Divo Ostrov

When I say Saint Petersburg, you think…amusement park! No? Why not? You should.

Okay. I won’t say that Divo Ostrov is top on the list of places to visit in Saint Petersburg, but if you feel the need for an adrenaline rush, you should check it out. It hits all the theme park cliches that remind you of home. Divo Ostrov is written in the same font as Disneyland. There are several creepy, borderline racist statues of cowboys and native americans. Ahhh…just like home.

As for the rides themselves (because honestly, what else should you care about?), Divo Ostrov had all three types of rides: kiddy rides, thrill rides, and rollercoasters. Kiddy rides pride themselves on gentleness, so let’s just skip that. Those thrill rides, though. There’s nothing like being thrown into the clouds and rocketing down to the ground with your heart screaming in your ear. Sad to say, several of the rollercoasters that looked most exhilarating were under maintenance, and the ones that remained weren’t fantastic. While they had the right twist and turns and blood-boiling speed, they ended so quickly that a line couldn’t even form to get on. Even so, when everything is running, I am sure the park is great. Just look at this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–o42c5A-7s&feature=youtu.be

Veliky Novgorod (The Great New City)

The Great New City. What a fantastic title! Well, Novgorod isn’t new and if you’re considering great to mean big and busy, you’re wrong again.

In fact, Novgorod is an old city established in the 9th century AD. Today it survives as a little city with a calm lifestyle and a whole host of history in and around its borders. Most well-known of Novgorod’s sights, The Cathedral of St. Sophia is the oldest existing cathedral in Russia, built in 1050. While she may not look like much compared to the gaudy splendor of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, at the time the cathedral was a clear sign of Novgorod’s wealth and economic strength. And in the inside is gorgeous. You’re not supposed to take pictures, so I had to be sneaky and could only take one picture, but imagine the entire interior of the cathedral covered in icons and painted patterns. It’s an otherworldly feeling.

The Cathedral of St. Sophia sits inside the walls of Novgorod’s кремель (fortress), and you can be sure that there’s more than a church in the fortress. It’s actually a really lovely area in which couples walked around and enjoyed the statues and the buildings within.

While in Novgorod, I also visited a monastery. There was a monk who asked me and my friends why we had come. Education…for?…Russian language…for?…a job. He didn’t seem satisfied. “While you study for your exams,” he said, “Remember that there is an exam at the end of our lives. We are not more spiritual than you, but we have chosen to study before you.” I don’t think he was as deep as he thought.

Even so, his residence was incredibly peaceful. After living for so long in a city, I’ve forgotten what nature sounded like. Ravens cried from the trees, sparrows scuttled between branches, and supposedly there were foxes and hedgehogs in the woods. Sadly, I didn’t see any.

Later, I took a trip to an exhibit on ancient wooden villages, or something like that. I was pretty bored. So ancient Russians made wooden homes and wooden tools. Great. But again, the nature was incredibly beautiful and relaxing. Instead of taking a photo of the village, I took a photo of the river. I thought it was more interesting.

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St. P’s Secret Bar

Meet the El Copitas Bar, a Mexican bar in…Russia. Yeah, I know. It doesn’t make sense. But hear me out. El Copitas is just the bar you need.

Part of the intrigue is the secrecy. You won’t ever stumble upon the bar while strolling through the streets of Saint Petersburg. In fact, if you did walk by it, the bar entrance would look like an entrance to a small apartment complex. Oh and you can only get in by calling. Of course you need to know the number first. Problem? Nothing a little Google search can’t fix. Ahem! Did I say that? Shhhh…you heard nothing.

Aside from the cheap thrill of getting in to a speakeasy, there is the actual booze to think about. You can get whatever cocktails and shots you like, yet the real magic appears in their specialty drinks. They change from time to time so you never get bored. Just so you get an idea, here’s one of the drinks I tried. It’s their own special take on a margarita: Green Margo with green peas, dry orange liqueur and Specila Cuncún Bitters.

In case you’re not enticed enough, let me tell you about the main reason why you should visit El Copitas the next time you’re in Saint Petersburg. The bar owners focus on a quality experience. As soon as you walk in, they sit you down and give you complimentary shots of tequila. Stay long enough and they might give you a free drink as they gave one to me. Whenever you manage to pull yourself away from El Copitas, they give you a parting gift: spiced Mexican hot chocolate, of course with a little alcohol inside. Honestly, I would’ve drank that hot chocolate all night. Maybe that’s just my sweet tooth talking.

Oh, I should definitely mention that they do speak English there. So, while it is recommended that you know Russian before going to El Copitas, it’s not necessary.

