Sunday, June 29, 2014


It was successful day at Urozero.  The group of people consisted of an approximately equal amount of Americans and Russians.  We met at the university around 9:45 a.m. and like usual, some of the students were running late due to miscalculations of public transportation.  Luckily, we were able to depart shortly after 10 a.m..  The bus ride was a brief 20 minute journey.  When the bus arrived at Urozero we were allowed to move around freely and explore, which was very nice not to be “on a chain.”  Everyone was in a very relaxed mood because the weather was beautiful (17°C) and sunny, which was definitely the best weather we had experienced since we arrived in Petrozavodsk.  Initially, everyone went their separate ways.  Devan and Liz took a modest stroll around the camp.  Karen, Morgan, Tia, and Alina went for an adventurous expedition in a row boat, luckily the wind wasn’t heavy or they probably would have been doing circles for hours! J Neil went swimming in the lake for approximately an hour.  It is still a mystery how Neil was able to withstand the frigid water for that long, because the temperature was probably under 10°C.  Ryan, Adam, Brett and Ivan (the Russian who won) played an unofficial game of basketball for a while until it became tiring.  The women came back to shore, some people were sunbathing while Ryan and Brett jumped off the pier.

Soon after these early morning events a big group of Russians and Americans joined together to play a game of “futbol” aka soccer.  There was a dramatic concern from the older Russian gentlemen that Ryan couldn’t play because his only footwear was sandals, but he played anyway.  It was Haley’s first time playing a game of soccer and it just so happened to be in Karelia.  By the way, she did very well.  Zhenya, who is an experienced soccer player, showed everyone how Russians play the game of soccer.  He scored multiple goals, including an open netter! 

I think we all learned how soccer can be a dangerous sport.  Some spectators were hit by the soccer ball.  One of the Russian students was hit in the eye, and Svetlana’s young daughter Liza was hit in the foot which made her cry. L  Ryan was bleeding from the finger, foot, and knee, what’s new?  Overall, soccer was a success and many people were able to play, including the American professors Karen and Jamie.  Though many people didn’t play, they found other activities around the camp to keep them preoccupied such as photography, sunbathing and relaxing.  After soccer, everyone migrated to the mess hall and munched down some soup, bread and veggies.  I think Adam was slightly sketched out that the camp obtained their water straight from the lake, but it’s always a learning experience!
After lunch, the beautiful young women took advantage of the banya for about 45 minutes, which was surely not long enough to banya.  Also, they all had the courage to jump in the lake after coming out of the banya.  It shows how they really wanted to get the full Russian banya experience, plus it was well needed after being in 100°C banya.  After the ladies, the men had their turn to take a banya and there were many more men who desired the banya than women.  I counted 10 guys inside of the 6-person banya, which left 4 of us standing including me.  We did 1 round, jumped in the lake, came back and this time the American students went nude, because we felt it was awkward to wear our plavki (swimsuits) while all the Russians were butt naked.  It was a good experience and we all beat ourselves with the birch boughs.  Adam and Neil didn’t go to dachas the previous weekend, so it was their first time banyaing and probably a very memorable one.

After banya it was approximately 3-3:30 and by this time everyone was fairly exhausted from swim, banya, sun, and playing a wide variety of athletic activities.  A few of us played a very strange game of volleyball with essentially no rules.  Lena, one of the Russian gals, was making these very creative flower wreaths that could be worn on a person’s head.  Morgan was hanging out down by the lake enjoying the wonderful weather and a few students were waiting for the bus to come. The bus arrived around 4:30 and it was time to load up and drive back to the university.  The bus ride home was a quiet one and most people were exhausted from all the physical activity at Urozero.  Although we were all wiped out, I think most people enjoyed the trip and the weather couldn’t have been nicer!
My own thoughts on the trip:
I’ve learned that not all lakes and rivers in Russia are cloudy and polluted, and Urozero was a very clear, cold and seemingly clean lake.  People must be careful walking in the water though because there were many rusty pieces of metal.  Now I also think the Americans have a better understanding of the passion that Russians have for futbol (soccer) because the older Russian guys were quite serious about the game.  I’ve also found out that it’s a wise idea to wear full shoes when you play soccer, not sandals because the feet will bleed.  Another strange thing that I noticed at the Urozero camp was that the outhouses didn’t have gas vents.  Who seriously built those outhouses?  Even an idiot would be smart enough to install a simple pipe through the roof to exhaust the smelly gases from the waste beneath.  One word to future travelers of Urozero, change into your swimsuits outside because it stinks in there!  It was very nice to have freedom to do what we desired during this event, and I’m glad we were able to go there.  It was also very nice to spend some non-school related bonding time with the Russians, and I wish more of the Russian students came with.  It was a fun day by the lake, and I’m glad I got to banya again, even though there were way too many naked guys packed into that small room.  I’m going to build a banya/sauna hybrid at my house in MN, so I can get the best of both Russia and Finland. J  Это всё.
by Ryan Puzel

