Wednesday, March 28, 2012

St. Petersburg, Russia

The Russia Tour was last week (March 22-25), and it... was a lot of fun.

For the five exchange students who went on the tour from Estonia, however, the tour started on the 21st. We took a ferry on Wednesday night, stayed in a hostel in Helsinki, and caught the bus to St. Petersburg with the rest of the exchangers from Finland on Thursday morning.
There are quite a few differences between Finland and Estonia, and one of those is the cost of taking a taxi. In Helsinki, our taxi cost €14.00, while in Tallinn, our taxi cost only around €6.00. Gotta love Estonia!

Anyway, on Thursday morning we got on the tour bus at the Helsinki railway station and got to see all of our fellow exchangers once again. We then drove about 2.5 hours to Vaalimaa, on the Finnish-Russian border, to have lunch. Then, we flooded both the Finnish and Russian customs buildings with about 100 exchange students (three buses worth)! That took about two hours total, if I recall correctly. The difference between the Finnish and Russian border checkpoints was quite obvious... The Finnish side was much cleaner and modern, with high-tech cameras and such, while the Russian side was less so.

In all honesty, it was easier to get through the Russian border than I expected. Being American, and thinking back on my country's interesting history with Russia, I thought the process would be a lot more difficult and painful. Actually, throughout the whole trip this held true--there wasn't a single instance where I felt like being seen as an American would due me harm. In the hotel we stayed in there was a group of Russian teenagers who must have been on Spring break in St. Petersburg (not sure exactly; they didn't speak English and we didn't speak Russian) who were actually very friendly to all of us. And, later, while a group of friends and I were walking on the main street in St. Petersburg, one of those friendly Russian teens ran up and said hello to us again with a cordial fist bump.

So, after crossing the border, we drove another 2.5 hours to our hotel in St. Petersburg. It was pretty late at this point, so we all slept until morning.

The next day, we started with a tour of the Hermitage Museum, which was pretty cool.

After the Hermitage, we had a light lunch and continued to the next museum, the Kunstkammer ("Cabinet of Curiosities"). This museum was full on anthropological displays about different cultures of the world, plus a large collection of anatomically deformed creatures... So, no pictures from this place!
Later that afternoon we went to see a cultural show complete with tradition Russian dances, songs, and costumes. This was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip!

The next day we had a tour of the city on our buses. We stopped at a few of the main tourist attractions to take pictures and such...

And of course, I had to take a picture with a Russian police car.

After the bus tour of the city, we had some free time to walk around on Nevski Prospekt, the main shopping street in St. Petersburg. That night, we went to a ballet in the Mikhailovsky Theatre about the life of Bach.

Here are just some random photos of the city:

The ice on one of the main rivers was so thick that we could actually go out and stand on it!
On Sunday, we departed in the morning and got to Helsinki around 5:00 p.m. The Estonian group then took a ferry back to Tallinn a bit later and, after a long bus ride, I got home around 2:30 a.m.!

In other news...
I'll be changing host families this weekend. This will be my last family, and they live across the city from where I am now. I think it will be nice to see a part of Tartu I haven't really been in before!

I also found out this week that I was accepted to McGill University in Montreal, Canada! This means that I'll be spending next year (and hopefully three more years after that) in another foreign city! Granted, this one is only about a six hour drive away from my hometown, but it is in the French-speaking part of Canada... Maybe I'll have another language to tackle next year?