My junior year of high school I had the privilege to take a trip to St. Petersburg Russia with the Russian II and III students. The first thing I noticed when we got to the city was how old all the buildings were. This may seem obvious and arbitrary, but when my unaccustomed eyes saw the sometimes decrepit buildings, my first thought was "wow they suck." However, I quickly began to appreciate the preservation that the Russians strove so hard for, whether it was the beautiful winter palace or St. Isaac’s cathedral (Russia has the best cathedrals, hands down) the city was beautiful to walk through. I also noticed how awful the air was and this did not garner any appreciation as I stayed in the city. It irritated my eyes so much, that I couldn't wear contacts. This created quite a conundrum when two kids stole my glasses.
The two things I remember most from the trip: food and our Russian guides.
Russian food may be the richest food I've ever tasted. There are four accepted tastes; sour, sweet, bitter, and salty. However, there is another that Japanese scientists are attempting to add umani. The closest English equivalent is savory, and imagine that the researchers must have been eating borsch or pirogies when they thought of this sense. I could bowls and bowls of borsch. Great competitive eating idea: borsch slurping. It may be the greatest concoction ever. I would go to Russia for no other reason than the borsch.
Our tour guides were ... complex individuals. Their moods could range from placid to enrage with a chance encounter. As we traversed down Nevskii prospyect, our tour guide was genially explaining the architecture of the main shopping mall in St. Petersburg. Soon, he spotted a somewhat disheveled looking guy, sprinted across the street, and left as bewildered and in my case, very much amused as he berated and pushed the bum. Many of the other students were worried and implored our Russian teacher to make him stop. I grabbed some donuts and threw in my own commentary, hoping to spark some more hostilities.
I have a cousin who lives in Paris and is a professor of geology at the University of Paris. Whenever we see him, he tells his infamous story about how he won his best geology specimen of a drunk Russian. Apparently, Russians not only use rubles for currency, but also minerals because as I was sitting outside of the church of blood and tears, a mineral peddling ... peddler tried to pawn some geodes and quartz off on me. I made sure not to say I was American, (at the market, we found at that saying you were American would jack up the price of anything) and we proceeded in a little parade around the street. As he followed my every cut, dart, and evasion tactic, I finally decided to confront him. Mistake number one. He told me about how awesome his minerals were. As I stood there in a mixture of disdain and infuriation, I told him how I hated rocks and essentially went on a tirade about why rocks suck. Mistake number two. Apparently this man loved his rocks, or his sloshed brain was convinced that he loved rocks. Nonetheless, I ended up buying a whole slew of rocks. I keep them as a reminder to never ever mess with a Russian and his rocks.