St. Petersburg & Moscow

May 13th-30th, 2018

Day 1-3

The travel began on Saturday when we traveled to Dayton, Ohio. Our flight was on Sunday at 2:50 pm, but I wanted to celebrate Mother's Day on Sunday with the best momma ever. Our brunch at First Watch in Dayton was a lovely morning to celebrate my incredible mother as well as my aunt, Tracy, then off to the airport, we headed. Of course, we had some time to kill . . . so to Target, we went. The flight from Dayton to Washington, D.C. (Dulles) was smooth. Next was the flight from D.C. to Frankfurt- the long haul. The airplane has two floors which were quite impressive, although we were in row 41of the most basic class. I got seated next to two girls from my group, Jillian, and Emilee, and enjoyed getting to know them better. Of course, the meal wasn't five star, but the time spent getting to better know my classmates were. Unfortunately, our flight to Frankfurt took off about 45 minutes late, which made us run to our next gate to catch our flight to St. Petersburg. We made it with a few minutes to spare and had a third and final sleepy flight to our final destination. 

 

We arrived in St. Petersburg and found our professor, Dr. Darrow, and loaded a bus to head to our hostel. Our first evening in Russia we enjoyed an Italian restaurant and Jillian and I shared a 4 cheese pizza . . . very tasty. We all shared limoncello sipping shots after dinner and then finally headed back to our hostel. I slept well on my cute twin bunk bed, as the hostel is dorm style, and I share a four-person room with Erin, Caroline, and Vickey.

 

The morning was off to a bit of a rough start as the first shower I tried had absolutely freezing water (trust me- I left the hot water knob turned all the way for five minutes . . . no difference), then I moved to another shower. This shower had the same awful temperature situation, and the motion-sensor light was broken. So day 2 began with a cold dark (and quick!) shower. Once we were all ready, we met at the corner near our hostel (as our two professors are staying at a nearby hotel) at 9 am. We took the metro a few stops in and walked very far to the Higher School of Economics (who is our "sponsor" for the trip). There we received a tour, some basic information, and a short lecture. Unfortunately, St. Petersburg is unusually warm for this time of year and it was in the 80's. Their facilities were not prepared for that and the spaces became stifling hot. When we were done with the lecture we proceeded to hike back to the metro and have lunch at a burger joint another half a dozen blocks away. The meal was wonderful and the staff accommodating. Dr. Darrow then took us on our "battalion death march" of the city which equated to 4-5 hours of walking, 23,936 steps, and 10 miles, per my phone's health app. My feet certainly are sore! This evening we all rested up for an hour, called our parents (I do miss mine dearly and am unbelievably thankful they gave me this incredible opportunity to return.), and decided to go for some drinks, as it is legal for us all to drink here. We first went to a restaurant- unfortunately it was the end of the night and they were out of a lot of things, so I simply enjoyed some water. As we were disappointed in that, we decided to travel a few blocks back toward our hostel to a wine bar that a few other members of our group tried last night. I enjoyed an Italian glass of rosé (not a fan of wine, thoroughly enjoyed this extremely sweet one) and walked back with Emilee to our hostel. I took another frigid shower and here I am writing this post at 1:26 am. I will address more of my takeaways later but enjoyed recapping our busy few days. I'm having an absolute blast and can't wait to share more!!

 

Until next time,

 

Maria 

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Day 4-6:

Wednesday began with a trip to the State Hermitage Museum! While the walk to the Hermitage was rainy, the overcast sky made for a perfect background for the gorgeous minty green-blue building! Fortunately, we had a tour guide who highlighted a lot of the museum for us. I was surprised by the vast amount of art exhibitions inside the Winter Palace and not furniture, the way it would have looked in it's prime. The rooftop garden was recently renovated and was in its first season of display to the public, and it was absolutely gorgeous! We saw works from an array of time periods as well as artists. Two of DaVinci's Madonna with Child works were displayed here. Also depicted was Raffelo Santi's work of Mary, baby Jesus, and a beardless Joseph. We got to see a really gross- but really cool mummy from the second half of the 7th century!! The preservation on it was astonishing and impressive. For lunch, we had Georgian . . . not my favorite meal, but definitely fun to try. Next, we went to the Faberge Egg Museum. It was cool, but we were all so drained from the Hermitage that our focus was lacking. Finally, ending the day, we enjoyed Russian McDonalds. Luckily, my employee spoke English well, and I had no trouble ordering my nuggets, fries, and Coca-Cola. We stopped by a corner store, bought some extremely cheap blue Moscato and enjoyed some time all together back at our Hostel. 

