Sympathy for the Devil
Trip Start Aug 29, 2010
30Trip End Jun 02, 2011
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In comparing my having a homestay here in St. Petersburg, and having lived in an apartment in Shanghai, I have noticed many pros and cons. I think that when coming into the country with absolutely no language experience, the homestay is definitely beneficial. Otherwise, I would spend all my time sitting in restaurants guessing off of a menu, or being dependent on always going out with others. Additionally, the homestay helps to drive home the fact that you are here to learn the language, and helps you to get quickly acclimated to the culture. Host families have also lived in their neighborhoods for decades, and can point out all the great places to hang out, short cuts, grocery stores, metro stops, etc. But, some of the cons include the isolation, formality, and simple awkwardness of living with total strangers
Classes have been fantastic. Russian still makes me want to claw my eyes out, but Civilization, History, and particularly Arts are all incredibly fascinating. Our architecture and paining professor is just as passionate about palaces, castles, The Hermitage, and portraits as the literature professor is about Pushkin. And, the Civilization class, which is operating more like a culture class, has already begun to change the way walk around on a day to day basis - observing all the Russians and guessing about what they’re up to, what they’re thinking about, and what their life story is like
Having had this straight-faced, hyperfocused, quiet way of life sink into me all week long at school, I was bursting at the seams with energy when the weekend rolled around, and it definitely showed. Saturday was our trip to Pavlovsk, an extremely beautiful rural park a half hour train ride outside of St. Petersburg that contains an amazing forest, the old palace and farm of Paul I (1754 – 1801), and a ridiculously awesome sledding hill. First off, riding on a Russian train was awesome, they are exactly like in movies and pictures – a huge outdoor station, old metal cars, fogged up windows, and plain wooden bench seats lining the interior. I was a little afraid that at any moment we were going to crash into another train containing a nuclear bomb, and have to wait for George Clooney to save us all (The Peacemaker). The palace was also incredibly beautiful, containing centuries old sculptures, many drawing made by Paul’s wife, and tons of ornate gifts from Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. Then we headed off to the sledding hill…where at first I gave a serious, “No way, I’m WAY to accident prone to do this”, until I was convinced at length by all the guys to give it a shot – and Nick is in fact an EMT, so were anything to happen, we’d be fine… We were all sledding on normal paths until we discovered that someone had built a path with a MASSIVE ramp, and immediately became distracted - this thing shot straight into the air, and had a drop behind it of somewhere between 6 and 7 feet
Saturday night was just as fantastic. A few of us went bar hopping around Nevsky Prospekt, and I cannot describe to you how immensely beautiful the city is in the hustle and bustle of 1am, in the middle of a snow storm, with the lights of every building and cathedral glowing brightly – it’s an entirely different kind of “night out” experience. Plus, the city is so small that since the metro had closed, and we didn’t want to pay through the nose for a taxi, we all just decided to split up into pairs and walk home
Yeah, so that was my weekend…THIS CITY IS AMAZING! Next weekend we visit Novgorod, and hopefully after that I’ll be able to explore my island a little deeper, since the Lonely Planet St. Petersburg guide suggests that it has many things to offer, including: the “Sigmund Freud Museum of Dreams”, several very famous palaces, Peter the Great’s old cabin (considered the “soul of St. Petersburg”), and “Tunnel Club” an old bomb shelter that has been turned into a nightclub.
Hope all is well!