During my first year at an art based middle school, I did what most 13 year olds never imagine doing. Rain coat at the ready, violin strapped on my back and three disposable cameras handy, I embarked on a journey to Russia with my fellow orchestra members in the spring of 2006.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Sixty riled up teenagers boarded a colossal double deck aircraft, fourteen hours later arriving in the 860 year old city of Moscow. After struggling to pass through immigration, our lifeless bodies almost crawled onto the tourist buses provided to us by Encore Tours. The bus traveled through the incredible city; it was the middle of the night and rays of lights protruded from every corner. My head rested against the dew covered window and I spotted multiple black Mercedes with tinted windows and police with abnormally tall hats guarding every building; aspects of the former Soviet-Union clearly still lingered in the city. Only a few days were spent in Moscow, but it allowed us to see many landmarks and also experience and learn about the Russian culture. We visited the well-known Saint Basil’s Cathedral, haunting stories of Ivan the terrible who blinded his architects so that they could not re-create the masterpiece were told to us by our passionate tour guides. Our guides led us around the marvelous Red Square where we were pestered by multiple vendors trying to sell us jewelry, unusual looking hats, dolls, and books. Bargaining with the vendor was a game. My first attempt at bargaining was rather successful; I exchanged only 50 Rubles (about $1.50) for a classic Russian nesting doll delicately painted with red and yellow.
Our orchestra was also fortunate enough to have a joint concert with a Russian art school whose program was much more intense than ours because of the amount of hours they had to spend there practicing. We were able to share stories with the students and also learn about their methods of study and the high expectations they are required to reach. They taught us some basic Russian; the most useful word that I learned and constantly used during trip was “spa-see-ba,” thank-you.
We traveled to the second city by train. As we arrived at our destination, we were shocked by the cleanliness and not as populous city of Saint Petersburg. The Neva River runs through the city and pastel color stone buildings line the river, such as the Winter Palace. The Hermitage, which was a museum previously owned by the Tsars, sits in the Palace Square and occupies six historic buildings along the Palace Embankment. Within the Hermitage, there are marvelous rooms that have walls and furniture that are completely gilded, carriages made of gold, and fragile frabergé eggs covered in jewels. The Hermitage was an unbelievable and rich part of the former Russian lifestyle.
Engulfing myself into the Russian lifestyle allowed me discover hardworking and determined individuals. When we visited the children in the arts school, we saw young artists striving to be the best; they displayed the focused and firm mindset Russia seems to maintain. Every citizen was proud of the strong influence the past Russian lifestyle had on today’s society and they cherished every aspect of it. Russia has a very rich and impressive culture to boast about. Traveling has always been a very important part of my life because I believe that to understand this diverse world; one must experience a country’s culture first hand, most likely being pleasantly surprised by a new and endearing way of life.
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