Upon reflection, I am uncertain as to what my expectations were for St. Petersburg, but I can say that whatever they could have been, they were exceeded by what I experienced and learned during my short stay. We were thrown right into St. Petersburg with our first major stop being the Hermitage museum. I was really thankful to have Olga, our guide, with us since she was able to give us some background on what we were seeing to add depth to our observations. Following the Hermitage, we ate lunch at a local restaurant where I sat near a window with Mackenzie and Victoria and we were relishing in “people watching”, chatting about what we saw. All of this, along with the bus tour as a whole, the stop at St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral, and souvenir shopping added together to form a whirlwind of a day in St. Petersburg that left a lot to process.
What stood out to me the most from this day was The Hermitage. I was completely blown away and overwhelmed, which was not all due to the pure extravagance of it all. The whole time I could not stop thinking about what it meant that Russia had all of these pieces of art and history that weren’t even their own. To have all of these pieces that any country would kill to have, let alone the country that the piece originated in, displayed a great power and I knew must hold great significance. My first thought was how it reminded my of the colonizers of the world, such as England and France, who hold many pieces of cultural significance that do not belong to them, yet are in their possession in order to be “kept safe”. Thanks to Olga, I realized that this wasn’t the case for Catherine the Great. After hearing Olga’s explanation and our talk on the bus, I thought about how interesting it is that she wanted all of these pieces to impress foreigners that would come to visit, to display her power and importance. From what I can recall, these were all bought or taken as gifts, so they definitely have a different tone than the aforementioned pieces taken by colonizing countries, but they have a similar purpose, that of showing off power. This expression of power at first didn’t resonate with me, I thought of how I would not consider someone with many expensive things to necessarily be someone I would respect with important and meaningful decisions for an entire country. I think this is because I recognize that this display of power is a facade for try and make up for something that is missing; in this case, the right to the power that is being displayed. Neither Catherine the Great, nor the colonizing countries of the past had a right to the position of power that they took. Making these connections was really significant for me because the period of colonization has been a topic I have always found fascinating, so it added depth and meaning to a topic I knew little of before.
Besides the Hermitage, the city had a lot to offer in connections and realizations that I would not have been able to come to otherwise if I were not to see if myself. For example, I found it interesting that I never saw a female athlete at the sports center, which led to an interesting conversation we had about gender in Russia during the debrief. I look forward to making more connections between St. Petersburg and the Heartland, especially upon my return after having experienced a different side of Russia