From Russia with Love | VailDaily.com

From Russia with Love

Jon Armstead and Max Miller

Editors note: The Vail Junior Hockey Team is currently in Eastern Europe visiting historical sites, taking in ballets, learning to communicate with the locals, and among other things, playing hockey. These are the first two letters e-mailed from local players depicting their eye-opening experiences visiting a new culture.

December 16, 2003

St. Petersburg, Russia – It’s pronounced Rucia. Don’t say Russia because they won’t acknowledge you.

It’s kind of a bad thing; I can’t understand what anyone is saying to me, yet I like the fact that we can say a lot more here than in America. I’m not saying I can shout “bomb!” in a crowded movie theatre here in Russia, but the Russian people seem immune to my words. I could shout just about whatever, and I wouldn’t even be looked at.

Oh well. I don’t have much to say anyway.

We were fortunate enough to have three Russian translators that are good friends of our tour director, Merv Lapin. If it wasn’t for these people, there would be forty lost Americans in Russia.

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Throughout the day, starting at 7:30 a.m. until about 10:30 at night, our tour guides, Victor, Natasha, and Galena, guide us throught the streets of Russia. When walking the streets in Russia, we are viewed differently because we are a flock of matching green coats and hats.

We also drive around in our double decker charter bus, driven by the craziest and most skillful driver in all of Europe. His name is Ivan, and even though we haven’t seen his face, we know that down below us he’s making traveling in this city look easy.

For the people who have been in the big city, they might think they know reckless driving – but Ivan takes it to a new level.

Thanks to these four Russian friends, they are making this experience unforgettable.

Our trip is starting off very well and we still have sixteen more days. Many kids are excited to be here, but some are also excited to come home. It will be tough dealing with the changes around us, but we’re big boys.

December 19, 2003

Prague, Czech Republic- I miss Ivan, the crazy bus driver who drove us through the streets of St. Petersburg. Not to say that I am not excited to experience new adventures in Prague, but I was starting to get use to Russian culture.

Sure, we were starting to sleep right again, but there is not much of a time difference here, compared to getting over the jetlag from Denver to St. Petersburg.

I am talking about the city, the hotel, the people, and even our tour guides.

All of us hockey players learned so much from the five days we spent in St. Petersburg. While our friends in Vail were skiing and taking finals, we were visiting palaces, cathedrals, and army fortresses. It was a great experience and I am sure most would agree.

Right off from the start of our trip, Russian culture was flung right at us. We stayed at a very classy, yet very different hotel, the Pulkovskaya. Nice place besides the fact we had to walk what seemed like two miles every morning to get to breakfast on account of renovation.

Now I know why we were told to pack jogging suits.

Every morning, a wake up call did its job and we would be off for the day. Each new day meant another schedule. Every new schedule meant more sites to see. St. Petersburg had some of the most beautiful buildings and architecture I had ever seen.

From the Rostral Columns, a set of lighthouses, to Catherine the Great´s priceless palace – we saw it all. Each one with its own significance and its stories to be told.

Also, to introduce us to the culture a little bit more, we saw a famous Russian ballet. Sorry, but not many of us could stay awake for that one – partially because of the time changes.

I respect and even like some ballet, but that ballet might make a little more money by selling pillows.

Besides the occasional jet lag nap, everyone has been enjoying themselves.

Now for the main reason we came here: hockey. The day came quicker than we expected, and before we knew it, a 5:30 wake-up call and an hour bus ride led to our first game against our international opponents.

The first game was fun to watch as the Bantams competed with the Russian for a long, sixty minute game. Unfortunately, the eighth and ninth graders couldn´t keep the score even and lost, 6-9.

Up next, myself and the Midget team put up a fight against the Russians as best we could. With one American goal from Max Miller, and three other goals from the Russians who had joined our team to help, the final score was Vail 4, Russia 10.

No hard feelings, Russia.

Maybe it was just me, but what I looked forward to most was after the games when we spent time with the Russian players. Some of the guys on our team were taken to a Russian player’s house where they had dinner with the family and tried to communicate.

Some players, such as Josh Sibley, a sophomore from VCHS and a close friend of mine, weren´t prepared for the situation they were put into. Josh told me that, “Neither me or the Russian player knew what to say. We just both sat in his room starting at each other uncomfortably until dinner.”

Sorry, buddy.

A few other friends and I had it differently. We were paired up with kids whose parents both worked. Therefore, the players took us to the local cafe where we ate, exchanged questions, and listened to music.

A big group of Russians all met with each other bringing their Americans along with them. It was nice to be with new people, but it was also nice to have fellow teammates such as Andreas Apostle, Oliver Ristow, Mike Janssen, Garrett Schmidt, and Josh Wright along there with me. All of us went and played some pool and finally bid farewell to our new friends later that night.

Looking back, St. Petersburg really had a positive effect on us. We saw that even though Russians is on the opposite side of the world as us, they are still the same people, just in a different location.

Personally, I appreciate what I have a lot more after spending time with the Russian boys. I am fortunate enough to live in a great town and be able to fly over to a city across the world just to play hockey – a game I play just for fun.

These kids don’t have much besides their skates. They devote their lives to hockey so they can hopefully play for the NHL one day and leave Russia forever. It’s funny how one boy’s hobby can be another boy’s way of life.