I’ve been trying to write this post all week, but every time I try I just start getting emotional and overwhelmed. But I’m leaving Russia in a few hours, so it’s now or never. For the past week, I’ve been waking up with the crippling realization that my time here has been coming to an end. On the one hand, I feel like I just got here, and keep thinking to myself “oh, I should go check that out at some point,” not realizing that the time between now and “some point” has decreased dramatically. It didn’t really hit me until we had our “farewell” lunch with our Russian as a Second Language teachers last week that yes, I am actually going to be leaving, and I don’t know when I’ll be coming back.

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On the other hand, when I look back over the past four months, I am kind of amazed at how much I’ve adjusted to life here, and how things that seemed really scary or just generally incomprehensible to me in January are now normal parts of my life. Shouting at the bus driver to stop so that I don’t miss my stop? Sure! Giving people directions? I actually know where things in the city are located and how to get to them now! Explaining to my host mom that it’s warm out and I really don’t need to be wearing a sweater? Well… I didn’t say I was perfect. I still do find myself practicing conversations in my head before I have to talk to anyone new, and my on-the-spot Russian-speaking abilities are still somewhat lacking, but I do think I’ve gotten somewhat better.

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It’s a little bit sad that now that I finally no longer feel like a tourist, I’m packing up to leave. In retrospect, while it wouldn’t have worked out academically for me to spend an entire year here, I still wish I had another semester here. I feel like I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of life in the city. As of turning in my final paper last night, I am also now a senior in college, which is a terrifying prospect in its own right.I think everyone in my program here has the same vague fear about graduation… what exactly does one do with a Russian degree?

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Last night I checked off one of the final things on my to-do list and stayed out to watch the bridges come up (which happens at 1:25 am). Before that I wandered around the city, saying my last goodbyes. I got rid of all my 10 kopeck coins by throwing them at the Чижик-Пыжик statue, wandered along the canals and through my favorite parks, watched the sun set from one of the bridges, and had a last drink in my favorite cafe. Since all the buses stop running at 12, I had to walk home from watching the bridge come up (about 3 miles.) When I got home at 2:45, there was still light in the western sky:

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I’m sorry that I haven’t been updating this blog with any sort of frequency. I do plan to keep it going while I’m in Tbilisi this summer, recounting my adventures there and (hopefully) catching up on some of my stories from Russia. I wish I had some big, articulate thing to say to sum up my time here, but mostly I am just going to miss it a lot. Even the crazy bus drivers, even run-ins with angry babushki. While overall this semester was nothing like I expected, I honestly can’t think of a single thing I would change. До свидания Питер!

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Ooh, tapeworms! (In which I visit a lot of museums)

About two weeks ago, I realized that after I got back from our group trip to Moscow on May 4, I would have only one month left in Russia. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but I began coping with this realization by freaking out and frantically trying to cram in all the things that I still have on my “To Do/See” list in St. Petersburg. Accordingly, in about a week and a half I  visited the Ethnographic Museum (again,) the Arctic and Antarctic Museum, the Zoological Museum, Chizhik-Pyzhik (Petersburg’s smallest monument,) the Anna Akhmatova house museum, and the Hygiene Museum– all this before going to Moscow and spending another three days sight-seeing.

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I don’t know why it took me so long to visit the Botanic Gardens here, since I was so starved for the sight of green things for the first few months. They had the largest greenhouses I have ever seen, although I contented myself to peeking in through the windows, since it was so pleasant outside that I didn’t want to spend a single moment indoors. The tulips and daffodils were just coming into bloom in the more tended parts of the gardens, and I had to resist the urge to roll around in an unattended field on the outskirts of the garden that was covered in tiny purple and yellow flowers. Shockingly, I even got slightly sunburned, which my host mom continues to insist is impossible in St. Petersburg.

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Things took a turn for the weird at the Zoological Museum and the museum of Hygiene. Now, if you know anything about my from reading this blog, you’ve probably guessed that I can’t just pass up an opportunity to see pickled and otherwise taxidermied things. I was quite entertained by the variety of animals on display at the Zoological museum. They had everything from Peter the Great’s questionably taxidermied horse…

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…to a baby wooly mammoth…

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… an albino penguin…

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… and, of course, chickens, cats, dogs, and other household pets, which were strangely disconcerting:

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And, of course, tapeworms, and a whole second level full of insects!

I was not able to take photos at the Museum of Hygiene, but rest assured that there were even more tapeworms in jars, as well as various preserved diseased and healthy organs, and a distressingly exhaustive catalog of old-fashioned medical devices. On the bright side of things, I got the museum guide in Russian, and so my “organs and various diseases” vocabulary is coming along nicely!

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The Museum of Zoology and the Arctic and Antarctic Museum shared the common feature of the, in my opinion, excessive number of taxidermied baby penguins. I understand the desire to portray animal life in the Antarctic, but do you really need to kill DOZENS of baby penguins in order to do so? I’m surprised that there are any left in the wild at all at the rate these museums must have been appropriating them.

