Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I'm terrible at updating

I thought I'd be better at this than I am. I only get about a half hour to an hour of internet time a day, and by the time I read and reply to emails, my time is over.

Life have been crazy and busy! This is my last week in the 'burg, and I'm rushing around trying to see everything there is to see.

Our group went to Novgorod on Saturday. It's so beautiful there. Novgorod is one of the oldest cities in Russia, and has absolutely beautiful architecture. I was very sad that the St. George Monastry had a fire last month, and a bunch of the beautiful centuries old frescos were destroyed.

We had a nice lunch at the restaurant that everyone goes to when they go to Novgorod. It involved honey wine and blini so I was an extremely happy camper.

Afterwards our guide took us to look at the excavation site that is inside the kremlin there, and it was really interesting to see centuries of bricks and stones under cross section.

On Sunday I went to Peterhof. If you've ever seen the pictures of all of the swanky gold fountains-that's Peterhof. The weather cooperated that day so it was absolutley a perfect day for walking around. I was able to take about 100 great pictures. It was nice just to be outside and enjoying the pretty scenery.

After we (my friend Veronica & I) walked around for hours, we met up with two more friends, and had Chinese food there! What a treat! I love Russian food, but after a solid month of it, I was really excited for a different cuisine. It tasted *NOTHING* like American Chinese food (which apparently tastes nothing like real Chinese food, so I suppose it's a fair trade), but it was still delicious.

Yesterday I went to the Russian Museum, which unlike the Hermitage, houses art by Russian artists. To drown out the hundreds of tour groups, I put my ipod on and wandered around for a good 5 hours. I loved being able to just relax and just enjoy the art. I also mailed out my postcards from the post office in the Russian Museum. If they don't manage to make it to the U.S., it's the Russian Museum's fault.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Russia Sized Post

I've been absolute crap about writing here. Here's a giant update about what life's been like in Petersburg.

Let's see, well, I went to the Hermitage on Thursday. Along with about half of Russia and a good quarter of Europe. It was absolutely mobbed. I think I may have heard every language that has existed on Earth. It was Russia Day so I think of ton of people had off of work, and decided to head to the museum. Despite the massive size of the Hermitage, I had to do a lot of pushing and shoving to see the exhibits that I wanted to see. I love the art that's there, but I'm such a sucker for the building itself. I spend a good part of my time there looking at the walls and ceilings, and completely missing the art. The Hermitage is housed in the Winter Palace-aka the former home of the tsars of Russia. My true Russian geek self comes out and I get all giddy thinking about all of the famous people that have walked those halls. When I walk down the massive hallways, I can't help thinking, "Wow, Nicholas Romanov walked here. His children ran down these hallways."

On Friday I went with two of my classmates to Peter & Paul Fortress. The day was absolutely beautiful (a real treat this week), and we got to take beautiful pictures of the city from the beach at the fort. I finally got to see the exhibit that houses the remains of Nicholas II and his family, the last ruling family of Russia. It was closed the last time I was in Russia, and I was so upset at having missed it. Luckily, the room was open this visit, and I got to see the marble stones to each family member and the icon for their status as martyrs.

After the fortress, we ate lunch at a Georgian restaurant. It was amazing. Some of the best food I've had here. I ordered chicken tabaka, which took nearly an hour to prepare, but it was absolutely delicious. It was in some kind of garlic oil sauce, and was well worth the wait. From there, we wandered around a bit more, and then I headed over to the dorms which house a lot of the Arizona kids because one of the girls was kind enough to let me borrow her shower since I am still lacking hot water at my apartment. The hot shower was divine. After a week of freezing cold showers, the hot shower ranks up there with one of the best experiences of my life.

Yesterday we had a boat tour of the canals of St. Petersburg. Like Venice, St. Petersburg is a series of small islands so canals criss cross the city. To make it a true Russian experience, a few of us bought some booze for the boat ride. I chose to celebrate it with strawberry champagne. In a can. Yeah. It's about as good as you'd imagine any kind of two dollar nonbeer alcoholic related beverage in a can to be.

After the canal tour, a few of us grabbed lunch and wandered around the city. The night ended at a bar so we could watch the Euro Cup. It's always fun screaming and yelling at the television, so it was a good night.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Joys of St. Petersburg in the Summer

St. Petersburg isn't all sunshine and piroshkis. For a few weeks each summer, the different areas lose hot water while the pipes are being repaired/cleaned/something I don't really understand happens. Of course this would happen while I'm here. This means no hot water for approximately 3 weeks. To coincide with this, the weather has been absolutely awful-ice cold rain, grey skies-just the right combination to make sure that you never really feel warm. Blergh.

Despite all that, I'm having a grand old time. I got to see a ton of sights over the past few days including the uhmmmm dismembered and jarred man bits of Rasputin (sorry mom!). It was...interesting. Also got rid of the nasty pickle habit I've developed since being here. Less disgusting sights have included the Battleship Aurora, which fired the first shots of the Russian Revolution, and the cabin that Peter the Great lived in while the city was being built. I know, it sounds a little boring, but it's great stuff for a Russophile like me.

Tomorrow is Russia Day so we have no classes tomorrow or Friday. There's loads going on in the city, so it'll be a good time for certain. There's some kind of music festival going on, so of course I'll be there. Our group is doing a boat tour on Saturday through the canals of the city.

I got to Skype with the Mama Llama today which makes me really happy because it was weird to go from talking to her half a dozen times a day to not at all.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Beautiful but Frozen

First off, I can't receive phone calls while here or check voicemail. The lovely folks at AT&T do not have a calling abroad package that includes good ol'Mother Russia so it's a staggering $4.99 a minute to call or check my voicemail. I've received a bunch of calls the past few days from numbers in Georgia and Virginia, but I can't pick up. If that's anyone reading this, I'm sorry!

