Сколько лет, сколько зим! Finally have something substantial to report – I did some traveling in the south of Russia! We went as a program, and we traveled for almost 9 full days. A brief day-to-day overview:
Tuesday, April 24th
Class. All day, so scatterbrained – still needed to go food-shopping for the train and grab my stuff at home to make it to the train station by 6. We boarded the train around 6:30, and prepared ourselves for 28 hours of unadulterated joy and excitement.
Being tall has its benefits, but not on overnight trains. My dangling feet smacked at least one poor passenger in the face, but let’s not dwell on that.
Wednesday, April 25th
Full day on the train. Tried to read. Napped. Ate an embarrassingly large amount. Napped. Talked with the other passengers. Got out at a few stops to stretch. Finally, midnight rolled around, and we disembarked in Rostov-On-Don quite early on the 26th.
Thursday, April 26th
We had a bus tour of Rostov and heard some general information about the area. Historically, Rostov has been a major point of contention; its geographical location is very favorable for both trade and transport, as the Don River allows access to several seas (Black, Azov, Caspian). Fun Fact: Rostov-On-Don is a candidate for the 2018 World Cup in Russia!
After our tour, we traveled to the old Cossack capital of Novocherkassk, which used to be the home of the regional government before it was moved to Rostov in 1928. We toured the Cossack museum, and then walked around the village a bit to get a feel for the Cossack way of life. The Cossacks have a very interesting past. During the 19th century, they guarded Russia’s borders and supplied men for military conflicts abroad. In return for their cooperation, they were allowed to lived autonomously. This didn’t last – with the rise of the Soviet Union, the Cossacks were heavily repressed, and only after the dissolution of the Soviet Union did the Cossack lifestyle make its return to Russian culture.
Friday, April 27th
We were planning on setting out early for the steppe, as it would be a 6-7 hour drive from Rostov, but the bus got caught in traffic on its way to us, so we headed over to Old Rostov to pass the time. We planned on seeing some ruins, but did not expect to find this:
So cool. After an impromptu swim, we went back to the hotel and left for the steppe. Oh, the steppe. So many puns, so many road-trip games, including one called Contact, which we played for hours. Finally, we started seeing very green grass stretching out for miles in all directions, and we knew we had arrived.
Did I mention we were planning to camp on the steppe in tents? Well, we camped. Also had the opportunity to eat freshly prepared borsch on the steppe. Bucket list is slowly diminishing.
Saturday, April 28th
Off to Elista, the capital of Kalmykia, the only Buddhist region in Russia as well as Europe! Buddhist Kalmyks practice Tibetan Buddhism, and there’s actually a small community of them in Monmouth County, NJ.
After Elista, we set off for Taganrog, but didn’t arrive until 2 in the morning. Fell asleep immediately.
Sunday, April 29th
Taganrog! The first Greek settlement in the North-Western Black Sea Region and the birthplace of Anton Chekhov, author, and Faina Ranevskaya, actress, to name only two. Taganrog is located right on the Azov Sea, and I woke up to this lovely view.
After breakfast we took a walking tour of the city, and saw the major sights, including Chekhov’s and Ranevskaya’s respective birthplaces.
Monday, April 30th
Our last day of travel before heading back to Petersburg. First, we drove to Ancient Tanais, an archeological preserve. Ownership of Tanais changed hands many times throughout history, but the city has primarily Greek/Roman roots. Excavations began in 1955.
After Tanais, we buckled down for one last bus ride to our southernmost destination, Hot Spring (or Hot Key – the city is called Горячий Ключ, and ключ means both ‘key’ and ‘spring’, as in, little body of water, not the season). From Hot Spring/Key, we would be catching the train home to Pete. When we arrived, we had only a bit of time to explore, but managed to find some very beautiful spots.
And here, our journey came to its end. We boarded the train in the evening, and arrived in Petersburg about 40 hours later, on Wednesday morning. The time on the train went surprisingly quickly both ways, but I’ve never felt like such a slug. Looking back, our trip to the South was pretty incredible. We saw and learned about so many different places, and ate some delicious food along the way. There was definitely some group-bonding going on as well, which is, you know, nice. It was a great trip. And now, our semester is coming to an end, which is unbelievable. I think we have exactly two weeks left? About the weather – it’s still slightly chilly here in Pete (an unwelcome wake-up call after the heat we experienced in the South), but I have a feeling we’ll be walking around in shorts soon.