Friday, August 28, 2009

Boat Ride.



Almost every WTA tournament has a Player Party for players. Most parties are organized as dinners or cocktails at the official hotel or tennis club. Budapest Player Party was on the boat.
I think it's a great idea, well, that's if you don't get motion sickness of course.

By the time we got all the players on board, the sun set in and the lights came on the bridges and buildings around the river. It was a beautiful site and very relaxing.

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Inside the boat players set at the dinning tables, enjoying Hungarian food and the ride. And before desert was served everyone came outside on upper deck to enjoy beautiful views. It was a bit chilly but such a nice change from a hot muggy day weather.
I was looking around the deck thinking how lucky we are to be able to do things and see places other people dream seeing.

Budapest.



I thought I would never get out of Pozzoblanco. After airline ticket saga of canceling, re-confirming and ending up calling Canada to book a new ticket to Budapest, I was on my way.

Very early morning we got picked up by an old man, who despite his age drove a car like a formula one driver through curvy roads. I didn't have a seat belt, but I wasn't worried, I was stuck in the middle, between two huge bags and two other girls, so even if we had an accident I wouldn't even move.

At the Budapest airport me and Sharon found out that we play each other the next day. It's never pleasant to play someone you know well or share a room with, but it it what it is and you have to do your job.


Sascha surprised me with driving down from Vienna and meeting me at the hotel. It's only 2,5 hrs drive from Vienna to Budapest. I was happy to see him there, he loves surprising me like this.

My condition was getting worse and worse, I coughed the whole night and my chest felt like it was going to explode. So I had to retire in the second set against Sharon because I just couldn't breath. I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with bronchitis.The doctor was surprised to hear that other doctors I saw told me I had a flu.


I took the medicine but refused to stay in bed all day. I was in a city I have never been to and I wanted to explore it. So on the first day we went to a bridge market.
One of the main bridges over Danube River was closed for the weekend, and people set up small booths, selling everything from stuffed animals to food. I love markets like this, you always see different things you don't see in stores. Like animals made of grass, I thought it was very inventive, you don't have much overhead because the grass is free.


When it got dark the music came on. People set around a small stage eating food that was cooked outside, in huge fry pans. And when it came to desert I have decided to try "Kurtskalacs"a traditional Hungarian pastry.( If you want to read more about the history of this desert check out this site Pinch My Salt )


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After watching a fascinating process of making "Kurtskalacs" I got in line, excited as a child to try something new. And when I finally had it in my hands, it looked like a small volcano with fumes coming out from the top. It tasted like sweet bread with cinnamon and sugar, and lasted me two days.


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Our next adventure in Budapest was visiting medieval "Sir. Lancelot" restaurant. Every person who works at the restaurant was dresses in medieval times clothing and the food is intended to be eaten by hand and is served on huge wooden trays.
Before your meal a waitress puts a napkin around your neck and you get aperitif in a clay cup.
And then comes meal! It's a lot of food, so if you are not hungry or not a big eater, you are at the wrong place.

After food there is a show. Knights have a fight over a girl involving people in it. Victorious knight chooses a man out of all the men in the restaurant and raises him to "Knighthood."
It's fun, it's different, and I totally recommend visiting "Sir. Lancelot."

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pozzoblanco.




Still sick but thinking that it's just a small flu, I went to a second tournament in Spain.The fact sheet said it was in Seville but the truth was it is an hour and a half by train from Seville and then another hour and a half more by car. Thank God I wasn't traveling by myself! Sharon Fichman and her coach were with me.
When we got to the train station I don't even remember the name of, we were supposed to be picked up by an official transport. But! We waited for three hours and nobody came. And when we called the tournament transport, we were told that we are lucky to wait only for three hours! What???? Apparently some other players waited all day to be picked up! Nice! We decided not to wait all day especially at 10 pm! So we took a taxi.

At midnight, after getting lost two times, we finally got to our destination. I must say it was an interesting place. In a whole week I was there, I only saw 3 people on the streets and a total of 10 including hotel stuff.

The taxi parked at the beginning of a long narrow street that was closed for fiesta or something, we got our bags out of the car and dragged them along the antic stone surface of the street.I was laughing, I wished my camera was close by.
At the end of the street we found a small opening that revealed a plaza with a small church and our hotel. I don't know how old the hotel's building was, no one could say for sure and if it wasn't for a modern interior of the hotel it felt like we went back in time.

The next morning after a late 11 am breakfast we went to the tennis club. Apart of 100+ degrees weather outside we got to see a lot of dead grass and many cows on our way to the club. And again-no people!
We also discovered that it was high altitude and courts were as fast as ice. I think my body was a bit confused, I was coughing like crazy, sweating like crazy, couldn't breath and needed
to run and hit the ball that was flying like a bullet as soon as I touched it. Lets just say the first practice was not good!


