What an insanely busy day today! We were all supposed to be ready to leave our dorms at 5:30, but of course I ended up staying up all night packing for our three-day excursion to St. Petersburg ... so I woke up around 5:15! The actual trip went really smoothly though. The high-speed train we took from Moscow was really comfortable, I got a good amount of work done on the way, and the scenery was so beautiful. You can read it a million times, but it's impossible to get a sense of how large Russia is until you are traveling through it ... stretches of absolute nothing ... and we never left the most densely populated part if the country! When we arrived in St. Petersburg, we started an intense sightseeing schedule. It was so tiring, but definitely all worth it, and I give Galina so much credit for fitting all of it in. We were surprised to find that not only was Dr. Burak coming along for the trip, but Galina Wladyka also.
She arrived in Moscow just a few days ago, and will be taking over the second half of our semester in Russia after this weekend. I love it in St. Petersburg!! I think this is my favorite place in the whole world! It's very different from Moscow and really does have it's own distinct personality. It's a much more "European" city, but still really feels like Russia at the same time. We started out our day with a trip St. Isaac's Cathedral. This is the Cathedral that famously survived the almost 900 day siege of the city (when it was then called Leningrad). Some say this is because it's enormous size and easily recognizable architecture made it an easy way for German bombers to find the center of St. Petersburg. Inside the cathedral there is just so much empty space ... it really huge! Since it is mostly a museum now, we were able to take pictures inside.
We walked from St. Isaac's to the nearby Bronze Horseman Statue (of Peter the Great). The statue, as well as Pushkin's poem of the same name, characterize St. Petersburg as a foreign, hostile, and alien city, especially when In contrast to comfortable, traditional Moscow. Of course, Peter the Great (himself a foreigner) saw his city as a the future of Russia: a modern and more European Russia. The statue can be read either way as well (for example, is Peter "leading the way for Russia"', or has he lost control of the horse altogether?). As I mentioned before, St. Petersburg is definitely more European, but I wouldn't exactly call it "alien" or "hostile". Many Muscovites do still see it this way though, and the city does have the reputation for being much more dangerous. When Ryan and I went out for dinner tonight, we did notice that there were far more "shady" courtyards and alleys than we typically would see in Moscow. We were a bit nervous even walking down some of these streets without the two Galinas and Dr. Burak! It definitely brings some of Dostoyevsky's descriptions of the city to light in a new way for me.
But like I said before, I just love St. Petersburg! Our next stop was a cemetery, where we visited the graves of Pushkin, Glinka, Mussorgsky, and Tchaikovsky! And after that, we visited Peter and Paul Fortress, where most political prisoners were held while they were awaiting trial. We visited the Peter and Paul Cathedral, where most of the Russian tsars and families were buried through the end of the Romanov empire: Peter the Great, Nicholas II, etc.! Interestingly though, Nicholas II and his family (including the youngest Anastasia) are buried in a separate chapel ... apparently because it can't be proven that the remains are actually the Romanovs. Our next stop was a tour of Pushkin's apartment, where he passed away after dueling for his wife's honor. The tour was quick, but the tour guide spoke pretty slowly, and it felt so good to finally understand the majority of something in Russian!! After a quick stop for lunch, our professors had arranged a tour of St. Petersburg by boat! It was my favorite part of the day!
St. Petersburg really does look different from the water. Venice was one of Peter the Great's favorite cities, and was definitely an inspiration for the layout of St. Petersburg. There are tons of beautiful canals throughout the city, which open up to the Neva River and reflect the bright colors of all of the buildings' facades. Our tour was in English, thankfully, since we were all completely exhausted at that point.
The Galinas even brought a few bottles of champagne as a surprise! It was a late night, but you won't find any night pictures from our trip ... during the summer, St. Petersburg's nights are called "White Nights", because it stays light until around 1 or 2 am!! It's beautiful, but thankfully our hotel had black-out shades (phew)!
So sorry all of these entries are so late! I write them as I go, but then I never really know when I'll actually have an internet connection to publish them ... so sometimes they all back up! As for St. Petersburg, I had an internet connection but no computer!! I just wanted to make sure everyone knew that you could view the photos and their descriptions larger if you view the whole "album" and not just scroll down to the bottom of the blog! Someone told me today that they just figured this out, so I thought I would let everyone know.