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Day of the City

'Day of the City' sounded tame enough. When I heard that my Russian friends and I would spend our Saturday at this event, I began to slightly question just how much there would be to do down at Petrozavodsk's embankment. Upon arrival, these doubts were erased.

Thousands of people swarmed about the city's center on this day. We began our tour of festivities in an older neighborhood, where many were dressed in costumes of bygone eras: women in traditional Karelian clothing, men in WWI-era military uniforms (to commemorate the start of the First World War, 100 years earlier), and children dressed up as all sorts of historic characters. One of these children told me that my boots looked sad, and he would polish and shine them for a mere 5 rubles, but they were in such poor shape that I didn't want to make him work for half an hour...

Local craftspeople also lined these old, unpaved streets, peddling various handmade goods, such as pottery, textiles, trinkets, and antiques. One of these vendors had a pile of miscellaneous vintage Russian goods: a samovar or two, clothing, and manuals for old москвич cars were among the items spread out. I browsed the items, and decided to take a Polaroid of one of the individuals responsible for this collection, a dreadlock-sporting man next to a samovar. I began to walk away, but had already attracted some attention.

A woman in a rabbit costume and a man dressed as the mad hatter ran up to me and asked questions about the old camera that just made the picture. It was quite a novelty to them, and they seemed to think it was the coolest thing ever. These two people whisked me away to a tent next to the antiques and dreadlock guy (everyone seemed to know one another), much to the horror and amusement of my Russian friends. A samovar was already fired up under this tent, and I was given a hot cup to tea with a couple sugar cubes, complete with an antique spoon to stir it. After my tea was complete, I was returned to my group of friends. Even they were unable to explain the strange situation. "It's Russia," one friend simply stated.

After this, we moved toward the city's embankment along the lake. Here was where most of the action occurred. Several stages were occupied with performers. Some played music, some told jokes I couldn't understand, and some were normal people engaged in a hilarious dance competition. The sidewalks here were packed full of vendors and kiosks, including a few strange ones. A portable баня was among these, with men inside sweating profusely, visible through its clear plastic windows, and men standing around outside of it, also sweating. 

As the evening grew later, the sky was lit with the glow of the white nights for hours. Haze from countless kabob grills filled the sidewalks on the embankment, adding an effect to this glow. After the sun finally dipped behind the horizon, my friends and I made our way back home. Before going to sleep, I watched the scheduled fireworks at 1am from the balcony of my host's home. Fireworks in the light was kind of a strange sight.

This city celebration was unlike any other I've ever been to. The level of involvement from the community was impressive; it seemed like most of the city closed for the day and made its way down to the embankment for festivities. Similar events I've been to were far, far smaller; fewer people, only a handful of attractions, and more predictable. The large size did not seem to have any effect on the hospitality of complete strangers, though--every person I interacted with was far nicer than I could have imagined, with some even giving me things. These interactions have provided me with some great stories, I think.
Devan Burnett