 

On Thursday, we started by heading to the Higher School Economics for a short Russian history lecture which I really enjoyed. Next, we traveled to Peter and Paul Fortress. After grabbing a quick traditional meal, we visited the Cathedral where the Russian rulers are buried. Of course- my favorites- the final tsar, Nicholas and his family. Then, we visited the prison at the fortress which housed Lenin's older brother, Alexander for a brief time before his hanging. We passed a breathtaking mosque on the walk back to the metro. Vickey, Caroline, and I went to an Italian restaurant that we had previously been to with the group to enjoy pizza, pasta, and cocktails, and washing it all down with some ice cream! An early evening in for us was just what we needed! 

 

Friday was another early morning with a trip to the Russian Museum of Ethnography. This Museum detailed different types of Russian peoples from all over the region, and while there are 160 different types, they can only depict around 85. For lunch, a few of us enjoyed a fun burger place. Next, we met up again to tour the Church of the Savior on Blood. This church was built on the spot and commemorates the murder of Alexander II which occurred in 1881. The inside of it was absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking! The walls depicted almost every saint in Russian Orthodoxy. After that, we walked around to look at some street vendors and walked back to the hostel! 

 

Also, there have been warm showers!! Woohoo! I'm really having a wonderful time.

 

Until next time,

 

Maria

Day 7-9

Saturday began with a bus ride out to Tsarskoe Selo, with its main attraction being Catherine's Palace. This was the Summer home of the imperial dynasties of Russia. This palace is a gorgeous reminder of a different time. The elegant and grand ballrooms are decorated magnificently with gold. As often became of these palaces after the crumble of the autocracy, the Germans intentionally destroyed palaces- including this one. Our group was fortunate enough to arrive at a time when no one was in the courtyard of the palace. We were then able to take gorgeous photos of ourselves in front of the palace as well as a shot of the palace free of tourists. After viewing the gorgeous palace and its grounds including a special private viewing of a men's acapella group in a chapel space known for its incredible acoustics, (I realized midway through filming that we weren't supposed to, but I will post the short recording under the video tab!) we enjoyed a traditional Russian lunch nearby. Then it was back to the hostel for relaxation. That evening, we went back to a pub we tried previously called, My Friend's Pub. They had delicious cheese balls!! Needless to say, I slept extremely well!

 

Sunday was another early morning and off on a bus to view Peterhof! I have to preface this by saying that this palace was by far my favorite part of this trip by far!! This palace was laid out per orders from Peter the Great, as he greatly admired Versaille and desired his own. The main palace was absolutely gorgeous inside, and while it was considerably smaller than the Catherine Palace, the Russian grandeur doesn't cease to please tourists. What I absolutely loved about Peterhof over a place like the Hermitage, is the furniture and artifacts showcased inside. The Hermitage is more of an art gallery/museum, and these palaces act as a historical bookmark. Peterhof is often considered the land of fountains, hosting 144 fountains. The real showstopper is the Samson fountain and the Grand Cascade. We received preferential treatment and a private tour of the cascade and the grotto underneath. We viewed all of the pipes, as well as the two of Peter's many "trick" fountains throughout the property. Next, we toured the lower gardens that spilled onto a walkway along the Gulf of Finland. Like the Catherine Palace, this palace was captured and gutted by German troops after the fall of the autocracy. When they began to sense this destruction, they buried many important statues from fountains underneath the ground. While this trick didn't work at every palace that was destroyed by German troops, it was effective for some of the statues seen atop of fountains at Peterhof. I loved Peterhof so very much and could have spent all day there. Another traditional Russian meal including a heap of dill was enjoyed and then back to the hostel for nap time! We all recovered before a few of us went to a restaurant called Fish and Chips. I enjoyed an ale, green beans, and popcorn chicken (coated in dill of course!). We had good conversation over good food. 

 

Monday began at 9:30 am, and we were headed to the Higher School of Economics for a lecture on Russian Identity. I found it extremely interesting as I consider my own identity being rooted in American ideas with the influence of the culture that I was born into almost 20 years ago. After the lecture, we hurried over to a canal boat tour of Saint Petersburg. While I enjoyed it very much, it was all in Russian, it wasn't my favorite river/canal cruise I've taken abroad. (Belgium and Netherlands are tied for first! lol) I got some really nice photographs from the boat ride! After the ride, we enjoyed (probably my favorite meal thus far!) a Pelmeni restaurant. Pelmeni is a traditional Russian dumpling. While I did not have pelmeni, I thoroughly enjoyed dim sum (traditional Chinese dumpling) and Vareniki (traditional Russian pierogi) and a refreshing coca-cola! I would definitely recommend it and go back! After dinner, we decided to stop in the Saint Petersburg H&M! We heard that some of the clothing was way more reasonable than in the states. Boy, they were right! I love buying cute clothing abroad and in my travels as I enjoy wearing them and reminiscing about my trips and travels! I got a grey dress with pockets, a floral short-sleeve top, silver hook earrings, and striped flowy dress-casual pants (that are the right length on me! truly surprising and made my day!) After grabbing some crazy black ice cream in a blue waffle cone, I'm back at the hostel, in bed, and ready to catch some zzz's!

