Return from Travel Week

Hello everyone! I am back.  Do you know what can really hamper a blog?  Internet that does not work for a week and then traveling for 12 days.  Needless to say it is very hard to write new posts when that is happening.  I am now back from travel week and ready to tell you all about my travels.

For the first part of travel week I traveled with my school to Kiev, Ukraine and Moscow, Russia.  I spent two days in Kiev and three days in Moscow.  I really wish we had spent more time in Kiev, but it seemed like there was a lot more to do that we did not get to when we were in Kiev.  Kiev was a very old fashioned city.  There were a lot of old churches and monasteries that we visited.  We even got to tour underneath one of the monasteries where all of the monks were buried.  The best part of the trip though was the World War II museum in Kiev.  It was absolutely amazing and full of amazing artifacts.  After we were finished in Kiev we traveled to Moscow via overnight train.  The ride was not bad except for having to wake up at 2 am for a passport check at the Russian border.

We arrived in Moscow at 9 am though so we had a full day to tour around the city.  It was a good thing that we got there so early because Moscow is huge.  There are almost 10 million people that live there and it is a much larger city than St. Petersburg.  Even though we were there for three days we really only got to see the highlights that all the tourists see.  We spent a lot of time at the Red Square and saw St. Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum, GUM, the changing of the guards at the tomb of the unknown soldier, and had a tour of the Kremlin.  That is a lot of stuff to do in just three days, but it was fun.  My favorite part had to be Lenin’s Mausoleum because everything is so simple , but at the same time very powerful to witness all of the history in one room.  After we finished in Moscow it was our free time and that is when I got the chance to explore Europe.

My first destination was Brussels, Belgium.  I was planning on going with another student from the program, but her flight was delayed and we were staying in two separate hostels, so we never ended up meeting in Brussels.  That was ok because I met four Canadians in my hostel who I hung out with.  All four of them were from different parts of Canada and did not know each other. I only went out with them at night though.  During the day I explored everywhere from The Grand Place to Manneken Pis to an old fashioned brewery to the home of the EU Parliament.  Each day consisted of me taking out my map while eating a Belgium waffle in the morning to figure out where I wanted to go.  Throw in a lot of walking and pictures and French Fries (which were actually made in Belgium) and that I what my days were like.  It was a lot of fun and there was so much to do in the city.  I would definitely be interested in going back and the other girl that went agreed as well.

From there I journeyed to Copenhagen, Denmark for three days.  This is where I met up with a very good friend of mine who is studying in Copenhagen for the semester.  If you are interested in looking at her blog this is the link: http://adanishadventure.wordpress.com/  It is a good thing that she has been studying there because she was able to show me all of the important highlights of the city.  We covered almost the entire city in two days just by walking.  It is a lot smaller of a city compared to Moscow.  I guess that is one of the many reasons that the Danes decide to bike everywhere.  The amount of bicycles on the road or at the metro stations was amazing.  The entire city could be confused for just on big bicycle store.  Besides the bicycles though we toured some museums, visited castles, walked around Christiania and even climbed to the top of a church.  I would say all of it was definitely worth the cold and wind.  Even the church where we were outside and it felt we could be blown off of the building.  Just like the other places it was a very action packed few days.  Copenhagen had to be my favorite city though.  It seemed so cozy with the small buildings and pedestrian streets.  Especially when we journeyed outside of the city to visit her host family.  It seems like a great city to be in with just enough to keep you busy, but still a lot of places to explore.

Travel week was a lot of fun though.  It was a great time to explore various cities that are difficult to get to because I live in the United States.  Even though I was exploring on my own for a little bit it was still definitely worth it.  The places that I went were amazing and it was definitely an experience of a lifetime to be able to travel to all of the countries.  Some of my friends from this program want to do some more traveling before we leave, so we may go on a weekend trip to Finland or some of the Baltic States.  We do not have a lot of time left so hopefully we can do that soon.

As you can imagine I have a ton of pictures from my trip so I will get those up shortly.  I was not sure how well they would load if I tried to upload them with this post.