Our second day in Pozzoblanco started with weird sounds coming from outside. It sounded like a crying animal with a police car siren. We looked outside our window and came face to face with a donkey! For a few seconds we were speechless and then we broke out in laughs! Someone parked a donkey outside our window! How many times can you see something like this?!

While we were taking pictures of a poor donkey, his owners came back, a man with a small boy. The boy got on top of the donkey giving us a happy smile, his father took the leash and they walked away leaving us a small "gift" to remember that donkey was there.


That was the most interesting moment of our stay in Pozzoblanco, a town in the middle of nowhere. The other adventures include: looking for food during the day and founding it at a "Senior Men's Club." Where everyone was so friendly to our "backs" when me and Sharon turned to the bar to order food. They even put their glasses on so they could see better.

Then there was a moment of scare that we will never get out of Pozzoblanco, when our flight reservations were canceled and then re-confirmed again all in Spanish without us knowing. And then of course there were tennis matches that started at 5 pm. And feature matches not before 10.00pm. How does it feel to play second after 10.00 pm? Just ask Sharon, she played two of those! I got lucky enough to play right at 5 pm! In the smack of the heat!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Spain.


Bilbao.

Lets just say Spain was an interesting experience. Besides the worst case of bronchitis that came out of nowhere a night before my match and being hungry from morning till night (because we just couldn't find an open restaurant during "siesta time") Spain was nice. But lets start from the beginning.

We arrived to the first tournament in Bilbao on Friday evening. And just as we stepped outside I felt cold air. I didn't expect it to be that cold. My Google research told me Bilbao had an oceanic climate, so I assumed it was going to be hot. But the weather kept surprising me with its highs and lows in temperature, so when I got a sore throat I blamed it on the weather. Little did I know that my sore throat would become a bronchitis and would last for a month.

That Friday evening we walked to the center for a dinner. But eight o'clock in the evening is to early for dinner in Spain and the only places that were open were tapas bars.
So after 30 min walking around. I've decided to use my Spanish and ask local people where we could get good food.
Luckily for us there were lots of people on the streets because of the "Fiesta of the People", and a small flea market going on. We stopped right in the middle of the market and started to look for a person who would look "local." I must tell you that there were lots of people who were wearing same color t-shirts with a name of their groups, who looked very local but I chose to ask a couple of older men who were dressed up in suits.
When I finished my question, the men looked at each other and then spoke very fast in language that didn't sound like Spanish ( I found later it was Basque) and then told me to follow them.
We couldn't believe that these two men were taking us to the restaurant instead of just telling us where to go! And while doing it they were telling us about the " Fiesta of the people" and where is the best food to eat. "How nice are they."- I told Sascha.

Our food was typical Spanish. Big salad with everything in it and a piece of meat with lots of french fries. It was good but to much food to late at night. I don't know how Spanish people do it. They eat so late! We were always the first ones at the restaurant when it opened at 9 or 9.30 pm.






The night before my match I started shivering. My throat was hurting and I felt feverish. But I told myself I am here, I worked hard and I will feel good tomorrow. But when tomorrow came I felt the same. So after, I don't know how many Advil's and throat lozenges I went on court and pushed through it, ending up winning the match. But the next day my body didn't want to listen to me. I played against a Spanish girl who's game was to run everything down and hit it back with a lot of spin. If I would be feeling well I would beat her but I was straggling to breath.
And it wasn't only my opponent and my body I was fighting, I was also fighting my opponents mother, who would yell "Vamos" on my mistakes. And every time I would look at her she would give me " I am watching you" sign, like Robert De Niro in "Meet the parents" movie.
I eventually lost that match and gave every last drop of my energy on court.



Monday, August 17, 2009

Week 2.


Week two was all about practicing and eating more Russian food. Like my favorite dish "Sirniki."
"Sirniki" are small pancakes made of cottage cheese which  you eat  with lots of sour cream and honey. In my case is butter and fruit. Its a great dish to eat for breakfast or as a desert.


Chernoglovka has four outdoor clay courts, which are located in a park next to the lake. They are not the most perfect ones but I like playing there, it reminds me of my childhood club "Spartak." Which was also located in a park.
As children we used to run in the park for our fitness exercises. 
Many Russian players come from "Spartak", Dementieva, Safin and Safina, Kournikova, Myskina and many others. We all grew up together there, in a small tennis club in a park.


