A Week in Leningrad

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Please forgive the long stretch of time between the pre-departure post and this one. I had no access to a good internet connection until just yesterday. Fortunately, that has been the only hitch thus far during my time in St. Petersburg.

Russia is a wonderful country. It is not inherently European or Asian - It's an entirely different animal. I'm not really sure how to describe it myself.

I am staying in a Leningrad flat with my host-mother Natasha. We live just off of a busy street by the name of Moskovskiy Prospekt, which runs south toward Novgorod and Moscow. Though the skies are always grey and the streets are perpetually covered in brown slush, ice, and puddles, it is by no means a depressing city. The degree of so-called 'westernization' since the Soviet era is astounding, and I'm continually shocked by the amount of signs, items, posters, and reglami (commercials) that have English and non-Cyrillic elements.

I am studying at the Smolniy Institut of political science on the eastern part of the city centre. The campus is absolutely breathtaking - a horseshoe-shaped complex of white walls and blue domes, with a brilliant Orthodox cathedral at the centre. Of course, there are magnificent Orthodox churches all over the city, and a load more thousand-year-old churches out in Novgorod, the birthplace of Russia, where I spent this past weekend.

Items like food and toiletries are horribly inexpensive in Russia, and that's on top of an exchange rate in my favour (somewhere between 28.8 and 29.5 roubles to the dollar). Electronics, on the other hand, cost an arm and a leg. Pricing here is a set of polar opposites, especially in chain coffee shops such as "Kofe Hauz," where a lunch that would cost me 80 roubles at my local Produkti market turned out to be 480 roubles (and let me tell you, I wasn't happy about getting one meal for the price of six. See if I get a regular Americano at the Kofe Hauz ever again).

But I digress. St. Petersburg is a mix of the present-day Russia, the Soviet years, and imperial Russia all crammed together into one city. In one day, one can go from the Hermitage - Winter Palace and other buildings commissioned by the Tsars - to the statues of Lenin at Moskovskaya Station and Lenin Square, and then to the massive shopping mall, Gostiny Dvor, on the Nevskiy Prospect. And, of course, all of these things are closer than ever thanks to the horribly efficient St. Petersburg Metro System, which I take every day on my commute to campus.

I suppose that's enough for right now. I will here add a few pictures taken during this past week and call it a night.

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The statue of Lenin at Ploshad Lenina (Lenin Square), just south of Finlyandskiy Railway Station.

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The starry-towered corner of the Monastery at Novgorod, a complex housing the 1150 year-old cathedral of St. Yuriy (St. George). Here, I am sporting my new shapka, a gift from my host mother.

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The grand staircase at the Winter Palace (Hermitage).

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A portion of the campus at Smolniy Institut.

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Last but certainly not least: During the tour of St. Petersburg we were given on our first day in the city, these two guys that had parked their Toyota on the side of the road could not get it running. The tour group broke out the cables and gave our comrades a jump, and they went on their way.

I suppose that's all for now. Until next time, do zvidaniya.

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