Thursday, April 19, 2012

Санкт-Петербург, Россия (Saint Petersburg, Russia)

Me in front of this cool, famous church
I recently went on a Rotary organized trip to my holy city. (That was an attempt at being funny…because my name is Peter)
The first day of the trip started just before four o’clock in the morning when I woke up. I slowly packed up my final things and then hopped into the care with my host mom to drive to Seinäjoki, where the bus would depart. At five, the bus’s wheels started rolling. Most of the Finns to whom I told that I was going to Pietari (St. Petersburg in Finnish) were all very surprised to hear that I was going by bus; it is faster, easier, and more convenient to travel by train.
For the first couple of hours on the bus, I tried sleeping when it wasn’t interrupted with conversation amongst the exchange students. Our first stop was in Tampere to pick up a lot more students. Then we made another stop a few hours later in Lahti. This trip was my first time meeting most of the new Australian students and the one new Kiwi. I had already met the three who are in my district, two of whom live in Seinäjoki. The bus trip itself was pretty uneventful. Other than meeting the new people and just general chatting, nothing happened.
We stopped in a town just before the border to eat lunch and exchange some money. The other two buses came just a short while after us and there were lots of reconnections and new introductions. The border crossing was sort of interesting. We needed to go through one building to check out of Finland; then we drove a little bit (over the actual border) and had to go through another building to enter Russia. Almost everyone had a tourist visa for Russia, with a few exceptions because some nationalities don’t require one to visit Russia. We stopped at a gas station a short way from the border to buy provisions: for me it was a big bottle of water and a chocolate bar.
Jonathan and me in front of "my" throne
We arrived at the hotel after driving into St. Petersburg at night. I think big cities always look really cool at night: with all of the buildings and monuments lit up. We ate our dinner and just hung out for the evening. My roommate was Jonathan from Australia who lives in Seinäjoki.
We spent lots of Friday in museums. The first was the world renowned Hermitage Museum situated in the Winter Palace. It is the largest museum in Russia and thirteenth largest in the world. Some rooms were filled with old paintings; others were furnished with furniture from the era when the palace was used. The palace first started construction under the reign of Peter the Great, the museum was founded by Catherine the Great. For lunch we all went to the same restaurant; I think the cuisine was Moroccan but I’m not really sure. In the afternoon we went to the Kunstkamera, aka Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography. It is basically Peter the Great’s collection of oddities and curiosities. For example, there was a human fetus with two heads, a placenta with five human fetuses, and other really disturbing stuff. There was also a large globe (diameter of about 8 feet).
Some of the dancers
Friday evening we went to see a Russian folk dancing show. It was really good! There was an a capella men’s singing group, a folk band, and some more folk singers, and two dance groups. The show was filled with energy. One of the chaperones and one of the students were brought onto stage to participate in the show.
All of the Canadians on the trip, standing on the river
On Saturday we had a tour of the city: “the highlights of the highlights” as our tour guide said several times. We visited several churches which were of the Russian Orthodox denomination and drove past the important buildings and monuments in the town while getting a bit of a Russian history lesson. During the entire trip to Russia and especial on this tour I started picking up several letters of the Cyrillic alphabet. I started recognizing familiar words even though they looked totally different. Saturday afternoon we had some free time in the shopping district.
Me and my bus buddy and new Aussie friend Danika at the ballet
That evening we went to the ballet. Most people got dressed up. I wore full suit and tie. I wish that the ballet had been a classical, well-known show like Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Instead it was a contemporary ballet set to the music of Bach. I didn’t really understand lots of the show. But one number in particular stood out in my mind. It was with a dancer in the role of Bach playing his famous cello suite, and the cello was another dancer. It was really interesting to see how the dancer interpreting being both a musical instrument and the music which it produces.
Sunday was the long drive home. We left about nine o’clock or so in the morning. In the middle of the night the time change happened in Finland (a couple weeks before in Canada), but not in Russia. This confused some people and the alarms on their cell phone. 
My Russian dolls
We drove to Vyborg, which used to be the largest city of Eastern Finland but Karelia was lost to Russia during the Second World War. We went to a market hall where I purchased my souvenirs for the trip: a couple of matryoshka dolls (where you open one up and there is a smaller one, and inside that is a smaller one…). I actually bartered with the merchant in Finnish. Even though I knew instantly that her mother language was Russian, I hadn’t spoken Finnish for almost the duration of the trip and I needed to practice. While in St. Petersburg I bought and wrote some postcards, but I forgot to send them. I briefly looked around the market hall but couldn’t find any post boxes. I asked (in Finnish) a lady trying to sell scarves if she knew where the closest one was. She offered to take my cards and mail them because she wasn’t sure where one was. I was very hesitant, but the bus was about to leave, so I gave the cards to her. Then I decided to also give the loose change in my pocket to say thanks. I gave about 30 roubles which is roughly 1€ or $1.30. I really didn’t think they would ever get sent but it was worth a shot. One of the cards was to my host family, and they received it yesterday.
The rest of the trip was pretty much a reverse of Thursday. We drove across the border, again going to one building to leave Russia, driving, and then another building to enter Finland. We ate lunch at the same restaurant near the border. Then the goodbyes started. Goodbyes always take a really long time when you have a group of exchange students. Then the three buses went their separate ways. We stopped at Hesburger for dinner and arrived in Seinäjoki at about 11:30 pm.

1 comment:

  1. Peter what a wonderful trip.One I have always wanted to do. We got you post card good to have fath in others.Your April 1 blog was translated to by ous friend Mrs. Hill who in Finnish.Love you enjoy all your new world.G&G D