I have to admit, I did come back last Sunday (as in over a week ago), but I’ve been so lazy and procrastinatey that I haven’t quite got round it. But now I am here and ready to write about Russia. Before I start, let me say that I went for one week, and it was with school.
So, what were my general impressions? I feel like giving my real opinions would be somewhat controversial, seeing as there is STILL all that Ukraine stuff going on, but I’ll just say it. Russia was great. I’d heard from people beforehand that no one ever smiles at you, they’re a very different sort of people, there’s loads of poor people and only a few totally OTT rich people, and I got the implication that it was going to be depressing, grey and sad. But when I went there, I found it somewhat different. True, the people didn’t smile at you too much (but not NEVER), but it wasn’t like I never saw a single Russian smile. I mean, we were walking to Red Square next to this line of policemen, and one of them jumped out at one of us (us being the people from school that went on the trip)– only to go like ‘I was only joking’. Russian humour right there. Also, I noticed that the vast majority of people out and about were VERY well-dressed. It could have just been their beautiful coats– and I have a soft spot for coats– but they didn’t seem to look poor (if that’s possible). So basically, I think the whole grumpy, dull, Soviet image of Russia is slightly untrue. At least, that’s what I saw.
Continuing with my general impressions, when I was there, I started thinking about how Russia is portrayed in the news: doing military stuff in Ukraine, passing those homosexual propaganda laws (no offence, but I am tired of those words), all that stuff that Russia does. I’ve heard it described as a bit of an oppressive place, but when I was there I didn’t feel that. It wasn’t like Big Brother was always watching me, and I didn’t feel like there was some sort of weight on my shoulders preventing me from doing everything, because, as you’ve probably heard, Russians dislike foreigners and are quite racist. Maybe they do dislike foreigners, but I can get where they’re coming from with English foreigners– as tourists we can be slightly annoying– but I didn’t get any racist vibes (although my Russian teacher did say that if they’d be racist to anyone it would be the white, blonde, blue-eyed members of my class and NOT me, because I look like I come from the Black Sea region, apparently) and I certainly didn’t feel oppressed. It got me thinking about living in this country, actually. Our government probably does things that are, in other countries’ points of view, oppressive or stupid. Their media reports it, making England seem less good, but living in England we don’t always feel that. Of course, living in a country as opposed to going there on holiday is different, but it was just a thought.
Anyway, on with what I actually did. First of all, we took a plane to Amsterdam, and from there another one to St. Petersburg. That took most of the day (thanks to the time difference), so the most we did that day was mess about in the hotel and then fall asleep. We kept a diary all through our time in Russia, and obviously that day’s entry was rather boring. The most exciting thing was a very sweet waiter that we came across. I didn’t know then that this waiter would be making more appearances, both in my diary and in my thoughts… Oh dear.
The next day we went for a little tour of St. Petersburg. We saw loads of the sights, and I was surprised to find how European and historical it looked. Our tour guide said that Peter the Great, the founder of the city, said that he wanted to make it look very European, since he’d visited places like Venice and been inspired. All the buildings were historical, most of them built in the 18th and 19th centuries, and they were just so pretty. If they were in England, they’d probably be protected or something, but they were just there like ‘oh, here is a former palace, which is now a hotel/library/academy/anything’. Even the McDonalds looked good.
We made a few stops on the tour (which was by coach), to see more interesting places like…
After the coach tour, we went to St. Peter and Paul Fortress, where many of the old Emperors and Tsars and whatnot are buried. Outside, it looked like an average St. Petersburg building (which is impressive as it is), but inside we got our first taste of what historical Russian bling looked like. It was really ornate. Almost everything was gold, and the bits that weren’t gold were either painted in bright colours, or made of some expensive stuff like marble. It was mental.
By the way, the first picture is of the room dedicated to Tsar Nicholas II and his family, who were famously all killed in 1918. So, as you can see from the photos, it was altogether a very expensive-looking, and some might say gaudy (although not me, I love that stuff), interior. I didn’t know it then, but that was pretty much the standard of decoration in just about every historical place we visited.