The warm showers have continued!! Woohoo!

 

Until next time,

 

Maria

 

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Day 10-13

Tuesday began with a hop, skip and a leap over to Saint Isaac's Cathedral. Recently part of this museum was given back to the Orthodox church and now believing Russians are free to practice in a part of the cathedral. The interior of the cathedral was absolutely gorgeous. Across the street, the lilac trees/bushes were in full bloom so of course, I had to take a picture in front of them! After lunch, we went to a Russian siege museum, and on the way, we got a chance to see the Bronze Horseman, a gift from Catherine the Great to Peter the Great. It was small and interesting, but by the end, we were all so tired! I saw a really cool, 20th-century French Horn! Once again- obligatory picture!!

 

On Wednesday we trekked back across town to the Kunstkamera, which holds many of nature's curiosities. There were some strange parts to this museum, but the view from the tower which once was the city's first observatory, over the Neva river was absolutely gorgeous! For lunch, we went to a BBQ place that Dr. Darrow has raved about. My grilled shrimp with corn and fries with aioli was truly worth raving about. It was absolutely delicious!! Once again, post-lunch naps were required to recover from the walking and knowledge overload. 

 

Thursday was our free day! Emilee, Ashley, Eric, Vickey, and I enjoyed a late lunch at McDonald's! Can't go wrong with a cheap classic that remains pretty consistent! Later that day we attended the Higher School of Economics' Culture Day. Given only a few days warning, our booth was simply okay. I really enjoyed walking around and observing all of the other cultures and countries and watching the students interact with each other. We taught the group a line dance- the cupid's shuffle! It was a lot of fun, especially to get other students involved in it on the whim! Thursday evening was our planned "pub crawl" with one of the HSE students, Nana. It was a fun, late night! I got to karaoke to some Real Slim Shady by Eminem! (If you are a friend of mine, you know this to be my iconic car rap song! lol) 

 

Friday began way too early, lol. We were off to the Russian Museum, this museum was focused solely on Russian artists' works. There were some amazing works, and one of our lecturers from the Higher School of Economics, Sergei, toured us around and truly gave us historical insight on the pieces. A few of us stayed behind to finish looking at the 20th-century pieces. Then we went to lunch at another new restaurant. I enjoyed the traditional Russian dumplings called Pelmeni, and french fries. It was all extremely delicious! We walked back to the hostel from there for some downtime. I decided for my final meal in Saint Petersburg, I wanted to self-reflect and eat alone. I went two doors down to a restaurant that some of our UD students had tried. I enjoyed a glass of cabernet sauvignon, some bread with herb butter, a small steak, and finished it off with a hot lava cake brownie. It was a wonderful meal. I sat outside with a blanket they provided, heater above me, food in my belly, and journal in front of me, and the Russian people before me, walking by on the busy street.

Saint Petersburg was an absolutely incredible experience. I feel so extremely blessed to have been given this opportunity to return to the place where my beautiful journey began. The city is one of great heritage, great character, and truly wonderful people. I love where I am in Dayton, I love my home in Bethel Park, and now- I can say that I love where I came from. Excited to travel 4 hours by train to Moscow tomorrow. Will continue to update!

Until next time,

Maria 

Day 14-16

Bright and early on Saturday, we packed up our belongings and new souvenirs onto the sapsan (high speed) train for the four hour trip from Saint Petersburg to Moscow. I absolutely loved the train ride. The leg room was great, seats comfortable, and views of the countryside, amazing. We arrived in Moscow around 3 pm on Saturday. Then traveled by bus to our new hostel. It is a Star Wars themed hostel, and the room shared by us 8 ladies is quite tight. After settling in, we were off to dinner at a restaurant called Propaganda. I enjoyed a shrimp sandwich, arugula salad, and jasmine rice. After dinner, we briefly toured Red Square, saw St. Basil's, and the Alexander Gardens. My first observation of Moscow is how similar it is to a place like  Washington, D.C., contrasting the small city Saint Petersburg. 

