So sorry that I kept you waiting an extra day for Part 3…sleep got a hold of me last night before I could type this out.
We left off with switching cities…. I left my Moscow subway surfing behind to traverse the bridges of St. Petersburg’s canals. You often hear about particular cities that are beautiful to see at night – Paris, Las Vegas, etc. – but St. Petersburg isn’t usually one of them. Well, take it from a girl who loves soaking in city lights under starry skies… St. Petersburg is gorgeous at night! Standing on a bridge, looking down a canal sparkling with the reflection of hundreds of yellow lights…ahh! But, lets not get ahead of ourselves. We have a lot of daylight to discuss!
Peterswalk – Most of our day was spent on a walking tour of the city led by guides from a company called Peterswalk. My group’s guide was the founder himself, Peter. He actually grew up in St. Petersburg so he was very knowledgeable about the city. A random fun fact about him is that, even though he is a native Russian, he speaks with an awesome British accent because of how he learned English. We learned a lot from Peter – everything from how to find our way around the city to the dimensions of government-issued housing during the Soviet era. (When he was a boy, his family was only allowed a living space of 45 square meters. That’s 10 for each person plus 5 for a family. Before this, they only allowed 6 square meters per person and no extra for families. Crazy!)
Russian Ballet – Day 1 of St. Petersburg ended with the Russian Ballet’s performance of “Le Parc” in the Mariinsky Theatre. It was fun to get dressed up for this and go see it live in a beautiful, historic theatre. I felt so sophisticated! Then I pulled Margaux out of my bag, complete with her tutu and ballet shoes, to take her picture in front of the stage. And I felt no shame! :) The show was really interesting. It was a combination of modern and classical ballet. I am definitely more a fan of classical ballet, but it was cool to see the contrast of the two in one show.
Kazan Cathedral – This is the Eastern Orthodox cathedral that was modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Remember that word? …Wow… I did not take any pictures of the interior of this cathedral because we actually visited it while a service was taking place. But, it followed the suit of the other cathedrals – an interior covered in colorful paintings. Also, I enjoyed listening to the singing and prayers of the people inside. It was incredibly peaceful.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral – Another amazing Orthodox church. And, as did the others, this one also has a unique characteristic. If you are feeling ambitious (which I was, of course), you can climb 261 steps to the dome and take in a 360-degree view of St. Petersburg. The day was clear and I could see for miles in every direction. It was worth every step!
The Hermitage (Winter Palace) – Let me just get this out of the way…WOW! Did you know there are so many pieces of art in the Hermitage that if you spent ten seconds in front of each one, it would take you seven years to get through the museum? It is huge! I didn’t examine every single piece so I managed to at least peruse almost every room. I stopped whenever I saw something that was particularly interesting to me and looked at it a bit longer. Honestly though, I liked the palace interior itself more than the artwork. It boggles my mind to think that people used to live there! I would get lost in my own house if it were that big! But, we decided that being a palace kid would be pretty cool…we would have the most epic games of hide and seek ever! My favorite room (aside from the ballroom that just made me want to dance) was the library. I dream of having a library in my home! This one wasn’t as large as you might expect to be in a palace, but it was still quite impressive. It had two “layers” with a staircase and balcony. So many books! Something that you probably did not know about the hermitage is that it does have current residents – a group of well-trained, former-stray cats. They are given a home in the Hermitage because they keep the artwork-destroying mice away. Most of the time, they spend the daytime sleeping under furniture and visitors never even see them, but some people are lucky enough to catch one walking through a room. I had the pleasure of meeting one on my way out of the museum. Apparently the Hermitage Cats are too good for Margaux, though...this guy wasn't too thrilled about taking a picture with her...
Pushkin, Russia – I took a train, with several other SA students to Pushkin, a small town about 30 minutes from St. Petersburg. This is where Catherine’s Palace is located (the palace used as the model for the movie Anastasia). First, we explored the extensive gardens behind the palace. This is something that I would love to go back and see in the summer when everything is in bloom, but it was still incredible. The gardens are HUGE! There were tree-lined paths in every direction, two swimming ponds, one larger natural pond, several smaller buildings (possibly pool houses), and quite a few footbridges over little creeks. Then, we had a guided tour of the inside of the palace. We were allowed to take pictures here and I couldn’t put my camera down! The only room we were not allowed to photograph was the Amber Room. It is a room literally made out of amber. The walls are all panels of amber mosaics. Catherine’s Palace was almost completely destroyed by the Nazis in WWII but has been going through restoration since then. It is almost completely restored now, though a few rooms are still unfinished.
New Food – On Nevsky Prospect, the main street in St. Petersburg, there is a little restaurant called The Market Place. It is a natural foods restaurant where you can pick and choose to design your own meal. I got brave and tried all new food: a rabbit burger and buckwheat. Both were super delicious! And buckwheat has become my new favorite food. Now that I’ve made that clear, look forward to the funny story on this topic that will be told on Day 4.
Feel Yourself Russian – This was the name of the show we attended at the end of Day 3. It was put together by the St. Petersburg ethno-cultural department to display traditional Russian song, dance, and food. The music and dancing caused my jaw to hit the floor many times (figuratively, of course). As with the circus, it was amazing to see what the human body can do. One girl sang notes that I didn’t even know were on the scale, and the dancing men looked completely immune to the laws of physics. It was energizing to watch! But, at intermission, my luck with new foods ran out. I tried red caviar for the first time in my life. YUCK! Never again…Never again. I stuck with an apple from the fruit bowl after that.
Spilt Blood Church – This is the cathedral that was built over the place where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated. It fits the other Orthodox cathedral characteristics with its onion domes and artwork-covered interior, but its artwork demands a closer look. The entire interior is made of mosaics. I just stood and took it all in. The amount of work that went in to laying every small stone is beyond my comprehension.
The rest of Day 4 was mostly spent relaxing and catching up on my journaling. One of my friends got sick at Spilt Blood Church so I stayed in the hostel with her for most of the afternoon. This was actually nice because I had already gone to see pretty much all of the places I was hoping for and I needed the time of quiet and rest. Also, the weather decided to give us a random day of winter and it snowed heavily most of the day. I got soaked just from being outside for about ten minutes since the snow was thick and wet. Since I was staying in, I decided to take the opportunity to learn how to cook buckwheat in the hostel kitchen. Enter the previously mentioned funny story… Kristen, the LCC Study Abroad Recruiter, was with me at The Market Place on Day 3. When she came back to the hostel mid-afternoon, I enthusiastically told her that I had successfully made buckwheat for myself for lunch. Then, I asked, “Oh my goodness! Do they have buckwheat in Lithuania??” She laughs and says, “Yes! They have tons of it! It’s everywhere! It’s poor people’s food. All the LCC students eat it…” And another girl says, “We have it in the US, too…” Me: “Well, I am going to join with all the other poor LCC students and buy buckwheat when we get back to Lithuania. And when I get home, I am going to put buckwheat on my mom’s grocery list.” So, when I went grocery shopping after returning on Sunday, I got buckwheat. (There is in fact a plethora of it in the grocery store.) Mom, I know you are reading this…be prepared. ;)
That basically wraps up my Russian adventures. We had another overnight train ride that was just as good, if not better, than the one that started our trip – lots of deep conversations, challenging questions, and experiencing God’s presence. From the very first bus ride to the moment I collapsed on my bed Sunday night, it was a full and beautiful week.