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Спасибо, Россия!

Jon was right.  The trouble wasn’t getting everyone into Russia – it was getting everyone out of it.  After waiting for four hours in Moscow for our delayed flight, we arrived back in Copenhagen last night with tired feet, droopy eyes, and greasy hair.  Half-awake, I walked into my room, tip-toed past my roommate, set my alarm for 7 am, and passed out on the bed.

But trust me, the exhaustion was well worth it.  We spent 7 days in Russia – and just like the biting wind of the Siberian winter, my mind is blown.

It would be criminal for me to begin without first mentioning Jon and Mette – our two amazing trip advisers.  Jon is basically a genius (he is the top Russian translator for the Queen of Denmark, has met Putin and other Russian leaders, teaches our Russian class at DIS, and is incredibly passionate about everything Russia).  He always, always had something interesting to say, whether we were riding on the bus, walking through the palaces and churches, or sitting down at breakfast.  Mette (a DIS Language & Culture professor) was just as fun to be around, and helped us plan all the little details along the way.

two of my favorite people ever

I did so much on this trip that I don’t really know how to break it all down.  Somewhere in between the breakfast buffets, negative 1 million degree weather, and 600+ photo snapping, I really got to like Russia.  Why don’t we explain it via body parts?

Tongue…

This one’s easy. For the most part, the food was fantastic.  Don’t tell my 85 year-old Ukrainian grandmas, but the Russians really do pack a punch when it comes to cooking.  At 8am every morning, I was greeted by long lines of buffet platters.  I’ve always been a big fan of volume when it comes to food, and there was nothing quite like feasting on fried eggs, potatoes, fish cakes, feta cheese balls, and buckwheat (probably my new favorite grain!).  Buckwheat just passed rice and pasta on the carb-ladder.

There’s some other food stories worth mentioning.  One of my favorites was the farmer’s market in St. Petersburg.  After sampling honeycomb, pickled kapusta, caviar, and cheeses, me and Jake loaded up on some tasty lunchmeats, bread, cabbage and cheese and had an improvised picnic in the warm afternoon sun.  We were accosted by a beggar (no speak Russian?) and caught an old babushka who was about to break her hip on the ice. On other days, we dined at an amazing Georgian restaurant, learned how to drink vodka properly, and ate salmon crepes and stuffed cabbage with our Russian friends.

Feet

I bet we walked at least a marathon.  Don’t forget that Moscow and St. Petersburg are absolutely huge!  They’re the first and fourth biggest cities in Europe (that is, if you count Russia as a part of Europe), and with so much to see, we were constantly on the move.  Sitting on my bed with these LL Bean slippers feels really good right now.

And the metro!! Holy cow, it blew my mind.  Moscow has 7 million passengers every day, and Petersburg has 2.5.  The communists decked them out with marble floors and fine statues in order to make them the “‘palaces of the people.”  It’s cheap, easy, and looks spectacular.  You taking notes, D.C.?

heading down the escalator

heading down the escalator

Neck… 

My neck muscles must be bulging, because I was constantly looking up towards the heavens.  Golden domes dot the skyline, and the inside of the Orthodox churches are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  Frescoes, icons, and mosaics covered every square inch of wall.  Their beauty is supposed to inspire prayer and reflection, and for me they really got the job done!  Standing inside, I just wanted to look up forever.  Churches are everywhere, and here are a few of my favorite shots:

domes of the Church of Spilled Blood

domes of the Church of Spilled Blood

IMG_0773

that’s 100% mosaic!

fun fact: the tsar supposedly cut out the architect's eyes so that he could never build something so beautiful every again

fun fact: the tsar supposedly cut out the architect’s eyes so that he could never build something so beautiful every again

Kremlin domes

Kremlin domes

 

On a side note, I must admit I was disappointed that these churches were no longer functioning as churches.  They were museums, something for tourists to look at and take pictures.  Not exactly what they were designed for.

Ears…

Oh yes, the refreshing sound of the Slavic language!  As a competent Ukrainian speaker, I put my skills to the test in Russia. Indeed, Russian and Ukrainian overlap significantly, and it felt good to be able to carry on a conversation with a local, ask for prices, or order a meal.  If you can crack the language barrier, the immersion becomes so much easier and the experience far more fulfilling.

Eyes…

Color, light, life – Russia is so vibrant!  The bright Baroque and Rococo styles of the St. Petersburg palaces, the sunlight shimmering off of the Neva River,  the golden domes and late sunsets adds a truly unexpected dimension to the otherwise cold and bitter winter.  In many ways, I actually prefer the Russian weather to Copenhagen.  There’s plenty of sun out in Siberia, making you forget about the temperature altogether.

with my fellow Rochesterian, Winter Palace in the background

with my fellow Rochesterian, Winter Palace in the background

Everything else…

But don’t get me wrong – it is cold!  It was like preparing for the apocalypse every morning, and I must thank UnderArmour for keeping me alive.  Thermal pants, jeans, and double socks with boots on the bottom; t-shirt, thermal shirt, sweater, and two jackets on top.  I wore two hats every day too.

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That’s it for now.  I’ll delve into the rest of the trip  tomorrow – not what Russia looks like, but who I met, what I thought, and how it all made me feel.

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