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


On Wednesday, June 25, we traveled on Lake Onega for over an hour via hydrofoil to reach Kizhi Island. Located about forty miles away from Petrozavodsk, two possible forms of transportation are provided: hydrofoil or helicopter. The high waves that day combined with the long boat ride reduced our appetites but not the opportunity to experience an island rich in history.      
We arrived around lunch time and walked along the wooden path that encircled the island. A Russian student, from last summer’s English exchange to Duluth, led us to the log churches that were built around the end of the seventeenth century. The summer church was being reconstructed during our visit, so we toured the inside of the winter church and the bell tower. We learned that some truth holds from the legend: nails are not fastening the pine logs together to uphold the Russian buildings. The secret is that wooden nails were used instead of metal, securing the shape and preserving the wood from wear and tear during rain and snow.
Interestingly, the coloring of the summer church reminded me of a Finnish flag. We were told that the logs of the church were painted white while blue sheet metal covered the top. Looking at the annexes of the church from above, one will note the symbol of the cardinal directions as well as the cross. The story of the aspen shingles that create the onion domes stuck out to me. Depending on the time of day, the shingles would transform the image of the church. If the shining sun reached the aspen tops, the reflection turned the wood a golden-yellow color, representing a beautiful young woman. In the evenings or on a cloudy day, the shingles shimmered silver, symbolizing an elderly woman’s hair.
         Kizhi is located in the region, Zaonezh’e, which means behind the lake. The Karelian and Finnish people initially living here strongly believed in their practiced rituals and traditions, giving the island its name. On the island, we walked around in a Russian izba (log house). In one large room, three specific areas were silently sectioned off by shelving units within the wood panels above. Guests would enter the room and wait at the first borderline to be welcomed in. The next section included the eating table and living room. Off to the side, the last border created the dimensions of the kitchen.
Walking into the room near the kitchen, we watched a woman stitch an embroidered cloth. I learned that a pattern starts and finishes in the same spot, creating an intricately woven circle within the fabric. Though, women’s roles did not stop at the large room of the isba or the embroidery room. We reached a room where boats, tools, and a large woven basket were found. Men of the house worked here during the day, but women were also involved in taking the heavy wooden canoe into the lake. The item in this area that intrigued me the most was the washing machine. The women would fill a large, rectangular woven basket with dirty clothes, stones, and ash before closing the top and placing the structure into the lake. Gently rocked in the water by the waves, the clothes would be washed and ready to dry in the wind.
Overall, despite the strong wind and possibility of encountering a snake, I really enjoyed the visit to the Kizhi Island museum. About two centuries ago, homes were rebuilt to allow merchants and guides to live on this four-mile long island. If I could, I would be a tour guide for a year or two and experience living in a place where you really get what you put in. Many stories told represented women as strong leaders of this sacred island, making their practiced roles very important. On the island, the expected  way of living felt so different than anywhere I have experienced. My recommendation is to take the opportunity to visit Kizhi at some point in your life!
by Tia Pollak

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Vozdukh: Air

Vozdukh, Воздух, Воздух; What can I say about Vozdukh?
It is an open air concert, held a short distance from the city of Petrozavodsk and in most respects resembles any other diverse rock concert. A variety of people from other places (Americans, Finns, Swedes, Germans, and more), diverse styles of bands, and of course lots of beer.
The differences, however, are striking. Security was much tighter and there was not only a quick check point and search, but also a large number of police around and about. Not security hired by the festival, but police, honest to God, armored, pistol-wielding, not-so-officer friendly cops. They also had a large gap between the stages (there were two) and the crowd. Again, policemen saunter about the gap, ready to intercept any stage-diving enthusiasts. The crowd was also surprisingly calm, mostly simply standing there, occasionally waving their hands or producing devil's horns here and there. As far as I could tell, only twice did a mosh pit form (for 16 Tonn and Slot) and both bands played great music for it (American and heavy Russian metal respectively). The enthusiasm from us few moshers couldn't have been higher, and we slammed about with great glee. I don't know how common they are, but in addition to ground cameras, several camera drones floated above the crowd, taking pictures and videos endlessly, only occasionally returning to refuel.

