До Свидания Питер!

I come home today!!! Very excited! Last night we went out for dinner and drinks, it was very sad. It was Summer Solstice last night so it hardly got dark at all. Walking along Nevskii for the las time was emotional, I hope I can come back soon.

 

 

 

 

 

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Алые Парусa

…means “Scarlet Sails”. Yesterday was the Алые Парусa festival for graduates. The centre of the city is closed to cars and all transport is shut down so people can wander around freely. The graduates can go to a concert in Palace Square (by the Hermitage) and after the concert there are fireworks, light shows and such on the river. It was amazing.

12:00 in St Petersburg!

We got the metro to Nevskii (whisch was rammed!) and started to make our way through the crowds to the embankment. On our travels we noticed that pretty much every single person was very drunk. There were bottles and cans everywhere and HUGE queues to the shops. We went into one shop to get a drink and the shelves were empty apart from a few potatoes and some washing powder. Every shop in the entire city had been cleared of alcohol and said alcohol was evident in the staggering people, glass on the floor and the odd pile of sick. All in all a beautiful picture. The atmosphere was amazing though, I don’t think we will ever again be part of such a big crowd of people who are all so happy!

We joined in the sea of people and went to the embankment an hour early to try to get a good spot. The festivities started at 1:40 because by then it is pretty much as dark as it gets in “white” nights. First the bridges went up and there were some fireworks and the orchestra was playing. Then these ships came along the river and some fireworks were set off from those as well.

Then there was a light show and fireworks from the bridges.Then the Scarlet Ship came past!

The best graduation party ever I say! Technically we are graduates from St Petersburg State University as our last lesson was Thursday, so we felt the celebrations were for us too.

Us outside Smolny on our last day of university

After the fireworks we walked along Nevskii and took in the atmosphere. We bought a Russian flag to hang up in our house next year! We saw some graduates from the Army academy so we asked to have a photo with them!

We talked to them for a little bit and got the usual “Why on earth are you in Russia when everyone wants to go to England?”. They wished us well anyway but asked us not to remember Russia as a country of alcoholics. Which is exactly what it felt like last night…

 

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Novgorod

Novgorod means “new town”, ironically seeing as it is the oldest town in Russia (and, incidentally, twinned with Watford). On Monday we went there for the day, getting the 8am train (ugh). We got to the train station and it turned out that you cannot buy tickets until 8am, handy. We queued for about 15 minutes and then when we got the cashier they told us we were at the wrong counter…classic Russian beaurocracy so we had to run to another place and got on the train just in time!

We heard this very over the top music when we were waiting to buy tickets and apparently everytime a train comes in from Moscow they play celebratory music!

The train was the most uncomfortable form of transport I have ever been on. The seats (well…benches) were made of plastic and made to fit…as many people as possible on! There were mosquitos on the train which didn’t help either…

When we arrived we decided to buy tickets for the return journey in case it was too busy, but again experienced some Russian beurocracy and (even though they had just had a break) the ticket offices were closed for “technical reasons” so we couldn’t buy tickets.

First we went to the Kremlin which is apparently the main reason to go to Novgorod…and it was closed. We tried to get in by saying we had come all the way from England to see it. It didn’t work. We just got laughed at.

We then went accross the river where there are a ridiculous amount of churches. I feel like I have spent half of my year abroad taking photos of/in Russian churches.

It must have been day of the city or something as there were stages and places to eat set up all along the river. We watched some performances: first some women singing folk tales, then some childrens performances and then some cossack dancing which was impressive! It’s nice they have so many traditions that people are still a part of.

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Павловск и Царское Цело

This Sunday was “Day of Russia”. What is this you ask? Nothing. It used to be “Independence Day” but then the government cottoned on to the fact the need to have become independent from something so they had to change the name. There are lots of holidays like this in Russia because the Soviet Government wanted to give people something to celebrate to nurture patriotism and prevent them from celebrating religious holidays. Russians don’t seem to care about this holiday, it wasn’t really celebrated in any way.

Also this weekend there were a lot of important people in St Petersburg for an economic conference. The newspapers informed everyone that due to security people’s phone calls will be listened in on. Brilliant, nice to know. Also all these important people have sirens on their cars so they can get places quicker, this is apparently normal it is possible to book a taxi with a siren so you are ensured to get where ever it is that is so important quick enough! And it will only set you back about £50. However, the government are thinking of making a law that says only emergency vehicles can have sirens and exceed the speed limit, what an idea!

Anyway, due to the wonderful weather this weekend we decided to take a trip to Pavlovsk and Tsarskoe Selo.

Pavlovsk is the name of a small town about 40 minutes from St Petersburg city centre, where there is a palace, “Pauls palace/Павловский дворец” (They translate the name Pavlosk as Paul) and general countryside. We took the metro and then the marshurutka- a wonderful form of Russian transport which is a taxi that has a route like a bus, i.e a rickety old mini-bus run privately so they can charge you anything (but it was still about 50p for a 40 minute journey!). The mini-bus went through the town of Pushkin (where Tsarskoe Selo is) which is a pretty typical, run down looking Russian town, and a nice drunk  with no teeth got on and decided to spend the whole journey talking to our friends cousin who knew no Russian and was pretty confused by the whole situation. It was entertaining so we didn’t interrupt!

Anyway, we got to Pavlovsk after a very bumpy ride, had some Russian cuisine from a street stall (“pies” with potato and mystery meat in, shoved in the microwave gourmet) and went into the palace gardens. The gardens turned out to be not so much gardens as a huge forest.

