Санкт-Петербург

I have never appreciated Helsinki more than when I arrived back here on Sunday afternoon after two and a half days in St. Petersburg, Russia. St. Petersburg is known as the cultural capital of Russia. Many of the American exchange students say it reminds them of Detroit. A ghetto, that is. I haven’t been to Detroit, but I find myself agreeing with them.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I had a wonderful time in St. Petersburg. I would even like to go back there; to spend some time living in such a different environment. The city is full of beautiful old buildings. However, unlike Helsinki – parts of which were built to look like St. Petersburg in it’s prime – St. Petersburg has not been taken care of, and the buildings look like sad, broken reminders of a better time. Anyhow, I’m having difficulty putting my feelings towards this city, and Russia in general, into words. So I think I will tell you more about what we got up to there instead, and maybe it will help me become more eloquent.

Imagine a bus full of exchange students, it’s not a pretty sight. Although we are all beautiful, me especially. Now imagine three buses of exchange students, all headed to Russia. Now stop using your imagination. That’s not allowed in Russia. Having crossed the border, a surprisingly painless procedure, I expect it’s more difficult to get to the States from Canada (As someone who has actually crossed the American border just let me know, it’s less of a hassle than the Russian one). Having crossed the border, the roads suddenly decreased drastically in quality and we found ourselves bumping along a skinny highway with no shoulders and trash in the ditch all the way from the Russian border to St. Petersburg.

You can’t drink the tap water in Russia. So we stopped at a gas station so everyone could buy some bottled water for the trip. Prices in Russia are only a fraction of that in Finland, I think I’ll drive there for my shopping from now on. (One Euro is approximately 40 Russian Rubles, I had a lot of Rubles). After bumping along this road for some hours we came to St. Petersburg.

The Hermitage museum is one of the largest and most famous art museums in the world. It is housed within the Winter Palace along with additional buildings made specifically for the museum. Unfortunately we were unceremoniously rushed through by our tour guide, stopping to see only the most famous sights. It is said that if you took one minute to appreciate each piece of art in the museum, you would spend eleven years before you’d seen them all. Frankly, I’m not sure I would like to spend eleven years there, or even go back again at all. Art museums can be very nice, Paris has some delightful ones which I could go back to again and again. The Hermitage is not one of these. Of course it has very nice art in it, a magnificent collection in fact. However, the Winter Palace in which it is collected is the most disgustingly gaudy flaunting of extreme wealth I have ever seen. Gold leaf is tastelessly applied to pretty much everything, one room alone has forty kilos of the stuff, covering pillars, chandeliers, double headed eagles, and the roof. I personally wouldn’t recommend The Hermitage, you could save yourself the expense of a trip to Russia and just pour molten gold over your head. (Don’t try that at home, I hear it kills you and allows your sister to usurp your plans and run off to dilly-dally around fighting some silly war with slave traders.)

We also visited the Kunstkamera, also know as Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography. This was a much nicer building than The Hermitage, and also a very interesting museum. It seems that Peter the Great (who also founded St. Petersburg, although it’s named after the Saint, not the Emperor) had an interest in very odd things. The museum has a massive collection of deformed and mutated babies which he collected from all over Russia and put in jars. This was probably the strangest, most disturbing thing I have ever seen in my life. Absolutely fascinating, yes. And also absolutely disgusting. We weren’t able to take pictures of that exhibition, but I’m sure if you google Kunstkamera you can see these pickled babies in all your glory. If you’re into that kind of thing. Much less disturbing, although equally interesting was the collection of astronomy equipment, including a massive globe with a globe of the stars painted on the inside. Ten people can sit in it, and then the globe rotates, mimicking the actual movement of the stars. Unfortunately it was not available for public use, and we could only observe it and imagine how incredible it would be to experience.

One night there we saw Russian folk dancing, which was incredible. The other night we saw a ballet, which was not. The folk dancing, with accompanying folk music, immediately made me think of this scene from Fiddler on the Roof. The best way to describe it is as ‘very Russian’ and hopefully you will get the picture. It was an energetic and extremely impressive performance. The ballet we saw, well I can’t even remember it’s name. It is the first ballet I’ve ever seen, and I went in with high hopes. However, I think we got the short end of the stick when it came to quality. It was entirely uninteresting. There was none of the incredible feats of human ability which are so often associated with ballet, it was merely an hour of people spinning in circles. I was unimpressed. I still hope one day to see a true, high-quality ballet production, and I will endeavour not to let this one flop mar my opinion of the art form as a whole.

If you’ve ever been on a bus tour, you know that it is an awful way to see a city. Shuttled from tourist attraction to tourist attraction, photo-op to photo-op with a couple minutes at each to grab your snapshots before you’re back on the bus, rushing to the next one. This is how we spent half of our second day there. Of course, the bus was full of amazing exchange students, so it was still a wonderful time. We saw all the sights of St. Petersburg, and I’ll tell you more about them later alongside my photographs. (If I can remember what any of the things are!)

In our free time to roam the city as we pleased, I managed to not get pick-pocketed or hit by a car. So that was a plus. Did I mention the traffic is just awful. There are no lines on the roads, people drive where they wish, and some of my comrades witnessed, the probably typical, sight of a couple getting hit by a car. So that was nice. Luckily I was elsewhere eating kebab from the worst looking restaraunt possible. Naturally, the food was amazing, and my goal of getting food-poisoning was thankfully unfulfilled (maybe I should have drank the water).

Now, it probably sounds like I’m being very negative about this whole experience. So I want to make it clear that, although St. Petersburg is a poor excuse for a modern, cultural city, and Russia is a poor excuse for a country. I absolutely loved my time there, and I would go back in an instant. Especially if I had the opportunity to live there and try to experience and understand what it is actually like to live in such a place.

Click on the first photo to view. You can then go through them with the arrows, and scroll down for a description of each. Enjoy!

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~ by end720 on May 1, 2013.

5 Responses to “Санкт-Петербург”

  1. “I expect it’s more difficult to get to the States from Canada”
    It’s not. I live like, 15 minutes from the border and basically you just show them your passport ONCE and okay, bye-bye. People from my city go like, every weekend. x3

  2. Nice to get a blog post from you – it’s been a while. Will be interesting to read more about what interested you enough about St. P to have you want to go back and experience it more fully. The old cars look something like what you might be driving when you get back to Canada???

  3. There has been some talk that Canadians will have to pay to drive across the border to the USA…

  4. Dylan, this was exceptionally entertaining and had me laughing out loud in parts (reminded me a little of my brief trip to Romania, though I did actually get food poisoning). I wish I could take some credit for your sense of humour but at least I can claim having taught you to make good coffee. Looking forward to your return but not to the end of these blog entries. Keep writing. – Jess

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