So I'm finally in Russia! The land of vodka, borscht, frigid winters, and nesting dolls. Can you believe it? because I still can’t especially since it took over 26 hours to get here. I have been studying this language for almost 3 years and I finally get the opportunity to utilize the knowledge I've developed at Notre Dame. My journey started in DC after getting to meet the other lovely 9 American students studying in St. Petersburg with me. In DC we were subjected to a safety orientation where we heard suggestions like: don’t drink too much because if you pass out on a park bench a snow drift could come and freeze you to death or don’t walk directly under the eaves of buildings because an icicle can fall on your head and kill you. Our group has decided to use the term “It’s Russia” as an appropriate antidote to these unbelievable facets of Russian life.
After our two day orientation, we headed to the Dulles international airport for our initial flight to Germany. I was kinda in disbelief that I was actually going to Russia, but it turns out I was going to have to wait longer. Our flight was delayed 9 hours, which means that we missed our connecting flight in Munich. Eventually we got to Munich, where we were introduced to German wheat beer at a restaurant called pano (essentially Panera with booze).
It didn’t really register that I was actually going to be living in Russia until we passed through customs and were greeted by a particularly sketchy Russian bus. It definitely looked like it had weathered many a Soviet winter. As we sped off to our temporary dorm room for the night and moved our suitcases into the lobby, I learned two important aspects of Russian culture. One: Drivers in Russia are similar to those in Italy. They drive fast and they also don’t care if they drive on a sidewalk to pass a slower vehicle. Number Two. Russians don’t believe in salting pavements or the road. So you can imagine the amount of black ice that has accumulated by now. Combine that fact with the speediness of the drivers, and you really have to wonder how there aren’t more traffic accidents; I have yet to see one.(Side note: young women here only where high heels even in the winter. I don’t understand how they stay upright!)
Over the past two days my fellow Americans and I have been able to visit some of the most popular destinations in downtown St. Petersburg. At night we walked to the Tsar’s winter palace. I was completely blown away by the architectural beauty of the exterior (as seen left below)
This picture of it just doesn’t do it justice. Next some of us ventured off to Church of the Saviour on Spilt Blood, which is built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in the 1800’s. This by far is the most Russian looking aspect of the city I have seen thus far. St. Petersburg is surprisingly westernized. If not for the Cyrillic alphabet, the cold days, darkness until 10:30 am, and the orthodox churches, I would think I would be living in Amsterdam, Venice, or Paris (probably because St. Petersburg’s city plan design was based on these three cities). The architecture is simply amazing though: the buildings are painted with bright colors that light up my walk to class. I can’t wait to explore the rest of the city in the next four months.