I spent 5 days in St. Petersburg. The city is very beautiful, much more “European” than Moscow. You can feel the Soviet history very easily in Moscow, but not so much in the center of St. Petersburg.
The Hermitage was huge and beautiful. They had a Picasso exhibit going on which I throughly enjoyed. I also went to the Russian Museum, but the Avante Garde exhibitions were closed for reconstruction, so I was very disappointed. Personally I prefer the art museums in Moscow, my two favorites being the Pushkin Museum and the New Tretyakov Museum.
My favorite part of St. Pete was taking a day trip to Peterhof. I took a boat to across the water to the beautiful palace. The grounds of Peterhof are filled with beautiful landscaping, parks, fountains, and statues. There’s also a beautiful beach, so I put on my bathing suit and swam for a bit.
Now I need to get home and prepare for my flight back to Atlanta tomorrow! Paka!
Two days ago we went to a Russian Banya (bathhouse). It was one from the Soviet era located near Prospect Mira.
Katya and I went with some of the boys from our group. The men’s banya was downstairs, women’s upstairs. Katya and I were very excited to go to the banya, but once we got there, we were scared. There were naked old women walking around. Naked. Ah! What had we gotten ourselves into? Eventually we relaxed and had a great time (plus we borrowed towels).
At the banya, you first shower quickly, then go into a really really hot sauna. You sweat all of the water out of your body as soon as you walk in. You sit in the heat, feeling your skin glisten, for 5 minutes, and then go back to the showers. Then you are clean to get in the cool pool and soak for 5-10 minutes. Then you repeat the sauna-shower-pool as many times as you like! (At this place you buy a 2 hour session). I didn’t think we would have enough to do for 2 hours, but we stayed the whole time and it was great.
The sauna was a wooden room, like the picture I included. I think they also use aromatherapy, because it smelled very nice in there, maybe like eucalyptus. Part of the Russian banya experience is getting hit with birch leaves.
When we left the banya it was evening, and we felt more clean and refreshed than in all my time in Moscow. There was a nice breeze as we walked around Prospect Mira.
Going to a Russian banya was at first scary because it was our first time and we didn’t know what we were doing, but by the end of the session all of the women were our friends, giving us advice, and telling us to come back every Tuesday!
Vladimir and Suzdal
The ancient towns of Vladimir and Suzdal were great. They are small neighboring cities, about 4-6 hours outside of Moscow. The traffic in and out of Moscow is always awful, so 4 hours distance takes at least 6 hours.
We stayed in a nice hotel. It had a bowling alley, dance club, and 3 small restaurants. It was great to have an overnight trip with a large portion of the group there. Both intermediate, advanced, Harvard, and 1 BYU student were there (Jace is the best!). Also our teachers Gelya, Sasha, Natasha, and friend Alina came.
After visiting an old church with paintings by Andrei Rublyov we were ready to get crazy and dance to…Russian techno! The club music was hilarious Russian pop. I think that they started playing more American music once our huge group came in. In addition to Russians, there were some Dutch people there as well. They actually played the Macarena, and we all danced to the entire song. It was hilarious to watch the Russians try to learn the dance from us, sticking their arms out in all the wrong directions. At the end of the night the dance club became a bubble/foam factory. I wasn’t in the room but I heard it was a lot of fun.
Some students were swimming in a nearby river at midnight. They also had a lot of fun. We went to Suzdal the next day. It is a preserved old Russian town, where every building is made out of wood. We got to see how poor and rich Russian peasants and merchants lived. I also got to pet some goats and some scary looking Russian geese.
Now I have to get back to working on this paper due tomorrow. This afternoon we have a group going to a banya (Russian bathhouse) which I am looking forward too (even though its so hot outside that riding the metro is like being in a steambath anyway!). I’m not sure if we wear clothes in a Russian banya, so it will be an interesting experience to say the least!
Over the halfway mark
I can’t believe how quickly time has passed while I’ve been here in Moscow. Every day is busy, filled with excursions and exploration. Moscow is a huge city, so my friends as I have been able to do something new pretty much every day. Some days we just need to rest, so we hang out at any of Moscow’s many parks. Russians haven’t latched on to the ideas of recycling and not littering, so there are as many cigarettes on the ground as blades of grass. Destructiveness is a Russian virtue.
On to my example of the Thursday night dilemma. Tonight, for example, I have 4 plans I can choose from: Gogol Bordello concert, DJ Shadow concert, go to a Russian circus, or go to Propaganda bar/club. Maybe I’ll go to the DJ Shadow concert with Sarah.
Sweden, Finland, and Estonia were great. I will write more later. I have many pictures to upload and edit (and I’m supposed to be writing an essay in Russian right now). You can check out my first Stockholm album on Facebook.
After classes finish I will be going with a group to spend a few days in St. Petersburg. I am very excited, because I have been told that St. Petersburg is more beautiful and more “European” than Moscow.
This weekend our group will be doing an overnight excursion to the ancient cities Vladimir and Suzdal. I don’t know what to expect but it should be a fun trip. There should be many beautiful cathedrals.
That’s all for now! I love studying abroad but I do miss you all in America. I also miss air conditioning, haha.
Pictures from Sasha’s Dacha, 60 km outside of Moscow.
