We took an overnight train (just one night–it seemed so short!) to the historical city of Novgorod. During the medieval times, it was an important capital and the source of the distinctive Russian architecture and art. Today its kremlin is in good shape and the area is listed as a World Heritage Site. Since we didn’t have enough time to stop in Irktusk or Vladimir, I was glad we could at least see something outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Novgorod has about ??the same population as Madison, so it was very relaxed and peaceful.
Next we went to our final destination in Russia: St. Petersburg. I didn’t know this before I saw it, but all of St. Petersburg is gorgeous. In fact, the entire city center is a World Heritage Site because of its architectural and historical significance. It was built in less than twenty years under the rule of Peter the Great and is known as the “Venice of the North” because of its numerous canals and bridges. (Although it seems like almost every city we go to is known as either “the Venice of ___” or “the Paris of ___.”) And, of course, when you throw in the revolutions that took place there as well, you can see that it’s a very interesting and important place.
This was also the furthest north we’ve ever been. St. Petersburg’s latitude is nearly 60 degrees north, about the same as Seward, Alaska. In the summer, the days there are really long. It was difficult for us to keep track of time, because at 11:00 PM it was still light outside. Probably because of this, the city seemed very busy and crowded at all hours of the day. I heard somewhere that during the “White Nights” in June, they don’t even have to turn the streetlights on.
During our visit, we saw the Peter and Paul Cathedral, Peter and Paul Fortress (where many political prisoners, including Dostoevsky and Trotsky,??were held), Kazan Cathedral,??Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated), and the Winter Palace. Inside the Winter Palace is the Hermitage, one of the largest art museums in the world. Its collection spans from prehistoric times all the way up to the early 20th century. We spent an entire day wandering around and we didn’t even see everything on display.
Even though St. Petersburg is known as the beer capital of Russia, we tried some Russian vodka there. It doesn’t taste any different than other vodkas, but they say it has to be stored in the freezer and served ice cold. Everyone drinks out of shot glasses, and before you drink someone gives a toast. After you drink, you have to eat a small, salted pickle. These seem to be very strict rules. There’s a Russian joke that a man from Finland goes to visit Russia. When he comes home, his friends ask him how it was. He answers, “It was fine, but the Russians talk and eat too much.”
I can’t believe we were never planning on coming to Russia, because I loved it! All the hassle and expense of getting our visas was definitely worth it. Pretty much everything about Russia was interesting to me. It’s too bad that we could only spend about two weeks in the world’s largest country, but we couldn’t linger because we had to meet up with my family in Italy!