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Vodka and Croissants

an adventure through Russia, France and the UK

The Last Post

Ellen and I have visited our grandparents in New Jersey for as long as I can remember. During every trip we would go into NYC and see a show on Broadway. Well, Grandpa gave me a little spending money for this trip so I felt it was only appropriate that he treat Ellen and I to a show for our last night together. We saw The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time and it was wonderful. For anyone who doesn’t know the story line, it is about a boy who has autism and his journey to find the murderer of the neighbor’s dog Wellington. The show was thought provoking, emotional and full of incredible actors.

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We were almost late to the show  because we ran into the red carpet premier of Fantastic Beasts. While I was distracting the security guard Ellen snapped some pictures and I am almost positive we saw JK Rowling on the jumbo tron.  After the show we walked around Covent Garden and enjoyed live music and the newly lit Christmas tree. We shared a chocolate peppermint milk shake from Shake Shack. Honestly, no matter where you are in the world Shake Shack is always the right move.

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I woke up yesterday morning and headed out for my trek home . During my first flight I reflected on my past month. A lot of people have been asking me what the highs and the lows of my trip were. Well, my favorite part was without a doubt the incredible people that I have met along the way. From Rosa to Tim and so many others, you made my trip so memorable and impacted me in ways that I cannot explain. My least favorite part was the weather in Saint Petersburg. It was blisteringly cold and snowy, but I guess it wouldn’t be Russia if I didn’t experience the snow. Thankfully, Paris and London have been warmer than Saint Petersburg and as I come home I am coming home to even warmer weather.

I wanted to thank everyone who made this trip possible for me. Rabbi Rob, my parents and Kevin for always pushing me to follow my dreams and aspirations of traveling the world and helping others. Colleen Lyons, Rachel, Kate and Alex Gant for their incredible itinerary making skills and travel fun facts. Colleen Ross for her incredible hospitality in Paris and to Alex Davis, Kailyn and Ellen for being incredible roommates and travel partners.

пока, au revoir, bye

Robin

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Knight to H3

Welcome to London, England everyone! I decided to tag along with my sister, Ellen, and her coworker, Kate, on their business trip to England. We took the train from Paris to London and decided that we were in the chunnel a shorter amount of time than our average time on the DC Metro. We had a lovely experience and when we arrived we made our way to Kings Crossing to Platform 9 3/4. It seemed we missed the Hogwarts Express because there was a huge line waiting for the passage way to open up again for the next train. So, Ellen and I just took a picture with the platform and reasoned that the flying car would be a much easier and faster mode of transportation.

Kate studied abroad in London during her time at UVA, so during the evening Kate gave us a brief but educational tour of London. We walked past Big Ben, London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square. While walking around we sipped on mulled wine and tried to remember to look right left right instead of left right left.

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While Ellen is at work during the day I keep myself busy by doing touristy things! My JMU roommate Colleen and classmate Rachel both gave me a huge list of things to do and check out while I am in London so I am busy checking them off of the list! Out of the highlights of the past two days I made my way to the Tower of London. I enjoyed seeing this fortress and comparing it to Peter and Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg. Overall, Peter and Paul was much bigger than the Tower of London and held more inside its walls. My favorite part of the Tower of London was seeing the Crown Jewels. Since all of the crowns have purple fabric on them I decided that I shall become royal as well since purple is my favorite color and my alma mater’s school color. I will have to work on that whole marrying into the family thing..

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Similarly to Paris, London is in full holiday spirit. On my way to Hyde Park I walked down the street filled with cheery decorations and bustling shoppers. I made my way to Speakers Corner and I could not find anyone speaking! It is totally possible that I was in the wrong corner, but it was also a Tuesday afternoon so who knows!

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The biggest recommendation from Kate was to go to the British Museum. This museum could easily take anyone a week to get through with the mass amount of items they have. They have tens of mummies and other Egyptian artifacts including the Rosetta Stone. Living in DC I have so many resources to museums and artifacts, but seeing new ones with such historical significance was a sight to see.

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Sadly we did not see the Queen or the new little munchkins that Ellen wants to babysit for, but we did however have beer, peas and of course fish and chips.

Vodka and Finally Croissants

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I spent the last 4 days in Paris and they were packed with adventure and exploring! My high school friend Kailyn is currently teaching English in southern France and traveled up to Paris to explore with me. Our first stop?! Croissants! My former boss lived in Paris for a couple of years and recommended an incredible patisserie by her old flat and she did not steer us wrong. The chocolate croissant we shared was absolutely delicious. As you can tell I am just as excited to have this french treat as I was to get a taste of true Russian vodka.

