Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Trip to L'Hermitage

Greeting from Russia, friends!

I would like to quickly relate an excursion to a wonderful museum before my class begins!

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit L’Hermitage which contains a fantastic collection of assorted artistic mediums from Ancient Egyptian sculptures to Renaissance era paintings.

The trip started by a walk through the museum’s pavilion.

Met with a startling sight, I couldn’t believe my eyes: in front of me rested a baby bear drinking orange juice from a bottle.

I couldn’t believe this.

While the bear was cute, I approached with caution. Its furry brown coat matched its chestnut colored eyes as it clutched a bluish bottle. A crowd gathered as its owner allowed an individual to feed and hug the bear for the mere price of 200 Rubles.

As I was slightly apprehensive about hugging a bear (and I really didn’t want to pay 200 Rubles), I nonchalantly wandered towards the back as a member of the group quickly snapped my photo.

After the excitement of seeing the baby bear passed, I entered L’Hermitage.

It was a wonderful sight! Stately facades covered the interiors as crystal chandeliers hung like angelic orbs from the ceiling. Once a residence to the czars, L’Hermitage conveys the epitome of elegance and refinement.

As I opened the floor plan, my heart stopped. I couldn’t believe it. This was even bigger than seeing a baby bear drink orange juice from a bottle. The painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt stared back at me under “points of interest” at L’Hermitage.

I love this painting.

I have studied this image only as a slide projected on a white board during Art History classes.

I couldn’t believe I would actually see the image.

Depicting the biblical tale of a son returning to his father, the painting portrays an eloquent expression of forgiveness and redemption.

As this painting holds a personal meaning, I ran to the second floor, plowed through the crowd and pushed my way to the front to admire its beauty, quality and meaning.

I wish I could speak more of this beautiful painting however, I must be off to class!

I hope you return for more updates on my journey in St. Petersburg, Russia!

Many, many hugs to Grant! I can't wait to see you!

Much love,


Monday, July 19, 2010

First Week in St. Petersburg, Russia

Greetings from Russia, friends!

I hope all are well!

I write to you from beautiful St. Petersburg, a city enveloped by majestic architecture and gorgeous rivers.

My apologies for the delay in updates. Finding Internet in St. Petersburg has proved slightly difficult.

Nonetheless, I have recorded the wonderful sights and activities experienced during the first week.

Included below is a summary of my thoughts and reflections concerning the journey to St. Petersburg.

Despite my nerves towards airplanes, the flight wasn't bad at all! There was no turbulence; the sky was clear. The jitters I had were calmed by Mr. Bean's "best of" compilation video. As it was an eight hour flight, I tried to occupy myself further with the movie,The Last King of Scotland and a very challenging Tik-Tak-Toe game (I lost five out of six times). After failing to find a comfortable position for an hour, I was surprised to enjoy dinner; chicken and potato with vegetables, a roll, cheese and crackers and a salad. Throughout the flight I observed our projected course and current location displayed on a screen in the back of my neighbor's seat. As I watched the animated airplane increase its distance from New York, I realized my excitement and anticipation were increasing too.

After a forty-five minute layover in Helsinki, I boarded a second plane which would fly to St. Petersburg!

My heightened nerves were subdued only by my desire to quench my thirst. The flight attendent only made it worse by offering the smallest cup of apple juice that I drank in one gulp!

As the airplane descended, images of the city's surroundings became visable. Vibrant green fields juxtaposed against staggering buildings were revealed as the plane approached the runway.

I thought of my family. They sacrificed so much to give me this wonderful opportunity. I promised to take this experience and let it soar higher than any skyscrapper or airplane.

I was so exited. I was in the Russian Federation.

Alas, I had to pass Customs first. So nervous that an error would appear in my paperwork, I was relieved when the officier stamped my visa and motioned towards the turnstile. The next obstacle was to collect my luggage. To my surprise (and relief) my suitcase was the first to be unloaded!

After collecting my belongings, I met two of the three group leaders: Katya and Mark (to be followed by meeting Kirilll the next day). These individuals have proved to be an amazing source of help, knowledge and support throughout any situation. During the first day, Katya and Mark helped me to settle into my new home in St. Petersburg. They helped me to change US dollars into Rubles, took me to a grocery store and offered their assistance in the purchase of a cellular phone. Katya even took me to another store to buy an international calling card so that I could call Grant. To be sure, I am so apprecitative of their help and patience. For instance, while trying to buy a bottle of water (my first purchase in the Russian Federation!), I realized I had no idea what any of this currency meant. Thankfully, Katya and Mark intervened during the transaction and helped me to avoid a potentially embarrassing moment.