Every day here has been very busy. Today we visited Lenin’s Mausoleum with our teachers instead of holding class at the university. Even on an early weekday morning, there was a long line of over 200 tourists waiting to get in. Cameras and large bags were not allowed inside.
The inside of Lenin’s Mausoleum was cold. You walk down black marble steps into a dark room. The only light is a red glow coming from Lenin’s glass “coffin.” Young police guards tell everyone “shh,” to respect the solemnity of the place. Some of the people in our group were giggling and the guards got onto them. A few tourists in front of us made the cross over their chests as they looked at Lenin’s body. His skin looked waxy and orange, no doubt from preservatives and the red lighting. I liked the mausoleum. It is free to get in, but took over 1 hour of waiting time.
Classes are going well, and my Russian is definitely better than it was before I came here. I’m not going to get “fluent” in two months time, but the point has been more to advance our speaking, listening, and knowledge about the culture, people, and history. Our culture professor (Medvedev, like the president) is extremely interesting and insightful. He has a regular program on the Moscow radio where he hosts a show about various topics, such as homophobia in Russia, current events, and cultural analysis. Our university, like the rest of Russia, lacks air conditioning, however, so even when his lectures are very interesting we are still falling asleep due to the sickening heat.
Moscow is currently experiencing a heat wave unlike any summer it has even seen before. The temperatures are unprecendently high, and most of us are without air conditioning. I have been waking up at 4:30 AM because the sun rises and shines right into my room. This is when the heat begins, and as I try to fall asleep again I wake up in a sweat.
Many of us in the group are breaking out because of the heat and sweat. I am now covered in bug bites, also. This weekend we went to one of the teacher’s dachas (country house). We had a group of 10 students, mixed from the GA Tech, Harvard, and BYU group, along with Alina and Sasha (both Russian). We had a great time enjoying nature outside of the city. We had to walk over 30 minutes into the forest to get to the dacha community. Everyone has a fenced yard, so it’s alike a dacha neighborhood. There a a few lakes and fields nearby, so we got to a lot of swimming and exploring as a group. I will be posting pictures from the dacha later.
Tomorrow after class I am boarding a plane to Stockholm, Sweden! Katya and I from the GA Tech group and 4 BYU students are going together to visit Stockholm (Sweden), Helsinki (Finland), and Tallin (Estonia). We will be flying, then taking an overnight boat, then a ferry, and finally a train ride from Tallin back to Moscow. I am looking forward to this crazy Scandinavian adventure I am getting to go on. I will not be bringing my laptop, because I want to limit myself to a lightweight backpack for this trip. Stockholm calls itsself the “capital of Scandinavia” so it should be really cool.
Well I need to get to work on some homework now, I do have homework on this trip after all! Paka!
New Tretyakov Gallery
Today Sarah, Leah and I are going to the new Tretyakov Gallery. The museum we went to last time was mostly pre-20th century art. This Gallery has art from the Soviet period, avante garde, and so on. I’m excited to see the modern art. This week I will also attempt to mail out POSTCARDS to everyone! Postcards were hard to find here, but I found them and bought them in bulk. They may take anywhere from 2-4 weeks to get to you, so don’t be surprised if it takes a while.
The weather here has been hotten than an Athens summer, so I actually look forward to rainy days. The afternoons are a bit nicer. Sarah and I went to a park yesterday evening, and there were SWANS swimming in the lake! I’ve never seen swans before. You all know how I love to see animals. The kitten family near my apartment is so cute also. They just hang out in this little garden all day.
School is interesting, but our classes are so long (1hr30 min each class). We are trying to cram so much vocabulary into our heads, it is very difficult. But at the same time, our teacher is very nice and is not grading us hard, just pushing us. We write little compositions and attempt to give small speeches in Russian about what we think about marriage, what the differences are between Atlanta and Moscow, and so on.
Here are some of the biggest differences:
Moscow’s toilets suck. Many times, toilets are missing their seat, even in a nice marble bathroom. Maybe the seats got stolen? I have no idea. But the is a common occurrence here, so be prepared to squat. Also, always carry some tissue with you, because there is not always toilet paper…Moscow is also lacking in public restrooms.
In Moscow, babyshkas are the most “entitled” members of society. Old women (grandmother=babyshka [y=oo]) like to push their way through crowds, demand that you give up their seat to them on the metro, and generally be bossy toward everyone who is not also an old lady. You just have to get used to it, unless you want to get into an old lady fight.
Water. There are no public water fountains here. I have not seen a single one. Water fountains do not exist. What this means is that I have to boil water, refrigerate it, and carry it with me in a bottle everywhere I go. You have to buy bottled water at restaurants, no water is free. The concept of a refill is completely foreign here. You want more water? You get to buy another $3 bottle of it. Same goes for Pepsi, Coke, tea, etc. All drinks are expensive and none are free.
I am greatly enjoying my time here in Moscow, but I miss many of the comforts of home. I am about to continue handwashing all of my laundry and hanging it up to dry, and then off to the museum!
Love from Russia,
Here are some additional pictures from our trip to the Moscow River.
Last week Sarah, Leah, and I took the metro to the Moscow River. People lay out in their bathing suits (and many men lay out in black underwear) to get some sun. It’s a great place to hang out. Many boats went up and down the river. We want to take a boat tour sometime, it looks like a fun way to tour Moscow.