Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Well thats it! I finally made it home and settled back in. The flight back was kind of crazy. After a 10 hour flight from Moscow to New York, I was told that my 7PM connection flight to DC had been cancelled. Considering that I am pretty new to traveling abroad, this was TERRIBLE news. Luckily, there was an employee who was kind enough to help direct me to the proper terminal and kiosk. Unfortunately, the next flight available was the next day at 7PM. This meant that I would probably have to stay in the airport for the evening because I did not have a cell phone and the wireless internet in JFK didn't work. I found some change and was able to call home and talk to my dad. He managed to  make some phone calls for me, finding a hotel and making a flight change to an earlier connection at 3:30PM. He obviously is some sort of miracle worker and having a bed made the time in New York significantly better.

The next day, the flight to DC went smoothly and I met my father at the airport and drove the rest of the way home.

In conclusion, this trip has been incredible. I've seen things that few people on the continent will ever be able to see. I've met people that I never would have otherwise. I've had my eyes opened to some profound cultural insights and differences. I also have caught the international travel bug. Hopefully, I will have the opportunity to see many other places, maybe in Russia again but maybe elsewhere on the globe. I hope you have enjoyed my blog. I have certainly enjoyed writing it and thank you for showing interest!


Thursday, July 12, 2012

On Tuesday, we took another trip to the Kremlin to see a few of the sights we didn't manage the first time. Our main goal was to make it into the Armory of the Kremlin which is an incredible collection of Tsarist weaponry, clothing and other items. Many of the things we viewed had incredible levels of craftsmanship and detail. The book bindings were especially incredible as it was very common to see golden books that were covered in precious stones. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take pictures inside of the building so I won't have any to show. One thing that was pretty surprising though was how many of the exhibitions were from other countries. Much of the art from the time of Peter the Great was foreign because of his huge interest in Europe and many German, French and English diplomats offered these expensive gifts to the Tsar. It was pretty incredible to see how ornate the weaponry was and I was amazed at the condition of the pieces. It was as if they had been completed only days ago and I assume this is because the collection has been very fluid and and pieces are rarely moved.

Yesterday, we took a trip to Georgian restaurant in the center of Moscow which was fantastic. I tried the Манты (Manti) which is similar to a meat filled dumpling. It was served with sour cream and it really was delicious.

Today we had our last day of class and later on we will be visiting the main МГУ campus which should be very cool. The main building is one of the Stalinist Seven Sisters which were a set of seven soviet government buildings that are all designed in a similar fashion.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Well, it has been a while since I posted here so this may wind up being pretty long...

Last Friday, we took a trip to Новодевнчий Монастырь (Novodevichy Convent) which is a former womens' monastery featuring a great deal of old Russian religious architecture. It had been built originally in the 16th century to commemorate the victory at Smolensk but was altered over the course of Russian history. During the Napoleonic War in the early 1800s, Napoleon claimed that he would not leave the city until this convent was destroyed. After the French army attempted to burn the structure, it was saved by nuns who extinguished the flames. On the other side of the walls is a famous cemetery where many famous Russians have been buried. For example, we were able to view the graves of Boris Yeltsin, the wife of Mikhail Gorbachev and Nikita Khrushchev (who happens to be the only Soviet premier not buried at the Kremlin). Very interesting stuff.

Since then, (in short) a lot of stuff has happened. It really has all been incredible and I apologize for not keeping up to date. Here is a short list of some of the things that we did over the week:

- Took a tour of St. Basil's Cathedral on the Red Square.
- Visited a Russian military museum where the wreckage from the infamous "U2 Incident" is stored.
- Viewed an incredible panorama at a museum dedicated to the Napoleonic Wars.
- Entered the walls of the Kremlin to see the many cathedrals, as well as both the Tsar Cannon and Tsar Bell.
- Walked through a park dedicated to each of the states of the former Soviet Union.

Finally, this past weekend was a hectic dash to see as much of St. Petersburg as is possible within two days. Even with the wind at your back, it is impossible to see outside of a few of the main tourist sights such as the Hermitage and Peterhoff. Undeterred, we tried our best and, in my opinion, did pretty well.

On Friday, we hopped on the overnight train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. The train departed at midnight and arrived at Moscow Station at 8:15 AM. Sleep was sporadic but certainly possible. Immediately after getting off of the train, we stopped at a coffee shop and left for our morning bus tour. The double decker bus made for some great photo opportunities around the downtown area and along the Neva River (which happens to be the 3rd largest river in Europe by volume of water). Afterwards, we walked the streets for a while, grabbed some lunch and then checked into our hotel. With only about an hour to rest, we left for the famous Hermitage Museum in the Tsarist Winter Palace. In terms of collection size, the Hermitage is second only to the Louvre. I was told that if I were to spend 30 seconds looking at each work of art, it would take me 7 years to view everything. Obviously, we fell pretty far short of the entire collection in our four hours. 