Before leaving Russia we visited our "Dacha" one more time.My father is a community director so while he was working me and Sascha were relaxing outdoors.
We visited nice forest lakes divided by a narrow passage. And I picked up some wild flowers for my mother. 
The peacefulness was interrupted by my cell phone ( I can't believe I had reception this deep in the forest!) it was my mother, she said that we should be heading back because the storm is coming. I looked up at the sky. It was dark.
We hurried out of the forest hearing a threatening roar from above. And just as we walked  into our gate the wall of cold water came down on us.




After two weeks it was time to say Goodbye.
I was sad to leave, I was already missing my parents and Chernoglovka. But new adventures were waiting , new places to be visited, tournaments to be played.... I waived to my
 parents through an open car window, seeing tears in their eyes. " I will be back soon!"- I yelled. Hoping that it will be SOON.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Walking in Moscow.



I couldn't sleep to long, I was to excited about showing Moscow to Sascha. My brother was already up taking a cold shower, as he does every morning after his 45 min bike ride. Lets just say my brother is a bit of a health freak. He does everything from Tai Chi to boxing. And that particular morning he was under cold water patting himself on the cheeks to get the blood going in his face. He never said where this technique comes from but he said it works for him. 

After a short breakfast we got in a car and started driving towards Moscow's center. I was surprised to see that the
roads were not busy and we even got a parking spot two blocks away from Kremlin. Very impressive! Because Moscow is known as one of the worst cities in the world for traffic jams.

The first idea we had was to go inside Kremlin, but to stand in long line of tourists in 34C weather was not something appealing to us, so instead we decided to take a short walk around Kremlin.

About 3 hrs later.....
I was hot and hungry and Sascha was craving a cup of 
"Starbucks Coffee." So we embarked on a journey in search of Russian "Starbucks."

Everyone we asked had no idea what "Starbucks" was. But when we said its a coffee place people sent us to Old Arbat Street. ( Arbat Street is very similar to an art market where people bring their own art and creations to sell. There are lots of painters, artists,dancers and singers as well as restaurants and bars.)

And there it was! In front of us, a Russian "Starbucks Coffee!" 


Pushing through a crowd of people and dismissing multiple offers to paint our portraits we opened the doors to a magic air conditioned place, that inside, looked exactly the same as back in America. The prices were a bit higher but that didn't stop me from buying a "Starbucks" mug that stated: " Starbucks Moscow."

Sucking on our coffee and tea through long green straws we continued walking. On the way to our car, we passed a sign on marble: "Rolls-Roys Motor Cars of Moscow" that was obviously there not for middle class Russians, and a very nice "Pushkin Cafe" with tasty sweets, that went rather well with my green tea.



 There was a classical concert in a park and if there would be beds it would be a perfect place to take a nap.









Our 6 hrs walk around Moscow was the longest walk around any city I have ever been too. I even got a blister on my foot ( which never happened before, I don't even get blisters playing)
But it was a well deserved blister. Sascha finally got to see Moscow and I got to revisit my city.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Out in Moscow.







It was Saturday night and spirits were high. Last time I went out in Moscow.....I think it..... in 1994.Wow! Long time!
We had some nice snacks at my brother's place, that was suppose to include red caviar and salmon (but we forgot those items at the supermarket after paying for them) so we had a lot of salami and shrimp. And around 10 pm we were heading to the center of Moscow.

The club was called "B-2." It had 3 levels and each of them had a different entertainment to offer.
1st level had a Tiki Bar and a '90's discotheque , 2nd level had Sushi restaurant with live music and 3rd had a modern discotheque on one side and a Jazz Club on the other. All of this for a cover charge of 500 rubles (about $12).
We ate Sushi, we danced at both disco places and at the end of our evening we settled at the Jazz Bar. It seemed to be the busiest place.... I didn't know that young Russians were so into Jazz.
The music was great and so was my Strawberry Mojito. No, let me rephrase that- THE BEST Strawberry Mojito I have ever had!


About 3.30 am we were heading out of the club. My friends wife was the designated driver from beginning so she decided to show us a bit of night Moscow.
We passed a KGB building, where apparently the basement of the building still serves as
a prison.
We also passed a night Kremlin with all it's beautiful lights and many other beautiful old buildings, ending up at "Poklonnaya Gora."( a bow-down hill) dedicated to millions of Russian soldiers who lost their lives in 2nd World War.
The memorial is 171.5 meters long with fountains of red water that remind you of blood. It's a bit eerie for me but it's worth seeing.

At 4.30 am we opened the door to my brother's apartment. Exhausted but happy.
Falling into bed, I was trying to remember the last time I came back home at this hour. And I think that time also belongs to my teen years.







