Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Sunday Walk

There's not going to be much to this post. On Sunday evening I went for a walk with a few people that I've met here. This is a classic Russian activity. Obviously people go for walks all over the world, but it's not usually quite the social event that it seems to be here. Ask a Russian on Monday what they did over the weekend, and chances aren't bad that in addition to whatever else they did they went walking with some friends. In St. Petersburg this usually means strolling up and down Nevskiy Prospekt.

We met up outside Dom Knigi, a landmark located in the Singer Building on Nevskiy Prospekt. We walked along the Griboyedov Canal, past the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, and then around Mikhailovskiy Sad. We found a bench and sat and talked for quite a while. It turned out that our walking group was mostly Americans. In addition to me, there were Rachel and Marla, who are both here studying English, and another American girl that I met that night and whose name I can't remember. She was interesting to talk to though. Our Russian contingent consisted of Yana and Sasha.

Marla, Rachel, ?, me (looking like a giant), Yana, Sasha

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Rained Out

On Saturday, in celebration of Pioneer Day, the members of the local LDS Institute of Religion planned a picnic/outing to the beach. Of course, in countries of the former Soviet Union pioneers conjure up other images. Some of them jokingly suggested that we should all dress up in white and red for the day.

We met at the Finlyandskiy Train Station and got on a local train (elektrichka)

to head out to the place that had been picked for the picnic. After a 45 minute train ride, we got to our station and got out, just as it was beginning to rain. Several of us were game to wait it out or proceed to our picnic locale in spite of the rain, but we were outvoted, and instead waited about an hour for the next train going back to the city. Fortunately there was a covered area to wait in.

And then I wasn't very good at taking pictures of most of the days activities. Of course, by the time we got back to St. Petersburg it was not raining at all. We went back to the Institute Building to eat our picnic food and play some ping pong and pool and sit around for a while, and from there went over to the Field of Mars to sit in the grass and do some of the stuff we would have done on the beach (frisbee and volleyball). It was a fun, chill afternoon.

After sitting around at the Field of Mars for several hours we headed over to Subway for dinner, where we especially had fun drinking out of really long straws (lots of regular straws stuck together). As you can tell from Masha's face (while Sasha looks on), it was quite a bit of work to get anything from the cup all the way to your mouth.

It was actually a really fun day, and it was nice to just spend time hanging out with people instead of running around the city trying to see sites.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Raskolnikov Lives!

St. Petersburg is the setting for many great Russian novels, perhaps most notably, Crime and Punishment. In one of my guidebooks, I discovered a "Crime and Punishment walking tour." Apparently, based on things said in the book, people have figured out where the events of the novel took place, so I spent Thursday evening tracing the steps of Raskolnikov, from his own attic apartment to the apartment where he murdered the pawnbroker and her sister, Lizaveta.

The novel is set in the neighborhood around Sennaya Ploshchad (Haymarket Square), once one of the seedier parts of St. Petersburg.

I'm not sure what the reputation of the area is now, but Sennaya Ploshchad is big and busy. This picture really just shows a tiny corner of the square.

Dostoevsky actually lived in this neighborhood (in this building)

while he was writing the novel, just around the corner from Raskolnikov's apartment. Where, exactly, Raskolnikov lived is the one fuzzy part of the tour. There are two possible buildings. This one is the officially designated building, as demonstrated by the sculpture and plaque on the corner of the building. The plaque says "Home of Raskolnikov" at the top. The rest of it says, "The tragic lots of the people of this district of Petersburg served as the basis of Dostoevsky's impassioned sermon on goodness for all mankind." Something like that.

And this is the building more popularly believed to be the correct one. I wonder if this one is the more popular just because there are no locks on the stairwell door.

Whichever building it was, Raskolnikov lived in a tiny room up at the very top of the building, so at the top of the open, popular building, people leave all sorts of messages for Raskolnikov.

These messages say things like "Rodya rules," "Rodya, we love you! You're the most unique! Hold on! We're with you!" and "Raskolnikov, you're a super hero!" Rodya is the short form of Raskolnikov's first name, Rodion.

