Emily in Moscow

Emily is a senior majoring in Markets and Cultures, with a Russian minor, in Dedman College. During summer 2009, she participated in SMU-in-Moscow, an intensive five-week study of the language and culture of Russia. Emily received support for her travel and studies in Moscow from the Alexander V. Mamantov Memorial Scholarship and Kay Wiley Memorial Fund.

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St. Petersburg’s lasting impression

We woke up today and it was raining! Such a bummer considering the weather thus far has been almost too perfect.

We were hoping to get to visit the famous Hermitage Museum today, where Catherine the Great once resided, but unfortunately the line outside (even despite the rain) stretched for ages, and we’d have to wait approximately three hours to gain entry. This would have put a huge kink in our plans to visit Peterhof, so we made an executive decision and made our way to the boats that would take us across the Gulf of Finland to Peter the Great’s former palace.

The boat ride itself was very relaxing, and Laura and I shared some hot cinnamon almonds they were selling on the dock while we watched the ships and other tour boats go about their business.

IMG_0985-2.jpg Peterhof, the “Russian Versailles”

The grounds surrounding the palace were immense and had been turned into a tourist attraction, with souvenir stands and rustic restaurants tucked inside the wooded areas. Despite the effects of modernization, one could still imagine what Peterhof looked like in the 18th century, with its immaculate gold fountains leading up to a gorgeous white and gold facade. I can’t even properly describe how beautiful and awe-inspiring the gardens, stairways, and cascading fountains were that adorned the front of the palace that faced the gulf.

What’s amazing to think about it is that much of the grounds and palace itself were destroyed during WWII when the Germans used it as a headquarters during their siege of St. Petersburg. The Russians have done an amazing job of restoring and maintaining the authenticity of Peterhof. Although it is a modern-day tourist attraction, one feels transplanted into a different time while on the grounds.

A ballet unlike the others

After the trip to Peterhof we had an amazing, excitement-filled evening. We went to the Pushkin Russian Academic Theater of Drama, former Alexandrinsky Theater, one of the most beautifully ornate theatres I have ever laid eyes on to see Boris Eifman’s ballet, Onegin. This ballet was a hundred times better than the ones we saw at the Sumer Ballet Seasons in Moscow…especially in terms of the technical skill and ability of the dancers, and the story itself was just heart-wrenchingly thought-provoking.

The story was a tragedy in which a man fails to realize how his own hubris and egotistical tendencies rob him of the love of his life. What made the St. Petersburg version of Onegin so powerful was its modern twist on the otherwise traditional ballet. The set design, costumes and dancing itself was deliciously avante garde, and caused the audience to relate to a more realistic and progressive version of Onegin’s story.

To me, the dancers brought forth a sense of raw passion for life and all of its experiences that was not visible in the rigid, formal, almost monotonous dancing found in pieces like “Swan Lake.”

The ballet was definitely my favorite part of the St. Petersburg trip. I was totally entranced by the talent and dedication that were on display in front of me in one of the oldest theatres in Russia. It was a surreal experience…

St. Petersburg, one for the books

I am officially in love with St. Petersburg. It has such an amazing cultural history, and the baroque style of the buildings, such as the Hermitage, give the city a romantic flair that is unique to Russia. Peterhof and the city of St. Petersburg itself are a testament to the determination and hard work that Peter the Great put into creating a city that the entire world would admire and deem brilliantly designed and constructed.

I sound like a travel guide. But it really did make an impression on me. If I return to Russia for graduate school, it will be without a doubt to St. Petersburg. I love it.

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