A highlight of the Arctic and Antarctic museum was in the exhibit on Antarctic expeditions on the top floor. In a display case near the center of the room was a set of surgical equipment with a photograph of a Russian man on an Antarctic expedition in the early 20th century performing surgery on his own stomach. While the caption assured that he was using some sort of regional anesthesia, there was no information as to why he was digging around in his own intestines in the first place. I also learned from a photograph of an international Antarctic research expedition that sled dogs are not given a specific nationality, but are considered “citizens of the world,” which I thought was lovely.

I should note that the ticket and bag-check women at the smaller museums like the Hygiene and Arctic museums were some of the nicest museum workers I have met in Russia. I got the impression that there are not a lot of foreign tourists coming to these places (most of the signs on/ literature about the exhibits is exclusively in Russian) and they seemed genuinely happy that I wanted to  I don’t know what exactly I learned about Petersburg or Russia from all of these museum visits, but I have checked a few more things off of my list going into my last month here.

I’ll try to post about our trip to Moscow later this week. До скорого!

Caution, Squirrels!

As I feared, I have been sorely neglecting this blog. In my defense, spring is finally (finally!) here and making it very difficult for me to do anything productive indoors. Exacerbating this is the fact that this is what the sky looked like at 10:30 pm last night:

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The official sunrise today was 6:22 am, and sunset was at 9:30pm, but of course it’s been staying relatively light even later than that. This makes it difficult for me to get work done, as I’d begun using the sunset as a sign that I should maybe get started on my homework.

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I’m restraining myself from sharing with you the approximately 1 million photos I have of buds on trees. I thought I would eventually get tired of seeing these little signs of spring, but several weeks in I am still just as, if not more, excited by every speck of green I see.

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(This is pretty typical.)

I realize that it would be much to difficult to try to fill you all in on every single thing that has happened in the past… month? Two months? So I’ve compiled a list of some of the things that I’ve been up to/ have happened to me. If you would like to hear more about any of these stories, let me know, and I’ll recount the whole thing for you:

  1. 48-hour “spring break” in Riga, Latvia, where I witnessed the closest thing I have ever seen to a miracle (to read about the amazing loss and discovery of my friends’ passports and visas,  check out my friend April’s blog post here!)
  2. Weekend trip to the town of Pskov and surrounding areas (highlights: the sketchiest nightlife of any town I have ever visited, drinking possibly sacred spring water, learning way more than I ever needed to about the personal life of our tour guide.)
  3. Said goodbye to Masha and Lena, who returned to Venezuela,  where Lena’s husband/Masha’s father currently lives. I never got to actually hold Masha, but by the time she left she recognized me and smiled whenever she saw me.
  4. Saw a dead body (This I don’t really want to talk more about, but it was something that happened and I thought I should include it. Don’t worry, it was not anyone I knew.)
  5. American-Russian Easter dinner extravaganza with board games!
  6. Attended midnight Easter Services at Smolny Cathedral (did not stay until the service ended at 4am, however.)
  7. Visited my friends Russian grandparents for Easter and was stuffed full of food.
  8. Performed a scene for theater class that devolved into my lying on the floor and being yelled at/ general screaming. Also was cast in the coveted role of “Sheep #3” in one of our class scenes.
  9. A conversation with my host mom about Ukraine/Crimea  that included the phrase “Well, if America had had to survive World War II the way Russia did, you wouldn’t be so ready to get involved in another war now.”
  10. For those of you who don’t already know, I accepted a summer internship in Tbilisi, Georgia, with a human rights organization there!
  11. And, goal achieved: Got mistaken for a local! By a Russian! (That is, until I started talking… whoops.)

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Let me know if there’s anything else about my time here that you’d like me to talk about!

A Hugo of Our Time

Well, now that he is safely back in the U.S. after his travels in Russia, Sweden, and Denmark, I should probably write about the fact that my dad came to visit me for a week! It was a lot of fun having him here and was a great incentive to go to all the museums and other important Petersburg sites that I hadn’t quite managed to get to yet. Plus, because my dad doesn’t speak any Russian at all, there was, for a whole week, at least one person in the country impressed with my Russian. 

We had to work around my class schedule, and we had some communication difficulties (he could call me, but I couldn’t call him back) but we still managed to fit in a number of sightseeing excursions, and some great meals. 

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We visited the Yusopov palace, which we both wanted to visit because we knew of it as the place where Rasputin’s was possibly poisoned and shot. Unfortunately, the tour of the basement where the (eventually successful) murder occurred was only offered in Russian, so we contented ourselves with touring the upper two floors of the palace, which were beautiful. Highlights included: a library with a secret room where some letters of Pushkin’s were discovered in the 1920’s, a live choral performance in the ballroom (which boasted three chandeliers AND a disco ball,) and the “home theater” which “only” seated 180-people for small theater, ballet, and opera performances. We considered the possibility of creating a similar audio-guide for tours of our house (“and here, in the “Television Room” (so named for the early 21st century television that is the room’s focal point,) authentically preserved cat hairs on the sofa complement the leopard-print blankets covering the nearby chairs.”) 