We returned to the hotel, took a nap and went back out to grab some dinner. Afterward, we headed to the Neva to see the bridge raising which is a rather large event on Saturday nights. The parks were crowded and the walls surrounding the river even more so. The after a number of fireworks displays, the bridge finally raised at 1:30 AM. Strangely enough, this was only 30 minutes after the sun set due to the "White Nights" St. Petersburg enjoys around the summer solstice which was only a few weeks ago. Sunrise was only a few hours later around 3:30 AM.

The next day, we started around 11 AM and went straight to the hydrofoil. This watercraft took us into the Gulf of Finland and to Peterhoff, which is the world renowned palace of Peter the Great. this was an incredible experience and made for some fantastic photos of golden statues and fountains. The estate is massive and took quite a while to transverse. We returned to the mainland for dinner and an evening canal tour by boat. Afterwards, we boarded the 10 PM overnight train, arriving in Moscow at 5:30 AM with just enough time to make it to class at 8 AM. As you can see, it has been a whirlwind weekend but certainly worth every exhausting minute.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

On Tuesday, we went to the Государственная Третьяковская Галерея (State Tretyakovskaya Gallery) which is one of the most highly regarded collections of Russian artwork in the world. The paintings were incredible and included dozens of artists, spanning over centuries. Many of the famous Russian paintings that may come to mind (such as Ivan and His Son) are housed in this gallery. We wandered through the building for 4 hours and still did not come close to seeing it all. Pictures were technically not allowed but many people were taking advantage of the lack of security to snap a few. I did take a couple but they don't really look that great so I wound up buying a book that showcased many of the famous works. Should be a good souvenir to bring home!

Yesterday we had the day off until class at 1 so we took the opportunity to sleep in a bit. That evening, we went to a small cafe near the dorm  which was pretty good. We had thought that it would have some Russian food (considering we were in Moscow...) but it was apparently American themed so all we ordered were overpriced cheeseburgers. Definitely a disappointment. Afterwards, we went to a cigar shop on the other side of town to see what the selection was like. The cigars were significantly more expensive than in the states and most of them were the exact same manufacturers. There were, however, a number of true Cuban cigars since they are legal for purchase here, unlike in the US. We did not buy anything simply because they were so expensive but it was interesting to look.

We took the metro back to Парк Културы and went into the huge viewing area for the EuroCup match (Portugal-Spain). They had a massive screen set up and huge speakers which was pretty great. Tons of people were there and it was a great place to sit and watch. We met a few Russians who spoke a little English and we could use our small Russian knowledge to fill in the gaps. We left just after the second half started because we had a long metro ride back and it was getting close to 1AM. All in all, it was a great time and we'll be back there tonight for the Germany game!

Monday, June 25, 2012

On Saturday we took the metro across the city to see a large set of vendors who sold souvenirs. The cost was just 10 roubles to get in and we were able to see quite a wide variety of Russian and Soviet memorabilia. It ranged from shirts and figurines to military surplus and Soviet propaganda posters. While I did not buy anything yet, we plan on returning and picking something out before we leave. Before we left we had a lunch of beef kabob which was fantastic. Here are some pictures of the place:

On Sunday, we saw an incredible display of Russian folk dancing at Гостиная Космос (Cosmos Hotel). The hotel was impressive by itself but the performance was even more so. The acts ranged from opera style singing to the stereotypical Russian dancing but with obviously incredible skill. The show lasted for about 2 hours and I was not allowed to take pictures which was rather unfortunate. Outside the building, however, was a rather large monument to the Soviet Союз (Soyez) space program which was incredible and resulted in some beautiful photographs. We walked around a nearby park but things were shutting down as it was rather late so we left soon afterwards. One thing that I found interesting was that a number of people had parked expensive cars in the parking lot which were being admired by people walking by. One of the most popular cars was a new Chevy Camaro even next to Benzs and Beamers which just goes to show how rare they are over here.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Today and yesterday were used for a few museum visits around the city. The first was the small Moscow residence of Виктор Михайлович Васнецов (Victor Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov) who was a late 19th century and 20th century artist. He was outrageously prolific and his work spanned across numerous mediums including woodcarving, architecture and painting. He is particularly known for his depictions of medieval era Russian fairytales and his home, while modestly sized for someone of his popularity, is designed in the style of such fantastical buildings. The museum was small and showcased his living arrangements along with a number of his works. I was unable to take any photographs inside but I did take a few of the exterior. 

Today we went to Царицыно (Tsaritsyno) which was formerly the Moscow estate of Catherine II in the 18th century. Catherine II had ordered the palace on the location built by architect Василий Иванович Баженов (Vasili Ivanovich Bazhenov) in 1776 but when it did not meet her expectations in 1785, she had it partially torn down and partially finished by Матвей Федорович Казаков (Matvey Fyodorovich Kazakov) in 1797. Catherine II still did not approve of the design and halted construction, never actually residing in the location. The building has a very strong Gothic style which makes it unique for Russia which had few examples of this kind of architecture. It is now a park and is pretty incredible to look at. The buildings are awesome and I took plenty of pictures. Only a few of them are from inside the museum which is full of art from all different regions and time periods of Russia. Certainly a great place to visit!