Hi everyone!

Are you all prepared for this blog, because I have a feeling that this blog may become the longest blog I have ever written. I do say “may”. So, let’s get started, shall we?

I had class at nine o’clock today meaning I had to get up in time. I must say I was still quite tired when my alarm clock woke me up, but managed to get myself out of bed, luckily, because it would have been terrible to have missed out on a day like this. I’ll spare you guys from telling my entire getting up ritual or whatever I have to call it. I guess it’s not that interesting to know what I do when getting up.

Okay, at nine I went to class, which for a change was very interesting again. We talked about politics again, but last time we talked more about politics in general. Today we talked about elections, which of course is a very interesting theme in this country. It was absolutely great to hear the story from within the country. Because, we always say things like “how is it possible that…” and “they should just do this and that”, but those are easy things to say when you live in a small country called Belgium (or any other country for that matter). Things just aren’t that simple and it was absolutely interesting to hear exactly how complicated they are.

For example, it is easy for us to express how we do not understand why many people do not vote. I understand now why it is like that. Maria told me that to vote you need to registrate, as people here are not obligated by law to vote. That registration often takes place at places far away from where people live, even people in Saint-Petersburg and is usually on a Sunday, the one free day many people have. Of course they do not want to spend their entire day in a car just to go put a signature on some kind of paper just to be allowed to vote. It does put different perspective on things. It’s not quite a surprise for me now that people just don’t go to vote.

Also, I learned that Putin now is president illegally. I thought that in Russia you could do two terms and then somebody else had to be president and that you can do another two terms than. Apparently, that’s what Maria said, that is not the case. Officially, you can only be president for two terms and then never again, like in America. So again, this puts things in a different perspective. Things really aren’t as straightforward as we always think they are and you can only see that when you are in the country and see how things go. Maybe, we should all just think twice from now on before we say things like “they should just do this or that”, because “just” doing something really isn’t that easy, there is no such thing as “just doing that” here. I can definitely understand the people here and the choices they make when it comes to elections a lot better now.

We also talked about psychology, as in that I had to describe drawings of children and then there would be an explanation in the book about what psychologists think a kid is like based on that drawing. It was actually quite interesting, because mostly the things I thought came back in the psychologic analysis. Apparently, there is this kind of test here in Russia where they let kids draw a drawing of a person, one of a house and one of a wood. The drawing of the kid shows what the kid himself or herself is like, the house represents the people around him and the wood represents the world.

And then we still read about Masha and the Bear, which are very famous stories here in Russia. There’s films for kids about them and all that stuff. It was to practice the use of the aspects of the verbs. I had to read the story and at certain moments had to choose between the perfective and imperfective aspect. It is a great way to practice, just reading stories and practicing like that, it’s fun and you learn without realising you do.

My first week of classes has ended now and the things I’ve learned are so many, I cannot even begin to count. It is amazing. I notice I’m so much more comfortable speaking Russian and even often just start to speak Russian without realising it. I actually want to speak Russian as much as possible and that is just wonderful. I also notice the number of grammatical mistakes I make has reduced by an enormous number and when I do make one I often correct myself before someone else has to do it. I am absolutely amazed by the progress I have made. I’m quite comfortable to say that I’ve learned more in a week’s time than I have in four years in Belgium, including three months in Moscow, and it’s just because I speak so much Russian here. I may have known the grammar and could have applied it and could translate. But, knowing a language also means you have to be able to speak it and that’s something you cannot truly learn if you’re not in a country where they speak that language. So yeah, I get happier each and every second that I chose to take this course.

Okay, back to the order of the day. After class I hurried back home to eat something, pack my stuff and then leave again to go to the centre of the city for my excursion with Sasha. As I did not do the entire road by bus, but took the underground I was there half an hour early, which was perfect because I wanted to go to Dom Knigi, the bookstore and buy a map of Saint-Petersburg. I saw they had postcards as well, so I bought a few of those as well.

And then Sasha arrived and she gave me the choice: Walk through the city or go to the Hermitage. I did not need much time to choose, so we went to the Hermitage. For those who live under a stone and have no idea what the Hermitage is (even though I’ve talked about it already): The Hermitage is the most famous museum of Saint-Petersburg. It has one of the largest art collections ever with paintings of amongst others Matisse, Rubens, Rembrandt, Picasso, Da Vinci even and many, many more. The Hermitage consists of a number of buildings, but the Winter Palace is the most famous one.

