For those of you wondering, I have survived another month in Russia. October was a busy month for me here, with the excursions and intensification of the Russian course. I better understand my host mother, though there are certainly still times when I have no idea what she’s trying to tell me. At the beginning of the month, I was able to find a church (with the help of my sister) and that has been a great venue in which I can practice my Russian.
My previous email, I left off right before we went to the state historical museum, so I shall resume there. We got an hour long tour of the first floor, from ancient history with bones and little etchings, to medieval times with armor and ornate clothing. It has been fun to evaluate the tour guides that we have, as they all are native Russians, so they have a clear Russian accent. The most difficult one to understand was the tour guide in the World War II museum, but I’ll get to that later. The historical museum was interesting, but the captions to the displays were all in Russian, making it difficult to know what items were.
The next week our first excursion was to the Moscow Circus, and the second was to Lenin’s Mausoleum. The circus was so much fun. It had all the things a good circus should: live animals to take pictures with, popcorn (which is a rare thing in Russia), bears driving cars, seals doing tricks, trapeze artists, and, of course, lions! It was nice to begin the month with some levity. Later that week, we went to Lenin’s Mausoleum. There was not so much levity there. It was sort of a surreal atmosphere down in the mausoleum. There was no talking, no photos or videos, no hats on, no hands in pockets, and no stopping. At every corner on the stairs down, there was a guard. We went down and saw Lenin, then left.
For the second week of the month, we went to a hockey game and later to a convent. The game between Moscow and Yaroslavl was likely the first hockey game that I’ve ever sat through. We were seated near a corner of the rink and right next to us were the die-hard fans of the Moscow team, complete with drum. They pounded so hard on the drum that I’m surprised it didn’t break half way through the game. It was certainly a cultural experience, though in a different way from the convent. The end of that week, we visited the Novodevichy Convent, which was once the home of Elizabeth, who ruled Russia before Peter the Great. She made it a very beautiful place to live, then was imprisoned there when Peter grew up. We had a prolonged tour of the grounds and of the museum inside. As we were leaving, our guide told us that in the winter, it was going to be placed under new management, so they weren’t sure if there would be access to the museum for the public.
Following that week, our two excursions were a performance by a traditional dancing group and a trip to the World War II museum. The traditional dance was very entertaining and interesting. We went into a standard concert hall, but our seats were on the wrap around balcony, so we were able to see the patterns that were made in some of the dances. The first half was more of traditional dances from Russia, but the second half changed to different cultures. They had a Mexican style dance, a Chinese style and ended with a Jewish traditional song. The World War II museum guide was a former member of the military and his English was very Russian. The museum itself was still fascinating. The main exhibits were dioramas of major battles for the Russians. Each one had a track that could be played for it, though our guide only played two of them. The main hall in the middle had 200,000 small chains hanging from the ceiling, representing the soldiers that had died. On the ends of many were what looked like tears. It was an incredible hall. Afterwards, we went outside and took a look on our own at the tanks and submarines they had on display.
The last week of the month we had our trip to St. Petersburg. We left on Monday night on the night train and arrived at St. Petersburg at 6 in the morning. After getting to our hotel and grabbing some breakfast, we went on a tour of the city. The bus tour took about three hours and gave us a general view of the main attractions of the city. Our tour guide was very nice, calling us her, “very handsome gentlemen and lovely ladies.” After our tour, we wandered around the city. The next day we went to the Hermitage with the same guide. It was incredible to see all the painting and sculptures and architecture even, though as there wasn’t much time, the tour was very fast. Even going our fast pace, it took roughly three hours to walk through. On Thursday we went to Peter and Paul fortress. We were able to go in the churches there and look around at the walls and even hear the midday shot fired. The last day was the busiest. I went on an hour long boat tour of the city, went to a zoological museum with over 30,000 different animals, and went to the ethnographical museum where they had an exhibit of “monstrosities.” It was interesting, but sad at the same time. That evening we took the night train home.
The last day of October we went to an ice sculpture house that operates all year round. There was a demonstration first by a sculptor that we could also try. He made a fish and we tried to replicate it on the back. It was amusing, but nothing near what his was. Later, we looked at the exhibit and saw beautiful ice sculptures of knights and dragons and men and women and other fantasy scenes. It was a good end to a great month in Russia.
I apologize for going on so long! It would seem as though October was a bit busier than the previous month. As I said in my last email, if you have any further questions, feel free to ask.
Филип Ширер -- Philip Schierer