Sunday, August 9, 2009

I was ready to practice again. But the weather was not cooperating.So my friend Andrei offered to go indoors.
We walked to a near by sport complex that was build in 1960's and still had Soviet feel to it, and I found out that the courts were wood! I haven't played on wood since 1993! I didn't even know wood courts still existed!
If you want to imagine how it feels to play on wood, go on basketball court, put a net across and
hit some tennis balls. It's very very fast but a lot of fun!



When we came out of the sports complex it was sunny and hot again and people started to come out to the lake to swim. We watched them swim and jump in the lake but had no courage to do it ourselves. The lake has a nice sandy beach and on very hot days it's as full of people like the beaches in South of France.

Walking back to the house we saw Russian car called "Ziguli." You can only see these cars in Russia. I call them "antique metal." They are pure metal without air-condition or airbags but they run for a long, long time.
My brother's first car was "Ziguli" and back then it was the best car to have. No matter if it was loosing parts while driving! You had a car and that's what was important. Because back in Soviet Union not many people could afford one.

My father for example, had an old 2nd World War German motorcycle with a passenger seat attached to it. The motorcycle was painted black to cover any war damages and was the coolest thing to ride. I remember me and my best friend Lena were begging for hours for a ride around the block. And when we were aloud we looked like two "Matreshka's" (Russian stacking doll) covered from top to bottom. Nobody could see our happy smiles underneath heavy wool blankets but our souls were singing!

Those were good old times...The motorcycle is long gone.It was sold for 2.000 rubles (less then $100) and the passenger seat is serving as a flower bed at the summer house.





Week 1.



Lets just say day 2 started to early and very actively.
We fell asleep when the sky started to lite up, at 3.30 am. And were awaken by my mother holding a glass of freshly made juice in her hands. The day started with food again.

After what we call brunch, we drove to our "Dacha." Its a russian summer house outside of Moscow, mostly made of wood. It was always a Russian tradition to have one and be there for the summer. But I will tell you in advance that "Dacha" is not a place to rest, most people work all day on planting flowers and vegetables, plugging weeds, cutting the grass and cleaning.

Once we settled at the "Dacha" my brother came from Moscow and brought meat to make "Shashlik." (Meat kebobs) But before eating, I decided to exercise "Russian Style."
I warmed up with a Russian dumbbell, which is about 40 years old. Sascha joins me for this experience. And with instructions from my father he takes the spotlight away from me.

Oh well, I go to the home made metal exercise bars that were made for me when I was 10 years old. I wait for my father to finish working with Sascha and give me some of his attention. While waiting I am helping my mother to hang up laundry on the strings that run from the exercise bars to a near by tree.(Exercising Russian style!) And when my father finally comes we starts doing pull ups. All 4 1/2 of them.


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As we decide to make "Shashlik" we discover that there is no cole for the grill and we have to go to a local store to buy one. By the time we get back, the weather is spoiling, it's starting to drizzle.
But we are persistent, and the grill is out. The cole is in and the meat is ready. The rest is history and in the videos below.

Part 1.

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Part 2.

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Part 3.

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Moscow.



This year, my European Tour started with two weeks in Moscow. I was born there, and spent 20 years of my life calling it permanent home. But because of the difficult conditions and always changing country in '90's I had to leave my city to be able to pursue my dream of being a pro-tennis player.
But my whole family still lives there and I go visit them three or four times a year. I love Moscow and maybe one day in the future I will go back to live there.

Arrival day.

My every visit starts with a table full of Russian food. My mother starts cooking a week before my arrival, and my poor father has to visit the supermarket as many as five times a day. He says it's his fitness training for the day.
You have to understand the Russian mentality, when guests are coming to your house, the table has to be prepared with the best Russian dishes. I always say, that to get to the hearts of the Russians you have to eat with them.

This time around I brought my boyfriend Sascha with me. He came to Moscow once before, but because I got badly hurt during the match, all he got to see were Russian hospitals. And believe me, it's not something you want to see.
But a year ago my parents moved an hour away from Moscow to a quite town named Chernogolovka, it's not as busy as Moscow and is very picturestic, so this time Sascha was hoping for a better experience.

Our 3 hrs lunch-dinner was accompanied by my nephew playing the guitar. He is going to a music school and has prepared a small "repertoire" especially for our arrival. I love listening to him play the guitar, and I really hope he will continue his education.


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As tired as we were, we decided to go for a walk around a near by lake. And as my mother said "will take only 20 min"....... An hour and a half later, barely dragging our feet and eaten by very agressive Russian mosquitos, we were invited to the table again. This time to drink tea with an apple pie. I looked at Sascha. He had a pleading look on his face.

Going to sleep very itchy, tired and very full, Sascha asked me if we were going to eat as much tomorrow? "Food is the most important thing in my family." I answered.