Thursday, August 21

Steve: Today was one of those days where we realized that we needed to take time to rest and catch up on our reading and travel planning. It was also a rainy day in Moscow, and so our plans to spend the afternoon outdoors in the parkland at Kolomenskoe had to be put on hold. Instead, we took the Metro to the Tretyakov Gallery - this houses the world's best collection of Russian icons and a huge collection of pre-revolutionary Russian art. Much of the art we saw in St. Petersburg was from Western Europe, so it was very interesting to see such an extensive collection of purely Russian art. There were no English-speaking guides in the museum, so we relied on our guide book to point us in the direction of the most important works.

We were also very proud of our first solo round-trip Metro excursion in Moscow. We also had to figure out how to get from the Metro station to the museum. The main problem is that all the maps we've been given are in English - this means that it's impossible to match the street signs with our maps without sounding out and translating the Cyrillic characters. Fortunately, we have a small cheat sheet that we use that contains the English sound translations for all the Cyrillic characters. This was the only way that we could tell where we were!

Tomorrow we're planning to spend the day with Anna in a small town an hour outside of Moscow. We're looking forward to leaving the city to get a taste of life in the Russian countryside.

Distance Walked: 1.85 miles


Katie's Komments

The topic for today is… what it's like to have your birthday in Russia

We have spent two days now exploring St. Petersburg with our new friend Sasha. With his help we have experienced a small slice of daily life in Russia and its rich past history. I had a very interesting birthday in Russia-surely one I will never forget.

