About one month in to our semester, the SRAS students took a weekend trip to Novgorod, one of the oldest and most important cities in Russian history.
Located between Moscow and St. Petersburg, it is believed that Novgorod is the birthplace of Russia, since it was here in 862 that Prince Rurik proclaimed the modern Russian state. His dynasty went on to rule Russia for more than 750 years. Novgorod, which was one of the biggest cities in Europe over a thousand years ago, was a major center for trade, literacy, democracy, and religion.
Our trip started off with our group meeting at the train station in St. Petersburg with our guide Sergey. Sergey has been our guide for most of our activities in St. Petersburg, and he joined us for the weekend in Novogorod. Since this is a local train, there are no seating arrangements; its first come first serve. Luckily, we got there early enough to butt our way into the train as soon as the doors open, and everyone was able to get a seat. After a nice three-hour train ride, we arrived to Novgorod, and made our way to the hostel for the night.
Bright and early the next morning, our group met for breakfast at the hostel, and then headed out to start our day. We walked through the center part of the city, and made our way to School #1, one of the oldest working schools in the city. Here, we met with one of the English teachers, and learned about the history of the school. Some of the older students then took us in small groups for a tour around the school, and then we had an amazing opportunity to speak to several students in small groups. I was pleasantly surprised on how well some of the students were able to speak English, and we were able to learn a lot about their lives here in Russia, and we were able to share a lot about our own culture.
After this, we walked to the school’s museum, which focuses on WWII, and how the city and the people living there were affected. The museum consists of several items dug up from near the city that were lost during the war. Several of the students also participated in these digs, and presented to us the items that they had found. It was fascinating to see these items and hear their stories.
After a delicious lunch near the school, we had a truly cool opportunity to do some Russian crafts. Birch tree (береза) bark is used in several traditional styles of Russian crafts. It was also used as paper in ancient Novgorod. We went to a workshop located in an old monastery, and learned about the history using birch bark to make things. We were even able to make a little rocker (like the kind that babies have) and a bookmark!
That afternoon, we took a boat tour on the river. It was quite cold outside and I eventually went inside to warm up, sit, and watch the river pass by. It was really interesting to listen to the audio guide which explained the history of the city, as well as what could be seen along the river.
After a free evening, and another night at the hostel, we were ready for another full day of excursions! We started the day by having a tour of the Novgorod Kremlin with an incredible tour guide. After, we walked across the river to continue the tour of the city. Soon, we got on a bus, and were taken to the oldest monastery. This was one of my favorite churches I’ve seen in Russia, because of the beautiful blue copulas with golden stars sprinkled on them.
A little farther drive away, we went to the Vitoslavlitsy Museum, an open-air museum of wooden architecture. During the weekend that we visited, they were having their annual cabbage festival. This was the weekend in the past that all the cabbages were picked and pickled in preparation for the winter. I was able to get a container of this traditional dish, and it’s some of the best pickled cabbage I’ve had in Russia!
After our full day, we were dropped off back at the train station, and we all made our journey back to St. Petersburg. Overall, the weekend was a wonderful weekend trip out of the city, and it was great to see a smaller town of Russia!