Just like any large festival, the crowd was diverse. Normal people make up the majority, with smaller sections of insanity present. Hippies seemed to be rare, but this isn't too surprising since the bands and festival didn't radiate a woodstock feel. Dedicated rock fans can be spotted easily by tattoos, shirtlessness, flag-wielding and denim jacets/vests with patches. (In Russia, the denim jacket /vest with patches signifies a rock fan, not a more heavy metal/death metal fan as it would in the States.) The weirdest thing was seeing the southern cross (confederate battle flag) flying and swooping around. The Russians must think it looks cool or simply associate it with southern rock, rather than the many negative connotations most Americans apply to it. Also present was a large number of black-wearing emo/goth/new punk style clothes and makeup because the Finnish band The Rasmus was playing. And finally the older, semi-retired rockers and concert goers appeared last and latest, in droves. Some were old men, properly and highly dressed, others were midde-aged and came to enjoy the band of their youth, DDT. These people differ from teh regular concert going only in age and duration of visit.

For the most part, the groups performing at Vozdukh were Russian and in Russian rock styles (minor keys, focus on Am as the main key). In addition to many rock groups performing Russian rock, there were several examples of folk rock, gypsy rock, and rock groups playing with brass sections, which reminded me of Chicago. And of course there was only one American cover band. The main bands, and the ones I'll be summarizing are as follows: 16 Tonn, Slot, The Rasmus, DDT.

16 Tonn is an American cover band which has amazing talent. They played ACDC, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and I think Pink Floyd. They are one of the only bands that have my approval to cover Led after listening to their cover of Immigrant Song.

Slot (Слот) is a heavy/hard rock band with some scremo infuence, they have 2 singers who often trade off parts. Slot "Battle" Fairly good, their music went between American and Russian keys. I was impressed with their drive, rhythms and crowd-pleasing. This was the only other group that had a mosh pit going constantly.

The Rasmus sounds like a emo\rock mixed with hard rock. The Rasmus "Sail Away" If I remember correctly, the themes of the songs were often sad, the bassist had an emo look and even said at one point that he was sad until he started performing and saw the crowd. I would say they are good musicians and performers, but I don't care for their music. This did not deter me from enjoying the atmosphere of the crowd and clapping when needed. The best part was when they played a popular Russian song, the entire crowd started clapping along, moving to the beat. Even those who disliked the Rasmus' music were suddenly swayed. Russian horde mentality is pretty powerful!

Since I left slightly early and the concert was running late, I missed a large chunk of DDT's performance. (They really need to extend the bus hours for special events). DDT, in addition to being a classic piece of Russian rock history, played on patriotic feelings by playing music to montages of WW2 footage extolling the heroic actions of Russian soldiers. (June 22 was the anniversary of Hitler's invasion of Russia in 1941) But it was quality music and didn't feel slow or old like some Russians said it was. It felt like 70's/80's rock. DDT "That is all I will leave behind"
by Neil McCafferty

Dacha Weekend!

This evening we set out for the dachas. My host, having none nearby herself, arranged for my stay to be with another girl by the name of Ksenija. I would meet her for the first time that day over tea and peroshkis. After a long walk to the bus station we procured tickets and found ourselves on a very bumpy and neglected road to the village of Derevnya.

Our destination was remote, completely removed of city sounds and smells. Tall red pines towered over the roads and seemed to glow orange with the twilight sun, late as it was. After navigating the large potholes, we came to a tiny village whose single store had closed from lack of business many years before.

The village and its many dachas made for a completely different world. Time slowed to a pace where it could barely be recognized as passing by. Where the inner bowels of the city were bleak and grey, the dachas and sheds were bright pops of colour against the greenery. Fences typically embraced each dacha and were a variety of materials, styles, and heights. Many of the yards displayed beautiful flower and vegetable gardens evidently tended to with a relaxed but purposeful care. It was as if the dull and identical nature of city apartments only fostered the desire to create a colourful and elegant world through the paint and decor of the dachas.

