The last week or so has been absolutely crazy (and I say that in a good way!) We pack our bags, drive a few hours into a completely new country, unpack, race, and two days later we’re off to the next country! I’m learning a lot about…well, a lot of things. It’s amazing what traveling can teach you! How to quickly pack, how to efficiently get through airports, what to do when you get lost, how to figure out a new race course when you only get a day to preview it, and of course, all the different types of food on the road are quite exciting as well. For those of you who haven’t tried Norwegian brown cheese yet, you should do so immediately. I’ve also had a chance to make friends and meet many different people from other teams, and while it’s been fun to see and hear about the differences between countries, I’ve realized that basically we’re all the same – even though Norwegians are really fast skiers, they like to play cards and goof around just like we do.
I’m breaking this post up into the different countries I’ve been in; I’ll put in some fun facts about each country as well and some sweet pictures! (many of the pictures were taken by Tad Elliott and Ida Sargent as well as myself).
After the last race of the World Junior Championships in Otepaa, Estonia, most of the team packed up and drove to Tallinn, Estonia before flying out the next day. However, a small group of us stayed for the Scandinavian Cup races, and instead left the next day to drive to Madona, Latvia. It was only about three hours in the vans, and word games helped the time pass quickly. The second and third weeks on the road with a team are always the most fun, since everyone knows each other pretty well by this point and you can tease each other much better 🙂
We spent 3 days in Madona, Latvia, and our impression of the country was AMAZING! This is mostly because we got hooked up with a really nice hotel, run by really fun people. (The Finnish team wasn’t quite as lucky; when they checked into their rooms in a much worse hotel, a cat ran out from under the bed!) However, the Latvians were pretty excited about getting Americans to come race, and we had a pretty sweet experience there.
The outsides of the buildings weren’t much to look at; they were mostly gray and very old. But when you went inside, they were beautiful! Many of the buildings were recently done up and looked like they’d been very well taken care of. Just another classic example of “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover”!
Our hotel was run by a super nice man, and I’m embarrassed that I can’t remember how to spell (or even pronounce) his name! It was funny because when they introduced themselves, the Latvians would say their name and then say it the “American” way so we’d have a hope of saying it right. There were also some interns working at the hotel, and our last night in Latvia after the races they took us to a resort lodge (also owned by the hotel manager) where we had a lovely supper and then enjoyed the steam bath and pool. Initially, we were kind of nervous because the resort was in the middle of the woods down a long winding road….and we didn’t really know where we were going…but I’ve learned by now not to assume anything. It turned out to be amazing, and my impression of the Latvian people is a 10 out of 10.
Some sweet things about Madona and Latvia; they walk pretty much everywhere! I hadn’t seen them using salt on the uneven roads, so it was simply more convenient to walk, what with the paths cris-crossing all over town. Little kids walked THEMSELVES to school, which was quite impressive and alarming – seeing four year olds trotting along the sidewalks by themselves! Another thing; Latvians hate Russians. Think what you were doing in 1994 – did it include being oppressed by another country? No wonder the Latvians dislike Russia. They were a part of the Soviet Union until they gained their independence in 1991, but the Russians didn’t clear out until 1994. They joined the European Union in 2004, and since 2000 their country’s growth rate has been, at least according to Wikipedia, one of the highest in Europe.
The Scando Cup races were the first major ones Madona had ever held, and I think they did a fantastic job of it. They even had a huge result screen up that played a slide show before the races started. The first race was a skate sprint, in which the team did really well! I qualified 3rd and finished 5th, and in the next race, (a 10km skate that had some pretty awesome hills in it) I finished 6th. I was really impressed by our team’s ability to quickly adapt to the new venue, learn the courses quickly and race fast. It was a good weekend overall, and for the junior podiums Skylar Davis and I got “flowers” made of candy! The team, coaches and wax techs all agreed – they were delicious.
I’ve linked the official website of the races HERE. If you click on the “rezultati”, you can see the results from the weekend, men and women, and if you click on the “galerijas”, you can see pictures from all the races.
After Latvia, we packed up and drove back into Estonia, but this time to a tiny village called Joulumae. The whole town was basically centered around skiing – complete with a legit shrine in honor of Andrus Veerpalu, a 40 year old nordic skiier from Joulumae who specializes in classic races (and does it very well, judging by his olympic gold) Another long-time classic skier from Estonia is Jaak Mae who raced the men’s 15km classic and placed second. Not bad for a ’71 birthdate!! We had fun cheering him on because although his name is pronounced “yahk my”, we were yelling “go jack may! jack attack!”. Personally, I think he liked it.
We stayed in the hotel, which seemed built for athletes; it had a weight room, dining hall, huge heated clothes-drying room, and saunas. The trails and stadium were only a short walk out the door!