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Cece told Kailyn and me it would not be worth the money to go up the Eiffel Tower if it was cloudy outside. Thankfully we had wonderful weather and had incredible views of the city. For any wondering minds the Eiffel Tower was finished in 1889 and was the entrance to the 1889 Worlds Fair. The Tower was also built to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution. The Tower is 1063 feet tall compared to the Washington Monument at 554 feet tall. While it is taller than the Washington Monument it felt a little like being at home because the Eiffel Tower has a grass mall in the back and a little pond in the front.

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We walked down the Champs de Elyssees which is stocked with fancy stores and delicious over priced macaroons from La Duree. We eventually made our way to the Pont de l’Alma bridge where Princess Diana was involved in a fatal car crash in 1997. Shortly after the bridge there is this Flame of Liberty memorial dedicated to her. Additionally, the Love Lock bridge has pretty much stopped as a result of the locks being too heavy and hurting the bridge’s infrastructure. As you can see, they have placed a lot of locks around this memorial still keeping the love alive in Paris.

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The following day turned out to be a lot more spontaneous than we had originally planned. We were on our way to The Louvre and happened to stumble upon a huge Christmas market.  Since Europe doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, there is nothing stopping them from beginning to celebrate the Holiday season early. We happily joined right in and ran into Uncle Sam which was a very funny surprise.

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Well, two and a half hours later we made our way to The Louvre and Shakespeare and Company bookstore. Our final night in Paris was spent with Ellen and her friends at a local french restaurant and Kailyn trying escargot!

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For breakfast on our last morning in Paris, Colleen gave us a blind taste test of different croissants. I preferred the buttery ones and Kailyn liked the wheat croissants. I had an incredible couple of days in Paris and now I am off to my final new city, London!

Paris Holds the Key

Growing up my favorite bracelet had a gold colored chain with different colored rhinestones around it and a charm of the Eiffel Tower hung from the center. I could so easily put the tower in my hand and play with it. Never did I ever imagine back then that I would stand in front of the Eiffel Tower as I did last night.

If anyone caught the Anastasia song reference from the title of this post and my last, Paris is wonderful. While I am in Paris I am staying with a family friend, Colleen, who I used to work for a couple of years ago. Her family lives in a very nice flat perfectly centered in Paris. They are 1o minutes from the Eiffel Tower and 10 minutes in the other direction to the Arc de Triumph. The night I arrived, Colleen and I strolled down to the Eiffel Tower. The feeling was really unreal and surreal. I had arrived only hours ago from Russia into another incredible city, had gained 20 degrees in the weather and was standing in front of a wonder of the modern world.

Yesterday I ventured to Montmarte and Sacre courer. They sit on top of a hill and overlook the entire city. The cool thing about the church is that someone is always praying there, no matter the hours of the day. During lunch today I learned that visitors can stay there for free, but they have to be willing to pull a graveyard prayer shift. While I was there two nuns were singing in French a lovely hymn, it was quite relaxing and peaceful.

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After the calmness of the church I walked around the area and found some wonderful little craft shops. One in particular was full of clay creations and these flowers really brightened my day. Saint Petersburg residents love their indoor plants and I think this reminded me that no matter how miserable the weather is outside you can always have some warmth of flowers on the inside.

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Moulin Rouge is a close walk from Montmarte and Sacre courer. So, off I went past countless number of adult stores. I really have no idea how they all stay in business,, but as the saying goes Paris is the city  of Lust.

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I went home for lunch and crashed Colleen’s lunch date with a girl friend. After, I grabbed my book walked to the Arc de Triumph, found a café, got a super cheap glass of wine and read my book until it was finished. I felt very French. I was so captivated by my booking and wine that I forgot to take a classy picture of it. Once I finished, I went back to Colleen’s where we had a fantastic family dinner and then I got to play with Cece, her daughter, and we talked about life and the current happenings at school.

Tomorrow is a full day of touring with my wonderful friend Kailyn and I also get to begin my day with a Lego date with Cece!

A Rumor in St. Petersburg

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As this is my last night in Saint Petersburg I would like to share with you all some final thoughts, experiences and facts Alex and I have picked up during our trip.

During one of our evenings with Tim, I asked him the 5 best things about Russia and Saint Petersburg. He couldn’t come up with just 5 so the list is now the 6 best things.

6 Best things/Facts about Russia/SPB as told by Tim

  1. There aren’t actually bears walking in the streets
  2. The raccoon Alex held name is Kira
  3. The roads are really bad
  4. People may not smile when you pass them, but that doesn’t mean they are angry or sad
    1. I think this is because its too cold and windy and smiling takes up too much energy. It is a little weird since my JMU self smiles a lot at strangers.
  5. People are very nice; If you need help you will likely get it
    1. Alex and I agree with this statement! Even with a language barrier, people will do whatever they can to help you out
  6. The western side of Russia is more inhabited than the eastern

Every morning at camp the children had the opportunity to go swimming. (dont worry! it was an indoor pool) One day at the end of pool duty Alex walked through what she thought was the girls locker room. Well let me tell you,  she got a little more eye candy to look at then she was expecting that day.