I was also assigned a dorm room. Prior to departure I searched on the Internet for images of residence halls at St. Petersburg State University. I found several images of quaint and comfortable living uarters. Before I continue, I must explain my living arrangement at Purchase College: I complain - alot. In two years I have requested a change in housing assignments - four times - due to a vartiey of reasons. Poor air quality, irritating roommates, poor heating/cooling systems, carpeted floors and "not an acceptable bathroom" have been a few of my complaints to Purchase housing. Do not get me wrong - my dorm in St. Petersburg is lovely. I am on the 18th floor with a beautiful view; concrete buildings pierce the skyline while a delicate haze engulfs the rooftops. The arrangement is just - different. But - this trip is about differences and I want to embrace them.

For instance, in St. Petersburg one is cautioned not to drink the water due to differences in metallic and bacterial components found within the water supply. This circumstance makes it slightly more difficult to shower as my body has not adapted to the changes in water management. Furthermore, there is a tremondous heat wave suffocating Europe. Temperatures reaching forty degress Celcius have drenched the population in sweat. As the heat wave was unexpected, the area possesses few air conditioning units. As I was not prepared for such radiating heat, my only solace was to jump into an iced shower.

However, not even the blazing heat could deter me from experiencing the beautiful cityscape of St. Petersburg. A particularily exciting time in the city, the residents of St. Petersburg are celebrating the magnificent White Nights. With only a couple hours of darkness, the city basks in illuminating light. At 12:00 midnight, my winow opens to blue skies. Upon further glance, I can gaze at St. Issac's Cathedral to see its golden cross piercing the white sky. While the excessive light is confusing (it is weird to go to bed at 1:00 AM with the sun shining through a window), it provides a wonderful incentive to visit cultural sights and attractions.

In only one week, I am glad to report I have accomplished so much! I can check off several of my "to do" items on my "to do" list!

For instance, during a city tour I viewed a sculpture I have seen so many times in my textbooks - The Bronze Horseman. A monument to Peter the Great, the sculpture depicts an expressive Peter mounted on a powerful horse. I was amazed by the detail embedded within the bronzed material. Conveying an upward momentum, Peter's horse rises on its hind legs to portray the rise and power of Russia. An empowering sculpture, the Bronze Horseman was a magnificent sight. Also visited was the Cathedral of Kazan. A Rusian Orthodox church, the cathedral is believed to contain a miracle working icon. Words fail to describe the beauty and power of the cathedral's interior. Covered in golden gilt, my sensory system was in overload. Calming chants by worshipers complemented the pious icons dispersed throughout the church while a plethora of candles offered an allusion to angelic light. As a true tourist, I tried to capture the environment through photography only to be met by a formidable man who waved his finger at me, "no." A most amazing experience includes a beautiful boat ride on the Neva. A wonderful breeze engulfed the boat while we explored the canal for two hours. Upon entering the main waterway, I wittnessed Baroque - style architecture basking in golden light. Columns reminiscent of Greek pillars were accented by delicate facades and reliefs. As if transported to the past, I felt the presence of powerful historical events.

I would love to explain many more of the sights and attractions in St. Petersburg however, I must go to class!

I hope all are well back home! Hugs to my family - Mom, Dad, Tip - Toe, Blaire and Pere (our friendly felines) as well as our three hermie crabs!

Many hugs to Grant, whom I miss so much!

I hope you continue to follow me on this wonderful journey!

Much love,


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Studying Abroad in St. Petersburg!

Здравствуйте! Hello! My name is Elizabeth and I will be studying abroad in St. Petersburg this summer! I am so excited to partake in this opportunity! For so long I have wanted to visit the Russian Federation. From stunning architecture to elegant ballets and intriguing art, I have yearned to experience the country’s beauty and cultural magnificence. Once enveloped by mystery, Russia holds a unique splendor that excites the senses. Spanning a huge territory, the country offers insight to many different cultures, customs and beliefs. For one month I will experience the brilliance and finery of this country.