From Raskolnikov's apartment I crossed the bridge over the Griboyedov Canal where Raskolnikov often stopped to think as he stared into the water.

And finally, I arrived at the building where the pawn broker's shop was. Unfortunately, fancy gates and locks have become popular in Russia in the last several years. Apparently this courtyard used to be open and you could go in and up to the apartment where the crime took place. Not anymore. Instead I just got this picture of a gate while some drunk guys tried to become my buddies. They probably thought I was a little strange for taking this picture at all.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Another Saturday and another missed chance to go to Novgorod. I've officially decided to forget it. Next time I come to Russia I'll go to Novgorod. For now it seems to require a certain amount of planning and money that I'm not capable of mustering. Instead I had another full day around St. Petersburg, and in the end there are enough things still to do here in the city that I don't think I necessarily need to take another trip out. I'm sure most of you don't care one way or the other whether or not I go to Novgorod, but it's something I'VE been thinking about a lot, so I thought I'd let you know I had made a decision.

Saturday was really devoted to hitting some odds and ends kinds of sites. Places scattered around the city that I'd intended to visit and hadn't made it too. I have a "Top 25 Things to Do in St. Petersburg" list, that I copied down from the front of a Rough Guide in a bookstore, so I'm also using that list to make sure I've hit the top spots.

What better way to start your day than with a little Lenin? This wasn't actually a planned destination, but I came out of the subway by this square (Lenin Square), and had to take a little time to admire the statue. In the Baltics all the Lenin statues are gone, but not so in Russia (or Ukraine, for that matter). So here he is, in his classic pose, with an exceptionally Soviet looking train station in the background.

From there I hopped on a tram to go to the Cruiser Aurora.

This site had the added bonus of being free, which I always appreciate. The cruiser was built in the early 20th century for service in the Russo-Japanese War, but the boat's real significance is tied to the October Revolution. On October 25, 1917, the crew of the Cruiser (most of whom had joined the Bolsheviks) refused to follow an order to head out to sea, which sparked the October Revolution, and a blank shot from the forecastle gun signaled the beginning of the assault on the Winter Palace, which was the concluding episode of the October Revolution. During WWII the boat's guns were removed and used in the defense of Leningrad during the siege, and the boat was heavily shelled and sank. At the end of the war it was pulled up, restored, anchored, and has been a museum ever since.

The gun the signaled the assault on the Winter Palace

A flag in the ship's museum, which was in the hold of the boat. The writing on the left part of the flag says "October Revolution" and the writing in the center says "Proletariat of all countries, unite!"

From the Cruiser I got back on a tram to go to a museum, and on the way saw this mosque. I got off to take some pictures and look around. It was an unexpected site, though when I stopped to think about the size of the city and how many Central Asians live here, it's not actually so surprising that there's a good-sized mosque.

I really like the tile-work.

From the mosque I got BACK on the tram and went to the Kunstkamera, which was the first museum established in Russia.

It was opened by Peter the Great in 1727 to display his collection of preserved human and animal fetuses that have weird deformities (extra heads, two heads and three arms, cyclops, siamese twins, etc.). This is still the centerpiece of the museum and it was super creepy. It's a room full of glass cases with things floating in jars. Apparently Peter issued an order requiring all malformed, still-born infants be sent to him to be made part of the collection. His goal was to debunk superstitious fears in monsters by displaying deformities that are a result of nature. Hmm. Most of the museum is now a collection of anthropological and ethnographical stuff. Less gross, but also less interesting.

Finally, I got on a bus and went to the Aleksander Nevskiy Lavra-Monastery. Lavras are the largest, most important monasteries in the Orthodox Church, so they are usually pilgrimage sites. There are only two lavras in the Russian Orthodox Church - this one and the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra, not far from Moscow. I visited the Kiev Pechersk Lavra when I was in Ukraine, which is one of three lavras in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, so this was lavra number two. I've been meaning to stop in here for weeks, because I change trains in the subway station under this square every Sunday, but I'm always tired, hot, and hungry on Sunday afternoons, so I decided to quit putting it off.

