New Places, New Purchases, New Hair

Visit to the Hermitage (finally…)

Despite living in St. Petersburg for nearly three months I hadn’t yet visited the State Hermitage. The Hermitage is one of the largest museums in the world and was founded by Catherine the Great in 1754. It is most recognisable for its vibrant bluey green colour, and I never tire of passing it on my commute to the Philology Faculty across the river. Grabbing my student card (which allows  students like me free entry!) and my Russian pal Maria we headed towards the museum on a rainy afternoon. I have visited the Hermitage once before on a school trip but had forgotten how massive it is inside. Rather than planning a route we simply wandered around and somehow managed to find some of the main sites: a beautiful automated clock, the Throne Room and the room where the Provisional Government were arrested during the October Revolution.

However our attention waned during our time around the second floor because of a commotion on Palace Square. Huge numbers of soldiers were rehearsing the military parade that would take place on the 9th May. Victory Day, celebrating the Russian defeat over the Nazis in the Great Patriotic War (the term Russians use to refer to WWII), is marked on the 9th May with military parades and firework displays. This was my first experience of the Russian glorification of military achievements. We gathered around the window to catch a sight of the soldiers marching to the sound of the military band.

Market Madness

With Spring very very slowly coming to St. Petersburg I really needed to find some new trainers to wear. Being reluctant to pay the Russian prices for imported goods I decided to brave the market.  I had heard from a friend that they did knock-off goods for a reasonable price, and so I went to try my luck with Sasha. The market was an overwhelming experience. Men at every stalls kept calling out to us (‘Hey Beauties!’, ‘My dear!’, ‘Pretty ladies!’) which raised my feminist hackles even though I recognised it was just standard market-fare to sell goods. However after half-an-hour I was really over the aggressive selling techniques. I was grateful that Sasha was there to guide me around and eventually I snapped up some fake-Puma trainers for 1600 roubles (about £20). There was a huge range of fake brands there, which reminded of Russia’s extremely relaxed attitude to copyright and branding laws!

Sunshine and Sailors 

 Over the weekend Issy and I decided to escape the city with a visit to one of the nearby towns. We chose Kronstadt, which is St. Petersburg’s seaport and also was the site of the Kronstadt Rebellion in 1921 which was a key factor in the transition from the tough economic policy of War Communism to a more relaxed New Economic Plan (NEP).

We boarded a bus and took the half an hour journey there early on a Sunday morning. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our student transport cards worked on the bus and so our journey was extremely cheap! Wandering towards the centre we stumbled upon the main site of Kronstadt – the Naval Cathedral. Built in 1913, it is the main church of the Russian Navy and is dedicated to all fallen seamen.

After exploring the church we exited and soon realised that Kronstadt, as a small town, didn’t really have much else for us to do. We sat by the water and enjoyed a picnic whilst bathing in the sun.

The next day was International Worker’s Day which is known as ‘The Day of Spring and Labour’ in modern Russia. We managed to find an excellent photo opportunity to celebrate the Soviet championing of hard work and shared reward.



Blondes have more fun..!

Lots of people on their Year Abroad take the opportunity to revamp their appearance. Whilst I’ve been here I’ve seen many friends get tattoos and piercings. The time had come for my own rebellion. I decided to fulfil my long-time dream of changing my hair to an alarming shade of blonde. I once again recruited the help of the ever-lovely and supportive Sasha who made sure I wasn’t asking the hairdresser for completely the wrong thing. Four hours in the salon later I emerged…

I realise that this segment isn’t the most fascinating from a ‘travel’ point of view, but I thought it was worth updating my family who read this blog so they don’t get too big a shock in the forthcoming photos..! However this story does have a lovely Russian twist. When we left the hairdressers we were greeted by a street full of Russian army vehicles which were gathered there in preparation for Victory Day!