Russia: Week 5

This week we traveled from Amsterdam to Berlin and spent a full day in Berlin before heading to St. Petersburg for the rest of the week. Today, we are headed from St. Petersburg to Moscow for one full day and then starting the Trans-Siberian Railroad!

Last Sunday we took a 6-hour train from Amsterdam to Berlin. The journey overall went well, but there was a hiccup or two. The A/C on the train quit working a few hours into the 6 hours journey, which was a mild nuisance. What proved to be even more difficult was the train companies idea to switch a supposedly direct train in Hanover without proper communication. After a confusing 30 minutes wandering about the station, we hopped on a train that was headed to Berlin. Luckily, the train was newer, which made the ride a bit more pleasant. Still, I would have preferred the hot car to the 30 minutes of crowded confusion.

Our day in Berlin was fairly low-key. Moving from city to city can be draining, and we were in great need of clean clothes, so we spent the morning and early afternoon unpacking and repacking for our flight to St. Petersburg the next day. We were able to visit the East Side Gallery, which is a stretch of the Berlin wall that has been painted with various kinds of artwork. I had seen that stretch of the wall when I was in Berlin before and, other than the murals, not too much had changed. We did have fun walking around some of the alleyways around the waterfront and stumbled upon what looked like a cool collection of bars. We aren’t much of the party-going type, but the area seemed like a fun place to hang out.

Photos from when I visited the East Side Gallery in 2013
Both of these murals were still there when Tasha and I visited

After the visiting wall, we walked back to where we were staying and I met up with the friend who hosted me for the month I stayed in Berlin. It was really good seeing him and catching up. The rest of the evening was more packing and getting ready for the flight.

Getting to the airport and boarding the plane was all fairly routine. There was some trouble getting the right yellow tags for our checked bags, but it was easily sorted. Upon landing the St. Petersburg, we hired a cab to take us to our apartment. We had our first experience as foreigners being slightly taken advantage of by paying for the most expensive service. Unknown to us, we had booked a Mercedes E-200 as our taxi without knowing there were cheaper classes of cars. It’s probably the nicest car we will be riding in this year!

St. Petersburg was really fun. The first day was again fairly low-key. We got acclimated, took care of certain essentials, and did a bit of walking. The next day we visited the Hermitage Museum, which is the government’s collection of art housed in main Imperial palace, called the Winter Palace. The palace itself is very beautiful.

The winter palace on the left and general staff building on the right
Inside the Winter Palace
This set of military decorations was common throughout sections of the palace built after the Napoleonic wars.
Pretty blue ceilings
The General Staff Building from a window in the Winter Palace

After walking through parts of the main museum, went to the building that contained the emperor’s staff called the General Staff Building. They have a really impressive collection of Impressionist art and it didn’t disappoint! The reason for the impressive collection is primarily because during the 1917 revolution, the communist party seized the art works of the Czar and most of the prominent nobility. This means that this collection basically contains the art of the wealthiest Russian around 1917. Impressionism was very much in vogue at this time and before, which is why they have so much impressionist art. It is funny to see how the arch of history continues to affect the present.

A view inside the General Staff Building

While touring some of the grand halls of the Winter Palace, I had a strong feeling that I hadn’t felt before while visiting other European palaces: revulsion. Before when I visited other palaces, I wondered at the size and scale of these buildings and tried to appreciate the historical significance. What these places really represent is the embodiment of inequality. So much of the country’s wealth was concentrated in the hands of just a few humans that they were able to build multiple enormous, extravagant homes for themselves. Meanwhile the rest of the population struggled to put food on the table. It’s no wonder the European monarchs were overthrown. I won’t delve too deeply into this  idea here as I will explore it more fully in a separate post.

Yesterday, we devoted most of the day to Dostoyevsky, one of Tasha’s favorite authors. I was intending to finish Crime and Punishment, one of Tasha’s favorite books, by the time we arrived at St. Petersburg, but that didn’t happen like I planned. We visited the apartmentDostoyevsky lived in before he died. It was fun to explore the space and life of such an influential author. He had an unusual working style where we would wake up around 1 pm, take lunch and work on a few things in the afternoon before dinner at 6 pm. Then around 9pm he would go to his study and work until around 5 pm. It can see how all that time at night would really allow him to concentrate since no one was stirring. It seemed like he had a difficult, but meaningful life. I admire his pursuit to describe what it means to be a human.

After the tour of his apartment, we explored a walking tour someone from Idaho had put together where we could see the locations where the main events in the Crime and Punishment took place.

Along the Dostoyevsky walk

Although I learned a few things that I hadn’t read yet, it was definitely worth seeing where the book took place and to hear Tasha’s thoughts and interpretations of the book. Dostoyevsky basically wrote the book in his neighborhood. He references specific locations in the book and they all took place very near his apartment at the time.

After the walking tour, we hunkered down in a cafe to get some work done and had dinner before heading to the Church of the Spilled Blood for a visit. It was very beautiful and fun to see.

The outside
and the inside
so pretty

Now we are on the train to Moscow. We will be there one full day and leave on a 30-hour train to Yekaterinburg. We will be in Yekaterinburg for one day before then taking a 40-hour train to Irkutsk. We arrive in Irkutsk on Saturday and will be in Irkutsk for 3 full days. It would be a busy week, but fun to see Siberia and have some quiet time on the train. :)


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