By Jenny Jarrett
After living in Russia for one year and visiting again prior to my trip this summer, I thought that I would be very prepared for my experiences in St. Petersburg and Sochi. To my surprise, neither city was anything like Moscow or the lovely village of Beloomut, on the outskirts of Moscow.
I knew little of the northern capital and I was taken aback to see how much the Russia I knew had changed. It had become more Americanized since my first journey here in 2008. I saw more American and Russian chain restaurants than I ever knew existed, people sitting and writing in cafes, as well as a large percentage of the younger generation covered head to toe with tattoos and piercings. This was not something I saw even three years ago, and I was blown away. Not only was there a new color in the atmosphere, but there was also many remnants of the past.
Unlike Moscow, there are only five (soon to be six) metro lines to get lost on in St. Petersburg. One may still be able to stroll down Nevsky Prospekt and see old buildings and the more traditional produkti, but there is something amazing about Peter. It is a highly populated city, but it keeps an ever-so-welcoming small town feel to it.
I found myself in St. Petersburg on a Monday evening; due to the egregious error of my visa company, I had arrived later than my fellow classmates. After a long day of travel, all I wanted to do was locate my homestay and go to sleep. My student assistant, Ira, helped me find my house and introduced me to my new family, Tamara Nikolevna and her daughters Nastya and Lena.
With all of the excitement, I had forgotten that I was arriving during White Nights — sleeping would prove challenging the first few nights there. I soon grew accustomed to it and found that it didn’t matter whether the sun was shining when I went to bed, or even how hot it became in our eighth-floor apartment. My friends at home, who know little of Russia, were amused to find that I got the best tan of my life visiting St. Petersburg this summer.
We spent five hours a day, four days a week in our intensive Russian classes. Every Wednesday we went on an excursion around the city. The Hermitage museum was incredibly beautiful and full of so many amazing things, we were not able to see them all. One of my biggest regrets was that I didn’t have enough time to go back and explore it more.
The most exciting excursions were those which Yulia, our tour guide and trip planner, set out for us in other Russian cities. Early in our trip we spent a weekend in Novgorod, the oldest city in Russia. The actual name in Russian, Veliki Novgorod, means Great Novgorod. To my surprise, it was a quaint town filled with churches. At one point it was a contender for the capital of Russia, but today it is considered a cultural capital. It is still a very important city with a rich history and restorations of medieval churches built by Russian knyaz’ya, or princes. I felt at home in this small town because it is very similar to the Russian countryside I fell in love with during my teen years.
Toward the end of our trip we spent four days in Moscow, and to get there we traveled on the night train. This was a great treat for those of us who had read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and know the importance and the symbolism of the train trips that Anna took from St. Petersburg to Moscow. We looked out the window and imagined the scenery from the novel that we all cherished.
Once we arrived in Moscow in the morning, we went on a tour of the city. Moscow had changed so much from what I remembered when I was a teenager. There were some similarities to Petersburg, but I began to notice the differences between the Capital to the South and the Capital to the North.
Moscow is such a busy city and the metro system is crazy, not like the one in Peter, which I mastered in one day. The metro map looked like a crumpled-up ball of unwanted yarn scraps, a mass of color. Let’s just say I never went on the metro alone. Also, we were only tourists in Moscow, so we were set free after our our mandatory morning excursions. My friends and I made it our mission to find a Mexican restaurant and we were delighted to find a decent one not too far from Red Square. Another great thing about Moscow was that we were able to meet other English speaking tourists, which are sometimes a little harder to find in Petersburg.
I was glad to return to Peter, but by the end of my trip the days had grown too hot and my metro journeys grew tiresome and sweaty. Still, summer in St. Petersburg is full of festivals, and of course my favorite was the food festival. They offered many traditional Russian dishes as well as Caucasian and Georgian cuisine.
Two weeks after I left Peter, I set out for Sochi. I had never been to a city in Russia that was so far from the capital. There were palm trees, and my first impression was, there is no way that this is Russia. It was even hotter than a Muscovite summer and more humid than in Florida, where my relatives live. Also, it more ethnically diverse than the north, due to the fact that the region is a global crossroad.
Sochi was completely different experience for me. I lived with my classmates in a hotel, all of whom I knew from school. Our days were spent studying the linguistic differences between spoken and prescriptive Russian. Research occurred at the hotel, as well as during everyday experiences like grocery shopping.
Our professor, Valentina Alekseevna Zaitseva, directed our explorations around her native Sochi. We were even fortunate to attend the first day of school on September 1, a major national holiday in Russia. It was interesting because we were able to observe how Russian first-graders experienced this rite of passage. Other memorable excursions include Caucasian dancing, a visit to the Olympic Park, and a lovely hike near Krasnaya Polyana, overlooking the Abkhazian mountains. Although the Sochi experience was a short trip compared to my other visits in Russia, it was special to experience the part of Russia which faces the Black Sea. I know that this will not be my last trip to Russia, and I am always excited to imagine where my next adventure will be in this beautiful country.
Jenny Jarrett is a senior in the Slavic Languages and Literature Department studying Russian, Bosnian, and Croatian, and Serbian. She plans to become a translator following graduation from UW.