Travelling to Russia
Last week we took a look at our place within a strange land, visiting Russia and walking as interloping aliens amongst the locals. Let’s examine a few more points of interest.
The observations here are based largely upon two factors: boots-on-the-ground experience in St.Petersburg, many hours of conversation with Russians themselves, plus a few other insights and anecdotes. Russia as a whole is still much more varied and vast than those investigations can cover.
St.Petersburg, for instance, is no more representative of Russia than London is of England. In fact, due to the sheer size and diversity of the country, St.P is probably a good deal less representative – in relative terms.
Russia’s second city is also well accustomed to hosting a wide range of incoming tourists without issue. It’s an international venue that takes all comers in its stride, so we as foreigners tend to get a relatively “easy” experience.
Not Russia per se
Also, it’s worth mentioning that the city’s striking architecture, layout and canals aren’t strictly Russian: they’re neo-classical European, re-interpreted as Petrine Baroque. That’s a “greatest hits” of Renaissance Europe (itself looking back to a hypothetical Golden Age) as admired and adopted by Peter the Great; a renowned Europhile. He even hired Italian and French master architects to realise his vision in stone. So, once again: it’s not exactly “Russia”. Also it’s not that old, by Europen standards; being founded with a log cabin in 1703.
Authentic Russian architecture (the kind I really like) was commonly made in wood -which unfortunately burns and decays rather well. Only the most important structures (churches, cathedrals, kremlins etc) were committed to stone. Sure enough, stone (and brick) work that is Russian “enough” is preserved within such tourist centres and can be seen nestling in amongst the more theatrical Euro-classical style.
A contact of mine gave some fascinating insights into his experience when working out of Moscow and heading into the countryside to various factory locations. One that particularly sticks is his statement that “for every mile you go out of Moscow – you go 10 years back in time!”.
That’s surely an exaggeration but it’s worth noting the difference between city and rural culture, divorced from the tourist trail and from those irritating foreigners who can’t speak the language. There, we’ll attract attention -and perhaps some more “traditional” views on East-West relations and/or some traditional hospitality too – if we’re lucky.
Village/community “elders” still exist, as do modern versions of the traditional Izba (log cabin) housing and it’s more copious variations. As if to highlight the contrast between two simultaneously existing dimensions of existence; city dwellers may casually use the terms: “from the mountains” or “from the village” to refer (a little disparagingly) to those from more rustic origins, uncultured and unfamiliar with brisk city life.
Well, I suppose they should know -though it seems a little harsh. Oh, and another thing: there is no PC culture in Russia. They know it exists but have little (ie “no”) tolerance for such artificial constructions. Thank goodness.