Friday, March 2, 2007

Swimming in Russia

Swimming in Russia is not the same as swimming in the United States.

After scoping pools in Vladivostok for a couple of weeks (there are several here, ranging in price from expensive to really really expensive), I went swimming today for the first time. I picked a very large sports complex called “Olympiyets,” which is located right on the harbor on the Amur Bay, about a 40-minute walk from my apartment (and I walk, because I do not enjoy the bus, which takes almost as long anyway). The pool at Olympiyets is 8 lanes and 50 meters long (actually, it felt shorter than this to me – but it’s been awhile since I’ve been in a 50-meter pool), and it is the nicest pool in town, as well as the cheapest.

In Russia you can’t just buy a membership to a pool (or gym), show up to the pool any time you want, and swim for as long as you want. This would be far too simple. First, you have to get a “spravka,” or certificate. Theoretically this is to verify that you have no terrifying diseases communicable in a chlorine-saturated environment, but as far as I can tell in reality it is just a way to make money. A nurse checks out your hands and feet, asks you very seriously if you know how to swim, and then writes a little note saying you’re all good. (That’s the “spravka.”) This little note costs 150 rubles (about $6), and you have to get a new one every month.

Then you can swim. But, you can only start swimming on the hour. This means you should get to the pool about 15 minutes before the hour. First you go to the Administrator and buy a ticket to use the pool. At Olympiyets, this ticket costs you 90 rubles (about $3.50), and it allows you to swim for one 45-minute session. The whole daily pool schedule is divided into 45-minute sessions (8:00 – 8:45, 9:00 – 9:45, and so on). This is pretty standard here, and it is the only regime I’ve ever seen at pools in Russia. So, you buy your ticket, and you go wait outside the locker room. At ten minutes before the hour they let you into the locker room, and then exactly on the hour you can start swimming. By the way, you are not allowed to swim if you do not have a cap and goggles. Forty-five minutes past the hour a little bell rings, and you get out. If you want to swim longer, you can go back to the front desk Administrator and buy another 45-minute ticket for another 90 rubles, wait outside the locker room until ten minutes before the hour, and go through all the steps above again. I kind of doubt anyone finds this to be worth it.

Another note of interest is that there are no outlets in the locker room at Olympiyets. This means everyone dries his/her hair in the corridor outside the locker room – that is, in one of the main halls in the gym. This is totally normal and apparently expected, because there’s even a mirror for it.

Despite the seemingly strict regime, most Russians are not, in fact, very serious swimmers. But they like to go to the pool! This means that if you’d really like to swim laps, like me, you should ask while you’re scoping the pool, “Когда бывает мало народа? (“When are there not too many people?”) Otherwise, you are likely to get to the pool, and there are 50 people just sort of floating and standing around, and you will not even get in the minimal amount exercise possible in your 45-minute session. Fortunately, at Olympiyets between 11 and 3 there are apparently not too many people, and I got the lane all to myself when I went at 2:00 pm today.

Now, if you ever told me 5 years ago that I would go through this whole get-the-spravka-only-swim-on-the-hour-AND-pay $3.50 to swim for a whole 45 minutes, I would have never believed it. But I have to say that it was totally worth it. The swimming itself was SUPER. It was so nice to be in the pool again, and of course I felt great after. And, the good thing about the price and the 45-minute regime is that it rather excludes overdoing it (hmm, one of my character traits?), so I should have no excuse not to go consistently, since I certainly won’t be able to say I’ve burned myself out.

Since naturally they don’t let you take pictures of the pool in Russia, I better mention a couple of other things I’ve done recently, just for the sake of putting some photographs on this post. This week I met the director of the Far Eastern Marine Reserve, who assured he would take me out on the boat when the scientific field season starts (I hope! J ); got my first vaccination against tick-borne encephalitis (a real problem in the Far East in the spring and summer – the vaccination procedure is no simpler than the pool, of course, and involves visiting 3 separate rooms); went to a seminar on marine waste (and learned some rather frightening news about what’s on the bottom of the bays and inlets around Vladivostok), and visited a local school to help conduct a lesson for students participating in a environmental competition called “The City on the Sea,” which encourages middle-schoolers to think about ways sustainable development is possible for Vladivostok.

p.s. A big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my little brother, Dan, who is 20 today!!!


1. Artur Maiss of ISAR-RFE and Petr Sharov (familiar faces to many of you, of course) contemplate the state of the Amur Bay at the seminar on marine waste, 2. Golden Horn Bay and the Churkin neighborhood of Vladivostok across the water, from the Egersheld peninsula, 3 and 4. At the “City on the Sea” middle school lesson: 3. Only about 5 kids thought that the future would actually hold sustainable development for society, but 4. Almost all of the kids nonetheless wanted and hoped that sustainable development was the path that society would choose.

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