After walking a ways, we came to a dacha brown and orange in palette. A great deal of barking greeted us before we even saw the owner of such excited declaration. A wolfish dog appeared around the corner with almost cinnamon coloured fur that matched well with the dacha. The dog was called Illyusha after the granddaughter practically begged her family to adopt from the streets. Despite the grandparent's initial reluctance, the canine squirmed his way into the family, living with them at the dacha during the summer.

I soon learned that Ludmilla and Sergei lived at the dacha for the short summer months. Having both retired, Sergei bought an acre of tall grass in the village, eventually single-handedly building an entire estate from nothing, complete with dacha, banya, garage, sheds, and an outhouse. The amount of effort and resolve proving exceptionally impressive given his lack of any construction experience.

Neither of the grandparents knew much English, so communicating with them was quite the task when the granddaughter was not around to translate. The grandmother was your typical Russian babushka, constantly offering food and prodding us to eat all of the delicious dishes and sweets eternally being replenished on the table. The babushka's hands and face were tanned and weathered, revealing a life of hard work and self-sustainability. Even though her hand were calloused from tending to her gardens, they moved with a deliberate grace. Many of the dishes that were prepared for us featured pickled vegetables or jams that she had preserved. With years of experience, the babushka had managed to perfect traditional Russian dishes, cooking kasha, peroshkis, and stews that even the pickiest of tongues would have to call delicious.

What struck me most about the dacha was its air of simplicity. Even though there was running water and electricity, the living room was heated to a toasty temperature using a wood stove, the heat-sink and chimney painted a soft yellow. The walls and ceilings were covered with wooden panels and pieces of art created by the babushka's daughter and granddaughter along with a variety of rugs that were dispersed along them. A TV in the corner was often on and it became something of a game for me guessing the stories and relationships behind the characters who spoke too quickly for me to understand.

Babushka Ludmilla proudly showed me her garden full of future berries and vegetables: potatoes, carrots, cabbage, squash, beans, onions, and radishes. She took me on a tour of the entire yard including the inside of the garage despite protests from her grandaughter that such a place was hardly interesting. On a nearby bush I saw a snail (ulitka) and delighted by the opportunity, I bent down to take a picture. Before I could finish focusing, the babushka exclaimed something, grabbed the subject matter, and threw it over the fence with a sound effect I couldn't even explain. I soon learned these snails (despite being a little cute) were big fans of eating her vegetables. I asked the babushka if I could take pictures of the dacha and gardens. She happily obliged and even pointed out dozens of snails for me to photograph. She would point to each and every snail she found with "Alina, smotri. Ulitka, ulitka, ulitka, tam, tam, tam."

After our fill of warm milk, we slept rather soundly enveloped in the heat of beds behind the chimney.

The grandfather (dedushka), granddaughter, Illyusha, and I made a trip to the store the following day to pick up some groceries. Illyusha loved to ride in the back of the car and was tall enough to poke his head over the back seat to lick the ears of any unsuspecting passengers. The dedushka came back from the tiny market with 3 ice cream cones. One for me, one for his granddaughter, and after taking a bite of one himself, he gave the third cone to Illyusha who apparently loves ice cream.

We then went to the shore of Lake Onega to walk along the beach. Although it was too windy and cold to swim or take a rowboat out, the place was gorgeous to behold. The long expanse of sandy shore was broken by periodic boat sheds that leaned and tipped from storms and age. The nails and hinges were rusty and the walls comprised of wooden boards were often painted with a variety of lichens and mosses. The beach was littered with broken glass and charred pieces of wood. Ksenija said that the village and lake shores were much cleaner when she was a little girl. The place felt very familiar, akin to the more stony shores of Lake Superior. Only yards from the lake grew giant red pines that sheltered smaller, softer plants, fungi, and moss beneath. The sun could barely permeate the thick canopy and the atmosphere of the forest reminded me of an old Russian fairytale (сказка)

The entirety of my stay felt as though it took place in a very different time, where the connection with the land was not yet completely severed. Hours wandered by, but no one seemed to take much notice. Warm food was always ready and the dacha was filled with warmth from conversation and wood stove alike. I think the dachas are a wonderful--and maybe even essential--apsect of Russian and human culture. The break-neck pace of our lives in cities, businesses, and universities drains us and we forget that the life we have now is hardly the only way of living.

