From Russia with Love: #5 Must Never Miss Museums in St Petersburg

I spent a week in Russia and I fell in love with the country and its people. They remind me of the misunderstood big kid in class and I want to take my time sharing about my experience traveling there solo. I will be posting up a few short write ups about specific incidences and my thoughts about them and my understanding of the culture and the people. Post #5 Must Never Miss Museums in St Petersburg

I visited the Hermitage and Winter Palace TWICE, because it was ginormous and had a ton of things to see. Also, students get in for free (my NUS card was the best thing I ever invested in) so why not?

Hermitage museum and the General Staff's Building
Winter Palace and the General Staff Building
General Staff's Building
The General Staff building houses tons of paintings from Monet to Van Gogh to Picasso.

Opposite the Hermitage and Winter Palace was the General Staff Building which was home to many stunning paintings including some by Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso and Munch. I waved my student card once again and got to go in for free. So. Much. Win. The building itself was a maze and the signs weren’t very helpful. I had to go through room after room after room of uninteresting stuff (like old soldier’s outfits, dining tables with ridiculous silverware, more dresses and coins) before I got to these beauties.

Another museum I checked out was Erarta, a contemporary art museum that showcases Russian painters from all over Russia. Getting to the museum was a little bit of a headache because the closest metro station was under renovation, which meant that I had to get on a trolleybus. I got on knowing which direction I had to head to but that was it. Silly me forgot to check for the name of the stop on Google which meant that I couldn’t tell the ticket lady where I was heading. I had taken a few screenshots of the instructions to get to the museum (curtesy of Erarta’s website), which I showed her, but she just stared at me blankly. Before spiralling into a mini panic attack, a random stranger asked if I spoke English. I said yes and he proceeded to translate everything I said to the confused ticket lady. Everyone on the trolleybus began chipping in on the conversation that was happening. After sorting all that out, I found a seat and tried to stop myself from laughing at the awkwardness of the situation. Before he got off the bus, I gave him a very grateful nod and mouthed “Thank you”. Then,  an old lady spoke to him and he turned to me to say “She’ll walk you to the museum.” Even the young boy sitting next to me said “You going to Erarta? I’ll show you where to go.” Which they both did. The old Russian lady even walked me to the entrance of the museum.

At Erarta, I fell in love. This place had art literature that accompanied some of the paintings which really helped me understand a lot more about the art work and the artists’ intentions. I also watched a physical theatre performance in Erarta called Ketzal.  I have previously watched and understood and even enjoyed other shows of this genre but this was a whole new level of artsy fartsy. It had to do with a myth about a bird with a snake head.

Dance bird, DANCE!
You mean this?

Instead, there were a bunch of bald people in nothing but their underwear jumping and wriggling about.

The closing scene
No I will not be posting pictures of naked people on this blog. You can click on the link for that.

All in all, I think Russia has been a whirlwind experience. It was eye opening, friendly, intimidating, scary, confusing and great. I really hope to return to this place one day, armed with a better comprehension of the Russian language.

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From Russia with Love: #3 Learning about the world from the Red Square

I spent a week in Russia and I fell in love with the country and its people. They remind me of the misunderstood big kid in class and I want to take my time sharing about my experience traveling there solo. I will be posting up a few short write ups about specific incidences and my thoughts about them and my understanding of the culture and the people. Post #3: Learning about the world from the Red Square.

I attended the 8th International Military Tattoo held in the Red Square. It wasn’t that I was incredibly interested in fairly priced entertainment with guns and uniforms, it was that I really really really wanted to see the beautiful buildings lit up at night. And boy am I glad I did.

I arrived late and was greeted by the loud blast of a cannon followed by the crackling of fireworks. I walked past groups of uniformed people, some in the Russian army, others getting ready to march out to show off what they’ve got. I noticed the large presence of the police and the Russian army. Heck, the guy who checked my ticket was from the army. I honestly didn’t know what to make of it.But then again, it was a military event. Who knows.

I found my seat and was presently surprised at the turn out – the square was packed, especially the cheap seats! I loved the festivity that was in the air. the Russians were the first to perform and it was a whirlwind of dancers, the marching band, electric guitars and a lot more fireworks. If there’s one thing I learned about Russia, it is that less is not more, more is so much more. What I saw was definitely over the top and it dazzled me giddy.

I watched the troop from Pakistan spin with their swords to a traditional snake-charming-like tune within the structured frame of military-marching-band beats. I teared up when the Italians performed “Con Te Partiro”, so beautifully sung by this guy with lungs the size of a whale. The Chinese approached this whole thing with a clean and minimalist take, that really caught me off-guard. About half way through, the women began a jaw-dropping gun spinning routine only achieved by immaculate timing while the men sang in aca-freaking-pella. The Brits decided to send a bunch of kids, most of which would not be allowed in a PG13 movie, who wow-ed the audience with their adorable-ness. The cheeky touch at the end, with the two boys holding the flag and waving at the audience, really got the crowd going. The Scotts, on the other hand, had individuals from three generations at the front, marching to the same beat, something I found incredibly inspiring.

As I watched each country display their identities and celebrate them, I couldn’t help but wonder about Malaysia. Were we to be invited to perform, what would we show off the world? What would our identity be? Do we have a collective identity that we are all proud to call ours? I reflected on my days in school and whenever we had a “Malaysian” event, we would always watch three separate performances, never one coherent one that told one coherent story.

Sitting there in the Red Square, in the cold, in the bright spot light of another country, I couldn’t help but to feel very disappointed, and dare I say it, sad at how little my country has grown.

Fireworks

Split – Museums and The Bright Nights

In between cutting my feet and eating, we managed to visit two museums. The Split City Museum wasn’t too bad and we got in for free as we had the Split Card. As we entered, I heard music playing from the distance. As we gradually made our way up to the second floor, we found a mini 10-piece orchestra rehearsing. It felt like we were walking through a magical kingdom with an amazing soundtrack.

The second was by far my favourite. It was the Split Modern Art Gallery or Galerija: Umjetnina. We got in at a discounted rate with our student cards (always ask for a student discount because you save so much money). Tickets are priced at different rates, where one ticket includes entry to the temporary exhibit and the other only to the permanent show. The works in there were breathtaking, especially the temporary exhibit titled Phlogiston.

At night, Split never sleeps, very much like its older and more cultured sibling, Zagreb. Walking around at 10pm, the streets are still filled with music from street performers and free concerts. The clubs don’t even fill up till 12am, when the night really starts.

On our last night in Split, before jumping on a 7 hour night bus, we walked through the busiest evening yet. Many locals were out and about that night as there was a football match happening between the local Split FC called Hajduk (pronounced Haidook) and Prague’s FC. The atmosphere was joyous as always, with many people half drunk by 7pm. Drivers honked as passengers stuck their bodies out of the windows and waved Hajduk flags around town. A short person attempting to take a picture of a large crowd.