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The Variety of St. Petersburg

I do not even know where to begin.  There are so many great things that I have done over the past few weeks it is actually getting hard to count.  This is because there is so much to do in the city of St. Petersburg.  There is everything from theater to sports to sightseeing.  I have been able to do all of this lately in these past few weeks.  To highlight some of the best things that have happened I am going to make a top five count down.  This is not for the entire trip, but just for the few weeks that I have not had a real blog post.  I will have a new post up every day to describe a different event.  I know that this could be a little bit ambition, but I am leaving for travel week next week and I want to get a few more posts about what I have done.  I also know that I will have so many things to write about during travel week so if I save all of this until after that I will not remember it all.  Plus I want to inform you about what I am doing and where I am going so there will be more to come on travel week later, but now it is time to start this top five count down… at… number…. 5!

Number 5: Playing basketball and a sport that is kind of like football

I have recently started to play basketball on Wednesdays and Fridays at the university with Russian students.  I figured it would be a fun way to practice basketball and even learn some Russian by talking with the students.  So far it has been a lot of fun.  The games do not last long and there are no amazing players so the playing field is pretty even.  The one weird thing is that they are on constant fast breaks.  There is no time spent dribbling around with the ball or trying to get a double team and pass it off.  I have learned this from the amount of times I have been hit in the back of the head with the ball or cut outside for a pass just to see them attempt to drive through three people.  Besides the different style it has been enjoyable.  There is also a coach that helps to set it up every day and makes people sign in.  I just found out though that he is the rugby coach and I think he has successful signed me up to play rugby with Russians now. 

This is where the story of playing basketball and having fun turns into me trying to learn a sport that I do not understand in a language that I am still learning.  It started when I was on the bench for basketball and he called me over to the side.  I thought he was going to ask if I have signed in, but he immediately asked if I have ever played rugby.  I told him no, but I have played many other sports.  He seemed disinterested until I mentioned that I played football a long time ago.  This is when he convinced me to play rugby.  I was still not sure and was not planning on doing it until one day after basketball they had rugby practice.  He told me to stay to help with a drill and that is where he got me.  I practiced with them for about two hours and failed at almost all of the drills we did.  Somehow he was still interested in having me play.  He then asked me to show up at their game the next day and play with them.  Another player told me afterwards that the coach apparently thinks I have potential to be a good rugby player.  We will see if this rugby experiment continues, but as long as it doesn’t take too much time, I might be able to do it for a little bit and see how it goes.

That is number five out of five of the most exciting things in the past few weeks.  Look for the new post tomorrow with number four as the countdown continues…

One Crazy Week

This has been another action packed link in the city of St. Petersburg.  There has been time  for excursions to places inside the city and outside the city, to observe the fine arts, go to a concert, speak with some Russians, eat a lot of Russian food, and take part in Russian culture.  I also had some class in there as well.  And by some class I mean a lot of class.  I have class four days a week from 10 to 3:30.  That is not the interesting part though so I will focus my blog posts about the adventures I have had.

I have done so much this week so instead of writing a novel about everything, I will write a few smaller blog posts about them.  That will also allow me to post some pictures with the posts as well.  You can look forward to these posts over the next few days.  I have not had a blog post in a while so I will try to get as many out as I can.  I really want to document as much as I can and I hope you also would like to hear about everything.  So stay tuned over the next few days because the post will come out very quickly!

Our Own Crime and Punishment?

I can already see the look on your face and I know what you are going to say before you even start to move your lips.  I understand.  I told you I was going to blog more and I promised it would happen every week and oh look it has been over a week since I last blogged.  It has been a busy week though of classes and trips and adventures through the city.  In order to catch up a little bit and inform you about what I have done over the week I am going to try to write a few blog posts over the next few days.  Now it is time to explain my adventures this weekend.

I am starting with the weekend because I did not do a lot of interesting things during the week.  I had classes every day and we had a mid-week get together with Russian students.  That was pretty much all that happened so unless you are fascinated in hearing about all of my classes I will describe my weekend instead.  Saturday morning we meet in the middle of Saint Petersburg for a walking tour.  This was not just a normal walking tour.  This was a walking tour about Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment.  The tour was very fascinating and it was great to see everything that Dostoevsky wrote in his novel actually exists in St. Petersburg.  What I mean is that all of the buildings and streets that are talked about in the book are accurately placed.  This is because he wrote the novel in his house that was a part of the neighborhood in the story.  I really wish I could explain the location and specifics of the book in more detail, but there is one major problem.  I have not read Crime and Punishment. 

