Thursday, November 5, 2009

north of nowhere - st. petersburg

so i finally am getting the chance to tell you all about our trip to st. petersburg. again, apologies for the wait, it took me a few days to recover from the trip and such. but needless to say, we ALL had a blast, it was great to get a week off of school and see [as many] of the sights (or as the russians say достопримечательности) as we could during our trip.

on monday i pretty much just finished packing my things up, because we weren't schedule to meet at the train station until midnight. of course it was raining, so i had all my bags and my umbrella to deal with. fun. we got to the station and after waiting a little, boarded the train. now, i had been on a train in europe only one other time, when i traveled from prague to krakow, but i'd never been on an overnight train. we were all separated into compartments with 4 beds each, so i was with 4 of the other guys in our group. we were due to arrive in petersburg around 9:30 in the morning, so most of the group went to bed fairly early. however i was starving because i barely eat in russia in general and who knows when my previous meal had been, so i went to the dining car with victor, rudy, and kyle. i got some french fries and a coke (it was kind of cold!!!!), paid, and then went back to our compartment. fast forward 6 hours...we woke up around 9ish and were greeted with the wonderful ghetto train station suburbs of st. petersburg. haha but no really, i slept surprisingly well, since i don't usually sleep well on moving things. we disembarked (grumpily) and made our way to the hostel.

lena of course booked it through like lanes of traffic and such, making it even more difficult to keep up with her with our baggage. we finally got to the hostel and checked in, though. the hostel was pretty much what i expected, except i was glad that we actually got small rooms to share between a few people (for the guys anyway). it was pretty basic though, beds, wardrobes, a small kitchen, shower, toilets, etc. good enough for 4 days though. after we all kind of unpacked and got settled, we immediately had a bus tour scheduled. i was pretty excited though since i always am a fan of activities that don't involve the use of my feet. unfortunately, it was raining (as if we expected anything else) so it was pretty much impossible to take pictures out the bus window. however, our tour guide, ксения, was amazing. she had a great sense of humor and knew a ton about petersburg in general. i won't go into what we drove by since i visited everything we saw on the tour later anyway, but the tour was a lot of fun even though it was about 3 hours long. (you don't get THAT far in petersburg, or russian for that matter, traffic in that amount of time)

anyway, after the bus tour, a lot of people were exhausted, rightfully, so some people took naps. my foot felt like it was going to fall off but i hate wasting opportunities so i decided to just explore myself for the night. i always get way too excited about seeing a city's metro, so i wanted to be the first person in the group to officially ride the petersburg metro. and if there's one thing you need to know about the metro in st. petersburg, it's that it's not nearly as complete as moscow's. whereas in moscow, as long as you are downtown, you are pretty much guaranteed to stumble upon a metro no matter which way you walk, in petersburg, unless you get really lucky, you better know where you are going, because otherwise, you'll end up miles from a station and a very unhappy patron of the petersburg public transportation system. i decided to walk down nevskii, which is petersburg's main thoroughfare for restaurants, stores, and the like. it has beautiful architecture and a lot to see. i took the metro there to start. nevskii eventually leads down to the Neva, the massive river which essentially divides st. petersburg's downtown into several islands. nevskii also ends where the hermitage begins, so i walked around palace square a little bit. then i had a decision as to whether i wanted to walk back to where i came from or continue walking along the river, cross it, and head to the next closest metro on a neighboring island. i decided to do that, since i'd see new things. it was actually really relaxing, and the Neva at night is beautiful. i finally made it across the bridge and started searching for the metro i needed. i literally searched for at least an hour, and it just wasn't there. i had no idea what the problem was, but long story short, i was forced to traverse basically the entire length of the island to the ONLY other metro on that end. ugh. boo st. petersburg metro (although on the plus side it is a lot cleaner, clearer, and less crowded than the moscow metro. and it has really cool stop names like electric strength! haha) but anyway, i got back fine but tired, and probably got like 4 hours of sleep that night.

the next morning, we had our excursion to the winter palace and hermitage. the hermitage houses one of the largest collections of art in the world, second only to the louvre actually. it used to be the tsar's winter palace in petersburg. we had a 3 hour guided tour with ксения again, and the building itself was just amazing. SO large, you'd get lost guaranteed without a guide and signs. the rooms were so beautifully and ornately decorated with gold leaf, antique russian furniture, and of course the art. y0u could spend weeks and weeks looking at everything it has to offer. some of the highlights and my favorite parts were the room where the russian revolution literally began, where the bolsheviks stormed the palace and effectively took over the provisional government. we literally stood on history there. also, i really enjoyed being able to see the quarters of the last romanov ruling family, before he was forced to abdicate the throne and go into hiding. there was picasso, monet, davinci, pretty much every famous artist you can thing of. i would love to go back someday.

