Sunday, February 28, 2010
Traveling has always been a love/hate relationship for me. I love to travel, whether it's to another city of state. There's something invigorating about the unknown which presents itself during a travel. At the same time however, traveling always seems to remind me of the warm Texas city of San Antonio that I come from. It makes me quite aware of how different each of us are, hailing from different cities in the US. Being in Russia only heightened this realization because of the stark contrasts of this country which has such a rich cultural history.
Landing in the St. Petersburg airport was simply surreal. We were all exhausted from a long day of traveling and after having so much excitement built up for months prior to our trip, we were all just overwhelemed by finally being in Russia. After retrieving our bags we went through passport control which merely reinforced stereotypes associated with Russian people- that they are quite cold. The woman who handled my documents was stone faced, and only changed her expression to roll her eyes at me and "shoo" me away after she had finished shuffling through my passport and papers. I, in turn, merely smiled at her and waved goodbye, reinforcing the stereotype of Americans- that we all smile too much.
Once we were on the bus which was to take us to the Sports Complex where we were to be staying, the smile which I had given the young Russian woman, remained plastered to my face. Architecturally St. Petersburg is absolutely fascinating and so detailed, even at night when the only things making the buildings visible are the dim lights which line the large streets. On our first night, traveling through the city established by Tsar Peter I, it was easy to see that St. Petersburg had had a great European influence in the setup of the city which has rivers running through it, seperating it into islands. It was almost as if you weren't in Russia, but rather in a much larger, and more pleasant smelling Venice. In fact, our tour guide on the second day in St. petersburg mentioned that many thought that St. Petersburg was not Russian at all, but rather resembled a German man, whereas Moscow resembled a Russian maiden of the country. Touring through the city, it became obvious that her statement was relatively accurate.
Overall, my first impression of Russia and Russians coincided with what I was expecting. The stereotypes that were formed were accurate thus far, and I realized that the stereotypes foreigners have of Americans have some accuracy as well. But nonetheless, we have yet to travel to the small town of Vytegra where I'm sure we will all have a real taste of what and who Russian and Russians really are.