In the evening, we went to the theatre and watched a ballet. The Mariinsky Theatre, to watch Swan Lake. If you’re not acquainted with ballet (which I really am not), let me just say that the Mariinsky is almost the best in the entire world, and we were actually there, in the actual theatre, watching an actual production. It was absolutely spectacular. I used to think that ballet was boring and the male ballet dancers were just lame, but seriously. It was breathtaking. Those people have some serious skill.
The next day, we visited this palace, which I believe is called Pushkin Palace. Anyway, I think it was built for Catherine the Great (one of two Catherine the Greats, confusingly), and it had that same Baroque/Classical/BEAUTIFUL exterior as other St. Petersburg buildings, but better.
Inside, it was even better. It feels like I’m putting too many pictures in here, but I don’t want to waste time describing. Just have a look.
Those Russians really knew how to live.
So, the next morning, we visited a Russian school. Oddly, it was probably one of the best parts of the trip. The people we met were about my age or a year older, and it was fascinating to find out what Russian schools are like. We had a tour guide called Peter, who spoke excellent English (as in, almost fluent, and WAY better than my Russian), and told us all about the school. It seemed like a really, really, REALLY good school, both from his tour-guiding and from just simply walking around. Everything was so modern and big, and it made me think how small my school actually is. My headteacher should probably take a visit there one day and take some notes…
After we were toured around the school, we went into an English lesson and got to speak to some of the students. They asked us all the classic questions about what English school is like, what we like to do, what our hobbies are, all that sort of stuff. One of them then asked me what I thought about the situation in Ukraine. That was a little awkward, since I don’t really know what I think about the situation in Ukraine, and I didn’t want to offend them or provoke any political argument by saying anything ‘wrong’. I said I didn’t know, and she said “I guess it doesn’t really matter in England, does it?”, which seemed like the best answer, so I agreed. She said that it didn’t really matter to them either, and that quite surprised me. From the news, it seemed like everyone had fierce and strong views about it, but I guess that isn’t exactly true. Those students, at least, didn’t really care.
In the afternoon, we went to the Hermitage. It’s said that you need 19 years to see everything, spending five seconds on each exhibit, breaks for sleeping and eating included, so a few hours definitely weren’t enough. There was just so much in there, from an unfinished Michelangelo sculpture (the Crouching Boy) to Leonardo da Vinci paintings. And it wasn’t just the exhibits that were impressive; the actual interior design was wonderful too. It looked quite like the palace I wrote about way up there, but in my opinion, it was even prettier. Photo time…
There was so much art in there, and although I know almost nothing about it, I was still awestruck! I also saw a bust of Antinous (Emperor Hadrian’s boyfriend/lover back in the 2nd century AD), which I fleetingly thought violated those oft-spoken-about laws. You know which laws I’m on about.
That night, we were going to take an overnight train to Moscow. It left at 00:20, a horrible time, so we had to keep ourselves occupied until then. One of the things we did to occupy ourselves was a night-time river cruise. The city looked totally and utterly beautiful at night, and there was even a firework display that happened while we were cruising along. My Russian teacher suggested that that waiter had put it on for me, a statement I did not much like, seeing as I may or may not have developed a slight(ly huge) crush on him, and we were obviously never going to see him again after we left St. Petersburg. I was sad to be leaving (and not just cos of that waiter! The city is one of the best– if not the best– I’ve ever visited).
My night’s sleep on the overnight train was surprisingly one of the loveliest night’s sleeps I’ve ever had. The movement of the train was very soothing and relaxing, and I dropped off almost instantly. The next thing I knew, we were in Moscow!