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There return of the terrifying baby statues!

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And I made a new friend! 

Before our visit I had not realized how close the Yusopov palace was to my college (which is also a former palace, belonging to Catherine the Great’s illegitimate son) so my dad also got a tour of that. I realized I haven’t posted any photos of the school on this blog yet, so here you go! It really is quite beautiful. Image 

We took advantage of the sun and wandered along the Neva, as I tried to remember the names of various important sites. I think I would make a pretty good tour guide as long as members of my tour group don’t mind my taking some creative license with historical accuracy and enjoy blow-by-blow accounts of Russian novels. 

One of our favorite meals came Saturday night, when we ate at a cat-themed Georgian cafe. (Don’t tell our cats at home that they’re facing some competition. And yes, in case you’re wondering, the wall behind us was glittery, and no, I have no idea why.) 

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On Sunday we adventured out on a rainy Dostoevsky-themed tour of Petersburg, but I think I’ll save that story for another blog post. I’ll leave you with this photo my dad took of a license plate he saw back in California: a good omen for his trip, don’t you think? 

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(Although I have to admit, I’m a little jealous that this vanity-plate option has already been taken.) 

 

 

 

Ruminations on a hallway

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I keep feeling like I should make a post about the situation in the Ukraine/Crimea, but every time I sit down to write one I get overwhelmed and end up down a rabbit hole of opinion pieces, and people throwing around phrases like “Cold War Two!” “World War Three!” with something like glee, and it just becomes too much. I’ll try to post about it later, once I can better sort out my thoughts. For now, rest assured that I am not in any kind of danger, just going to class every day and struggling to keep up with my readings. (If anyone is interested, my friend here Sean wrote what I thought was a great blog post about watching the events in the Ukraine and Crimea unfold from St. Petersburg, which you can read here.) One interesting comment I heard about the situation recently came from our tour-guide at the Dostoevsky museum today: “For Russia, losing the Crimea was like losing a leg!” she explained to us.

On a lighter note, I thought it was about time I informed the world about the magical hallway outside of my host family’s apartment. As you may or may not know, in Russian homes you take of your shoes and put on slippers/sandals (тапочки) before entering the home. My host family shares the hall outside their apartment with the two neighboring apartments, and this is the area in which you take off your shoes before entering the house. This hallway is a complete and utter mystery to me. It seems like every time I come home, something is different. Sometimes there are cupboards, and bookshelves, but then suddenly one day there weren’t. They reappeared a few days later. For a while there were two large oil paintings hung in place of one of the cupboards, and then these too disappeared. Sometimes there are shelves with our shoes and slippers in the hallway, but then sometimes those get relocated into the apartment itself. Sometimes there is a stool to sit on while taking off/putting on one’s shoes, but sometimes this also disappears, or moves around to the other apartments. Occasionally rugs are present outside the doors, but there is no guarantee. Sometimes they are replaced by hand-towels. One day I got home and the entire floor of the hallway was gone, and there was just bare concrete. The next day I got home and a new wood-like floor mat was in its place. I’m sure there’s an entirely logical explanation for all of this (construction? Space disputes with the neighbors? A love of interior decoration) but I haven’t asked Larisa, because I kind of enjoy the mystery of not knowing.

In other news, my dad arrived in St. Petersburg on Thursday for a week-long visit, so look out for some posts about our adventures here together!

The day I have been waiting for since I was 13

So today our group had an excursion to the Yelagin Palace, which was the summer palace of Tsar Alexander I’s mother, Maria Fyodorovna. The palace was located in some gardens which I am sure are very pretty in the summer, and was originally constructed in 1822, but was destroyed during WWII. It has since been rebuilt (obviously.)
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While the palace itself was nice enough, the highlight of our excursion there was the ballroom-dancing class we had. And when I say ballroom-dancing class, I really mean and excuse for us to dress up in fancy clothes and hoopskirts and parade around for 45 minutes in the ballroom.
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Yes, technically we learned some basic dance steps, and all the girls got a little out of breath as we danced around each of the guys in the group as they knelt in a circle during a very basic mazurka. And people touring the palace keep wandering through the ballroom, gawking and trying to stay out of our way was we galloped around in circles. But the dancing was by no means difficult, just fun.
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Overall, I would give this an excursion a 10/10, absolutely would do it again. Historically accurate? Eh… not so much. Fun? Oh yes!
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(Also, for those of you keeping track at home: I am currently stalled on War and Peace, on page 270/1074. Will getting to pretend that I’m at a ball from the book inspire me to read more? We’ll see.)