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Hutton Honors College

 — Indiana University

Phil Hart
Summer 2004

I recently completed the six-week Russia tour organized by Indiana University. The tour, led by Professor Larry Richter, incorporated a wide range of activities to provide the students with the best cultural experience possible. I will first briefly describe the three components of the trip, and then I will describe two experiences that stand out as the most impressionable from the trip.

The first stop of our tour was Moscow. Our time in Moscow consisted of a week of visits to famous locations in the city and excursions to the nearby historical cities. Inside of Moscow we visited the Kremlin, Red Square, St. Basil's Cathedral, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, and Novodevichy Cemetery to name a few. We also took excursions to the "Golden Ring," historically famous cities near Moscow. These cities included Borodino, site of the climatic battle versus Napoleon, Suzdal, one of the first Russian cities, and Vladimir, one of the first Russian capitals.

After our week of touring Moscow, we took a night train to St. Petersburg. Our four weeks in Petersburg was spent touring museums and cultural sites throughout the city, exploring royal palaces outside of the city, and taking intensive language classes. Points of particular interest in the city were the Winter Palace, the Kazan Cathedral, the Pushkin Museum, the Blockade Museum, the World War II Museum, and the Church of Spilt Blood. We also took excursions to Pushkin, Tsarskoye Selo, Pavlosk, Peterhof, and Novgorod. For the Russian language instruction, we were divided into two groups and instructed for four hours a day, five days a week. We were given significant free time to explore the many other cultural sites in the city.

The final week of the trip consisted of a cruise through the northwest section of the Russian lake and river system. We boarded our ship in Petersburg, sailed down the Neva to Lake Ladoga then took the Svyaz River to Lake Onega. Along the way we stopped at the ancient cities of Kizhi and Valaam, testaments to Russia's long history.

Several experiences in Russia stand out as the most memorable and genuinely Russian. One of our first trips in Moscow was to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. After first catching a glimpse of the beautiful church, I was excited to go inside and observe the fine architecture of the recently reconstructed giant. However, I was wearing shorts and forgot that entrance into Russian churches require pants for men and dresses for women. It may have been a blessing in disguise. As I waited outside, observing the fine carvings that adorn the exterior of the church, a strange thing happened. I saw a large group of figures approaching from down the road that runs along the front of the church. I heard a megaphone blaring, and as the figures approached I noticed that they were carrying icons, flags adorned with religious figures, and many were dressed in the black robes of Orthodox priests. I quickly walked forward to get a closer look. Based on the little Russian speech I could understand and the writings and pictures on the flags, this was a procession of Orthodox believers calling for the return of the Tsar! Protected by several columns of heavily armed police, the main priest launched into a diatribe condemning the present corruption of Russian society, blaming communism as well as the recent democratization of the country. Altogether, it was an incredible, genuinely Russian experience.

The other truly memorable experience was our visit to Peterhof. Although it is a rather common experience for visitors to Russia, nothing can take away from the sheer beauty of the place. Built by Peter the Great to impress European royalty, the palace and complex are truly amazing. Located on the Gulf of Finland, the palace and gardens span over an enormous amount of land. Over one hundred and seventy-five fountains of all sorts dominate the gardens. Children play on trick fountains - when a particular stone is pressed, water shoots out of the ground. One distinctive fountain involves statues of dragons guarding a mysterious cave. Others feature Greek gods and goddesses. The palace is magnificent as well. Much like the other palaces built by the Russian tsars and tsarinas, no expense was spared in creating breathtakingly beautiful structures. The Russian people are very proud of Peterhof and have every right to be.

Other memorable experiences are too numerous to mention. Many of these merely involved walking down Nevsky Prospekt at rush hour, observing the scenery and interactions between locals. Some involved trips to eight hundred-year-old churches built by some of the first inhabitants of Russia. Others include watching sunsets over Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega on the cruise. Still more involved the Russian friends we made along the way. Altogether, my first journey to Russia was a truly enlightening experience and I suggest this trip to anyone who is truly interested in experiencing firsthand a very interesting culture.