While in the Russian Federation, I will be taking classes at the New York-St. Petersburg Institute for Cognitive and Cultural Studies at St. Petersburg State University. Studying Russian language and film, I am thrilled to expand my knowledge of Russia’s vibrant culture. In particular, I am absolutely psyched to learn Russian. While I have learned a few important phrases (“how are you?” and “where is the bathroom?”), I am excited to use the language on a daily basis. Immersed within a country that predominately speaks Russian, I have no other choice than to practice and learn! So far the language seems so lyrical, expressive and powerful.

I am hoping the courses at St. Petersburg State University coupled with the opportunity to meet Russian students will aid my endeavor to study Eastern European art too. As an Art History student at SUNY Purchase College, I had the opportunity to study art of the Russian avant-garde this past semester. The class was fabulous! I was introduced to an array of artists, writers, dancers and directors. As my major suggests, I appreciate art in all forms. This experience offers a fantastic opportunity: I can expand my knowledge of Russian artists and broaden my awareness of cultural understanding. I can visit the country in which so many of my favorite artists developed and produced their creative genius! During the class at Purchase College, I was attracted to two distinct figures; Natalya Goncharova and Vaslav Nijinsky. As a student, Goncharova definitely proved to be a source of inspiration. With Cubo-Futurist images matching her fiery rhetoric, Goncharova unleashed a dominating presence in the avant-garde. Her paintings developed into a fervent, yet elegant, allusion to primitive and abstracted designs known as Rayonism. Nijinsky (my other favorite visionary of the avant-garde) prompted the modernization of ballet with angular movements, paralleled feet and stylized profiles. In Le Sacre du Printemps, Nijinsky shocked audiences with his revolutionary choreography which created the origins of modern dance. Furthermore, I was able to view Soviet-era films directed by Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin) and Room (Bed and Sofa) as well. This brief introduction spurred on my interest in Russian cinema and other products of the avant-garde.

So why did I choose to study in St. Petersburg? The list is endless:

1.) As I spent an entire semester studying it, I want to experience the art of the avant-garde.
2.) I am intrigued by the beauty and elegance of the country’s culture.
3.) I have a personal yearning. My family emigrated from the Soviet Union. I know very little about my grandmother’s life in Eastern Europe. As she has aged, I really regret not asking questions about her life and experiences sooner.
Another endless list is my “to-do” list! While in Russia I want to:

1.) attend a ballet.
2.) experience first-hand a painting by Natalya Goncharova (my favorite artist).
3.) try some Russian cuisine.
4.) visit the Hermitage Museum, State Russian Museum and Museum of Non Conformist-Art.
5.) visit Moscow.
6.) see the sculptures, the Worker and Kolkhoz Woman (a powerful monument to Soviet ideals, this sculpture depicts two workers holding a hammer and a sickle. Simply said - it is breathtaking.) and The Bronze Horseman.
7.) visit the Peter and Paul Fortress.
8.) visit the Museum of Cosmonautics and Rocket Technology (I am really excited for this).
9.) visit the Museum of Hygiene (sounds interesting).

With a little over two weeks to go, my anticipation is growing, growing and growing! Along with my anticipation, my suitcase is growing too! Over the past few days, I have begun the tedious process of packing. I must say – I have to restrain myself from over packing. Returning home this past semester was proof of my ability to over pack: the car was so stuffed I had to wear a lamp shade on my head as there was just no more room – for anything! I also must resist the temptation to buy an entire new wardrobe.

The one thing that I am nervous about is - the flight! To be blunt - I am petrified of flying. While I enjoy “taking off” and “landing,” the actual duration of the flight makes my heart race! Just knowing that I am suspended in the air (thousands of feet above the surface) makes my blood pressure soar (probably higher than the actual plane). I feel very sorry for the individual that sits next to me. I squirm in my chair, blurt out random phrases (“I’m going to faint!” and “my heart is going to explode!”) and breathe obnoxiously heavy.

While I am excited to study abroad, I will miss home immensely. I will miss my parentals. They have supported this endeavor in so many ways. I will miss my amazing boyfriend, Grant. He is so sweet sweet.

In short, I am so excited for this wonderful opportunity! The thought seems surreal – in a little over two weeks I will be in the Russian Federation! I am excited to experience a new culture! Humbled by this opportunity, I hope to embrace the differences, explore a vibrant city and enjoy my studies at St. Petersburg State University! I invite you to join me in discovering this unique and beautiful country!
Much love,