Sunday’s Skate at Gorky Park

M AND I had our first skating experience today in 2006 at Gorky Park, Moscow.

Every winter Gorky Park transforms into a winter wonderland to the delight of skaters and cross-country skiers as the whole park – including its paths and walkways – becomes an ice-skating rink! How cool is that, pun intended.

During winter, many parks around Moscow open ice-skating rinks (eg. Izmailovo Park and Sokolniki Park) but Gorky Park remains one of the more popular ones, other than the rink at the Red Square.

That Sunday we made plans with a neighbour and his daughter and met up with local staff Tanya who came with her friend Helen and two daughters, at the entrance of Gorky Park. The Park, founded in 1928 and named after Russian writer Maxim Gorky, is a short drive from our home then, and it’s even within walking distance on a fair-weathered day.

Tanya led the way into the park and helped us rent the skates. We had a choice of placing our passports or cash as deposits for each pair rented, we obviously chose the latter.

She then led us to “каток для начинающих” (pronounced as “katok dlya nachinayushchikh” – ya, try this for a tongue twister!) which means “rink for beginners”. There were iron rails to hold on, much like the ballerina’s practice bars, except that our mission was to move forward along the bars whilst ensuring our feet stayed firmly grounded at all times during practice.

Once we were tired of the beginner’s area, we ventured out to join the rest, even though I was merely inching away while others sped by. M evidently had more fun than me as Tanya and Helen led her by the hands and took her cruising around the park a few times. I imagined there were numerous Irina Slutskaya and Evgeni Plushenko-wannabes in the crowd too.

As much as we enjoyed our outing, we only lasted 1.5 hours. Other than feeling numb (from the cold) we were feeling sore too (from the numerous falls). We didn’t stay long enough to enjoy its night time ice disco complete with music and lights show.

And that was our first AND last attempt at ice-skating for now 🙂

Hubby appeared ready to take on the world… erm, perhaps just the skating rink… erm, a rink for BEGINNERS, that is!; he held M’s hands briefly as did I, but it was a case of “the blind leading the blind” and M certainly didn’t hide her skepticism!

L-R: Help came in the form of locals Helen and Tanya, while the “greenhorns” took a picture at the triumphal arch that is the entrance of Gorky Park just before leaving; a closer look at the crest on the pillar – hammer and sickle (coat of arms of the Soviet Union), rising sun and a laurel wreath – all symbols of communism. .

Showing off our skates – stainless steel has replaced what were previously horse’s bones – there’s a size 37, a 32 and a 38; Tanya brought her own pair, naturally.

A little historical background on skates and skating provided by Where Moscow magazine, December 2007 issue… “Centuries ago, it was common to speak of “racing on bones”. They took two bones of a horse’s shin, sharpened the ends, abraded the narrow edges to turn them into skids and drilled small holes for straps. The results resembled skates… The first skating rinks in Moscow were arranged on the ponds and on the Moskva River.”

Skating at Gorky Park is said to be a tradition dating back to before World War II. According to some reports, as of last year, Gorky Park’s newly inaugurated enlarged ice-rink is now billed as “Europe’s largest”. It grew from 15,000 square meters to 18,000 square meters (according to my estimate, about the size of three football fields?). But Europe’s largest? Or perhaps comparable to Europe’s largest natural ice rink in Davos Platz, Switzerland (also 18,000 square metres)…

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