Even though I have not read the book (It is on my very long list of books to read) I figured it would still be interesting to walk around the city on a nice sunny day.  I also figured that I would be able to learn more about Dostoevsky.  That was accomplished and more.  The tour guide that we had was not a real tour guide.  She works for a literature museum and is a Dostoevsky enthusiast.  She also just gives these tours to students like us on the side for fun.  And yes she has a lot of fun with these tours.  She has organized her own tour that is very different from the professional ones.  She tells us different stories and brings us to different places that most groups do not go to.  The one problem with this is that many of the places that she brings her groups are residential areas and the people do not really like us being there.  People told us to leave and go home, we got a lot of strange looks, and one lady even said she was going to call the police.  There are also some areas that she said she can no longer take her tour groups because the people that live in the area know who she is.  This all sounds a lot worse than it actually is though.  She brings us to these areas because all of the buildings and rooms that are described in the novel exist and look the same as Dostoevsky describes them.  If you were as big of fan as she is about Dostoevsky then it all makes sense.  It was a definitely a great experience.  We had no serious issue with the people that we encountered and we learned a lot about Dostoevsky and Crime and Punishment.  I would do it again if I had the choice and I would pick her as my tour guide over all of the others, just because how great the experience was.

As I said I do not have a lot to say about this because I have not read Dostoevsky.  I will also get more blog posts out about what I did after the walking tour and a quick intro to my action packed weekend that will lead to a few blog posts.

Peterhof a.k.a. The Land of Golden Fountains

WARNING! The following description of my travels and the pictures that follow the post will make you extremely jealous.  If you wish to continue you are continuing at your own risk.  Consider yourself warned.

This past weekend I traveled to Peterhof with the CIEE group.  Even though I have only been in St. Petersburg for two weeks this is already the highlight of my trip so far.  The day started off with a lot of rain.  This was very concerning because I knew that Peterhof is known for its fountains and gardens so I was not sure how the trip was going to be with rain. Luckily enough as we were driving the rain and clouds disappeared and the sun started to come out.

Now before I go into the full details about my trip I want to tell you some basic information about Peterhof.  Even I did not know much about it before I went so this will probably be helpful.  Peterhof or Петерго́ф in Russian was built as a palace by Peter the Great.  The first reports of Peterhof date back to 1705 and for most of the time since then it has been owned by the rulers of Russia.  The main palace, which was not where the royal families lived, is located between the Upper and Lower Gardens and was actually used as a dining hall and ballroom.  The main attraction though is the series of fountains that are located behind the palace that are all turned on at 11 AM.  All of the fountains get water from a nearby lake and there are no pumps for the fountains.  They are all controlled by gravity which is very impressive because that is how it has always been done since it was first built.  Especially considering some of the pipes are from the early 19th century.   Everything is also perfectly symmetrical.  From the gardens next to the fountains to the amount of fountains on each side to how the entire Peterhof grounds are organized.

There is a lot more history that I can tell, but these are the most important parts that you need to know about to truly understand the importance of Peterhof.  For our trip we arrived around 10:30.  Like I mentioned above they turn on all of the fountains at 11 AM.  When I say turning on the fountains I do not mean they press a button and all of the fountains turn on.  No, it is a process.  All of the fountains are turned on by hand by turning a crank.  This is also done as the anthem of St. Petersburg is playing in the background.  This means that it takes a few minutes for everything to turn on.  It is truly an amazing sight to see.  I was able to get a short video on my phone so I hopefully I will be able to post that soon.  The fountains though are absolutely amazing!  They are all gold plated and as the sun was starting to come out all of the statues began to shine.  You will be able to see all of this in the pictures below.

After staring at the fountains with awe for fifteen minutes we broke into groups and had a tour around the Peterhof grounds.  The gardens, other fountains and buildings are just as impressive as the main palace and fountains.  There are trees every where, a lot of statues and historic buildings where Peter and his family lived.  We only had an hour to explore after the tour so we looked around a little bit, but we were not able to walk around and see everything.  I am pretty sure for the entire time I looked like a deer in headlights.  There were some many amazing sights and things to take pictures of.  In fact I took close to 150 photos and we were there for about 4 hours.  Yes, as you can imagine most of the pictures are of the fountains.

