Monday, 25 October 2010


I returned yesterday from a 4 day trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. It was without a doubt one of the most amazing places I've visited... even the 10hr coach journeys there and back were enjoyable due to the scenery we were exposed to! As the trip was organised by KISA (Kuopion International Student Association), there were a lot of opportunities to take part in activities that otherwise, we wouldn't have had a chance to experience. It was also really nice to meet new students from both the Savonia and Kuopion universities.

After arriving on the first evening, we were taken to a traditional Russian restaurant for a meal and entertainment. The food left a lot to be desired, although the amount of vodka shots we were encouraged to have did take the edge off a little! Before dessert a Russian folk group came out to play us some music and got people up to dance. There were also games involving cockerel hats and giant matryoshka dolls!

The next morning we were up bright and early for a ride to Pushkin, where we spent the morning on a tour around Catherine Palace and the surrounding estate. This was a summer home to the Russian Royalty and dates from the 1700's - the architecture and interiors were amazing!

Arriving back in the city centre, we were then taken to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood - a gorgeous cathedral very similar to the St. Basil's in Moscow. It was built at the spot where Alexander II had his legs blown off (which consequently lead to his death), hence the 'spilled blood' title.  The portion of the original pavement where he lay bleeding is still intact within the church floor! Crazy! Even more crazy is that the entire interior is decorated with mosaic - it's hard to comprehend the vastness of the scale of this!


We then had a little free time looking around the markets before returning to the hotel and getting ready for the evening - we were picked up and taken to a boat where we then had a tour of the River Neva by night. Plenty of free soviet champagne was offered which helped to warm us up, as it was snowing and VERY cold on the outside of the boat! 


Another early morning and we were up on a sight-seeing bus tour around the city, making quick stops at certain points for photo opportunities. This was another really interesting part of the visit, as we got to learn a lot more about the history of the city as well as seeing much more than we could have if we were by foot. One of these stops was the Smolny Convent - built for the Empress Elizabeth after she decided she was to give up her position to become a nun. However before the building was completed she changed her mind about this, got a new boyfriend, and never moved to the convent. Another stop was the Battleship Aurora, which played a massive part in the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The final stop was the Peter and Paul Fortress, built on the river bank. 

We then visited Saint Isaac's Cathedral, which housed a viewing platform around the main dome of the roof. This allowed us to see the vastness of the city and appreciate the size and scale of some of the buildings in St. Petersburg.

After a short while here, we had a guided tour of the Hermitage Museum, which inhibits the Winter Palace, amongst other buildings. This museum is the 3rd largest in the world, and is home to the largest art collection in the world. It would have been impossible to see everything in the 2 hours we spent there (it would take years, no exaggeration), however we were shown the 'highlights' including work by Da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Michelangelo.

When we finally arrived back at the hotel, we had a good 2 hour nap (it had been a tiring day ok!) then we got ready for the nights entertainment... a limo ride around the city with yet more soviet champagne. It was a novelty, but I appreciated seeing the city lit up at night, it's so pretty and looks quite different than in the daytime.

Our final morning was spent in Yusupov Palace which belonged to an immensely rich Russian family, and was the site of Rasputin's murder in 1916. Although it doesn't look too impressive from the exterior, and the ground floor quarters are quite modest, the further we got into the palace the weath of the Yusupov family was made apparent... a music hall, a theatre hall, and a winter garden were all contained within the building!

Finally we departed back to Finland, which took around 11hrs as there was some delay at border control. I'm so glad I got to visit Russia, a country I've always wanted to see. It was even better that we were able to have such an insight into the history of the city due to the amount of guides and tours we were offered. I'm very grateful of the opportunities I've been given by taking part in this ERASMUS year. Although I may complain of being homesick and wanting to go back to the UK, this is probably the only time in my life I will get to stay in a foreign country for any time longer than what is considered a 'tourist'. It's pretty special.

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