We did it!
Packing and dressing tips
By David Rainbow.
Here are some things to keep in mind while you pack. Packing well will require a good balance between these things, so use common sense. Flip-flops are lighter than most shoes, but they aren’t going to be very comfortable during a long day of walking. Your favorite sweatpants are more comfortable than a pair of khakis, but they might not be the best choice since (let’s say) you won’t have a pocket to put your wallet in when you decide to go to the ballet with your friends. You get the idea. So try to balance the following three principles when you’re stuffing your suitcase.
1. Travel light.
When packing your things, imagine carrying everything you bring to Russia through the middle of a very busy city, in a big group, after a ten hour plane ride. It’s true, that most of our bags will have wheels. But there’s no guarantee that the ground or bus or subway or Russian pedestrians will make it easy for you to use them. You won’t want tons of volume or weight. Start with the heavy stuff: try to minimize or reduce liquids (e.g., share shampoo with your roommate), books, extra shoes, laptops, etc. Then take aim at redundancy: that extra pair of jeans or sweatshirt; a fresh t-shirt for every day; a coat for rain and a coat for cold; belts and suspenders, etc. Finally, eliminate things that are relatively unnecessary: your own towel or pillow; stuffed animals; curling irons, etc. Oh, and this is a different kind of “light,” but light colored clothing, especially pants, show the wear and tear of traveling faster than dark clothing. So you might be glad you opted for black instead of white jeans.
2. Be comfortable.
We’ll do lots of walking, so don’t wear uncomfortable shoes or clothes. Also, bear in mind the average temperatures will range from about 75 degrees during the day to about 40 degrees at night. You'll want some layers, and probably a jacket for the evenings. I know we’re coming from Houston and 40 degrees might seem like your survival will be in jeopardy, but don’t go crazy with the coats and mittens. A long sleeve shirt plus a sweater plus a medium to light weight jacket should suffice for most of us. But it is worth bringing an extra layer if you get cold easily. Also keep comfort in mind when considering what, if anything, you’re going to carry around during the day. It’s a good idea to avoid big backpacks and purses.
3. Don’t be too comfortable.
Many Russian college students in the two capital cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, dress a lot like you do. You’ll see fashionable, trendy, and also casual. In general, though, Russians tend to dress a bit more formally than Americans. Leather shoes instead of sneakers; collars instead of college t-shirts, and so on. If you want to mitigate the inevitable conspicuous-American-tourist look, then you can opt for some dressier shoes (only if they’re comfortable) other than sneakers, or a pair of darker pants instead of the sporty workout-attire that American students often wear. You should also plan to be able to dress up a bit for nice restaurants, concerts, etc. Whatever you do, just please don’t plan to wear your American flag pajamas around the Kremlin or anything like that.
March 23rd, 2017
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The Best Museum in Europe
By David Rainbow
During our trip to Russia next May, we will see a lot of great sites. In fact, four of the places we’ll visit in and around Moscow and St. Petersburg are included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List [link: http://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/ru].
Another must-see for any visitor to St. Petersburg is the Hermitage Museum. We’ll visit the Hermitage, too. The Museum houses a massive collection (over three million pieces, though not all are on display all the time) of some of the best art and artifacts from around the world dating from antiquity to the modern period. If you spent one minute looking at each of the Hermitage’s treasures for six hours a day, it would take you nearly 23 years to see them all. Clearly you’ll have to do some picking and choosing when you visit it for a day, but you’ll nevertheless get to see some of the world’s most amazing artistic treasures. You can do a virtual tour of the Hermitage here, on Google Arts & Culture [link: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/partner/the-state-hermitage-museum]
On top of housing so much great art, the Hermitage Museum building itself is a sight to see. The Empress Catherine the Great, who ruled in the late eighteenth century, worked to make the imperial capital, St. Petersburg, a thoroughly European city, distinguishing it from the older Slavic cities of Moscow and Novgorod. In this respect, she followed in the footsteps of Tsar Peter the Great, the founder of the city of St. Petersburg (1703). When Catherine commissioned the construction of the Hermitage as a palace residence on the banks of the Neva River, she hired one of the great Italian architects of the day, Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli. The building served as the tsars’ Winter Palace until February 1917 when the last tsar, Nicholas II, was overthrown. Then, in October 1917, the storming of the Winter Palace became for the Bolsheviks the important (and highly romanticized) founding moment for the Soviet Union. The Hermitage encompasses many layers of Russian history. And because it looks today like it did in 1917, you can peruse the masterpieces of da Vinci and Rembrandt and Picasso all the while reminded of the fact that you’re walking in the house of the tsar.
For all of these reasons and more, the Hermitage was recently named the best museum in Europe (and the third best in the world) [link: http://rbth.com/arts/2016/09/15/st-petersburgs-hermitage-again-tops-list-of-europes-best-museums_630173]. And you’ll get to see it on our trip!
Dates: May 15-25, 2017
Destination: Moscow, St. Petersburg, and environs