The overall experience was just absolutely amazing.  The amount of fountains and gardens and historic buildings is something I could never imagine.  Something even more impressive is that most of the area was destroyed during World War II when Germany invaded Russia.  Peterhof was actually used as a training center and headquarters for the German Army.  I am very glad that we got to Peterhof when we did before it got too cold or the snow started.  That is something that is soon going to be a reality here.  It is a good thing I can enjoy the beautiful buildings while I can and then experience the Russian winter one day at a time.

Below are the pictures of Peterhof.  As I mentioned do not be too jealous:

A Normal School Week?

This week started like a normal week in the great city of St. Petersburg.  I had classes all week, homework every night, great food made by my host mother, and oh yeah did I mention visiting one of the oldest and largest art museums in the world?  This is just one of the many advantages to living in a city like St. Petersburg.

This past week on Wednesday, we had a scheduled group tour to The Hermitage.  Luckily I have no classes on Wednesdays so I am going to use these days to get out and explore the city as much as possible.  Sometimes, like this past week, the program even schedules trips for use so we can spend time together outside of the classroom.

The Hermitage was originally built as a beautiful winter palace by Catherine the Great.  Throughout her years of rule she was very interested in art and amassed a large collection which was displayed in the Hermitage.  Rulers after her continued the collection and now the palace and five other buildings make up the gigantic art museum.  In total the Hermitage has 3 million pieces of artwork and only 10 percent of this is on display.  The 3 million pieces of artwork are collected from all over the world.  There is everything from the time of the Pyramids to Ancient Greece to the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Goya and many more.  The Hermitage is also the most beautiful art museum I have ever seen.  Nothing against other museums, but not many of them can say they are located in a former palace with fountains, gold leaf, Italian painted fresco ceilings, and marble from wall to wall.  You can see in the pictures below what some of the rooms look like.  The highlight for me was the antique golden clock.  This is no normal grandfather clock though.  This is a gigantic clock with a peacock and an owl perched in a tree.  When it strikes a new hour, the birds move and make noises.  I really wish I could have seen it in action because it is still functional.  They do have a television set up next to it so you can see what it looks like when it is moving.  Our tour only last for two hours so we did not get to spend a lot of time in the museum.  I can definitely see myself going back though because we did not even scratch the surface of the amount of artwork that is there.

Another interesting twist to this week is that we went to a club called The Place on Thursday night to see one of the CIEE staff members play a concert with his band.  We were not sure how many people would end up making the trip, but there were about 40 to 50 of us that were there to watch him play.  The name of his band is “Morning Tea with Constables.”  They are a British rock band and they sing all of their songs in English.  This is unusual because the lead singer, the CIEE staff member, is Russian as well as the other members of the band.  We all had a lot of fun there and even stayed for the acts before and after them.  A lot of us really enjoyed The Place so we may try to find a time to go back and see other bands play.  It was also good to hear his band play live and not just watch the YouTube videos that we found of them.  If I can figure out how to do it, I will try to post a video of his band so you guys can see what I am talking about.

I am hoping to do some more exploring this upcoming week and I will write some post about those adventures as well.  I know this Sunday we are going to Peterhof as a group so that should be fun as long as the weather decides to cooperate.  I also hope to take advantage of the no classes on Wednesdays and I hope to do a weekly post on Wednesday’s about my adventures for that day.  So you can look for those updates either every Wednesday or Thursday night after I have finished my day of exploring.

You can see pictures of The Hermitage and Morning Tea with Constables below:

Outside of the Winter Palace (One of the six buildings in The Hermitage) IMG_1590 IMG_1591 IMG_1629 Golden Clock IMG_1602 IMG_1652 British Tea with Constables

Novgorod the Great

First, I would like to apologize for the long break between my blog posts.  I hope to start blogging more often and provide some pictures of the places I have visited.  I have been very busy lately with classes starting and trying to get accustomed to living in a new city with a new family.  It is very challenging to have all of this thrown at you all at once so it is a work in progress.  I have also been traveling around without Wi-Fi and the Wi-Fi at my homestay is not always reliable, which is another reason why I have not been able to update my blog.  That brings me to my second point, my trip this weekend.