Over Wispy, White Fields

Over wispy, white fields
And cracked clay,
He dragged his torn
Leather boots and the lump
That slumps in his gut
Where no light
Will ever see.
With that
Burden, that
Bolder, that
Heap of shredded bones,
He let slip
The rocky dust
Of the road down
Under his sole.
Step after step
He stepped, always
Knocking a stone into
His skin to the point
That red water leaked out.

He, a desert cactus,
Bloomed for a day
And a day no more. A bee,
Drawn to his nectar,
Sniffed out his flower
And thought it a rose. “A rose
And no more. A rose
With a thorn or two.
No more.” Night
Came, and the flower’s
Death soon after. Only
Then, the bee, bug-eyed,
Danced and a troubled dance
And zipped back
To the company
Of its throbbing hive.

Adventure in the Hermitage

The Hermitage Museum is so large that it would take years to view it in its entirety. There are over 3 million works of art on exhibit, and just imagine how much art is stored away. So obviously I can’t show you the entire museum. Instead I wanted to take you along on my journey as I get lost in the museum and try to find my way out.

First off, take a look at my post from a few weeks ago. There I showed off an assortment of pictures of the Hermitage and other spots as well. Or after reading this post, go back and see more of my time in St. Petersburg starting here.

Alright, let’s embark!

Last time I went to the Hermitage, I explored most of its palace interior. So, I wanted to begin my trip by seeing some paintings. My goal was the 18th century French art exhibit, but yours truly is terrible with directions. Instead I found myself in a chapel whose walls were embroidered with gold, whose ceiling was a masterpiece in its own right, and whose altar was sinfully gaudy.

As I walked out of the chapel, I was sure I was on the right track. With a map in hand, I knew I was going the right way. After a few minor exhibits and hallways, I entered an open room with rich, red walls lined with painting after painting. I can’t recall any of the artists or even when/where the artists came from. It’s a surreal experience to be surrounded by so much artwork in one place.

Once I circled around the room to see every painting, I lost myself again and exited through a random doorway. I entered the most elaborate hallway I’ve seen. Unlike traditional hallways in museums, that serve only as walkways between exhibits, this hallway was the exhibit. Take a look at that.

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By this point I lost all thought of 18th century France and just wandered along, wondering where I was, what I’d see next, how long I’d been in the museum, and, when the time came, how the hell I’d get out. That’s when I stumbled into (not literally, god that would be a nightmare) a statue by Michelangelo. The Michelangelo. People said Raphael could create divine, but people said Michelangelo was divine. And here I was in the presence of one of his works…alone. It was just me and a security guard or two. I was astonished. Why was no one looking at this? Sure it’s not a famous work. But still!

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Having pushed myself onward, I looked at my phone and realized I’d been in the museum for over two hours. My eyes were overwhelmed and my feet ached. I wanted to take a nap. Yet, I was far from the exit. I had entered another exhibit, which would suck me in and keep me there for another half-hour: Rembrandt. Now, I can’t say Rembrandt is my favorite artist. Dutch artists of his time had an odd obsession with portraits (probably what paid the most money), which can be quite boring, but I greatly respect Rembrandt for his treatment of texture and lighting. Last semester at Columbia University I studied many of his paintings and his techniques in said paintings. One of these was Rembrandt’s painting of Danaë. I had no idea she was in the Hermitage, but she gave me a pleasant surprise.

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I looked at my phone again. Okay, now I really needed to go. I still had homework to do, I would probably be late for dinner, and I didn’t know if I had time to take a well-needed nap. Yet, lo and behold, I was now in a hall of extraordinary statues. Ugh, so beautiful.

Forcing myself onward, I followed an exit sign and headed downstairs…into another room of statues, most of which were from ancient Greece. Thousands of years old. I had to show some appreciation. I stopped, looked around. Oh, hey Zeus!

That’s it. Final straw. I’m getting out of here! So much art. So much beauty. My eyes wanted to see it all. But no. It was time to go.

…and then I walked into an exhibit of ancient Egyptian artifacts. “No. Be strong, Andrew,” I thought. “You have to go.” I pushed ahead, glancing around with a struggling restraint. Ooh! A mummy!

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After three hours, with one final picture, I said goodbye. Until next time my dear Hermitage.

Master of my Domain

Having blogged for quite sometime now, I’m happy to say that I’ve decided to buy my own domain. Many thanks to WordPress for supporting me, but frankly I don’t want to see your sub domain in my URL. It’s nothing personal. I just want to look like a big boy blogger now.

So what does this mean for me? Other than the obvious name change, I’m not really sure. Actually I was hoping someone could tell me. Do I get more traffic? That would be nice.