Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Pancakes and Saint Petersburg

Pancake Day in Dmitrov

So all these years I thought that Thanksgiving was my favorite food holiday. Little did I know that moving to Russia would change my mind. Three words. National. Pancake. Day. In Russia this happens once a year and is an excuse to stuff your face with as many of the thinnest, most delicious pancakes you can get your hands on. Well.. that’s what I did anyway. This holiday is about more than pancake eating however and signifies the end of winter and the beginning of spring. On this day, all over the country, towns, and some families build a large woman out of wood and burn it, to represent the end of winter.
In Dmitrov, there was a huge festival, similar to that of a fair in the US, with face painting, people in costumes, music, dancing, and of course, pancakes. This took place in the massive square in what we like to call “downtown Dmitrov.” It was a really cool experience to be a part of. There were kids running around everywhere, the weather was great, and everyone seemed incredibly happy and excited to “burn the lady” and to get rid of the dreary winter days! I of course, took part in the pancake eating, but my cohort Brittany wanted to get more involved. There were men and women walking around the fair with free gifts to give out, if you were willing to sing or dance, or basically do something goofy to draw attention to yourself. Brittany decided, that in the middle of hundreds of Russians, she wanted to sing the Canadian national anthem so she could receive a free gift. So with some help from one of our Russian teammates, she flagged down one of these gift givers and sang her heart out. It was hysterical. On a side note, when she saw me videotaping the event, nerves kicked in and she may or may not have forgotten some of the words. Needless to say, she still got her free gift.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
Shortly after Pancake Day in Dmitrov, we had an off weekend, so Britt, our teammate Iya, and I decided that it would be a great time to head off to Saint Petersburg for the weekend and see the city. It was a quick and easy trip, with just a short hour and 10 minute flight to get us there. We left on a Saturday morning and grabbed a Starbucks as soon as landed to get us ready to go for the day. The names on our Starbucks cups? Beyonce, Madonna, and Shakira.. who else.  The Russian baristas obviously loved our creativity.

We took a shuttle from the airport to the metro and after a couple stops we were in the middle of downtown Saint Petersburg, on its main street, Nevsky Prospect. This street is the gateway to most things in Saint Pete’s and has hundreds of restaurants and little shops. The city is known for having a more European feel that than of Moscow and I definitely found this to be true. From the canal running through the city, to the buildings, to the diverse population, I couldn’t remember if I was in Italy, or Germany, or Russia. It was pretty cool.

Saint Isaac's Cathedral
View from the top of Saint Isaac's Cathedral
Our first stop was to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. This church is probably the most beautiful building I have ever seen and when you’re walking down Nevsky Prospect, it just sort of appears on a side street. You would never think that it would be tucked away where it is. But it is absolutely spectacular. The church was built in memory of Tsar Alexander II and was built on the site where he was assassinated. This building is one of the main attractions in Saint Petersburg, for obvious reasons.  One of my other favorite places on the trip was Saint Isaac’s Cathedral which was a short walk from Nevsky Prospect. We didn’t go inside this cathedral but we did get to climb 262 stairs and take in a view of the entire city of Saint Petersburg from the top. Even though the weather was a little cloudy that day, the view took our breath away (it was either the view or the 262
stairs.. can’t be sure). The walkway on top of the cathedral went all the way around the building so we were able to get a 360 degree view of the city which was pretty awesome.
The Hermitage Museum

The ceiling in the Hermitage
Our other major stop on the first day was at the Hermitage museum which is one of the oldest and largest museums in the world. I can’t lie, I’m not much of a museum person and my friends aren’t either but the rooms we did go into, in the Hermitage, were amazing. We saw the room where the royal throne was kept, which really made me want to break a million rules and sit in the throne. I resisted. We also saw the library which was pretty brilliant. The best part was the stair case and ceiling when you entered the museum. I could have stayed in there for an hour just staring at all the detail in the architecture. 

The Throne!

After an early morning and a bit of a travel day, were pretty tired and after a great meal back on Nevsky Prospect, we called it a day.
Our new friend at the Fortress
Sunday was pancake day in Saint Petersburg so I was lucky enough to experience the best day of the year twice! After a much needed sleep in on Sunday morning, we headed to the Peter and Paul Fortress on the other side of the bridge from downtown Saint Petersburg and Nevsky Prospect. It just so happened there was a huge celebration happening there including the burning of another wooden lady and more pancakes! Just like in Dmitrov, there was music, entertainment, people in costumes, and a lot of fun things to do. We took a lot of pictures with the different characters and props that they had set up around the fortress and again, we got to climb to the top of the building and walk all around with a great view of the other side of the river in the background.  
On top of the Fortress

We spent most of the afternoon at the fortress and after a snack back on Nevsky, we headed to an exhibit called “Little Russia.” We were told that it was a bunch of tiny dioramas or Russia that showed the different parts of the country, from east to west. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what was saw was absolutely amazing. The exhibit was huge and more detailed than I could have ever imagined. The tiniest pieces moved, the people moved, the grass and the water looked incredibly real, lights flashed, police sirens made noise, and the lights in the exhibit even went off to represent nighttime. It was one of the coolest things that I’ve ever seen and showed just how much work the builders put in to make it operational and functional.
One of the many parts of the "Little Russia" exhibit

Sadly, after spending a couple hours in the exhibit, it was time for us to head back to Moscow on a late night flight. Our trip to Saint Petersburg was definitely one of the highlights of my time in Russia and I would love to be able to go back in the summer time to get the full affect of how beautiful the city is!

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