In between races we passed the time by playing cards with the Norwegian girls and an Australian boy – and it was super fun getting to know the athletes from other countries. Their English was superb and they were really funny – they understood slang words and everything. When we told the Norwegian ladies we were getting to come to Norway to race soon, they just laughed and said “well, it’s ABOUT TIME!!”
The races were a classic sprint (Ida led the women with a 5th place) and the next day a 10/15km classic race, where our girls and boys both did well. I don’t have a link to an official site, but the results can be found on the FIS website, linked here.
Right after the last race in Joulumae, we loaded the vans and packed our bags so that they were absolutely as close to the 50lb plane limit as possible (I hit 49.8 -YEAH!) and drove to Tallinn, Estonia, where we’d be flying out the next morning. Some of the group was going home, and a few of us were flying to Oslo, Norway, where we’d meet up with more of the US Ski Team and head to Beitostolen, Norway for more Scandinavian Cup races.
We stayed in a totally swanky hotel – the Radison Blu – but spent a lot of time outside exploring the city. Or rather, the old city, which was first put onto a map in 1154! Needless to say, the really old buildings and churches dotting the city were very, very impressive. To get in the old city, you walk through the gate in the old city wall, which comes complete with holes to pour oil out of and notches along the top. The streets are uneven cobblestones, there are medieval restaurants all over, and souvenir shops line the streets. Sadly, there was also a McDonalds. Sigh…they must have known the Americans were coming.
We flew out the next morning from the Tallinn airport for Oslo, Norway. The athletes going on this final leg of the Scandinavian Cup tour were myself, Tad, Sadie, Ida, Noah, and Skylar. We met up with some of the USST athetes (Liz, Morgan, Simi and Andy) and coaches (Pete and Grover) in Oslo.
We stayed for a day and a half at an Olympic Training Center in Oslo, Norway…and even though we weren’t there very long, it was enough to make me fall in love with Norway. There were trails right out the door that were well groomed and provided some of the best classic skiing I’ve ever had. Some of trails wound all the way up to the famous Holmenkollen venue, where World Champs will be at the end of the month!
I didn’t get to ski to the venue, but Ida provided the sweet pictures.
EPIC STORY COMING UP: how I got lost in Oslo. In addition to the trails, there was also a train stop right beside the training center, so one afternoon Sadie and I decided to go shopping in downtown Oslo. We took the train with Morgan, Liz and Noah but thought we could manage to find our way home by ourselves. Yeah, right. We couldn’t even remember how to pronounce or spell the name of the place we were staying (I now know it’s said “song-sven”), but we did know we needed the last stop on train #3. So you COULD say we set ourselves up for getting lost…
We had an awesome time shopping, and wandering around Oslo – which is gorgeous, with many old, intricate buildings. Somehow, we DID manage to find our way back to the train station….except we actually got on the underground train station! We needed the above ground one, and we ended up on a train that was indeed the #3 train we needed, but once we got on we realized something was wrong – the end stop was way across Norway! I started pushing the button to open the door, but the train started moving! Not only that, but the ticket collector was moving down the aisle, and we hadn’t gotten tickets, because we didn’t know the name of our last stop. Wow, can you say “American idiots?”
Luckily, we got off on the next stop, but proceeded to spend the next hour wandering around the train station (there was no information booth and we couldn’t find the stop we wanted on any of the maps). Finally, Sadie grabbed a woman wearing ski boots and we frantically pleaded for help. She was really nice and pointed out that we actually needed the above ground trains, and that we could find the stop a little way down the street. After thanking her for saving our lives (she looked a little overwhelmed) we fairly ran down to the other stop, where we got on board the RIGHT train and started for home. But as scary as it seemed in the moment, we can both laugh at it now.
It was National Ski Day in Norway, and the subways and trains were crowded with people going to the trails, even as late as 8:00 for night skis! It was so, so cool to see that many people out loving the sport of cross-country skiing – everyone from toddlers to grandparents! I love Norway.
After only a day and a half in Oslo, and copious amounts of laundry, we drove to Beitostolen, Norway. It was a really scenic drive, through mountains and windy roads, and we saw some adorable towns on the way. Beito is a smaller town, but super cute and on one side there are the ski trails and stadium, and on the other side an Alpine ski area.
We’re staying in super cozy condos, and the first thing I do in the morning is light a candle and cuddle up on the couch with my book. The second thing is eat breakfast and go ski. I’m loving it here! Oh yeah, and I’ve discovered that I enjoy a certain fishy paste that you squeeze out of a tube onto your sandwich. But not too much of it!
Tomorrow we race the first race of the Scandinavian cup series here; the skate sprint. The day after is a 5/10km classic, and the third day is a 15/30km skate. I’ll be sure to keep taking pictures and updating!