It’s been a while since our last update. The short version of what we’ve been up to is that most of our classes have ended and we took a weekend trip to St. Petersburg. The long version, though…
We decided to take a trip to St. Petersburg with ESN FINT, an organization for exchange students at the University of Tampere. Traveling with the student group meant that we wouldn’t have to worry about working out our own transportation or lodging. The biggest perk, though, was that we didn’t have to apply for visas, which is requires time, money, and a lot of paperwork! We were able to visit St. Pete on a group visa since we were just there for the weekend.
On Thursday, April 18, we took a bus from Tampere to Helsinki. From there, we took an overnight ferry from Helsinki to St. Pete. The trip was a bit rough (parts of the ocean were still frozen), but we arrived in St. Pete bright and early on Friday morning. After everyone in our group got through customs (it took around three hours), we took a bus tour of the city. The city looks very European – I got the impression that some of the architects were thinking, “Look Europe, we’re better at being European than you are!” We also noticed that a lot of the major landmarks were being refurbished. Our tour guide said that the city was being spruced up because 2013 marks the 400-year anniversary of the Romanov family. When I told my dad about this, he said, “But didn’t they get executed…?” It’s true, they did, but at that time there were still Romanov cousins and other relatives living abroad, and they escaped execution. Here’s what the Russian Imperial House has to say on it: “Since 1917, the Russian Imperial House has been compelled to live in exile, but its traditional historical, spiritual, and legal foundations continue on unchanged.” If you’re interested, here’s the website: http://www.imperialhouse.ru/eng/
A lot of our Russian vocab came back to us once we got into Russia. We did get slight headaches, though. When you see a sign written in your native language, you can glance at it and have a good idea of what it says. When you see a sign written in a foreign language – and even a foreign alphabet! – it takes a minute of concentration before figuring out if you know the word or not. Neither of us could stop ourselves from reading nearly every sign we came across. In a city the size of St. Pete, that’s a lot of signs! I was so pleased that we still remembered the alphabet, though, since we haven’t had any practice for a year.
We got to our hotel at around 4:30 and met up with our friend, Senya, pretty soon after. Senya taught us Russian for a year at MSSU (back when MSSU still had a Russian program). He went back to Russia in May 2012, and has been working in a small (well, what he calls small…) town in southern Russia. I believe he said it has a population of 1 million – still, it must seem pretty “provincial” when you’ve grown up in Moscow! Anyway, Senya made the trip up to St. Petersburg to visit us. From what Google Maps tells me, that’s about 15 hours by car. We were so happy that he came to see us for the weekend. After meeting up we spent a few hours wandering around the city by foot. The architecture was just amazing. If you haven’t seen our pictures on facebook, check out the picture below to see my favorite building, which was completely decked out in fabulous art noveau. Inside is a shop/café that sells specialty meats, cheeses, chocolates, coffee, tea, and other delights! Here is a video of the interior, where you can see me being dazzled by the awesome design and hear Senya talking about overpriced cheese:
That night we had dinner in a Georgian restaurant (as in the country, not the state) and had some delicious coffee. Well, Graham and Senya had delicious coffee – I had горячий шоколад (“goryachii shokolad,”), which is hot chocolate. I was surprised to find out that in Russia, hot chocolate is not the same as cocoa! I have always used the words interchangeably, but in Russia, cocoa is much thinner than hot chocolate, which is pretty much very thick melted chocolate. It was so good! After that we saw Church of the Savior on Blood (picture below). We also took the metro back to our hotel. It was much less cheery than the London metro.
On Saturday we met up with Senya for a nice brunch and then spent some more time walking around the city. We visited St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Graham went up to the top and took some awesome pictures of the city (see picture below). I wasn’t up to all the steps (my leg is healing very well, but I still get worn out pretty easily!) so I just went inside and looked around. As a one-word description of the cathedral, and of St. Pete in general, I would say “impressive.” It’s very clear that the city was carefully planned to make an almost overwhelming impression on its visitors. For those of you who don’t know much about St. Pete (I didn’t before we visited it): The area was originally occupied by Swedes. Peter the Great captured their fortress in 1703 and build the Peter and Paul Fortress. Peter made it the capital of Russia in 1712 and developed many of its most famous buildings very quickly. The city is said to be built on blood and bones because, well, it literally is. Many of the peasants used to build up the city died because of the harsh conditions. Originally Peter wanted the city to be similar to Venice (hence all the canals going through the city), but that didn’t really work out. In 1914 the city was renamed Petrograd; in 1918 Moscow was once again named the capital; in 1924 the city was renamed Leningrad; and in 1991, it was once again named St. Petersburg by popular vote. Here is a video of the State Hermitage/Winter Palace and the Palace Square, where the October Revolution took place: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_qccMHDj6Y
We had sushi for lunch. It was sooo good. The prices in St. Pete are way cheaper than in Finland, so we were able to enjoy things like sushi that are pretty much out of our price range in Tampere. That evening we went to Alexandrinsky Theatre to see a ballet performance. The theater itself was so beautiful – and, you guessed it, very impressive (see picture below). We saw three back-to-back performances. Here’s what Graham says about them:
We saw The Rite of Spring, which is a traditional modern (as in around the turn of the century) ballet by a famous Russian composer. It was weird and scary but also very cool. The second piece was an actually modern German ballet and it was incredibly beautiful. It had a lot of modern elements, some that looked like salsa and some that looked like something you would see at a rave…very cool. The last one was uber traditional complete with tutus and frolicking. It was interesting, but very silly looking.
Also, the third ballet was performed by a group from Moscow. When we emerged from the theater at 10:00, it was still light outside! We were all pretty tired, though, so we called it a night.
On Sunday Graham and I started out by taking a tour of the State Hermitage with the student group. It was amazing! There was so much art, enough that if you spent 30 seconds looking at each piece you would be in the museum for 9 years. As you can imagine, we only saw a fraction of what the museum has to offer. As Graham says, we saw the “four turtles” of art (Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Donatello). Actually, we didn’t see anything by Donatello, but hey, we got three out of four. Unfortunately, our camera battery was dying while we were in the museum, so we didn’t get nearly as many pictures as we’d have liked. We got a few, though. The building itself was a work of art (see picture below).
After spending a few hours at the Hermitage, we went to go “roofing” with Senya. Apparently it’s a big thing in St. Pete to hang out on roofs. There are even websites dedicated to finding out which roofs are open for people and how to get on them. We did a lot of walking – the first few places we tried didn’t work out. Finally, we found a building we could get into. It was pretty dodgy, but Senya said it wasn’t abnormal. Senya and Graham got up on the roof. I was too chicken, but I poked my head out of the hole and looked out with them. Here is the view from the roof:
By that time we needed to meet up with the group again and start the trip back to Tampere. I was really glad that we got the chance to see Russia, especially since we’ve been really interested in Russian language and culture for a few years now. We were also so happy to see our dear friend Senya. I have a feeling that we didn’t see him for the last time!
Since we’ve come back from St. Pete we have mostly focused on finishing up our classes. We did celebrate Wappu week (which will be featured in our next post!) on May 1. We will be completely finished with our courses on May 8, and then we’re heading to see London and Dublin on May 10. I can’t believe we’re only 23 days away from Joplin! We’ll be seeing you all soon!
Graham and Sarah