AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Let's go to Russia now, a country that is crazy about ice skating. In the wintertime, ice rinks appear all over Moscow, on Red Square, in Gorky Park, even in a subway station. The city also boasts that it has the world's biggest ice rink, which NPR's Lucian Kim recently visited.
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: It's Friday evening in northern Moscow, and an instructor is calling skaters to a lesson in ice dancing.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Shouting in Russian).
KIM: This is the Vystavka Dostizheniy Narodnogo Khozyaystva, or Exhibition of Economic Achievements, which opened in 1939. You can picture it a bit like the Mall in Washington if it were frozen over and turned into a giant ice rink every winter.
The central avenue is lined with pavilions. Some are dedicated to former Soviet republics, others to industries, like the food processing industry or the Russian space program. Skaters - they start way down there at the Friendship Fountain and can skate for more than a quarter of a mile, ending at the Pavilion of Agriculture.
Like all of Moscow's parks, this one has suffered decades of neglect and is now undergoing a major upgrade.
YULIA DAVYDOVA: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: That's Yulia Davydova who works for the park management. She says the goal is to turn the park into one of Russia's major tourist attractions. The vast ice rink is certainly helping. Over the holidays, it attracts up to 25,000 visitors a day. I meet skaters from Israel and China and across Russia.
YEVGENIYA GEORGISYAN: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: Yevgeniya Georgisyan says she came especially from Voronezh 300 miles south of Moscow to check out the ice rink. It's also her niece's first birthday. She's all bundled up and sleeping in a baby carriage. The baby's mother, Yuliana Galits, is wearing a fur coat, helmet and kneepads.
YULIANA GALITS: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: "I want my baby to skate better than anybody else," she says. Of course, it's never too late to start. President Vladimir Putin only began skating at age 59. And now, he's shooting goals in Russia's amateur NHL, the Night Hockey League. I talk to Seva Kurkov, a Moscow lawyer who learned how to skate in his 20s.
SEVA KURKOV: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: "Our presidents should set an example for their citizens," he says.
KURKOV: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: "Does President Trump skate," he asked me, to which I can only say, I don't think so. I ask Yelena Yedinak, a 56-year-old sales manager, why Russians love to skate so much.
YELENA YEDINAK: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: She says skating produces a blast of endorphins, which is especially welcome during dark winter days. Tanya Kareva, who's skating with her 8-year-old daughter, has a simpler explanation.
TANYA KAREVA: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: "It's never cold when you're skating," she says, "and that's why it's such a positive sport." Then she asks me.
KAREVA: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: (Speaking Russian).
"Why aren't you on skates?" I don't know how, I answer. "Well, you have to learn," she says. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.