By Alina Peter

Monday, June 16, 2014


After our long train ride we finally arrived in Petrozavodsk to meet with our hosts who were waiting for us just outside the train stop. It was early in the morning and everyone went directly to their hosts' home for some breakfast and acquaintance with the families. 
Meeting my host and her mother was fun, they gave me a warm welcoming and I quickly settled in to get ready and meet up with the group again for a walking tour of the city. We began by meeting at the university, and into our group were other Russian students who were also in the program but were not hosting American students. We were shown different museums and important buildings of the city which we would later go to excursions for. Many of us Americans began to think while walking on this tour that it was a small city reminding us of home, and that it wouldn’t be so hard for us to roam around ourselves, after learning a little more Russian vocabulary. What stood out to me the most was the Petrozavodsk embankment. It has such a beautiful view and is a nice place to sit around when the weather ofcourse like that day was nice out. There are many sculptures and monuments that are placed there that were gifts from other countries, which caught the attention of many of us.

During our long tour we met many more Russian students who kept popping up, they were all so exited to see us and liked to ask us many questions about similarities and differences we were noticing from Russian culture to the American culture. Having only experienced the big city of St. Petersburg yet at this point we didn’t have much to reply, but I would tell them about out metro station experiences and our beginnings of the trolleybus experience here in Petrozavodsk which they only knew to well.
            After our walking tour of the city all the Russian and us American students in the program met with officials and Professors of the Petrozavodsk State University at the 25th annual opening banquet of the Language Camp. We were all to present ourselves to the guests in Russian, which was making all of us American students tense we might choke up in the middle of our speech, and were thankful we had had time before with our hosts to practice and ask for some help. Fortunately we all did well, and having tea breaks during a couple introductions also helped, which is a big part of the Russian culture as we have been noticing. It was very nice to hear the history of the camp and also get acquainted with more Russian students who were graduates of the program and had also traveled to the U.S.. Little did I know about the beginning of the camp myself and meeting people that had made the camp possible from the beginning was very interesting.
            And so our adventure in Petrozavodsk continues. I do think host families have a lot to do with the program itself, and for me it has been such a pleasant transition. Waiting for the banquet to begin some of the Russian students took me to a nearby café. I felt aroused being surrounded by so many of them and only one of me, but I took the opportunity to begin expanding my knowledge on the Russian language and culture, and I bet they also learned a lot from myself after so many questions I was crammed with. I was already making so many memories on our first day in Petrozavodsk, no need to feel exhausted just yet ;)


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Night Train St. Petersburg--Petrozavodsk

Human beings are constantly attempting to find new and innovative ways to get from one place to another. They have used horses, cars, planes, carriages, and bicycles both in the past and present. One mode of transportation certainly stands out as an experience all on its own; the train. We arrived at the train station after a long day of walking around the city of Saint Petersburg. We set down our luggage and then waited for our iron carriage to come riding into the station. The station was bustling with people, a large amount of which seemed military. 
After climbing up several flights of stairs in a sort of tower made of glass, I was able to see the machine that would be taking us from one destination, full of experiences, to another. 

The sun was low in the sky and it softly illuminated the clouds while it rested on the striking silver train. It was evening, and it was time to go for a ride. The total train ride was eight hours long, but in the end it felt like much less. The scenery began to fly by in blurry swarms of green as we tried to settle into our space for the night. It was a sleeper train, so there weren’t really any seats; only beds. In each section there were four beds (two sets of bunk beds), plus one more on the other side of the walkway. The most difficult part with this arrangement was that there was absolutely no space for four people to stand up in the middle section and make their beds. One at a time, we unrolled our mattress, sheets, and blanket. Because I was on the top half of the bunk bed, I had to climb from bed to bed as well as awkwardly hold myself up by use of the bed opposite mine. It felt cramped, but that wasn’t too bad. It was almost cozy in a way, but it did not induce good conversation because there were not many places to sit. All you could do was lie down and go to sleep. So that is exactly what we did. The bathrooms were cramped and similar to what you would find in an airplane, but the train often moved so the bumps made getting ready interesting.

