A Visit to Russia - Summer 2006
by Damien Fenske-Corbiere
past summer I went on a spectacular trip to Russia
with American Councils as a result of winning the regional spoken
Olympiada. This was my second visit to Russia, as I had already
on Mrs. Wobst's exchange in February 2005. The group met in
Washington DC in late June. After a brief orientation and one night
in a hotel near Dulles Airport, we were on our way to Russia.
When we landed in Moscow, we immediately took a bus to
Vladimir, the city where we spent most of our time. Vladimir is
of the "Golden Ring," a series of medieval Russian cities
Moscow. We stayed with host families. I was paired with another
American student, Cornelius from Memphis, in the home of an elderly
retired woman and her 24-year-old son. The first week was marked
the unbearably hot weather, which was intensified because there
no places with air conditioning. This was quite a contrast with
winter I remembered from the exchange in Petrozavodsk. It truly
seemed like a blessing when it began to rain and things cooled down.
Our time in Vladimir was packed with great activities. In
the mornings, we went to school. Afterthe classes and lunch in a
we went to museums and churches.
These excursions ended in the early afternoon, so many of us students
spent time together walking around Vladimir and going to internet
cafes before returning home to our host families at night. On
Saturdays, we went on day-long excursions out of town. For example,
we once went to the neighboring town of Suzdal and another time
monastery. Host families had Sunday free to do what they wanted.
Since this was the summer of the World Cup, everyone was
really excited about soccer, Russians and Americans alike. There
soccer pitches readily available in Russia, like the one right in
front of my host family's apartment building. Most of us Americans
watched the games on TV, either together with other students or
separately with our respective families. In addition, we were all
"pumped up" that we began playing soccer. First, we all
had to chip
in to buy the cheapest soccer ball we could find. It was really
playing, and we always ended up playing with Russians, often
embarrassing ourselves. It was by far the best World Cup summer
life (though I was heartbroken when France lost).
When the time came to say goodbye, it was very difficult
to take leave of our host families in Vladimir. We boarded the
super-long and super-hot overnight train to St. Petersburg. We left
around 9:00 PM and were supposed to pull in around 10:00 AM the
day. We did not arrive until 2:00 PM, but no one was too disappointed
because the train ride was fun in itself, despite the heat.
We spent three days in St. Petersburg visiting all the
major sights. Traveling around was more difficult than usual because
at the time the city was preparing for the G8 summit. Our bus driver,
however, knew how to work his way around the extensive detours.
G8 did bring us some good, as every room in our hotel got
complimentary "G8 edition" juice boxes. I had already
been to most of
the same places on the previous trip with Mrs. Wobst, but I was
particularly happy this time to be able to see the tsar's summer
palace in Peterhof with its beautiful fountains.
From St. Petersburg, we went to Moscow, once again on an
overnight train. Again, I had already seen most of the same sights
my previous trip to Moscow. The only major difference was that this
time, the group went to the Arbat, an excursion I greatly enjoyed.
Some of my fondest memories of the trip with Mrs. Wobst took place
the Hotel Rossiya, yet when I returned in summer 2006, the hotel
being demolished. As our tour guide explained, the government had
finally decided to destroy the huge hotel because it took up so
space in a prime location.
On the day of our departure from Russia, the group met in
the lobby at 3:45 AM. I did not even bother going to sleep that
night. When I think back on these three weeks in Russia, I get the
same strong sense of awe and wonder that I felt when leaving that
morning in July. This second trip to Russia gave me a chance to
increase my understanding of this fascinating country and its culture
and left me wanting to learn even more.
on a photo to enlarge it.