ahoy, russia!

After three days at sea/in class, we reached Russia this morning – it will be so nice to have a five day break from class, despite having to makeup a lot of work (and write an eight page midterm) during that time. Strangely enough, I woke up at maybe 7:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep because there was fairly loud music… turns out there was a little band outside the ship that was playing to welcome us! It was pretty funny, though at 7:30 all I wanted to do was sleep for once.

At 8:00 or 8:30 we had a diplomatic briefing which usually occurs in every port, though we didn’t have one for Norway. Basically a guy came from the consulate and went over some logistical things, precautions to take, and gave an overview of the current relations between the United States and Russia (not so negative as I had thought). It’s tricky because this is the only port (so far, at least) in which we have to carry our passports with us off the ship, walk through customs, and then be prepared to present documentation to a police officer if randomly requested to do so. Usually our passports are all kept together and we don’t have to deal with them... so everyone has been a little bit nervous about that. We also found out that the bridges going to the island that our ship is berthed at are drawbridges that go up every night from 1:40 until 4:55, so it should be interesting to see which students stay out too late and get stranded on the other side until morning! In all of our pre-port information, we’ve generally been cautioned not to go out at night (especially to drink), but I’m sure people still will so I just hope everyone makes it back to the ship safely. Already there have been a mess of broken bones, at least half of which were result of someone being drunk and tripping/falling/etc… pathetic!

It’s been really fun being here because it’s the first port in which English is not widely spoken. All of the signs are also in Cyrillic characters, so even if we can pronounce words, most of us can’t read them. It makes getting around town a whole lot more interesting! It’s also a sharp contrast to the high quality of living in both Norway and Iceland. While most things seem incredibly cheap to us, a lot of it is because people have far less income here. It’s not uncommon, for example, for multiple families to share one apartment (especially here in St. Petersburg). The really striking thing, however, is that the people here have a lot of pride and dignity in their culture and the arts, which I think is fantastic. Over time, they have given so much as their own lives to preserve places, monuments, or items of historical/cultural value. There are incredibly beautiful buildings in every direction, many of which are theatres and museums.

Today we went on a Semester at Sea sponsored city orientation which was a nice way to sample what there is to see and do (and how to get there). Our guide was incredibly informative; she talked a lot about the artistic significance of places, as well as how they fit into Russian history (especially World War II and the Cold War). Even though we had heard a little bit from the Russian perspective through out interport lecturer and students, it was really fascinating to hear our guide talk so much about how the common people felt about politics and the Cold War. In the United States, history classes teach us that Russia is the “bad guy” and our enemy. While that may be true in terms of clashing international policy, it was interesting to hear how much most people disagreed with rulings but simply did not have the control to change them as we often democratically do in the United States. Even when the city was under siege, schools were still in session, concerts were held in the philharmonic halls, and people still went to work – I can’t imagine the emergence of that sort of strength in the face of crisis in an American city.

Shiplife has also been maybe a little bit better, or at least the weather has been nice enough to go study outside on most days. I went to an open mic last night… it was really nice to finally go to something random with people sharing my interests – so refreshing! I’m still having a hard time getting to know people, and it’s always harder in port when everything is so fragmented… but hopefully there will be more events that I can check out, we’ll see.

Well I’m off to bed, or something like it. I need to be getting more rest!

our welcome band

this ship houses a gym!

church of spilled blood, very beautiful

nevsky prospect, the main street


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