Twenty-two academics, in an effort to increase international understanding, to strengthen collegial bonds and to "move beyond our comfort zone," traveled to northern Russia in June 2013. Here are a few scenes from that journey.
Travelers in their natural habitat.
Our "Sine qua non." (Group Leader Alex, not the vodka.)
Beautiful St. Petersburg. The Russians call it Peter, not St. Pete.
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood - named for and built on the spot where Alexander II was assassinated in St. Petersburg.
Icons in the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood. I learned that these sacred images are much more important in the Russian Orthodox religion than is generally understood. I also learned the word "iconostasis," which, if I remember correctly, describes a form of paralysis suffered by tourists who have seen too many icons.
There is a reason for the Orthodox crosses to have a lower crossbar that points up to the left and down to the right. This symbolizes the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus, the one to the viewer's left having accepted him and the one to the right having mocked him. One was heaven bound, the other was not, as this painting illustrates.
At the Smolny Convent.
Artist at work
Artist at play.
Artist totally losing it.
Russian restaurants represent the finest cuisines from around the world...
Doing St. Petersburg by bus.
At Dostoevsky's home - one of them, anyway.
Oh, Raskolnikov, your tortured soul touches us to our very depths. You know you cannot hide your sins beneath a stone!
(From the Dostoevsky Museum in St. Petersburg)
A Dostoevsky-themed restaurant.
Travelers moving outside their comfort zone.
Peterhof - just outside St. Petersburg.
Peterhof - some of the fountains are designed to catch the careless wanderer by surprise.
Peterhof garden walkway.
Peterhof - interior. Some of the czars' hangouts were downright palatial.
Inside the Grand Palace...
Outside the Peterhof Palace, guy with a cool barn owl!
Guy with cool barn owl telling foreigner with camera to piss off.
Back in St. Petersburg - dinner at a groovy rooftop cafe/art studio.
Digging the scene at the rooftop cafe (with iPhones).
Later we went to another artsy place. It was called the Hermitage and it had paintings in it like this one by some French guy....
So much red!
Russian youth - круто!
Time to leave St. Petersburg for the north. Overnight train travel - not as glamorous as North by Northwest had led us to believe.
Of course the prudent traveler will carefully consult his or her ticket to be sure of locating the correct berth...
A rainy day on the bus - still heading north.
A stop at the Kivach Waterfalls. (Under Stalin, Kivach produced 78% more water than previously!)
At a rest stop on the road, restrooms with helpful illustrations for the confused traveler:
In the forests of deepest Karelia, a pre-sauna shashlyk dinner. We enjoyed the food while the mosquitoes enjoyed us. A little outside of our comfort zone, that.
Then, a visit to Kizhi Island, where some fantastic wooden homes and churches still stand.
The trip to Kizhi Island was a good boat trip. The good boat trips sometimes included good food, like this delicious borscht.
In addition to Kizhi Island, we also visited the eastern shore of Lake Onega where stone age petroglyphs can be found.
Russian scholar explains the ancient symbols.
From the Neolithixxx.
Another good boat trip on Lake Onega.
Then...there was the trip that kicked our comfort zone's ass...Solovetsky Island.
The Boat of Evil. On this trip, which crossed part of the White Sea, we learned what it is to suffer in the Russian style.
Here we are, nestled in the hull of The Boat of Evil like a band of happy little lambs. Then, the voyage began and the smiles faded. Soon we were being tossed about like so many Yahtzee dice. Puking was widespread as well as the question of "What the hell are we doing here?" By going out on deck one could relieve the seasickness, but this meant confronting the sea-sprayed chill of a near freezing ocean wind. Though we did survive, there were moments when this prospect was in doubt. (Photo by JQ)
Cold and miserable, the survivors huddle on the shore after the boat ride from hell.
One survivor kisses the earth in gratitude.
Some required extra comforting. Or maybe they just liked the attention...
On Solovetsky there is a cool monastery (once visited by Peter the Great) and an old, Stalin-era labor camp.
The Solovetsky Island Monastery.
This was a "You want a piece of me?" kind of monastery.
Oh, yeah! Iconostasis!
Just before our hellish boat trip, we had an opportunity to visit a lovely Russian village called Kinerma, and we were met there by Betsy, a native of Toledo, Ohio, who has married a local Russian and who is raising her children there.
Betsy and two of her children in Kinerma.
Finally, back in "Peter," we visited a polytechnic university to meet with the faculty there.
Chinese language instructors from Russia and the U.S. compare notes.
On the Polytechnic University bookshelf, an echo from the past: Kim Philby-Superspy KGB.
These pictures offer only a small part of all that we saw and experienced in Russia. While we were getting to know Russia, we spent a great deal of time together and really got to know each other as well. Nevertheless, the trip was truly worthwhile.