Overall, Saint Petersburg has been so friendly to me these past 3 weeks. I have an absolute blast here and have enjoyed everything the city has to offer. The new friends I have made do not feel like new friends. As Lev said so nicely last night during a dinner at his house, “it feels like I have known you  both for years or months”. To everyone who has helped me in this incredible city, thank you and thank you to JDC Entwine for giving me such an incredible opportunity. Alex, you have been a great roommate and travel partner and here’s to us running into each other in London next week!

Stay tuned to the blog because my next post will be from Paris, France!

 пока SPB and Bonjour Paris

Robin

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kids are Kids, No Matter Where they are From

 

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The rest of camp was wonderful. One night the children had a cooking extravaganza where they made Israeli classics like falafel, baba ganoush, israeli couscous, dolma and many other goodies. We also had the appearance of Donut Man or Vadim, the Israeli counselor, to help everyone with their cooking.

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I was worried that I would not be able to connect with the counselors and children as a result of the language barrier but man was I wrong. Languages don’t matter when you are playing games. In fact, most of the games that the Russian counselors introduced I have played my entire life. For instance, they have a name game called Where the Wind Blows. This is the Russian version of Train Wreck, a common name game at summer camps oh yeah and in senior level college classes (thanks Dr. Warner!)

The other counselors were fantastic and so welcoming. Every night we had a meeting to talk about the day  and being in the meeting felt like sitting at the dinner table with Kevin’s family, not knowing a lot of what was going on because a lot of it was in a foreign language. Needless to say, we got a translated version of the meeting and met some wonderful new humans who are now friends. They were also kind enough to give Alex and I a personal Russian lesson on curse words. We are now fully informed and still confused on some of these words, but it is a work in progress. I meant to get an entire picture of us with all of the counselors, but I forgot. So here is a picture of Ben and Lev both native Russians and the two of us with an apple tree in the background.

 

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The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway

In case anyone needed a reminder, it is the definition of a Virginia winter and cold in Saint Petersburg right now. For the past 4 days it has been snowing every day. I am estimating that we have gotten 6-8 inches in total, but still snow! Here is a picture of the 10 day forecast just to give you an idea of what I have been living in for the past couple of weeks.

Side Story: I spoke to my sister Ellen about the word for snow in Russian which is pronounced snneg (I know this is from children screaming and running to the windows during the first storm). Ellen informed me that the word for snow in yiddish is shney. In other cool language fun facts the Russian and Hebrew word for the number six is also similar. In Russian the word is shest and in Hebrew shesh. Languages are so cool.

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For everyone keeping up with this blog you all know that I have arrived at camp. There is a week long break in the Russian school year, so the local Jewish community center, YESOD, put on an international language camp. This camp focuses on English, Hebrew and Russian. Alex and I are of course the representatives from America being native English speakers and then there is also a representative from Israel taking on the Hebrew. The theme of camp this year is the 5 senses and each day focuses on a different one. So far we have covered touch, smell and sight and each day, activities reflect the sense of the day. Yesterday’s sense was touch and the evening activity tonight was painting with paint brushes in our toes! While it was challenging the kids seemed to make a masterpiece and have a lot of fun doing it.

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Yesterday everyone played outdoor Jumanji. I am absolutely terrified of Jumani, so I watched from a distance. Thankfully nothing came alive and chased us, but the kids had to do team building exercises to move their life size pieces toward SpiderMan. It got intense.

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It is physically impossible to be in a bad mood when you are outside in the snow with children. After the game, we had a snow ball fight, made snow angel, snow ball throwing contest, etc. We were also surprised with a box of fireworks at the end! I have never been and hope to never be that close to fireworks again, but it was still great.

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Alex and I lead an English class every day. We prepared our own Mad Libs for the older kids  to fill out together. I think some translation was lost with the children because they didn’t think a lot of it was funny. I think they just wanted the answers to be right and for the story to make sense. The one thing I learned during Mad Libs is the word pretty can only be used for gentlemen while beautiful is reserved so ladies. So, right now I would like to take the time to apologize to any women out there who I have ever called pretty and change it to beautiful. Anyway, if you are having a boring weekend and need something to do, grab a piece of paper and let me know how your story turns out!

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Shabbat Shalom! Last night we had a very quick Shabbat Service with Hebrew, English and Russian. Prayers were said in Hebrew and English, Alex and I spoke about Shabbat in the States and songs were sung in Russian and English. Everyone got to light the candles and some of the younger ones tried to blow them out after. We of course drank our grape juice and then had a feast for dinner!

