So, I woke @ 9am to a call from Konstantin. He asked me to meet him at the Chocolat in 10 minutes. I said... "It'll be amazing, but I'll try". Sure enough, I was out of bed and out the door in 5 minutes. It was about an 8 minute walk to the Chocolat (in the Siberian cold, mind you), so I didn't keep him waiting too long. Maxim met us there shortly thereafter, and we had a quick breakfast before heading to the баня (pronounced "bahn-ya"). For those that don't know what a banya is, it's a Russian sauna. It's different from an American sauna in that it uses wet heat (aka: steam) rather than dry heat. Anyway, when we got to the banya, we met up with Alex M. and Alex S... We were ready to sweat! :)
Over the last 2 weeks, I've heard many people talk about the banya, and it was great to finally see what it was. We basically had a 3 room hut that was laid out like an "old school" Russian banya made from logs. We had a blast, they told me Russian jokes, and I taught them all the "paradiddle", the "double paradiddle" and the "triple triple paradiddle" using a fork, a spoon, the table and some bottles. :) The first couple of times that I went into the banya, I got a little light headed, but otherwise I was fine. The more I got in and out of it, the more accustomed I became to it. We were all sweating like some banchies and it was great! :) The rule is that you should not shower or drink anything cold after going to the banya. It's good for the body to keep your pores opened up for the rest of the day. I must admit that I felt very good (and clean) long after we left the banya; highly recommended! I'm going to talk to Jennifer when I get home about building one outside... according to these guys, it's very easy to build. :)
From the banya, Maxim helped me buy some [secret gifts] at a local market and then dropped me off at my flat. When I got inside, I immediately called Anna & Sasha so that we could all hang out today. They had invited me to lunch and ice skating. Sasha came and picked me up at 1:30 and we headed back to their flat. As soon as we got up to their floor I could smell Anna's cooking. It smelled delicious!! Sure enough, it was! :) She made beef and potato soup and two sets of these potato cakes: one set had sausage in them, and the other set had apple in them. They were way tasty!
After lunch, they showed me pictures from their wedding and it was nice to see all of their family. Sasha looked like a total stud and Anna was very beautiful. Anna then showed me all of the medals from her father's military acheivements and I must say that he is nothing less than a true Russian hero. He had so many medals and what an honor it was to hold them while they explained to me what each one was. He had entered the military at age 17 and fought in World War II. He died 10 years ago, but he left a legacy. Thank you for sharing his story with me Anna. Hold onto those medals. :)
I was also able to meet their son, Maxim. He is 10 years old and is a very nice boy. :) He is learning to speak English and I must say he is very good. It is safe to say that he is better at English than I am at Russian. I introduced myself and he told me all of his important information in English to me: "Hi, my name is Maxim", "I am 10 years old", "I live in Novosibirsk, Russia", etc..). Very good!! He knew all about "Laizy, Jaizy, and Daizy" before I could even tell him about them. So it was clear that Anna and Sasha had shared my story with him, and I thought that was very cool!! He is a very funny kid and I think that Anna has her hands full with not only him, but also Sasha. I told her it is as if she is raising two boys. :) She agreed!
From their house, we drove around and did some sight seeing at the Botanical Gardens (this is where Scott and I ran my first week here). Also, I was finally able to see Obb Sea. They call it Ob Sea, but it's really a huge reservoir that is the largest man made lake in Russia called Novosibirsk Reservoir. Right now, it is completely frozen with 1 meter of ice... the whole thing! And it's huge! We were able to see many people ice fishing out on the lake from their car. Sasha stated that it is very cold to be down on the lake because there are high winds that pick up and (of course) it's very cold. I totally believed him and enjoyed seeing it from the warmth of my popo-grieshka. Oh, I can't forget to mention that Sasha talks to Hummers. :)
After doing some site seeing in their car, we headed to the ice rink and I was a bit nervous about getting on two razor blades and balancing, but I did surprisingly well. We were there for almost 2 hours and I didn't fall ONCE!? I looked like a newborn calf the whole time, but I didn't fall! Maxim was blowing me a way, he was skating very good frontwards, backwards, upside-down, etc... Anna helped me around the rink the first couple of loops, then I decided to try it myself and I was off and skating for the rest of the night. I commend my friends, Chapel and Phil for their months of training with Ice Hockey; I see now how difficult it really is. :)
To all those that got a kick out of my ski post, which was (by far) the most popular post from my journey to Novosibirsk... Eat your hearts out:
From the skating rink, they brought me back to their place for DINNER!?!? I couldn't believe it! I only ate mandarin oranges and drank water yesterday and today I'm eating like a king. Anna had fried potatoes and turkey prepared for dinner. I had no problem cleaning up my plate and was extremely satisfied... and what is dinner without ice cream!!?? Like I said, I ate like a king today. I turned and complimented Sasha with, "Your wife is a very good cook.", and (of course) I told Anna the same thing, over and over I think. Then, after dinner and desert, they took me shopping at the trade center so that I could get some last minute souvenirs for my family. When we finished, I said my good byes to them and we went our separate ways. It was so nice of them to let me spend the day with their family and welcome me into their home. It's clear that I have made some lifelong friends today.
To Konstantin, Maxim, Alex M., Alex S., Anna A., Sasha, and Lil' Maxim: Thank you for a great day!! :)