been pretty lousy, weather-wise. -20 is considered normal, and that snow isn't budging. It's been tights under pants and two layers of gloves. However, you kind of get used to it, and when it warmed up a bit (all the way to -12), my friends and I decided to pointedly ignore the Super Bowl - not that we could watch it anyway - and take a little trip to Gorky Park.

In the warmer months, Gorky is a nice little green space, home to outdoor concerts, placid ponds and little cafes. Last time I was there, in October, it was crisp and beautiful and one of the coffee kiosks had delicious Berliners. It's pleasant, and popular with many Muscovites and tourists.

The fun doesn't really get started until winter.

You see, they turn the park into a skating rink. And I don't just mean they plop a few square metres of ice down and call it a day. They turn the whole park into a skating rink. Walking paths become icy journeys of magic. Little spots placed carefully among them house little coffee kiosks and restaurants, along with several skate rental stations. Some of the fare offered includes hearty stews and pies, along with the usual assortment of drinks (alcoholic and not - try getting away with that, Canada). I settled for hot chocolate around a fire pit. Oh, yeah, they have fire pits, lodged on these oases right in the middle of the track, just so you can warm up and watch the skaters go by.

It's entirely skate-in-skate-out, once you've gotten in. Every surface that is not ice is covered with that weird skate-friendly turf, so you can hobble up to the kiosks without ruining the skates. Music is blaring, colorful lights have been strung up in the trees, and everyone's having fun. Maybe the only problem is that the ice is much rougher than most rinks back in North America. I've been skating since I was a little kid, and though I'm not particularly skilled, I can at least stay up and move at a decent speed. The ice was bumpy and I wound up with tired ankles and a sore butt. I found myself screaming "Zamboni!" a lot. The Russian skaters zipped by, laughing at all us noobs. Still, it's a minor issue, and the sparkling ice is way too beautiful to miss.

Weirdly enough, the rink is sponsored by Nivea, which has advertising all over the place, including a damn inflatable igloo set up off one of the paths. You can't say Russians do things halfway. They have huge displays, hand warming booths, and vending machines loaded with Nivea products. Run out of lip balm on a windy day? No problem - Nivea's got you covered. This kind of targeted placement would make Don Draper cry.

Many people who TEFL head to warmer places, such as South America and Southeast Asia, but that was never a big deal for me. Quite apart from my cultural fondness for Russia, it's a joy to see the seasons turn. Coming from Canada, the world's other winter wonderland, it can be quite a comfort. As tough as a long winter can be - I can't imagine living anywhere without one.

1 comment: