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,



  1. wow liz - you seem like you are doing so well over there!! so excited for you and can't wait to read your next entry!
    <3 diana

  2. love the blog... you describe everything perfectly. can you believe it is only the beginning?