Sleep was somewhat difficult because the train often had to stop and start again. It really felt like we were on an adventure though and I couldn’t help but think of the scenes from White Christmas in which the men were forced to sit up in the train’s dining car all night because one had given their tickets for a sleeper car away to the lovely sisters. The morning quickly came and it was time to roll up all the sheets, blankets, and mattresses again as well as somewhat prepare for the day.

 We were all feeling a bit anxious I think because we were a couple of hours away from meeting our host families. We all spent the morning working on our introduction speeches and trying to think of something interesting to say about ourselves. While doing that, a couple of people bought tea which came in a glass with the famous metal sheath and handle. Just another reminder we were in Russia. After that we stepped off and were swept away by Petrozavodsk.
Morgan Scoville

Thursday, June 12, 2014

St. Petersburg

Здравствуйте from St Petersburg! We have arrived, what a rush it is. All the bustling city life and the culture to be explored and soaked up is helping us overcome our jet lag. After arriving at the terminal we took a bus to the hostel where we will be staying for a couple days! For me, when I picture a hostel, I think of an army-like bunker with far too many people sleeping on bunks, in a darkened room, with too many smells to register. But this place was far from the stereotypical hostel. It was like a gigantic slumber party with us six girls in a small room staying in a bunk bed sorta configuration with our own little cubbies and a shower room (баня) just down the hall. The name Graffiti was fitting for the place: rather than paintings covering the walls there were drawings, much like graffiti covering sidewalks, all unique and clever. We were in awe of it and as we unpacked our stuff and quickly did introductions we all had visions of the following weeks running wild in our heads. We faded into sleep and then next morning, after fighting the time difference, dressed and headed off to what would be one of the greatest meals of the trip! We all are in this little cafe, order bravely and are rewarded. We got everything from sweet apple Crepes to caviar and thick berry smoothies. It was amazing! That day's festivities only furthered our enthusiasm. We attended a boat tour that explored the city, detailing the history on all the beautiful architecture. Although it was hard to grasp fully, as the tour guide spoke Russian quickly, the history and the grandeur was recognized even without the verbal connection. 
Later in the day, heads covered and all, we visited a huge cathedral attributed to St. Alexander Nevsky himself during the time of war with Sweden. It was all so spectacular, with all the gold and the empowering presence of The Lord and all his followers. After all that walking we slowly realized two things: we would really be in shape after this trip but we would be exhausted. Nap time!

For that night's festivities, we all dressed up and took the metro down to the waterfront, where we proceeded to watch the bridge rise, so that the big boats (yachts) could pass through. It was really something! Nightly the bridges rise about 1:00 am and stay up until 5am so there is no going from one side of the river to the other. We walked back to the metro station to catch our route home. We ended up going in the wrong direction so we asked for help! They said we had crossed the river of the bridge we just saw rise and we were stuck. The "my gosh" look appeared upon all our faces, but luckily the very last metro to cross back was arriving in forty minutes. It was well worth the wait though and after fixing our mistake we only had to hike it back home. All the while, as we walked back to the hostel, it was getting dark only briefly and then the sun was lifting again. These white nights are just truly amazing! And thank goodness for curtains. Whew! The rest of the trip was dedicated to museums of art, history and war. All too fascinating seeing the comparison of our people and our sides of history, just spring to life in front of our eyes.

We ate many more delicious meals and enjoyed all the St. Petersburg-ian cultures we could. From climbing the Cathedral to view the city from a bird's-eye view, to visiting cemeteries of famous historical authors and individuals, to playing late night Jenga with our new Russian friends at the hostel, the fun never stops. And this is only the beginning; there were many more cups of tea to drink, many more conversations to be had, lessons to look forward to and culture to absorb! There is a lot more fun ahead but the memories made in St. Petersburg and the bonds formed with our Minnesotan fellow travelers, I wouldn't trade for all of the world.
     Haley Rae