Firstly, I went to the Hermitage again last Friday, to show my recently-arrived friend Marion around. I'm really starting to make the most of my free entry to that place! It was quite fun, and though Marion wasn't too impressed by the shoddy displaying of the paintings (it's a bit thrown together), she had a nice time taking plenty of photos of the outside and looking at all the pretty ceilings. We walked around most of the galleries and admitted defeat when our feet started hurting. I'm sure I'll go back there at least once more before I go home!
As I said in my last post, Russians celebrate before lent with not just a Pancake Day, but a Pancake Week - or Maslenitsa (Масленица) in Russian. We decided to celebrate this on Sunday with a trip to one of the many festivals going on in the city parks. Unfortunately, we decided to go to the festival mentioned on the poster in school, and it was pretty rubbish... There was a bit of stuff going on in the park, but nothing like what we'd imagined, and I really wished we'd gone to the bigger park, where the celebrations were apparently very good. Oh well, perhaps I'll be in Russia over Maslenitsa another year... Here are some pictures from the park we went to, anyway - it was a very sunny day so I took a lot of nice pictures:
(Top: A very snowy, very sunny park; Top Left: Some traditional Maslenitsa ribbons in the park; Top Right: A wedding padlock on a bridge in the park; Middle: My attempt to write my name in the snow; Bottom Left: A very Soviet monument in the park; Bottom Right: Me standing on a bench to show how deep the snow is here!)
After our failed attempt at Maslenitsa, we didn't want to give up and go home or back to the city centre, so we decided to walk to Smolny Cathedral, which we realised was very near the park. Whilst on our way to the cathedral, we found a few nice government buildings, but I'm not 100% sure what any of them were... We also got told off by some guards for trying to walk down a road near the biggest government building... Oops. They probably realised we were foreign and didn't know any better - probably the only reason we weren't shot on sight ;) Anyway, here are a few pictures of the impressive government buildings and other sights en route:
(Top Left: Statue of Karl Marx; Top right: Statue of Friedrich Engels; Middle: Gorgeous, huge government building; Bottom Left: Close up of said building, complete with obligatory statue of Lenin; Bottom Right: Soviet-looking government building, complete with bird in-flight - what amazing timing!)
We eventually reached our destination: Smolny Cathedral. After having read a bit about the building last year for one of my modules at university, it was even bigger and grander that I'd anticipated. It's not really my style, but I can appreciate that it's an extremely beautiful building. It was designed by Rastrelli, the famous Italian architect who also designed the Hermitage (Winter Palace), Peterhof (a huge palace near Saint Petersburg I am still yet to visit), Catherine Palace (an even huger palace I also haven't visited yet - but I intend to go to both palaces when it's a bit warmer!), and plenty of other ridiculously elaborate buildings in Russia and a few other nearby countries. Here are some pictures of the outside of the Cathedral:
(All fairly self-explanatory, I hope!)
We decided that since we were already there, we may as well go inside and have a look. Annoyingly, I'd forgotten my student card after taking it out of my purse (for the first time ever) and putting it in my other handbag - grr! - so I didn't get in free, but it was only 150 Roubles (about £3) to get in anyway, so I didn't mind too much. The inside of the cathedral was not really what I was expecting at all. I realise that the whole style of the building differs from most other Russian cathedrals and is far more European, but I was expecting perhaps a few paintings on the walls or sculptures around the place... I think I've become far too accustomed to the interiors of Orthodox churches - when I get home all churches will seem boring in comparison! We did find out from reading information inside that the construction of the cathedral was abandoned for some time, and the interior was completed by a different architect, so perhaps it was initially supposed to be more elaborate anyway. The inside of the building has actually been transformed into a concert hall, as you can sort of see from my pictures:
(Top Left: The stage inside Smolny Cathedral; Top Right: The detailing at the top of the pillars; Bottom: Looking up into the main dome)
Once we had finished looking around the cathedral, we picked up a programme of concert listings. We saw that a good concert was on the very next day - 'Genius of Baroque: Bach, Handel & Vivaldi'. Expecting the tickets to be ridiculously expensive, we were all pleasantly surprised when Clara asked and discovered that the cheapest tickets were only 150 Roubles (about £3). We decided for that money it simply had to be worth it, and bought tickets to come back in the evening on Monday.
The next day we went to the concert, which was really rather good. Considering our tickets had been so cheap, our seats weren't bad at all, and it didn't really matter if we could see much or not anyway, since it was the music we'd gone to hear. I don't know a lot about classical music, but I did recognise a few songs, and it was nice to hear Baroque music within a Baroque building :) Here are a couple of pictures from the night, excuse my camera's inability to take photos as soon as it gets dark:
(Top: The view from our seats, before the concert started; Middle Left: The (electric) candles - very pretty; Middle Right: More candles; Bottom: A very blurry picture of the musicians)
A good evening was had by all, and I'm glad I went back for the concert. I might go to some more in the future, since they're so cheap!
Since Monday, I haven't been up to much apart from school. Oh, I have been knitting a scarf actually (my first go at knitting anything!) - I started a week ago today and I already have around 4ft of scarf done! It seems I'm quite a fast knitter... Especially when I'm procrastinating. So that'll be finished soon. I'll post a photo of it when it's done. We decided not to go to Novgorod this weekend, but we should be going next weekend instead. Expect a huge update about that trip, and also another huge one about my trip to Helsinki in two weeks' time :D How exciting!