OK, so I realize it's been at least 3 weeks or so since I've posted, and of course it is my fault, BUT my internet was being spotty in the usual place and I had a hard time finding a new one. (Internet is harder to find here than hookers) Also, the head of the theatre had been promising us wireless in the dorms for three weeks, so I was waiting until we got it to post and now success! We took a lot of trips, so I'm going to simply describe those first, as it is midnight, and tomorrow I will point out a few things that are cultural differences. Now that we have wireless, I plan to start blogging more often, as this is also a journal for me, so I apologize for the long break and hope to blog a little more hardcore. So as Monty Python would say, "GET ON WITH IT"
1) NIZHNY NOVGOROD: I have been to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Nizhny and I have to say that by far I liked Nizhny the best. I really thought it was the prettiest, especially landscape wise. St. Petersburg was gorgeous, but Nizhny had water AND a Kremlin AND a hill. Also, I stayed with the Croxton's from home, and they were beyond nice to me so I must take time to sincerely thank them here. To describe it a little bit for you, the way one Russian told me was that there is basically two parts to the city: the part on the top of the hill and the part on the bottom. I only had about a day, so we only really hit two major parts, both on the top part of the city. The first was a long stone boulevard, which Dr. Croxton told me they had just finished renovating in about a day. There were all these shops and cafes down the boulevard, along with statues placed everywhere, and it was really quite pretty. Then we got to the end of the boulevard and were greeted by the kremlin. I THINK that kremlin in Russian means fortress though, because many cities in Russia have "kremlins", at least that's what I was told. Anyway, it was a fortress, and what you don't realize from the boulevard is that the kremlin is on the top of the hill, so you're walking through it (all kremlins have other buildings and things inside them) and all of a sudden on the other end there's a bird's eye view of the Volga river, and a giant hill leading down to the waterside. There were some great things inside the wall, a nice cathedral, a monument to The Great Patriotic War (AKA World War 2), and a bunch of model tanks and mortars, that I guess acts as kind of a playground for kids. After this, the Croxtons took me out for dinner, where I got a pork chop in honey mustard sauce with french fries. Pork is a lot cheaper/better/easier to get here than beef, so let it be known that I will be eating the biggest steak I can find wen I arrive back in America. All in all possibly my favorite weekend of the whole trip so far.
2) ST. PETERSBURG: Apparently, people call St. Petersburg the "Venice of the North" and for good reason. There is a large canal system that runs through the whole city, along with a giant river (I don't remember which one) that it is right on. There are two islands that make up St. Petersburg too, Hare Island and another (again, no names check the hyperlink) but the bridges leading to those islands retract at 2 AM, so don't get stuck! When I say Nizhny is prettier, I know that there would be a lot of argument to that from people who went to St. Petersburg. The best way I can prove that is because I took a TON of pictures, and I still don't think that they truly catch what the city looks like. When you are looking down the giant river, there are buildings lining both sides as far as the eye can see, and the rule was that no buildings could be higher than the palace (with the exception of St. Iaasac's Cathedral) so everything is at one height. (4 stories) The color of the city is yellow too I guess, as most of the buildings are yellow or yellowish in color. Our tour guide gave us a few reasons (although she wasn't clear as to whether or not they were DEFINITE reasons or just myths) one of which was that yellow is the color people here associate with being crazy, and the other was to make the city look brighter in the Spring and Summer months. There is also a "kremlin" here, that was very beautiful, and held within it a beautiful church and a torture museum, which we wanted to go to but had no time for. Highlights of the trip were certainly the Mariinsky (not a typo) Theatre, and Katherine's Palace on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. We saw an excellent production of Swan Lake (2nd time I have seen it in Russia) and MAN can Russians dance ballet. The grace and control of some of those dancers was excellent. Our teachers actually said that the Mariinsky is actually considered the top theatre in Russia, which makes sense when you also hear people say that St. Petersburg is also the arts capital in Russia. On the arts vein, I also went to the Hermitage, which is arguably (apparently) the 2nd/best art museum in the world. It was HUGE. There were like 10 separate floors/wings that all had hundreds of paintings. Our tour guide said if you spent 1 minute at each painting in the Hermitage it would take you 7 years to get through the whole thing. I spent about 4 hours in the place, and my body went into art overload. It's staggering how much art is in that building, not to mention that it used to be a palace, so the building itself has gorgeous rooms. (Complete with a golden ballroom and a throneroom) However, the Hermitage doesn't even come CLOSE to Katherine's Palace, which is by far the most beautiful place I've been in my life, and I've been to Shea AND Yankee Stadium. The palace, first of all, is HUGE/GIGANTIC/ENORMOUS, and then you back and find out there's 250 acres of land and a man-made pond behind it. Oh, and on the 250 acres, every ruler has added a few things of their own, so it's almost like a treasure hunt for buildings and monuments and bridges. Everything was peaceful and gorgeous all at the same time. Simply breathtaking. There were two churches that were gorgeous too, St. Iaasac's Cathedral and Spiltblood Cathedral. St. Iaasac's was the tallest building easily, with a giant gold dome (the 3rd largest gold dome in the world) and these giant pillars. Spiltblood is in the same fashion as St. Basil's Cathedral here in Moscow, but it's almost more beautiful in my opinion. (I will post pictures next time) We also went to Hare Island and saw where St. Petersburg started (with their kremlin) and then sprawled out of, so it was the oldest part of the city, which is a 350 year old city. We rather breezed through it though, since it was really just a bathroom stop on the bus tour, but there was another beautiful church with a giant spire that had a gold dome on the top, and a very odd statue of Peter the Great. I rubbed his left hand, so I'm supposed to come into money, but I didn't know I was supposed to also rub his right hand for good luck, and as it was described to me luck brings money and money brings luck, so I will probably end up getting neither. Also, for those of you who care, I definitely spent a healthy amount of time getting associated with Russian vodka, which still, to me, tastes like vodka. I'll bring a bottle back and we'll see.
Sorry, I had hoped to post more, but I ran out of time. More tomorrow, including pictures!