Sunday, June 07, 2009

A Weekend in the Country 1

The month of May was full activity and adventure, to be sure, but nothing stands out in my mind quite like our “weekend in the country”. Let me explain. The second weekend in May celebrates one of the many holidays in Russia between May and June. The a fore-mentioned holiday is May 9th (V.E. Day as celebrated in Russia, whereas in the U.S. it was May 8th - the victory in WWII was announced past midnight, making it the next day here). The 9th fell on a Saturday this year, and Monday of the following week was given as a public holiday making a long weekend. Of and course, I’m sure it’s quite an international tradition that on long weekends, people take trips. Eric brought up the weekend in question and gave us an invitation to join a group of people from his gym for a weekend of, “sport in the fresh air” outside the city. From his vague explanation, Sam, Courtney, and I conjured up images of campfires and forests and some organized sports perhaps, like football or maybe some group games. We accepted, being good little adventurers, since we still had no real idea of where we were going or exactly what we were signing up for. It was agreed that we would leave the city Friday evening around 8:00pm to hopefully miss the rush of traffic leaving St. Petersburg. I sent him an sms a day or so before our trip to ask what we should take with us. His response was, “Take clothes for sport, for swimming and party.” At 7:00 on Friday evening, I received the fist of a series of text messages from Eric: “We’ll be there at 9:00 instead” along with several others that of course blamed their tardiness on Lusha’s over-abundant packing. Around 9:30 Eric arrived and we threw our bags in the back of the already very full hatch of the SUV. Lusha and her friend Olga we driving in one vehicle and Eric, Sam, Courtney, myself, and Arthur (Lusha’s son) were in the other. It turns out that we weren’t the only ones who were not exactly sure where we were going for the weekend. Eric, himself, had only spotty directions and after a number of false starts, a few U turns, and pit stops for direction-asking, we were more or less on our way. The first hour or so, we sailed along the highway, but of course on a weekend (and particularly a LONG weekend) the traffic leaving the city is horrendous. But we amused ourselves with a radio mix of classic rock and early 90’s music, language-themed conversation, and general banter. And low and behold: about 3 hours, several more U turns, and a few phone calls later, we found the place. In Russian this kind of place is called a “baza” (“base”). It’s kind of like a compound, in this case for recreation. It’s like a cross between a motel and a dormitory. It was late, so we dragged our stuff inside, got a quick run-down of when breakfast was served in the cafeteria (between 9-10am), acquired our keys and got settled in to our rooms. Eric mentioned something like, “there might be some morning exercises before breakfast…around 8am” to which we all, including Eric, sort of laughed at with a “yeah, right” sort of attitude. Well. Being the obedient, young over-achievers that we are…ok, well…that Sam is, we planned to get up at 7:45am to be ready for the 8am exercises. Yippee. I woke up a little early and decided to get up and maybe even grab a quick shower to wake up before these calisthenics. And just as I was about to jump in the shower, there was a knock at our door (this was around 5mins till 8) and Sam answered to find one of the fitness instructors who told him it was time for morning exercises. I passed on the shower and went to get dressed. Sam and I got ready quickly and were locking our door 10 mins later. We went to the lobby, but didn’t find anyone from our group there. We walked outside, but no group. We wandered around a little bit looking for them and finally gave up. Sam decided he’d go for a short jog and so I decided to walk in the same direction. He was farther down the road then I when we called to me and said he had found them. I jogged down the hill and arrived just in time to join a circle of people introducing themselves, congratulating one another and calling it quits. We were dismissed and told that anyone who was late the next morning would be doing 20 push-ups. We were instructed to eat breakfast and re-convene afterwards. I was not exactly a happy-camper, having gotten up early only to have no clue where anyone was, then finally finding them, only to have missed the whole thing anyway. (Courtney, I must mention, didn’t even bother with it. We saw her at breakfast about 30 minutes later. I think she had the right idea.) The food was pretty terrible. Buffet-style, but with a choice either very bland or very greasy. Not exactly what you’re looking for when you’re unknowingly about to be beaten to a pulp for two days by two very energetic fitness instructors. After breakfast there was 1km to run, through the woods. And of the lead runner apparently had no idea that the entire group wouldn’t be able to keep pace with the front runners, and therefore a number of us lucky people got lost in the woods for a while. But we eventually found our way and ended up in the field with everybody else. (I must mention that when I arrived in the field Sam wasn’t there, and I correctly deduced that he had gone back to look for us. So yeah, minus one point for leaving me in the woods, but score one point for extra running to look for me afterward. ) For the next 2 hours, we did intervals or a large variety of exercises and numerous “stations” – squats, exercise bands, medicine ball lifts, yoga positions, chin ups, push ups, pull ups, etc, etc, etc, while the way too happy instructors counted out the time and either encouraged or taunted us…and probably both. Let me say this, having someone verbally explain an exercise to you in a language you only partly understand doesn’t do a lot of good. Visualization, much better. Another crappy meal and then a hour for rest, then we were back out in the field, but this time it was some kind of scavenger hunt. The rules were never really explained to us (those of us, non-Russians) and we never split into groups or anything, so we just wandered at the back trying to figure out what was going on. This activity was thankfully short-lived due to cheap compasses, no teamwork, and the fact that the sky got really dark and let loose with a heavy downpour. Saved by the rain. The rest of the weekend was similar – bad food, and more grueling exercises, but this time in the form of aerobic kick-boxing. Which totally kicked my butt, but I still really enjoyed it. Maybe because I could actually keep on rhythm and quickly figure out the movements, whereas a lot of people couldn’t quite catch on. It was led by the female fitness instructor, so the male instructor was out in the crowd and happened to be next to me and he was looking pretty much like a 13 year old white boy trying to dance. Not pretty. Also we played some indoor volleyball, which was really fun until two random guys joined and made it not fun anymore – the kind of guys that assumed our team was losing because our team had two women and the other had none. Whatever. I didn’t take any photos of the brutal workouts, because I was too busy being reminded how out of shape I was. But I do have some nice pics of the forest, the lake, and the lovely tea breaks that we had thanks to Lusha’s preparedness. Her “over-abundant packing” included a coal samovar and actual tea cups. Courtney said it well when she said, “Only Lusha would bring fine china on what is practically a camping trip.” Always the good hostess, she even had chocolates to go with the tea. The last thing of note from this weekend is what shall henceforth be dubbed, “the pool incident”…may it live in infamy.

photos from the weekend. place your cursor over a photo for its caption.

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