We were lucky because the line to buy tickets wasn’t very long and so we did not have to wait long either. There was some trouble with my photo camera. For some reason everyone could take theirs inside and I couldn’t, so I left it in the cloak room against my will. But, I got it back safely when I left and that’s what counts. I could have made pictures in the Hermitage I guess, but it would never ever do justice to it. This just is one of those things you have to see for yourself. It is the only way.

The good thing of being a student is that here in Saint-Petersburg even foreign students get tickets for a reduced tariff very often and that reduced tariff for the Hermitage is: besplatno, free.

So, the Hermitage, what can I say, it is HUGE, but not just huge, hallucinatingly huge. Sasha and I walked around there for a couple of hours and we have seen only such a small part of it. You could walk around there for days. Sasha has been there over thirty times (though that was a rough guess because she had no idea how often it actually has been), but she sometimes even did not know the way.

And to think that the palace was built for one, single family. It is so unreal. Just the thought that it was just for one family, what the hell did they do with all that space? Sasha was wondering how they would let each know something when they were at different sides of the palace. Okay, they probably had staff for that, but still. I said if I had lived there I probably would have bought a bike to get around the place. It’s just so huge, if you lived there… You would have to be exhausted by the end of the day of walking those corridors and corridors and corridors. Though, if you want to play a very successful game of hide-and-seek, this would be the place to be, without a doubt.

Okay, so far the vastness of the palace, now to the looks. It was simply stunningly beautiful. Definitely very over the top at some place, but so so so amazingly beautiful. A room full of massively gold columns, gold, gold and more gold. Huge rooms all beautifully decorated, chandeliers that make you realise you would never have wanted to be cleaning lady in this place, furniture that is amazing, rooms that make your heart skip a beat when you see them, ceilings and walls that have the most amazing decorations, the malachite room is stunning. There was less malachite than I thought, but then again columns and tables and whatnot made from malachite, it is absolutely stunning to see. There is no way to put this into words and do justice to it. As I said you just have to see it with your own eyes, there’s no other way. Even if you don’t like art you would still love this place for its looks. Or at least be impressed by it. It is absolutely stunning, it’s the only word I can think of that covers it at least a little bit. And then I forgot to even mention the stairs in the main hall they are just… straight from a fairytale. You can just see the tsarina walk down them in one of her beautiful dresses.

And then the art. There are so many paintings, so, so many and so varied. There’s Italian art, French, English art, art from Holland and Flanders, Japanese, Indian and Egyptian art. There is even a mummy! There’s something for everyone. There are so many famous paintings and I knew those paintings because we talked about them in class and it is so wonderful to see them for real once instead of on a photograph. That is just so great. It is also nice to realise that you can recognise the painter of painting only by the style of the painting. I had paintings that I had never ever seen before and I could just say that, for example one of them was a Brueghel, because of the style it was painted in. It’s good to see those classes about art have actually permanently taught me something.

Sasha’s favourite hall is the hall with Flemish paintings and here favourite painting hangs there: Concert of Birds, by Sneyder. It is a very beautiful painting indeed. Apparently, it had been brought to Amsterdam and it was said it would not return, but apparently it did, so Sasha was very happy about this.

So, then Sasha told me she had another excursion at a quarter past five with the group Kasper is in. She said they would just be walking through town and that I was welcome to join because she would walk through another part of town then we saw on Sunday. I obviously did not reject that, so we then went to eat something in the Subway, which is a kind of chain of fastfood restaurants. They sell all kinds of sandwiches there. While sitting there we talked about everything and nothing both in English and in Russian.

After that we went back to the meeting place where a friend of Sasha, Nastya, was already waiting for us. She would join us on the excursion. And so, we waited for the others to arrive. And when they did we started our tour around the city.

We first went to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. We did not see it from the inside, but it is impressive just from the outside as well. It is named like that because it was at this place that tsar Alexander II was murdered, which is the reason for the “spilled blood” and this tsar was known as “the Savior” because it was under the reign of this tsar that serfdom was ended. Yeah, Saint-Petersburg knows its way with impressive buildings.