 

Day two in Moscow began with a bus/walking tour of the city with our guide, Tatiana. We hit a lot of main attractions including, but not limited to, Alexander Gardens, Sparrow Hill, and the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Below are many images from the day. We also took a trip to the metro to a walking outdoor shopping area of Moscow. I picked up lots of souvenirs for friends and family. I got myself a Winnie the Pooh and friends matryoshka doll (nesting doll). Later on Sunday evening, some of us trekked down the road to a place called, Marketplace. It's similar to a Giant Eagle Market District with different types of food and drinks. Probably enjoyed one of the best mojitos in Russia here with good friends and good conversations. For my meal, I had some sort of a meat sandwich on one of those cool black buns and had a side of fingerling potatoes. 

 

Monday morning began with a stop at KFC for an early lunch, unfortunately, the chicken strips did not settle well in my stomach. Next, we went to a Moscow Russian History Museum. It covered primarily the early half of the 19th century. There was a special exhibit on Alexander II which was extremely interesting. In this segment of the museum was also some sheet music from the famed composer, Strauss written for the coronation of Alexander II. After this museum, we had an appointment to visit the Kremlin. While the inside was gorgeous, we were not allowed to take any photos or videos. Inside we witnessed the crown jewel room, many of the imperial carriages, and many beautiful gowns of the royal family including the final Empress of Russia. I did some final shopping (including some for my mother, which I will not spoil here, haha, nice try, mama). We had some tasty milkshakes and burgers at the Beverly Hills Diner. And that's a wrap on Monday in Moscow. Despite the tension in the small space, I've made some great friends who love me for whom I am and found some trustworthy pals. 

 

Until next time,

 

Maria 

19 Years Later . . .

19 Years Later . . .

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Black Bun Burger and Potatoes

Black Bun Burger and Potatoes

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Hammer and Sickle in Metro Station

Hammer and Sickle in Metro Station

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Kit Kat Milkshake

Kit Kat Milkshake

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Me and Fountain at Alexander Gardens

Me and Fountain at Alexander Gardens

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Cathedral of Christ the Savior

Cathedral of Christ the Savior

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Park near Monastery

Park near Monastery

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Strauss' Sheet Music

Strauss' Sheet Music

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"History Blah Blah Blah"

"History Blah Blah Blah"

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Patriot Flowers @ Alexander Gardens

Patriot Flowers @ Alexander Gardens

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Russia in Preparation

Russia in Preparation

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Lilac Trees in Moscow

Lilac Trees in Moscow

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Day 17-18

Tuesday began with walking a short distance to Starbucks for a delicious hot chocolate. It really is true that Americans oversweeten everything and this drink just hit the spot being not overly sugary. Then, walking over to Red Square, we got in the expanding line that traveled through Lenin's mausoleum. Fortunately, we got there in decent time to not wait too long in the beating sun and swarms of Asian tour groups. It's a simple matter of fact that I call them swarms because some Asian countries do not need a visa to enter Russia, making it an easier tourist/vacation spot for them. Once we passed through the metal detectors, we walked down a path lined with graves of important Russian figures. (once past the mausoleum on the continuing path, one can even find Stalin!) We entered the mausoleum, which is a grey concrete, and rigid structure to be greeted by guards lining the inside every 5-7 feet. Being Americans, our group tends to discuss and do so a little too loudly, and some ladies in our ensemble were hushed immediately and crassly by the guards. I've been in somber rooms before (ie. funerals of family members), but the mood in this room was unlike any other that I've felt. As another student in our group remarked, "That room was filled with bad energy", and I couldn't agree more with her. Lenin's body was unreal. For a body that has been preserved for almost a century, it looked frozen in time, similar to that of a wax figure. I'm so glad that I was able to experience it! It was truly wild! For lunch, I enjoyed some final Russian pelmeni! The evening ended with a group dinner out! It was very fun and tasty, and I enjoyed Fettucini Carbonara as my meal!

 

Unfortunately, we had to be up, dressed and packed at 2:00 am on Wednesday. So after our group dinner, I simply took a cat-nap. It's currently 4:31 pm and I'm waiting to board my Pittsburgh flight from Newark, in Moscow, it is 11:32 pm and my day is not quite over. My first two longest flights are over and they were okay! Luckily, I was able to catch some zzz's on my first two flights, but I simply cannot wait to be back in the burgh, see my family, and my pups! I also love handing out the souvenirs that I buy for family and friends, so I'm very eager to do that!!

 

Overall, I was truly blessed to have been given the chance to travel back to my homeland. I had a wonderful time making UD friends, enjoying Russian cuisine, and taking in the beautiful sights of Moscow and Saint Petersburg. I would definitely return if given the opportunity, but I'm also eager to check more cities off my bucket list! 

 

Until my family shenanigans in Virginia in June . . . Ciao!!

 

Maria

Early Morning Airport
Lunch on the Plane
Russian Vodka w/ Traditional Pickle
Starbucks!
Pelmeni! Russian Dumplings
Birch Trees in Alexander Gardens
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