You know, Moscow had a very different vibe from St. Petersburg, and at first I didn’t know if I liked it better or not. I still don’t know, but hey. Immediately, we went on a coach tour of the city, stopping obviously at the very famous Red Square. We looked around and I got really excited at the fact that we were there. I’ve seen many, many photos and things before, but I was actually there. In the actual place where they had all those Soviet parades, in the place where people have been standing and hanging around for SO many years. It was unreal. Seeing St. Basil’s Cathedral was just as wild.
The next day, we went to the Kremlin and Armoury. The Armoury was one of the best museums ever, and it was filled with old carriages, dresses, historical clothing, jewellery, religious things and general bling. I wanted to go and see everything, but there just wasn’t enough time, so we only saw the best stuff. Photos weren’t allowed (or they were, and I didn’t take any), but I got inspired by some of the stuff I saw, and started thinking about drawings and things that I could do when I had time. (That normally happens when I go and see something so beautiful!)
We walked around the Kremlin, and went really near the building where actual Putin works. People were quite excited by that fact, and kept discussing what they’d do if they saw him. I’d probably try and take a selfie with him, fyi. We also saw a really large cannon, and a really large bell (the biggest bell in the world, which doesn’t work).
In the Kremlin, there were also loads of churches and things, which for some reason I didn’t take many pictures of. While we were there, we got to watch a little bit of a military parade, which was incredibly cool. I took quite a long video of it.
After the Kremlin, we went on a tour of the Moscow Metro. In St. Petersburg, we had used their metro extensively, and it was one of the most fun things I did. I don’t even know why, but in the metro I was in my element. We need one like that where I live. So anyway, in Moscow, the metro stations were unreal. Some of them were literally as nice as some stately homes in England. From the photos it is actually hard to see that they’re metro stations, because they look that fancy.
That night was our last night in Russia, and the next day was mostly going to be travelling. In the morning, however, we visited the Tretyakov Art Gallery, which had absolutely tons of (obviously) art in it. On the way, we stopped at this bridge which was a little like that one in Paris– you know, the one where you put a padlock on the railing and chuck the key into the river? It was like that, except there was like a long line of fake metal tree things all the way along the bridge, covered in padlocks. Our tour guide said that when people got married, they’d go and put a padlock on one of the tree things and chuck the key into the river, showing how much their love would last. I recalled her mentioning the day before how high the divorce rate was, though. Make of that what you will.
Still, it was a very cute idea.
So, the Tretyakov Art Gallery. You had to pay 200 roubles for a photo permit, so I didn’t take any photos of the inside. I took one of the outside…
…and that was it. Now, this gallery was dedicated to Russian art, and can I just say, they really can paint. There were loads of very interesting and wonderful pieces, illustrating everything from Jesus to bears to fairytales. There was a totally crazy one, which was painted quite a long time ago (as in centuries), but looked very different from just about every other old painting ever. I forgot what it was called, but it was of a landscape with a river, at night, and the moon was there shining on everything. It almost looked like an alien planet.
I bought a mini version of a painting of a Russian fairytale (which is a REALLY weird fairytale about a prince and a wolf and a firebird and all sorts), then off we went to travel back home.
So overall, Russia was probably one of the best holidays I’ve ever been on. Everything was so beautiful, the weather was surprisingly nice, the food was also surprisingly nice, and I don’t know, it was just really fun for me. I’m probably going to sound like a complete idiot, but I actually missed Russia when I got back home. It really is like Mother Russia! I definitely want to go back, and it has changed my view on Russia as a country. As I said in the beginning, it’s not like an oppressive Soviet regime where everything is grey and sad; it’s actually (perhaps surprisingly to some people) a NORMAL place! In fact, it seems to be even better than a normal place!
And before you ask, I purchased a lot of souvenirs. I got shot glasses (not for my own use, of course), Soviet hats, a Soviet camera and even a tiny balalaika. Which is why you never trust me with money.
I feel like I’ve missed a lot of stuff out here, but you get the idea of what it was like. If you fancy going, then you should. I recommend it. Thanks for reading such a ridiculously long post, and I’ll see you later!
Your travelling blogger, Jaz