after the hermitage, i decided to go off and do my own thing again, because it's basically a proven fact i never get anything done that i want to do when i go with groups of people. basically, my goal for the day was to visit the bay of finland, which lies to the west of the city. i went with amanda because she really wanted to come with. the closest metro stop on my map to the bay was приморская, literally "arrival to the sea". so we rode the metro all the way out west and got off there. it was about a 10 minute walk from the station to the "shore". haha, so basically, despite the fact that russia does have a considerably large amount of coastline to its name simply because it's a large country, doesn't mean it has a lot of nice beaches. i can't even begin to imagine, besides in the crimea, anywhere else in russia where anyone would want to hang out on a beach. currently, it seemed as though petersburg is taking on a hefty and ambitious renovation project - notice i attempt to say this with the utmost sarcasm in my words. the entire area is basically a mess of massive abyss holes, dirt, mud, construction equipment, and what looked like land reclamation going on right off the coast. but surprisingly, there WAS a beach. and it was sand. so i was satisfied nonetheless. we sat on the edge of the water for a while, and even though it was cold and windy, it was pretty cool to be on the edge of what was essentially the baltic sea. so we hung out for a while, found a pretty nice grocery store and got some snacks, and then headed back.

on thursday, we had our excursion to peter and paul fortress, which is a small island situated right in the middle of the neva river, and is considered to be the birthplace of the city of st. petersburg. it's mostly a collection of historical buildings, a few small churches, and various other things. most notably though, in the church of st. peter and paul, are the tombs of a vast majority of russian tsars, tsarevichs, their families and the like. also in the church is one of the sights i have been wanting to see since i got to russia, which are the tombs of the romanovs. nicholas, his wife, and his children are all buried in their own room in the church. it was really sad to see, and despite the controvery surrounding their deaths, you can tell that at least the people of st. petersburg still hold the family (and especially the children) in high regard.

after the fortress, i wandered around the area a bit with a few other people, and lena took us to a blini restaurant, kind of fast foodish. i actually felt kind of sick and i was not in a good mood because i had to register for classes that night. i ate and then headed back to the hostel since i was dead tired. i ended up spending the rest of the night picking classes and registering. after that, a group of us decided to go to a club/bar type place which was literally right down the road from our hostel. it was actually a lot better than i expected. in my opinion, the DJ was really, really good, he played a mix of new and old american music, and also russian music, which made me happy. the drinks were fairly cheap too. we stayed there pretty late, probably until about 3 or so, just enjoying the music, and the staff were also extremely nice. went back to the hostel and passed out haha.

friday was our free day because our train was due to leave at 10 that night. i wanted to make the most of the day so i set out to basically ride the metro around to different areas of the city i hadn't been to yet. my first stop was старая деревня/old village. i thought it would be nice because of the name, but it turned out to be really ghetto and industrial haha. i found the market there and met a really nice old babushka who i bought a hat from. she asked me where i was from, and when i told her america, she immediately asked "los angeles?" haha so i was endeared right there. i spent a little while in the area because there were lots of cool factories and smokestacks that i for some reason enjoy taking pictures of, and then i left because it was cold.

after that i headed downtown again to find a coffeeshop because i was thirsty and cold. found one, had a coffee, left haha. i had made it a point to visit park pobedy (a lot of russian cities have a park pobedy/victory park) because i wanted to compare it to moscow's park pobedy. so i headed down that way, which is south of downtown. when i got there, i was actually pleasantly surprised by the area. the area was beautiful, and it reminded me of central park in new york. the park was surrounded on all four sides by tall, older buildings with very nice architecture. i walked around the park for an hour or so and then i decided to walk down the main street in the area, which was lined with the same really nice buildings. i eventually found a bookstore and bought a book which i had been wanting to do for a while now just to speed up vocabulary acquisition. as luck would have it i found a metro stop at the other end of the road so i didn't even have to traipse back. afterwards, i headed back to the hostel and just relaxed until it was time to leave. we headed back to the train station and caught our train back to moscow. i felt like crap and was so tired, but i ended up staying up really late playing mafia with about 8 or 9 other people, which was a TON of fun. (mostly because i was mafia and almost won haha). when we arrived back the next morning, i literally slept all day haha. but it was worth it.

so all in all, st. petersburg was amazing. it's such a huge contrast to moscow, it's impossible to even explain all the differences. it's funny because the only thing i really thought was the same were the people, at least to me. the architecture, the sights, transportation, geography, they were all a complete 180 from moscow, but the people still had that same russian spirit. so as much as st. petersburg is definitely more european than moscow, there's still enough russian influence there that i think it will always be more of a russian city.

so ending on that note, i have been back for a little less than a week now, and have just been taking it easy and getting back into my schedule. tomorrow is ele's birthday, so we are going bowling after she has dinner with a few people from our group. i won't be going to the dinner because i have a group dinner with sras at a georgian restaurant, so i will meet up with them afterwards. and then on sunday is our next excursion, and we're seeing swan lake, so i am really excited about that since it's a ballet people actually know, haha. this coming monday, i only have 6 weeks left here. the time has really flown and i feel like i want to do so much more, so i am trying to make the most of the rest of the time i have. hope everyone had a great halloween and i will try and update again as soon as i get the chance!!


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