I have been and gone from Russia, and now I finally feel comfortable saying that nothing bad happened. If anything, it is the best week I have spent since I have been in Europe. I got to see about half of what I wanted to see, and I somehow managed to lose four kilos, which I think means I am winning.
Language-wise, I could have done better. I was pretty good at basic interaction, as long as people were very forgiving about my declension. Everyone I talked to was super helpful, and they seemed to be less insulted by my wanton butchery of their language than other places I have been (I am looking at you, France). I only got totally derailed twice, once in the grocery store when the cashier had a question about a pear and I responded with “atsiprašau, aš nesuprantu rusiškai” and once in a fast food blynai place when the guy at the counter was asking questions so fast that I could only respond with a stunned silence and one of the other customers was forced to come to my rescue.
I saw some of the most beautiful spots in the city, I think, although I am sure that a person with more St. Petersburg experience could contradict me on that. Our hostel was right across the street from the Admiralty, so I got to fall asleep each night looking at it and I had a genuine literary nerd moment when I sat in the window and read “The Bronze Horseman”. There were others, including actually seeing the Bronze Horseman, going to the jail that Dostoyevsky was kept in (although I didn’t go in), seeing Nabokov’s childhood home, and taking a picture of one of the houses from War and Peace. Unfortunately, I missed the many house museums to the literary greats because there is only so much nerdiness that you can force onto another person, and I pretty much punched that ticket by insisting that we go to at least one museum per day.
Our first day in St. Petersburg, I made straight for the Hermitage as soon as I had traded my dollars for roubles. The line was short, admission was free, and I got to see an exhibit of Rembrandt and his students and all of the rooms dedicated to Russian Culture. We also somehow ended up in the Flemish and Netherlandish (there is a better word for this I am sure, but I will stick with theirs because I can’t think of it at the moment). The rooms that they had done up with the furniture of the Tsars were really interesting; they were less crazy-opulent than the ones at the Louvre, but more interesting for it. They also had a section filled with Peter I’s tools that made me really wish I had paid the money for a photo pass because my father would have loved it more than I did, and I loved it a lot. I will admit that I hadn’t really thought much about Flemish art before I entered the exhibit, and I found it really interesting. That first day was a really nice contrast to my time at the museums in France because it was less “holy shit, I am seeing a masterpiece that I have seen in books a thousand times” and more “wow, I never knew about that”. Also, the inlay work on the floors in the palace is amazing! I spent more of my time just looking down at them than I should probably admit, since I was in an art museum.
Next, we did a mini walking tour of the old town, where I found lots of things to take pictures of. The Kazan Cathedral is this run down masterpiece, and all the more beautiful because of it. I think they are doing renovation on the building, and I sort of hope that they don’t get far with it because I think it looks really stunning the way it is. It is pretty much overshadowed by the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood, which is this insane onion-domed church that looks like it belongs in a video game from certain angles. I don’t know how to do it justice with words, but it got the same amount of camera time that the Eiffel Tower did, which is saying something.
I will continue with the play by play in a new post tomorrow, as I am still trying to put into words the experience that was the Kunstkamera.