Last night I got to see Pink Floyd perform "Dark Side of the Moon" live on Winter Palace Square. How amazing is that? It was an incredible experience not only for the music, but for the sheer number of people there. Thousands of people just standing around (Drinking of course, this is Russia, afterall) and listening to music.

This upcoming Thursday is Russia Day and there's the European Union Economic Forum going on here, so there's a whole host of cool events happening in the city. Tonight there's a laser light show happening on the bridges and then they're apparently raising the bridges and showing movies on them. Not sure how well that will work (and you can be darn sure I'll be watching it from the island I live on in case anything does go horribly wrong), but we'll have to see.

Prior to the Pink Floyd show I went to a free Russian folk and choir concert at St. Isaac's Cathedral. It was a wonderful performance. The acoustics of that place are incredible. Also cool was the fact that they let us take pictures for free. Usually there's a charge for taking pictures inside the church, but that was waived last night. I got some gorgeous pictures.

I'm off now to go do some damage to the bank account at Dom Knigi (The house of books) and then go find a little tea house to go write some postcards.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Dead Russians

I spent a good portion of today wandering around the graves of dead Russians. Before anyone thinks I've gone goth, trust me when I say this is a very normal activity. A few of my classmates and I decided to wander over to the Nevsky Monastery to see the graves of several famous Russians. Among those who now call it home are Rimsky Korsakov and Dostoyevsky.

Many of the graves are beautiful, some are morbid and some are actually funny. Many of them have beautiful statues and are very well taken care of. There was a local art school there, and the students were sketching the statues. It was nice just watching them work.

I managed to purchase a Russian cell phone for myself yesterday. A feat in itself. It's a little pay-as-you-go phone, which suits my needs perfectly. I also purchased some funky nail polish remover gel which is banana scented (why you'd want banana scented nails is beyond me), but it works remarkably well.

I try to set little goals for myself with speaking Russian outside of the classroom everyday. Yesterday it was purchasing a cell phone and the nail polish remover. Today I had a conversation with the lady who sold maps at the graveyard, and I spoke to a Russian woman on the phone. Little steps to improve my Russian.

Tonight there's a free concert at St. Isaac's Cathedral, so I'll be heading over there at 7 o'clock with the classmates. As a student with no job, free is the best word I know in any language.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Life in St. Petersburg

After a very long and sleepless set of flights, I am in St. Petersburg. I love it. My host mom is a gas. She's young, probably mid 40s, and when I met her she was wearing Prada sneakers. I was like, "Yeeees, a woman after my own heart!" She has a cute little apartment, and her son lives with her. I haven't met him yet, I'll meet him tonight. He's a businessman, and works for an American company. My room has a bed, a desk and a television as well as two chairs. It's nice. Simple, but very nice.

Every morning she makes me tea, and sets aside a yogurt and pastry for me. Very sweet. My first night she opened a bottle of red wine and we sat around in our bathrobes eating brie and sliced apples.

Let's see what else? Classes are going well. I understand pretty much everything the teachers say. hahaha, that might be a sign that classes are too easy. They have my passport for registration, it makes me nervous walking around with it. I get my student id tomorrow, which means I get free entry into the museums. I cannot wait for that.

The beginning of the White Nights has already messed with my mind. My first night here I went to bed at 10pm because I was so exhausted. At 12 I shot out of bed to see how light it was out. "OH MY GOD!" I thought, "I'm late for class!" I started running around my bedroom, getting ready for class, and then I got a better look outside. I assumed it was cloudy out, nope, on better inspection, I realized that it was 12 *midnight*

Nevsky Prospet (the main avenue in the city) looks very different than it did 5 years ago. Gone are all the blackmarket CD and DVD stores, and in their place are Chloe, D&G, Prada, Gucci, etc. I guess that's a sign that the economy is picking up, but it's sort of sad because those old stores were fun. Also oodles of construction. So much construction that I can't recognize most of the buildings because they're covered in netting.

I made two new friends yesterday. I was in a bookstore yesterday and I heard a girl in English asking where she could buy a phone card. I went over to help. She's from Germany, and the guy was from New Zealand. They were staying at the same hostel together, and neither spoke any Russian (brave!) I helped them out, and we ended up walking around together for a few hours yesterday. Eva is from Frankfurt, one of my stops on my Grand European Adventure, so if she's around, I'm going to email her and let her know when I'm there. We all exchanged facebook info so we can share pictures. It was a fun time, and good practice with just meeting random strangers for my GEA in August.

I've eaten a bunch of great food. Shashlik (shish kebobs) and blini (crepes!) mostly. Delicious stuff all around. I'm going to be eating my way around Russia and Europe, there's pretty much no doubt about that.

The Wonder that is Terminal Five

My flight from Philadelphia connected to Saint Petersburg through London, which means I got to check out the lovely new Terminal 5 at Heathrow. Oh wow. It's a dangerous little shopping paradise. Harrods, Gucci, Prada, Tiffany's. My little shopping addicted heart was all a'flutter.

With nearly five hours to kill before my next flight I wandered around. I had visions of buying fabulous new handbags, but a vision of the fine folks at Citibank waiting for me upon my return to the U.S. with credit card statement in hand brought those visions to a grinding halt.

Instead I window shopped which was a pleasant enough distraction. The people at Tiffany's were kind enough to clean my beaded necklace for me since it was horribly tarnished. That killed a little time, and I got to drool all over the pretty baubles.

If I fly out of London after this trip, I cannot promise that I will be as well behaved. There's just too much temptation there for me to not to do some damage to my bank account.