The First Democratic City in Russia

Trip Start Aug 25, 2007
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Trip End Dec 20, 2007


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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Today we took a side trip to Novgorod, before driving back to St. Petersburg to catch a train to Moscow.  Lots of travelling.  In fact, getting to Novgorod took much longer than expect, but that's kind of how Russia works.

It was nice to get out of a major city.  I could even kind of breathe again.

The ride was interesting at first, but got uneventful very, very fast, not to mention a little depressing.  There was literally nothing in between St. Petersburg and Novgorod, in terms of towns.  Instead, there were houses built along the side of the highway.  They were all small and really run down.  With nothing for miles around, I started wondering what the hell these people do all day.  The other very weird thing, left over from communism, is that, suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, there's apartments.  Just rows and rows of high-rise apartment buildings that all look the same.  Our teacher explained this housing was probably left over from collectivization.  That's where they went and threw all the farmers out of their homes and farms and put them together in these huge communal apartment blocks, and they all worked on the same farm together.  The peasants weren't exactly fans of this, but Russian peasants don't really get a say in things. 








Novgorod is the oldest city in Russia, started by the good old Vikings.  It used to be an important city with lots of trade and such.  Now it's just a small provincial town of 200,000 people.  Like all Russian cities, it has a Kremlin.






And the Kremlin was filled with churches and stuff.  I'm not going to lie.  Russian Orthodox churches get old pretty fast.  Thanks to the icon system, they all look the same, whether 1000 years old or 10.  This one was the oldest in Russia.  Naturally, you can't take pictures in side.  You also have to wear a scarf over your head.  Most likely, you will still look a lot like a tourist and people will give you dirty looks anyways.





The river was on the other side of the Kremlin.  And there were crazy people swimming in it.  It was about 40* out. 

But keeping in the Russian Orthodox theme, we visited St. George's Monastery.  Keeping in the really old theme, it's the oldest in Russia!  Thanks to communism and the banning of religion and all that, Russians aren't nearly as religious today.  Just like other places, the monastery is having a hard time with the upkeep as there just aren't enough people who want to become monks.  Those who do want to become monks don't want to live in the middle of nowhere in a monastery that's falling apart.







Our final plan for the day was to meet with university students at the university in Novgorod.  It was kind of weird and very awkward.  There was one older professor.  Two Australian guys who confused us at first as we thought they were the students (they taught english).  And about 10 Russian girls...no guys.  The girls sat behind us.  Weird way to have a discussion.  They all know English because they are training to be translators.  They've all also been to the US, usually in very random states like Idaho.

So some memorable things to note.  The professor said, "Democracy is the downfall of culture."  He seemed to miss the communist days a bit.

The Australians talked a lot...but they were Australian so yeah.

One girl out of the 10 actually talked, while conferring with her friends in Russia.  They don't like America.  They think we are all about competition.  Our friends stab each other in the back.  And there's homeless people everywhere.

They all like Putin.  The idea that his successor would step down to allow him to run again caused them to have a fit of laughter.  Otherwise, they don't really care about politics or voting.  Putin has the support and he hasn't done anything too stupid yet, so why worry about it.  They also told us Moscow was a horrible place with nothing to see.

Oh and another great quote from the professor, "Come to Russia is like a breath of fresh air." In response to all those...ya know...capitalist places and such.  We had to try really hard not to laugh at him on that one, since most of our first impression was a strong desire to not breathe in at all because of the pollution.  Oh well...

One more thing I should note.  Novgorod was, in fact, the first democratic city in Russia.  Back in the day, the bridge going over the river was a meeting spot.  There, anyone had the right to make their opinion known and to discuss decisions.  Of course, if you went against the general consensus, they would throw you off the bridge.  However, you were still completely entitled to that opinion...sooo yeah...

The ride back was another long one.  Russian tour buses don't have bathrooms on them or if they do, they just don't actually work.  Our driver told us there were no bathrooms until St. Petersburg.  I thought that a little bit extreme to say.  Most of the girls had, luckily, taken advantage of a bathroom at the university.  It was actually really funny.  3 girls came out from their stall in a row, horrified, going...there's no toilet paper!  Actually, there were no toilet seats either.  And they just kinda stood there to see if I had an answer.  And I was just like, so pee then...without toilet paper.  Oh the horror.  But seriously, toilet paper was the least of their problems.  What a nasty bathroom.  I also was the only one prepared with Purell.  As for the guys, they got let off on the side of a deserted Russian highway to go on a tree.

Turns out there were bathrooms at the rest stop.  Whoops.

Back in St. Peterburg, Jess and I gave up on finding decent and cheap Russian food and opted for safe, yet not so good McDonalds.  McDonalds is a happening place in Russia.  Sometimes there's lines out the door.  Personally, me and Jess were more excited about clean bathrooms.  Remember that, McDonalds has the cleanest bathrooms in Russia AND they are FREE.  Another night of skeazy bathrooms was on its way, so it was nice for the break.
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