I woke up and realized my first full day in Russia was about to begin. I was so excited that I completely forgot that it was a very special day-my birthday. My family's first adventure in enormous Russia was taking place on my special day. The first hour went on as it normally did-my family singing happy birthday songs and such was not new to me. After breakfast we all walked into the lobby of our small hotel and waited anxiously for our personal guide to arrive. When he arrived he greeted me by gently kissing my hand. He was a cheery character and his loving spirit welcomed me as I started my birthday adventure. I stepped outside into the fresh air and looked around; I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. We felt as if we were in the ocean and the tour guide was our tiny boat. After completely absorbing the fresh air I climbed into a tiny rundown Taxi car and headed towards the town center. The driver was very tense and I spotted two bottles of beer by his side. He speeded forward and left me feeling a little uncomfortable but excited at the same time. We finally reached the metro station and entered the large doors. We gathered the tickets with some help from our tour guide, Sasha, and approached the scanning booth. I tried to follow how the Russians slid their cards and finally pushed my own card in. As I began to walk through, a siren went off. This frightened me as I had never been stopped in a metro station before (let alone a Russian one). A big police guard approached me and blabbered something in Russian. I watched him as he demonstrated how simple and effortless it was to slide the cards through the scanner. I suddenly realized that this would not be an easy adventure.
After struggling to adjust my card, I finally got past the guard and stepped onto the enormous escalator. I watched as people on the opposite escalators stared at me with stern faces. We felt very thankful to have such a friendly tour guide! We walked through the beautiful station and golden arch ways until our train arrived. It took us a little while to figure out the signs as the Russian alphabet is very different-we couldn't have done it on our own! When we entered the train we continued to notice stern and cold looking Russians following us with the pupils of their eyes…it was very unwelcoming and made me feel a little uneasy.
After riding the metro we walked down the famous and colorful Nevsky Prospekt to a large market. As soon as we entered the door we could sense the warmth and cheeriness of the market and its workers. On one side were women dressed in white dresses and hats selling fresh milk in bottles. In the center were men assertively convincing people to buy their fresh produce. At the front door were two women surrounded by many jars of honey. Crammed on their small stand were actual bee hives from which they were pulling out pieces of metal wire to collect honey from. They had very loving faces and offered us several samples of fresh honey. As I walked through the colorful fruits and vegetables, the owners of the goods welcomed me and tried to convince me to buy their products in Russian. All of the goods were assembled on the stands very artistically and made me want to buy everything. It all looked very fresh stacked in enormous heaps. All of the sellers seemed very warm hearted and gave me a nice birthday smile. One of the sellers asked us if we spoke Deutsch (German) and we told him we were Americans. He replied by saying, "Oh …George Bush!" This gave us all a good laugh as we knew that this is what most foreigners knew Americans for. On our way out we looked at some caviar and suddenly lost our appetites. We have noticed many people eating the expensive gel-even for breakfast! We also went into a nearby arctic museum that we learned was a church before the Communists made it into a museum. It was pretty funny seeing a realistic polar bear model by the altar! We heard the Communists tore numerous churches down and made them into pools and all sorts of things.
After exploring the so called "arctic museum" we walked to a place where there were many old women selling all sorts of food on the street. We learned that the Russian word for grandmother is "Babushka." We have now decided to nick name our elder cat Sippy "Our Little Babushka." I felt very sorry for them as they begged for people to buy fresh produce from their own gardens. We didn't want to buy anything as it would be dangerous to do so off the street, but had the urge to just give them money. Our tour guide said that just giving them money would spoil their pride so we decided to just look at the produce they were selling. We saw the Babushkas selling a variety of things including enormous mushrooms and fresh herbs. Our tour guide seemed to easily befriend many of the women and convinced a couple to be in a picture with us. I felt a little uncomfortable climbing in between these old Russian women, but they didn't seem to mind the disturbance. We learned that during the Communist regime you hardly had to pay any money to rent space in a market, but now it is too expensive for poorer people to do. This is why there are many Babushkas selling on the streets. They are angry with their new and more difficult way of life.
We finally got through the Babushkas, and made our way to the world famous Hermitage also known as the Winter Palace. On the way we stopped by an amber shop and bought a beautiful amber necklace for myself. Dad befriended one of the workers there, and found out she wanted to go to the US for better job opportunities, but was having trouble getting out of Russia. She looked very sad resting her head on her hand. Our guide told us people like that are called "Sad Mermaids." The woman also mentioned that she was afraid of terrorism in the US.
After the chat we all continued to walk behind our tour guide who was leading us to the Winter Palace. We walked down the narrow street and under a large archway. Suddenly the palace was in front of us. It was enormous! Five buildings made up the amazing site…1,057 rooms and 117 staircases! It was made with large numbers of golden arch ways, columns, and statues. It surrounded the entire square which was open in the middle except for Alexander's Column. The 47.5 meter pillar towers above the palace and represents Russia's victory over the general Napoleon. After admiring the palace and taking several pictures, we made our way into the Hermitage. It was beautiful inside decorated with paintings, gold, and various types of marble.
We walked through the palace and viewed various rooms with golden archways and other beautiful architectural styles. The gold shimmered in the sunlight and made this a great place to be on my birthday. We then viewed many of the famous collections of paintings including Raphael's and DaVinci's. They were especially beautiful in the golden palace and we learned a lot about each of the paintings from our meticulous but knowledgeable tour guide. He even showed us a painting of a woman who stared at you from every angle! There was a small courtyard outside the palace where we heard they kept cats to prevent rats from eating the canvases. We even heard they let cats in the palace at night to prevent this from happening! We had a snack at a café in the palace and then planned to see the impressionist exhibit. Unfortunately, we lost track of time and realized it would close before we had time to do this.
We ran out after being scolded by the police and made our way to a famous statue of Peter the Great. When we got there we saw many brides getting their pictures taken by the statue. It was fun to see all of the different dresses…our guide called the beautiful women "New Russians." The statue was very interesting as well. We watched the brides for a few minutes before it started to rain-we made our way out quickly so we didn't have to wait in the traffic jam of brides. Our guide told us that instead of taking a wedding picture in one place like most American couples do, Russians take a car and visit famous sites in St. Petersburg where they take several pictures. We then walked over to a magnificent statue of Catherine the Great who we learned was a very famous figure in St. Petersburg's history. After admiring the enormous statue we went to an outdoor café where we ate a well deserved dinner.
I had an extremely exciting and adventurous 12th birthday-the busiest one in my entire life! I was glad to spend my special day touring Russia with our kind hearted tour guide. I am looking forward to more adventures in this very different country…so different you could even call it a new world! I am anxious to learn more about this incredible country's history, people, and culture. Now that we are in this new world there is no turning back…bum, bum, bum!

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