I returned to St. Petersburg late on Sunday night after spending the weekend in the Novgorod region of Russia.  When I was there I visited the ancient cities of Novgorod the Great and Staraya Russa.  When I say ancient I mean ancient.  These cities were built more than 1000 years ago.  The great thing about these cities is that many of the original buildings are still intact or have been repaired over the years after being damaged by both time and various wars.

On day one the trip to Novgorod started at 8:00 in the morning when I boarded the bus.   I was prepared for a 4 hour bus ride to the first city, Novgorod the Great.  The city has grown a lot over the years and is no longer contained in the large stone walls that surround the original city.  When I first got off of the bus that view of the stone wall was amazing.  I have seen it in pictures before, but to stand that close to the wall was great.  After crossing the bridge that stretches over the moat we walked underneath the wall and saw the inside of the city for the first time.  This was when we broke into tour groups.  Unfortunately, being in the Russian Language program meant that I was in the all Russian tour group.  Luckily the tour guide spoke slower than normal so I was able to pick up a good amount of what she was saying, but there was still a lot that I missed.  As I looked around the circle I noticed I was not the only one that had a confused look on my face.  She brought us all around the city and showed us the Kremlin, St. Sophia’s Cathedral, Yaroslav’s Court, a bronze statue to commemorate the 1000 years of the city, and much more.  St. Sophia’s Cathedral is one of the oldest stone cathedrals in Russian and is absolutely beautiful with its gold dome and amazing architecture inside.  Unfortunately we are not allowed to take any pictures in the cathedrals or monasteries.  Part of the tour also included walking across another bridge over the river that divides the city in two.  To split up the day and to give us a break from walking around we had lunch and dinner at two Russian restaurants in the city.  They both were very good and it was a great chance to try traditional Russian food.  After dinner we drove two hours to our next destination, Staraya Russa.  We checked into the hotel and I pretty much collapsed after a long day of hearing Russian and walking around.  Plus we needed to be up early to start our tours for the second day.

Day two began with breakfast in the hotel and then a bus tour around the city of Staraya Russa.  This tour consisted of a lot of old and historical churches, cathedrals and convents.  We saw the famous St. George’s Church where the Staraya Russa icon is held.  This is a ten foot tall icon that is known for not having a normal image of Marry and Jesus.  In the icon the baby Jesus is playing and there are no other icons in the world that are known to be like this.  We also saw where Fyodor Dostoevsky lived for part of his life and where he wrote his novel “The Brothers Karamazov.”  The building has a great history because that is where he lived at the end of his life and it is now a museum.  Before it was a museum though, it was used as a Nazi command center during the Second World War which is why it is one of the few buildings in Staraya Russa to survive the war.  We only spent the morning at Staraya Russa and actually returned to Novgorod the Great for lunch.  After lunch we toured the Museum of Wooden Architecture.  The museum was outdoors and consisted of very old buildings from all over Russia that have been moved to the museum.  They have everything from wooden houses to churches to windmills that are over 100 years old.  Our last stop of the day was to St. George’s monastery and cathedral.  This was one of the largest cathedrals that we saw on our trip.  From here we left Novgorod with an estimated time of arrival at 8:00 pm.  Unfortunately we hit a lot of traffic outside of the city because everyone was coming home from their dachas at that same time.  This pushed us back to arriving at 10:15 pm after finding back roads and the long way around St. Petersburg.  We were a little restless for these extra two hours, but were able to pass the time by attempting to learn a Russia song taught by one of the CIEE staff members.

Overall it was a great trip and I am definitely glad we got the opportunity to visit this part of Russia.  One of my favorite parts though was riding to Novgorod on the bus.  This is where I got to see what Russia is really like.  There were small old houses, plains, forests, bumpy two lane roads, and a lot of flat land.  It isn’t the hustle and bustle St. Petersburg or the beautiful and ancient cathedrals of Novgorod, but that is Russia.  Everything from the elegant and ornate to the small and rundown.  It doesn’t matter to me though.  I still loved every second of it.

Below you can see some pictures from my trip:

Walls of Novgorod Walls of Novgorod St. Sophia's Cathedral St. Sophia's Cathedral Statue for 1000 years Yaroslav's Court Fyodor Dostoevsky' House St. George's Church 100 year old wooden church