Sunday, March 19, 2006

First and foremost, I would like to apologize for the lack of photographs from Petersburg. I didn’t take along my digital camera because frankly, its batteries aren’t worth a pile of beans when it’s below freezing.
That said, the group took its trip to Petersburg from Tuesday until today. The train rides there and back was luckily uneventful, and a good deal nicer than I thought. We got really luck with the weather during our stay; every day was bright and sunny with gorgeous blue skies and rather warm weather (relatively speaking of course, though I went without long underwear for the first time in since being in Russia on Saturday). Also, quite fortunately, no one in our group was hit with what the guidebook called the ‘child-sized, sword-shaped icicles’ that are known to frequent the city. We did, however, get our fair share of experience with the city’s horrible water (including a bacteria that can give you a type of diarrhea that can last for years). All in all, a great city if you’re willing to put up with all the crap (quite literally).
Our travels took us to a few of the city’s most famous and beautiful cathedrals, all very different in their styles and purposes. My favorite was the Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which was built as a memorial over the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. The outside looks like a more elaborate St. Basil’s while the inside contains more mosaics than any other church in the world. It was recently restored, so all the mosaics were beautifully bright and bold; it was the most incredible interior I could imagine. We also went to Pushkin’s old apartment, now a museum in which the only authentic things were the bullets that killed him, a vest, his death mask, and a lock of hair (in most cases, these four items would not usually justify the creation of a museum, but Russians really, really like Pushkin, and I don’t blame them). I also spent some time in the Russian Ethnographic Museum, a museum dedicated to the numerous different peoples that occupied the Russian Empire. After living in the extremely homogenous town of Vladimir, it was good to see just how much diversity Russia actually has (or rather, had at one point). My favorite artifact was a giant spoon from a few hundred years ago used for ladling sour cream, it was the epitome of Russian cuisine. The Hermitage was another great museum, though I’m pretty sure the museum is actually bigger than Petersburg itself. I’m not even kidding, I got lost in this place more times than I care to share, and I still missed seeing the huge ballroom from Anastasia (I am a complete failure). The main building is the Winter Palace, the former main residence of the Tsars, so just seeing the elaborately decorated rooms was artwork in itself. On Thursday night we got all dressed up to see the ballet Ondine at the Mariinsky Theater (now in its 223rd season…geesh). But after spending all that time getting ready, as soon as we got to the door of the theater I realized I left my ticket at the hotel. So Tim (who accompanied the girl who forget her ticket last semester) literally ran back to the hotel with me and hailed a cab while I scurried around finding my ticket. We got to our seats as the ballet was starting, but a good deal sweatier and smellier than expected. The ballet was great, despite the ticket fiasco, and it momentarily made me wish I hadn’t quit my extremely rigorous and competitive seven-year old ballet class. Then I realized how small all the dancers were, and decided I liked food entirely too much to pursue such a career. Otherwise, I did a lot of walking around the city, especially the main street, Nevesky Prospect. I also wandered through Mars Field and the Summer Garden, but I simply had to imagine how beautiful these places, and the city in general, will look when everything isn’t dead (a few tears may have been shed). On our last day we went to Peterhof, the palace and gardens of Peter the Great, known for its incredible fountains (which, believe it or not, were closed for the winter and all the statues were hidden under picturesque grey boxes… again, tears were shed). It’s been called the Russian Versailles, but I liked it a lot more than what I can remember of Versailles, due in part to the fact that it wasn’t designed to meet the needs of a man with a serious case of Napoleon syndrome.
I liked Petersburg a great deal more than Moscow, and I think most Russian share my sentiments. It’s so much prettier with the non-Soviet style buildings and canals, and the smaller size makes it seem much friendlier. It may be a lot more European than the rest of Russia, but sometimes that can be a very good thing.


At 6:24 AM , Blogger Bob Wiley said...

Don't worry, I've been reading! Last few times I tried to comment the website wasn't working. I'm thrilled you're getting so much exposure to different cities and so much HISTORY (I think the thing that really hit me was that their theater was in its 223rd season... wow). However, the reference to Versailles and the Napoléon comlpex made me cringe, I mean really, I know you don't do Western European history, but ouch. I'll just let you simmer on that.

P.s. I'm going to the University of Chicago next year :)


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