Aaron Bonar ’10 – Sure, one can freely roam one of the greatest museums in the world and see  priceless masterpieces, or get into shows like “Swan Lake” for free, but nothing beats the discounted pizza at the Hermitage Cafe. I mean, what Wabash Man doesn’t love cheap food?

Now, what was I supposed to talk about? Oh yes, culture, excursions and all that. I guess I can mention those things too.

Our group excursion to Velikiy Novgorod, the oldest city in modern Russia, provided a great picture of Russia’s rich history. Founded over a millennium ago, it began as a democratic republic, electing its prince from a large field of nobles. This democratic reign came to an end when Ivan III, Grand Duke of Moscow, united all of the Russian lands under his authoritarian grip. On the city’s one thousandth birthday in 1862, the Russian Millennium Monument was dedicated to honor Russia’s accomplishments. From the founding of Kievian Rus to the victory over Napoleon and beyond, the monument features famous Russian artists, religious leaders, and Tsars who made important contributions to Russia’s culture and national power. Surrounded by its own kremlin, Velikiy Novgorod is an often overlooked treasure chest of Russian culture and history.

On September 20, my group traveled to Peter and Paul Fortress, one of the most famous structures in St. Petersburg. Instantly recognizable by the high, golden tower of Peter and Paul Cathedral, the fortress was the first structure built in the city. Tsar Peter I himself took part in the construction. While the fortress contains many historical sites and museums, one of the most interesting structures in the Peter and Paul Cathedral, the resting place of every Tsar since Peter I. Even Nicholas II, the last emperor, is buried here alongside his family. Standing in the main hall surrounded by the bones of history is quite an experience. The panorama of the city seen from the fortress walls is beautiful at sunset.

Pavlovsk, a beautiful palace built in the classical style, was our next destination. Situated in the middle of a seemingly endless park filled with woodlands and rolling hills, the palace contained priceless paintings and personal artifacts of the late Tsar. While it was beautiful, I have to admit that I still find the Winter Palace to be more beautiful.

On Friday October 10th, the group departed for Moscow on an overnight train for our semester break. While the excursion was supposed to last three days, I had different plans. My parents flew in for the break, and we left together on Sunday for Saratov, a city in southern Russia, to visit some Russian students who had come to Wabash during my freshman year. It was great to see them, and I hope I have an opportunity to visit them again.

Over the past few weeks, I have continued to explore St. Petersburg. The group as a whole has settled in, and many consider St. Petersburg their second home. Personally, I can tell that my Russian has improved by leaps and bounds, and Veronika, the former Wabash Russian intern whom I met in Moscow, agrees. I only hope that the approaching months will be as good as the first. 

In Photos: Top right: A sunset view of Peter and Paul Fortress. Center left, Aaron in front of the circus in Saratov, the first circus in Russia. Below, the seat of government – the Kremlin.