Without any maps or signposts available it took quite a while to find the actual palace and other monuments we were meant to see, but we found a few eventually.

On our adventures we got bitten to death by mosquito’s they are just everywhere, saw some red squirrels, saw people swimming in the lakes (some lakes more like ponds..) and had to use toilets which you stand on (apparently this is the norm, judging my foot marks on public toilets..). A pretty Russian experience.

We then got an actual bus to Tsarskoe Selo. I have already been three times but it was nice to see it in summer with all the flowers and gardens.

Seeing as it was a holiday weekend it was busy, so we didn’t get to go inside but we had fun sitting in the sun and watching all the Russian photo poses and watching the brides have their photo’s done. It is a Russian tradition to, after the wedding, travel around your home town taking photos in all of the important places. A few people realized that they could climb up onto these huge black statues of naked men in order to have photo’s, there were crowds of people underneath waiting to take the pictures, or just watching. One bride decided to climb up and give everyone a good look up her dress while she posed an old man next to us could hardly contain himself and was grinning and taking photos!

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Alexander Nevskii Lavra

This week we went to Alexander Nevskii Lavra (which is the highest form of monastry in the Russian Orthodox Church). Considering how important the monastry is it isn’t that impessive, the best bit was the “monks bread” which the monks bake and sell. The queue was huge, I think the old babs think it has healing powers.

There are a lot of famous people buried in the walls of the monastry. We saw the graves of Dostoevsy, Chaikovsky and Tolstoy.

After the Lavra we had a slightly less cultural experience. We went in search of a park to sit in to enjoy the sun (yep…still 27 degrees here!). We found one on the map but when we got there it was less of a park and more barren wasteland with some swings. benches and pigeons, complete with old man in pants rubbing sunflower oil into himself. Things seem to work on the principle “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, meaning whats the point making anything pretty when there are no tourists to see it. The further away from the very centre you get the less effort seems to be put into making anything aesthetically pleasing- everything is for function. I think this is a general principle here. Russians homes are not decorated nicely, nothing matches and there are no ornaments or anything purely to make the place attrative or fashionable. If you are having guests you don’t tidy your house to appear house-proud, you make them an amazing meal and be a good hostess so they are impressed with you rather than your home. Makes sense.

 

We got a bit lost and found this very “Russian” church though:

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A Cultural Weekend

This weekend has been packed with touristy type things as we have just realised we only have two weeks left to see everything! Sunday we went to the museum of the blockade of Leningrad. During WW2 the whole city was blockaded by the German and Finnish armies for 90 days and the people could get no food, clothes or any recourses and there was no way out (the reason some people survived was one winter lake Ladaga froze and the Russian army sent cars over with provisions). Our teacher was telling us about his grandad who survived the blockade and all the adults in their building gave all their food to the children (each person was allowed 125g of bread a day!) and everyone survived but in the next building all families kept to themselves and all the children died. Thousands of people died a week, especially in the winter as the second winter was the coldest recorded!

When we got to the museum a little old lady started telling us (well…she chose just to talk to Rory, he was her favorite and us girls wont understand talk of war) about the blockade and her experience and where was bombed and how people escaped, it was really interesting but very sad! A lot of people survived somehow and on victory day they joined in the parade along Nevskii and everyone cheered them and gave them flowers, it’s amazing how people actually know about their own history and are so involved in it.

We looked around the museum and at the end there was a display of weapons and old metal army helmets…all rusting and deteriorating and all, apparently, available for trying on/playing with! Only in Russia…We tried on the army helmets and had a look at the weapons, was odd to be holding something someone had probably died with…

Rory and a machine gun

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now it is sunny and warm and white nights are in full swing the city is so much busier. The main change is the level of drunks, if possible it has in fact grown. On the bus the other day the man next to me (Sergei was his name apparently) asked me if I had a bottle opener and then proceeded to open a bottle of beer with his teeth and sit there getting drunk on the bus. No one even seemed to notice.

It gets dark here about half 12 now and light at 3. It is so hard to sleep! I am also being bitten to death by mosquito’s, somehow they always make their way into my room. We only have two weeks left here though so I am hanging in there but pretty exhausted from so little sleep and so much work (no I still haven’t finished my project…)

Last night my hoz (Zoya) informed me she is going away for a month..in the morning! I didn’t really know what to say, we had a little goodbye and she said it was lovely having me and she enjoyed talking to me…then she disappeared! Bit of a sudden goodbye! I am sad she is leaving, she talks to me a lot which is good for my language and she always keeps me company while I’m cooking. I’m sure Slava and Lidia will miss her too as neither of them can cook…this will be interesting!

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Петергоф/Peterhof

This is Peter’s Palace, it’s about an hour from the city centre, on the gulf of Finland. The palace had hundreds of fountains, enormous gardens and many gold statues of naked men.

This river goes all the way from the palace out to sea and where it meets the palace the statues open up so the boat can drive under the palace, pretty good for the 18th century!

We spent the day wandering round the gardens, getting wet by the hidden fountains (there are about 8 and they are there to “suprise” you while you stroll around. You can hear the screams), eating ice cream, sitting on the beach and watching the Russians pose on fountains, in flowerbeds…anywhere.

On the beach

Jen doing a Russian pose

All in all it was a lovely day out and so warm! Russia is finally getting the idea that it is in fact Summer and should therefore be warm. Tommorow it’s meant to be 32 degrees!

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