Saturday, December 20, 2008

Russian cultural excursions (old pictures)

Here are some old pictures and quick descriptions of different cultural trips we took in Russia. Because in the past I've had trouble linking to every specific album, this time I'm just going to link to my Picasa page and I trust that you'll be able to find the corresponding album.

As part of the cultural component of the three-pronged program (culture, volunteering and independent free time) CCS took us on weekly Wednesday trips. The village trips typically consisted of us driving an hour away, eating a nice home-cooked lunch at the home of some local and then touring whatever churches and museums were in the area.


While the trip to the banya (Russian bathhouse) wasn’t technically a cultural excursion (we went on a Thursday night and we had to pay around $12), it was still with the CCS staff and fit enough that I thought I’d include it here. We drove somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, the roads were even less paved than usual and we were surrounded by forest and no city lights, and found our little banya cabin.

Unfortunately, the almost frozen pool outside of the banya was out of commission so instead, between trips into the steam room we dumped cold buckets of water on each other. It’s also customary to rub a mixture of honey and salt all over your skin to help exfoliate. Finally, there’s the strangest part of the banya- the thicket of leaves that you beat each other with. (Insert your own crude joke here).

One person lies down on the hot wood benches with a sheet or towel to protect themselves, and another takes the leaves that have been pre-soaked in water, sprinkles a little water on the victim’s back and proceeds to hit them all over with the leaves, first harder and then softer. Combined with the overwhelming heat, being beaten was one of the more intense feelings I’ve ever had. And it was so hot that standing up and moving around to assist in beating Jaime was too much for me.

Valentina Tereshkova Museum:

Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to enter space, completing her mission a full 20 years before (Westlake alum) Sally Ride left the earth’s atmosphere. Tereshkova is a Yaroslavl native so the museum dedicated to her and to Soviet cosmonautics in general, is located just a half hour outside of the city.

Gavrilov Yam:

This small village is located an hour outside of Yaroslavl. The name comes from Gavrila (Russian version of the name Gabriel) and Yam, meaning station. Gabriel’s Station sprang up as a convenient place to rest one’s horses on the ride between Yaroslavl and Moscow.

Felt boot factory and Museum of Music and Time:

These were our last two cultural excursions and our worst two by far. The felt boot (valinki in Russian) factory reeked so strongly of sheep and wool, it became hard to breathe. And there just wasn’t much to see there. It was a factory, and there were women operating assembly line machinery. And that was it. We left pretty quickly.

The Museum of Music and Time was at least amusing if not interesting. It was opened in 1993 by John Gregoryich and was one of the first private museums in Russia. The museum consisted of three rooms, one with all different kinds of clocks and old record players, another with collections of old Russian irons, bells and records, and the third which was part souvenir shop and part bell collection. We found out later from the translators that the main appeal of this museum is that it’s one of the first truly interactive museums. (If you so choose, you get to play the bells and strange hybrid piano/accordion). But there was just no coherent idea behind the museum.

We did get the honor of meeting egocentric Mr. John Gregoryich himself, and it was one of the more awkward conversations I’ve had in Russia. He told us about relatives that he had in the States and how he might move there because between them they have $2000. (Small chance something was lost in translation there). And then he urged us to go to his other two museums that he had in the complex and when we said we’d go later and tried to make our exit he presented us each with a gift; a $100 bill bookmark with his face replacing Ben Franklin’s. Altogether strange.


This was our first cultural excursion to the nearby Golden Ring city better known to Russians as Rostov the Great. Located on the shores of Lake Nero, the city was founded in the 9th century and was once a lot bigger than its current population of 36,000. (For comparison, Yaroslavl, the unofficial capital of the Golden Ring, has over 600,000 residents.) Rostov is now most famous for its enamel- little vibrant glass paintings that are burned multiple times during the painting process to give it that eternal just-finished looked. We had a really fascinating conversation with our tour guide over lunch about the then upcoming presidential election and Russo-American relations in general. When I get around to writing my election post, I’ll fill you in on that.

Big Salt:

At Big Salt, so named because of the salty river it was built next to, we had a fascinating lunch with a family of artists. They had rooms full of art all made by one of the four family members. Lunch, among other tastier options, involved a pickled apple. I tried it out of a sort of morbid curiosity and never plan to again. Apples are meant to be sweet. If you want to preserve them, try making a sweet apple jam. Pickling them defeats the purpose of enjoying a nice, crunchy and sweet apple in the first place.

Pyotrpavelskaya (The Russian village I wrote “Village of sweetness” about):

This was our second Wednesday trip and it really touched me deeply as you can read about in my 3 part post in October called village of sweetness.

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