The monastery is named for one of the great Russian heroes, Alexander Nevsky, and his remains are in the Lavra's main cathedral. Alexander Nevsky was the Grand Duke of Novgorod and Vladimir in the 13th century, making him Russia's supreme ruler at that time. He is credited with important defeats over the Swedes and Livonian Knights, holding the early Russian state together, and at a critical time choosing to befriend the leaders of the Golden Horde, preventing continuous attacks on Russia's outlying territories.

This is the entrance to the monastery, with a statute of Alexander Nevsky in the middle of the roundabout.

Once you go through the outer arch, you enter a cobble-stoned street with walled cemeteries on either side.

Another view of the main monastery buildings.

The cemeteries are some of the more famous spots in the monastery, as many of Russia's elite artists, composers, authors, and architects are buried here, so I took a little detour before heading into the main monastery complex.




I also saw Glinka, Mussorgsky, Borodin, and others whose names I recognized, but that I'm not remembering at the moment.

From the cemeteries you continue down the path, cross a canal, and enter the main grounds of the monastery. It was very pretty and peaceful, though there were a lot of people around. Most of the people there, however, seemed to be pilgrims, not tourists.

As I got there the bells were ringing, signaling the beginning of the service. I looked up into the bell tower, and there was a monk up there, dancing around and making the bells ring. It looked like he had wires attached to his arms and legs, and as he moved in particular ways he made certain bells ring. I assumed they were controlled electronically or something, but not so. What made it especially impressive is that he was up there for at least twenty minutes. It seemed like it would be pretty good exercise.

The bells in the church across from my apartment ring everyday from 9:40 until 10:00 and from 5:40 until 6:00, so the other day as I was leaving and the bells were ringing I looked up, and sure enough, there was a guy up in the tower at the church by my house too. Kind of a fun, but really loud, job.

In front of the cathedral, and taking up most of the grounds of that part of the monastery, there is a communist/atheist cemetery, which I assume was put there by the government during the Soviet era. While it seems clear that nobody is going to disturb the graves, nobody seems to be taking special care of that area either, so it was pretty overgrown. Interesting. Note the hammer and sickle on this headstone.

Another shot of some of the monastery buildings.

Since there was a service going on I wasn't able to really explore the church, but I went in and listened to the music for a little while. They had a really good men's choir singing the service. I love the music at Orthodox services, though the services themselves don't make sense to me at all. Most people just seem to be doing their own thing. I'd be curious to go to a service sometime with someone who can explain what's going on to me.

Changing topics. The most bizarre assortment of bands comes on tour in Russia.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


This is the first time I will have two entries that are a full week apart. I don't think that's because I didn't do anything last week, but I didn't seem to take any pictures of whatever it is I did do. So there you go. I'm sure I did all the normal sorts of things: going to work everyday, Institute, eating, etc.

I had thought I might try to go to Novgorod on Saturday, but then Saturday came and I hadn't planned anything and I slept kind of late, so I had to make other plans. I ended up filling the day up with no problem.

First I went back to the Russian Museum to see everything that I had missed the first time. Too bad a bunch of the rooms with things I knew I wanted to see (including some Chagall's) were closed. I still enjoyed myself and spent a couple hours wandering around, and in addition to the rooms that were open there was a really nice temporary exhibition of works by Isaac Levitan.

Barge Haulers on the Volga - Ilya Repin. Repin was one of most successful artists of the peredvizhniki movement.

Morning - Mikhail Vrubel

Flowers of the World Blooming - Pavel Filonov

Red Cavalry - Kazimir Malevich - I loved this painting for some reason. I tried to find a copy of it in the gift shop to buy, but they didn't have any. Too bad.

From the Russian Museum I decided to walk over to the Yusupov Palace, which is where Rasputin was murdered. On the way I took a few other pictures...

