I’ve had two more weeks, and Russia is still a crazy and amazing whirlwind. We’re seeing so much more of the city, both through program excursions and on our own, and it’s all so overwhelming and fascinating that it’s almost too much to take in and write about. But I’m going to make an attempt.
Back on June 30th, we got out of the city to visit Catherine’s Palace at Pushkin, a town close to St. Petersburg. It was absolutely gorgeous! Although most of the palace was destroyed by the Nazis during World War II, it has been restored to what it would have looked like during the reign of Czarina Elizabeth, who made major changes to the palace. The ceilings were lined with gold, there were ceramic stoves in almost every room, and, yes, even the Amber Room was restored to what it would have looked like, even though the original panels are lost. It was amazing to see how much they could recreate from so little. We spent the afternoon wandering the gardens of the palace. After over two hours, I think we saw less than half of what was there, but what we did see was unbelievable. Around every corner was a new statue, a new path, or a new building to explore.
Two days later, we went to a conversation exchange with Russian students, which I had been pretty nervous about. Most of the students spoke English very well, so they were able to help me if I stumbled. It was nice to hear compliments and encouraging words from them, and I even became friends with a few Russian students! The next night, some of us in the group broke away to see the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic perform works by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. It was the last concert of their season, and they did not disappoint. The music was absolutely beautiful!
The following Saturday, we had another excursion to a palace outside the city- Peterhof. Although we were unable to go inside the palace during this tour, I have to say that this was my favorite out of the two. The gardens were filled with beautiful fountains, and even “trick fountains” that only start when you step in a certain place. (Yes, I did go in one, and yes, I did get caught in the spray.) The palace is also right on the Gulf of Finland, which was absolutely gorgeous to see. I would gladly go back there if I had the chance!
On Wednesday, we once again dressed up as the entire group went to the ballet, Giselle. There wasn’t exactly a lot of plot, but the dancing was amazing. We had seats in the front row of one of the balconies, so we could see everything that was happening, and the performance was absolutely beautiful. During intermission, I also tried caviar for the first time! I had no idea what to expect, but I wasn’t a huge fan of it. Then again, I’m not a fish person, so don’t judge based on my opinion.
As for daily life, things are getting a bit easier. I’ve picked up the lingo to use at restaurants and stores. Sometimes I’m still given an English menu without having to say anything, but I’ve had many other successful interactions to make up for it! The work load in classes is starting to pick up, but I’ve been taking the metro to the center of the city whenever I can. Just on Tuesday, my friends and I went to a garden by the Church on Spilled Blood to watch the boats on the Neva River and get some ice cream. There is so much to see here, and so much more that I need to do. But before I have more adventures in St. Petersburg, we’re going on a weekend trip to Moscow. You can read about that in my next post!