Then we walked on to the Michailovsky garden. Here, the Michailovsky palace is situated as well, which is now where the Russian Museum is situated. The gardens are absolutely beautiful and it’s a nice, green place in the middle of the city. It’s a great place to go for a walk or to just sit and enjoy the peace and quiet.

We walked on then, saw some beautiful parts of the city and entered the Summer gardens, which in their turn were absolutely beautiful as well. There were fountains and flowers and like the other garden it’s a nice place to walk, though it is a little more crowded than the Michailovsky gardens, so enjoying the peace and quiet would be a little more difficult here.

Next we again walked through the city, enjoyed ourselves, talked, laughed, made pictures and I once again realised what an amazing city this is and how beautiful. When you walk along the Neva and see all these beautiful sights, it is simply amazing.

Sasha used the time to teach the others Russian words like the colours and the words for swan, pond, river, church, that sort of words. It was funny for me because for me they are so simple, those words, and they had such trouble remembering them. It wasn’t like I was laughing at them or so, but it’s just funny to see. I know when I went through that part it wasn’t funny. For years ago that was me. Now I can have a conversation in Russian without any fear. It’s amazing, the progress I’ve made. It’s all so normal now and for years ago everyone thought this was a crazy idea.

We walked along the Neva, saw a couple of brave guys swim in the river, which is not the brightest idea apparently because of the pollution. I’d already figured that out myself, but not everyone had.

We then walked to the Peter and Paulsettlement. We wanted to visit the cathedral, but it was late already and they did not sell tickets anymore. So, I will have to return one of these days because I absolutely want to see it. Every tsar since Peter the Great is buried there, including the Romanov family, so I really want to visit it. There’s also a jail there that is apparently quite impressive to see (impressive in the sense that it leaves quite an impression and not stunningly beautiful to see). But, I still have time.

We walked along the beach there and then along the river Neva again. Funny thing at the settlement is this sign with all the things that are forbidden to do there. It’s normal to have those signs, but some things are a little strange. You cannot ski there, nor walk around in bathing suit, you cannot walk on the roofs, nor play musical instruments, you may not drink, not walk dogs and need to leave the greenery alone and some more stuff. Too bad, I was just planning on going there tomorrow in my bathing suit by ski to play the violin on the roof while drinking vodka, walking my dog and tearing the leaves of a tree branch. There goes my plan.

And then we walked past the two famous Rostra columns, along the Hermitage, across the Palace place back to Nevskij Prospekt where we split up. Kasper, Sjouke and Rens went to have a drink. Sasha, Kasper and I went home. Especially Sasha and I were very tired because of all the walking we did today and tomorrow there is another excursion, so we both thought it would be better to go home and rest.

Back home I sat down and did not want to get up again for the next few hours, but I was hungry, so we warmed up another pizza and had that for dinner. I know, we’re not having the most varied meals, but I really did not feel like cooking anything at all anymore today. I am so tired, my feet hurt and right now getting up is the worst thing you can ask of me, so no… No brilliant cooking and fancy meals for us today.

So, Saint-Petersburg, this is such a beautiful city. I love this city. It is truly amazing and everyone should come here at least once in their lives. I can try to tell you about this city, I can try to make you see it, but the only way to truly see, feel and experience the city is by coming here yourself and living it yourself.

It’s amazing, but Saint-Petersburg is well on its way to do the one thing I thought was impossible: knock Moscow away from the shared first place of my favourite places and bumping it into the second place. Piter is very close to doing that, if it hasn’t already!

So, tomorrow there won’t be any classes, but we’re going on a daylong excursion with Sasha and the plan is to go to Tsarskoe Selo, a town close to Saint-Petersburg where there’s a royal palace and where Pushkin studied and wrote his first poems, so it should be a great place for me to go. A palace, the old Russia and Pushkin, this must be kind of my Walhalla. So, I can’t wait for tomorrow. If things keep going this way, this journey is just going to be brilliant day after brilliant day after brilliant day, which is the best! I had hoped for a great journey and so far it has been brilliant, so that is more than I could have ever wished for.

So, I guess you have had about enough to read now. I believe it now officially is my longest blog ever, so let’s all raise our glass for this new record while I tell you about the weather today. It was, like everything today, simply brilliant. The sun shone all day and it was really warm, even hot and it was just brilliant. Saint-Petersburg is so amazingly beautiful when the sun is shining on it. I love this place, I simply love this place!

It’s a wrap!