Yeliseev's Department Store on Nevskiy Prospekt, though I think the building is empty now. This is the building that the bronze cat is sitting on. It's also right next to Carl's Jr., where you can get all the ice you want and free refills on your drinks. Sometimes those things are really important.

Rossi Street was designed by architect Carlo Rossi. The buildings are both 72 feet tall, which is also the exact width of the street. The length of the street is exactly ten times the width (720 feet). At one end of the street is a square and at the other end is the Alexandrinsky Theater.

Just a little ways past Rossi Street I came across a massive outdoor market - mostly clothes and shoes. I don't know how I've never run across it before, as it stretches on for blocks. I enjoyed wandering for a while through the narrow allies. This was the largest street in the market by far. I'll probably go back and maybe I'll be able to better capture the market experience in a photograph.

From the market I went to the Yusupov Palace, which is situated right on the Moika Canal. The basement, where they have some wax figures that show the murder of Rasputin, was closed, so I had to be satisfied with wandering the other rooms of the palace. I was sorry not to see the Rasputin part, as the story goes that they first tried to poison him by feeding him cakes laced with potassium cyanide, which had no effect; then they shot him, hitting him directly several times, but he was still alive; finally they bludgeoned him and drowned him in the river. Pretty gruesome.

The palace was really cool on its own though. I LOVED it. This was probably my favorite palace that I've been in so far. While it was not as fancy as the royal palaces, it had some pretty incredible features (which you will see in a minute), and the Yusupov family was apparently even wealthier than the royal family and had over fifty palaces scattered around Russia, so it was nothing to scoff at either. When the Bolsheviks seized this palace, not only did they get the priceless art collection, but they also found a gold dinner service for 120 people, 70 trunks full of silver, a collection of rare musical instruments, and 111 letters from people like Pushkin and Napoleon. Felix Yusupov had already escaped the country at this point with two million dollars and some Rembrandt manuscripts.

This is one of the rooms in the extensive art gallery. The Yusupovs had over 45,000 pieces in their private collection, all of which now belong to the Russian state museums (The Hermitage and Russian Museum).

They also had their own theater in the palace, so that they could have private performances of some of the greatest musicians and dancers of the time. The theater seats 180. Mikhail Glinka conducted orchestras here, and Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann both performed here as well. The next three pictures show the stage,

the Royal Box and some of the second and third tiers,

and the ceiling.

What was so cool about it is that it really was just a miniature of any great European theater, with the multiple tiers, beautiful ceiling, gilt decoration, etc. They still occasionally have performances there, but I have no idea how you get invited or get a ticket.

The other thing I especially loved in the Yusupov Palace was the library. I don't think my picture does it justice, but it was really cool with all the wood panelling and multiple levels (there was a ladder hidden behind a cupboard door that you could climb up to the second level.

While they were renovating the Palace in 1925 they found a secret compartment hidden behind some of the book shelves where there was a strong box. In the strong box they found twenty letters written by Pushkin that were previously unknown. Someday I want to have a cool library like this.

After the Yusupov Palace I went on a walking tour of the northernmost islands in St. Petersburg: Kamenskiy Ostrov, Yelagin, and Krestovskiy Ostrov. It was a nice walk, as Kamenskiy and Yelagin are heavily wooded and Yelagin Island is closed to vehicles.

Church of St. John the Baptist on Kamenskiy Ostrov

Kamenskiy Ostrov was and is also home to some of St. Petersburg's wealthiest citizens. It is full of 19th century mansions, some of which have not been restored,

and some of which have.

Yelagin Island is home to the Yelagin Palace. There was a wedding going on inside. I looked in the windows and it looked pretty fancy. And it looked like they were having really good food at the wedding reception. I was a little sorry not to be attending.

Back view

Front view

There was also a pond on the island where people could rent rowboats. I stopped and read for a little while on a bench.

By the time I had walked all over these three islands I was pretty exhausted and it was after 9:00. I went home, ate dinner, watched a DVD, and fell asleep. I feel like I fit in quite a bit considering my late start and lack of planning.

This weekend I'm really going to try to make it to Novgorod.