Ever since I was a young boy, I had wanted to see Russia (or what was then the USSR). I had a children's atlas that showed pictures of amazing churches (St. Basil's Cathedral), weird shopping malls (GUM), and gigantic open spaces (Red Square as well as the Siberian steppe). I keenly remember when the USSR dissolved, to be replaced by countries I couldn't pronounce. As I grew up, my fascination with the largest country on earth continued to grow, firstly by reading the novels of Dostoevsky and secondly (and most importantly) becoming an Orthodox Christian. I was going to go to Russia in 2007, but decided that I would go to the Middle East instead (and I'm glad I did). I postponed my trip again in 2008 for financial reasons (going instead to Eastern Canada - which actually was more of a budget buster than Russia would have been), but FINALLY in 2009, I realized my lifelong travel goal. While I traveled only in the European side of Russia, it was still a phenomenal experience. Here's my first day in Russia, as I ventured from Tallinn, Estonia to Russia's second city, St. Petersburg.
Ivangorod Fortress, the very first thing I saw in Russia as our bus crossed the Narva River from the Estonian town of Narva.
Passports (and visas!) please.
The interior of our bus... after we got sideswiped by a semi in rush hour traffic (seriously - it reminded me of an incident that happened when I entered Syria).
My fellow travelers (all Russian or Estonians, save for a group of Mexicans (!) and yours truly).
Notice the backed up traffic entering St. Petersburg.
My first impression of the "Venice of the north." This might be the Griboyedov Canal, near my hostel (one that Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov would have seen daily).
Griffin-like statue on one of the many, many bridges in St. Petersburg.
The Church on Spilled Blood, with the pillars of the Kazan Cathedral to the left (approaching Nevsky Prospekt, the single most famous road in Russia).
The Kazan Cathedral.
I previously blogged about the Church on Spilled Blood, but I have some different photos below just for the heck of it.
After visiting the second most famous church in Russia (after St. Basil's), I walked to the nearly adjacent Russian Museum, which would be the top museum in the city if it weren't for the Hermitage (which I'd get to another day).
Grand staircase inside the Russian Museum (which is inside the Mikhailovsky Palace).
Unlike the Hermitage, which focuses on Western art, the Russian Museum focuses on (surprise!) Russian art, including iconography. This is an icon of Sts. Boris and Gleb.
More icons from the museum's collections.
Icon of the life of St. George.
Some of the icons were massive.
Andrei Rublev and studio's "Baptism of Christ."
Rublev and studio's "Presentation of Christ in the Temple"
Rublev and studio's "The Incredulity of St. Thomas"
Empress Catherine the Great, I presume.
The many rooms of the Russian Museum were fascinating in of themselves, to say nothing of the art on the walls.
Ivan Aivazovsky's "The Ninth Wave"
Karl Briullov's "The Last Day of Pompeii"
I wish I knew the title of this one.
"A Knight at the Crossroads" by Viktor Vasnetsov
Vasily Surikov's "View of the Bronze Horseman on Senate Square in St. Petersburg"
I don't know the name of this painting, although there are two details below.
This one looks like a photograph.
Nikolai Ghe's "Peter the Great Interrogating the Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich"
Mikhail Vrubel's "Six Winged Seraphim (Azrael [Angel of Death])"
Boris Kustodiev's "Shrovetide"
Nathan Altman's "Portrait of Anna Akhmatova"
Once outside the museum, I headed towards Dostoevsky's house and museum, off of Nevsky Prospekt.
One of the bridges on Nevsky Prospekt.
Dostoevsky's church, Vladimirskaya Church (the metro stop nearby is named the same).
Inside the Dostoevsky Museum, his final house (1878 - 1881).
Many of the exhibits are in Russian only, but there are still some with English translations (seen here).
I love seeing seemingly petty artifacts, like Dostoevsky's hat seen here = they tend to demystify a person's mystique.
Rooms in the house, including a fancy heater (fancy for the time period).
The maestro's desk, on which (I presume) he wrote his final and greatest work, The Brothers Karamazov.
Fyodor's great-great grandson, Dmitry Dostoevsky, was in town and leading people around. Incidentally, he was the first person to inform me that Michael Jackson had died (it happened either that day or the previous day, but I hadn't heard anything about it yet).
View from the house across the street.
Inside the Vladimirskaya Church, virtually across the street from the museum.
The front of the Dostoevsky Museum.
A statue of the man himself.
Once back on Nevsky Prospekt, I decided to retire for the day. I passed by this church en route to my hostel.
Coming up = Day 2, featuring St. Isaac's Cathedral, the Hermitage, and a White Nights opera. Stay tuned.