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Camp is wonderful and full of learning and fun. The children are teaching me so many Russian words and laugh when I totally butcher them. I have to run to Hebrew class right now!

Shalom!

 

I Could’ve Danced All Night

Everyone meet Gregori! He is 88 years young and looking for a sprightly woman to add to his collection to of lovers and 2 former wives. Alex and I had the opportunity to meet this former Soviet Navy Commander yesterday. Gregori is a part of a home care program where he gets 4 hours of home visits a week. He has 2 children, a handful of grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren. We learned all about his life and he shared his life advice with us as well. For instance, we need to get married because marriage is good. Also, you only live once so do whatever you want whenever. He proved this life motto to us by serving us tea and then added a bottle of wine into the mix at 1:00 pm. Our favorite part of the visit was when he brought his jacket out, let us try it on and then put it on himself. He has numerous medals and honors from his time serving.

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After sadly leaving Gergori we made our way to the Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery which remembers and honors those lost during the 900-day seige of at the time Leningrad and marked the beginning of World War II for Russia which they call the Great Patriotic War. Just to give everyone some background knowledge, the Nazi’s attacked Leningrad with the people extremely unprepared and without warning to evacuate. The Nazi’s kept Leningrad under seige for over 2 and a half years and sadly hundreds of thousands of people died as a result of starvation and the harsh winters. Half of a million of those lost are laid to rest in this memorial cemetery. Walking through reminded me a little of walking through Arlington Cemetery because it was so calm and serene with such a sense of peace.

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That night we walked around town and did a lot of souvenir shopping. Today we woke up early and headed over to the Saint Isaac Cathedral. We were sad to find out that we are missing the light show on Saint Isaac Cathedral which is happening in a couple of days, but were happy that we could walk all the way up to the Colonade for stunning views of the city. By asking a girl to take our picture we met 2 other people from the states!

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Inside the Cathedral are stunning images from the New Testament.

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When we finished climbing down all 400 steps we made it over to Rasputin’s Palace. We have been to so many palaces and museums the past week and a half we decided to have some fun with this one.  In the Ballroom we of course had to practice our best ballet and dance moves channeling our inner Anastasia.

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We had an absolute blast today. Tomorrow begins the real reason we are here, camp! It also marks the 1 week mark from me leaving this wonderful city. Here is to one more week of living in the moment and getting everything out of Saint Petersburg that it can offer.

 

Follow the White Rabbit

Alex and I have been so fortunate to meet so many friendly humans in Saint Petersburg. We met Tim at Hillel and he offered to be our Saint Petersburg guide for the day. We started our tour on Rabbit Island where the Peter and Paul Fortress is located. Peter is the founder of Saint Petersburg. This is the entrance to the fortress with the double eagles symbolizing the Russian Empire and is also used today.

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This fortress holds many goodies including this really awkwardly proportioned statue of Peter. Not too long ago you could sit on Peter’s lap and I guess tell him your dreams. You can tell that many people partook in this activity with how shiny his lap and hands are. Alex wanted to do this as well, but was clearly not allowed to. I felt that seeing this statue so close to Halloween was appropriate because it reminds me of Tim Burton creations.
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The fortress holds many things like a mint, prison and a wax museum. My favorite place in the fortress is the cathedral. This remains of most of the Romanov family is laid to rest at this cathedral. Unlike many other royal caskets I have seen, all of these caskets were very simple with little ornamentation.

Tim then brought us to Peter’s first house while the fortress was being built. In Peter’s will he wanted his house to be maintained for future generations, so they built a building around his house to preserve it.

Next, we went to see the Aurora which is a beautiful ship that fought in World War 1 and the weaponry was removed and used in World War 2.  Here are some awesome pictures from the ship of a bullet hole that wounded a captain to fantastic knots that my grandfather would be jealous of.

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This weekend of course was Halloween weekend back in the states. Before arriving I wondered if Russia did anything for Halloween, well for all wondering minds they do. Since we’ve been here Alex and I have seen an advertisement painted on the sidewalks  that say Follow the White Rabbit #spbhalloween. People walk around with intense face makeup on, but not a lot of full costumes. Alex and I were invited to Moishe house for Halllween. Moishe House is an organization that promotes young adult Jewish involvement in the community. Moishe House has flats in the community where everyone can come together and hang out. We had a blast, Alex and I dressed up like Americans and enjoyed in some pumpkin carving and vodka drinking.

The residents of the house had their names on the door as well. I couldn’t help but notice that the names were in Russian and Sign Language. Since taking American Sign Language in school, I am extremely interested in signing. For all of my fellow classmates, you can notice that the yellow and green hand are the same signs that we have for h and i, but the last three are different. American Sign Language is based off of French Sign Language and now I am even more intrigued to learn about the roots of Russian Sign Language.

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