Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving in St. Petersburg

For the second year in-a-row, my Dad and I needed to come up with an ”alternative” Thanksgiving celebration. While we would have preferred to be home with family eating turkey with the trimmings, this year we chose to travel to a country that for so many years was the opposite of our country, the enemy during the Cold War and has always carried with it an air of mystery and suspicion right up to the present day.

Dad and I chose to go to Russia for many reasons. Primarily, and what I’m coming to realize as the most rewarding part of any travel adventure, we wanted to meet some native Russians, speak with locals about their culture, history and current life and times, as well as experience first-hand what Russia has to offer the curious, open-minded and connection-seeking traveler.

We were not disappointed.

The pictures above tell the story of many parts of our trip:

1. The beginning of a typical Russian winter that we wanted to experience, and did.

2. The State Hermitage Museum located in the former Winter Palace is nothing less than a history of Western (and some Eastern) Civilization, right up there -if not better than-Paris’ Louvre and Madrid’s Prado.

3. The Mariinsky Theater ballet, believed by some to be a notch above the Bolshoy in Moscow – in other words, the very best in all the world.

4. The Church on the Spilled Blood which looks more like the onion-domed churches you find in Moscow, but captures a typical Russian look anyways.

5. Narva Baptist Church friends.

The sight-seeing in any city is exciting and rewarding and offers the tourist a chance to fulfill what the imagination has only seen until that point, but the true meaning of a trip is found in the common interactions with locals and natives who often go out of their way to help you in your clumsy tourist state or want to give you their perspective as opposed to what they suspect you may have heard about them or their country.

I enjoy having my stereotypes and pre-conceived notions dispelled, or just flat-out crushed, by travel. Expecting the Russian people to be tough, stoic, thick-necked and unfriendly, my Dad and I were continually taken aback by the helpfulness, English-speaking friendliness and general good-natured qualities of the native Russians to which our travels led us. Such as:

The workers at our hostel went above and beyond to help our Russian experience be a good one. Extra phone calls to help with a major inconvenience and trips to and from the airport were just the beginning of their hospitality.

Encountering a problem with an ATM was the last thing we needed on a trip to Russia, but when we lost a card, there were no less than eight Russian bank employees with whom we needed to speak and each one was overly generous and willing to help, of course speaking only English. This turned out to be one of the best experiences of our trip as we reflected on the people we had met and how unexpectedly friendly and customer-service (even clueless customer-service) oriented they were.

Finally, through a friend here in Sweden, we were connected with a church in St. Petersburg and with a congregation that was more than welcoming, friendly and interested in us as travelers, Americans and visitors to their small, but genuine community.

Perhaps our experience was unique. Perhaps our Russian exposure was out-of-the-ordinary. Perhaps we just met all the good ones. But I doubt it.

Of course, not everyone’s experience with the Russian people will be like ours. However, as a child of the Cold War, with pre-conceived notions of the Russian people that I was really hoping would be debunked, my trip was a smashing success.

If you’re ready to take on the next traveler challenge, I highly recommend Russia.

Happy belated Thanksgiving, America. Though far away, I am thankful for all of you.


Crystal said...

Yeah Russia!!!!!I'm so jealous! :) Did you have piroshky???

Anonymous said...

You talk about "the cold war" and sure it has made an impact on us swedish children of the cold war too, but you know the russians have been our enemy since centuries. For instance they burned down our neighbour city Norrköping in the 1700`s. Our king Karl XII tried to take russia in the same centurie, but as later conquers he failed. In russia they used to tell storys for their children about the evil swedes. During military service, and I did mine as late as 1999, we still had our exersices with our drill instructors shouting: "When the russians come"...and so on. I think this has given us a picture of Russia similar to yours. I`m glad you had a nice experience of "the russian bear". /M

Anonymous said...

And don't forget: they took Finland from us!

Ang said...

Looks like you had a fabulous trip. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Miss you tons.

Anonymous said...

12 March 1610 field marshal Jakob De la Gardie and his swedish army occupy Moscow.
Many have tried but few have succeeded with that.
And maybe there for it's not a surprise that the russians bruned Norrköping. You always have to be prepared to take the consequences of your decisions.