On Monday 12th February twenty two year 11 students set off for a week in Russia. The group landed at Sheremetevo airport with a balmy temperature of -15 to be met by Tatiana, the Moscow tour guide. Tatiana was a hit with the students with her ironic wit and willingness to accept gentle ribbing from the students. We stayed in the hotel Izmailovo Vega opposite a newly constructed wooden palace and this was a good base for exploring Russia’s capital city.
The group had a great introduction to Moscow and saw all of the famous places – Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, Moscow State University and Christ the Saviour Cathedral. The first day had a tour inside the Kremlin to see if Vladimir Putin was in but we never answered that question. The group benefited from a Russian perspective on both their ancient and more recent history. Tatiana pointed out her favourite and least favourite statues as well as giving her low expectation of Russia’s performance in the upcoming football world cup. On the Wednesday the group had the opportunity to visit Lenin’s mausoleum and this led to discussion on whether or not this really is the embalmed body of the first Soviet leader. This was followed by a visit to Kolomenskoye which is a restored wooden palace where students got involved in dressing up as Tsars and Tsarinas and performing some traditional dancing. This was topped off by a traditional pancake and tea tasting as well as the opportunity to throw some snow. We spent the evening at the Aquamarine Circus with amazing acrobatic performances and a lady dancing around a camel. Everyone was very impressed by the clowns! On the final day in Moscow we set off to the countryside to Sergeev Posad which is the home of the Russian Orthodox Church and also of the Matrioshka doll. There was an opportunity to barter for souvenirs before returning to Moscow to see the beautiful metro system with its chandeliers, marble and statues before catching the overnight train to St Petersburg, the previous capital city. A good night’s sleep was had by all on the train!
After a nine hour trip we were met at St Petersburg station by Natasha, the guide for this leg of the trip. The group bade a sad farewell to Tatiana (or Tats as she had become affectionately known) and photos of her were taken by Abbs Cross students wearing a rainbow selection of hats. The first day in St Petersburg is always a long one with an introductory tour of the city to see the highlights there. In the afternoon we were welcomed to school number 61 to spend a couple of hours meeting Russian students and having the chance to talk to them in Russian and in English. Various colloquialisms were shared and music preferences swapped although Russian rap is still not so popular. We then went to the Yusupov Palace which is where Rasputin was murdered and had an introduction to the history there. The evening was spent at a Russian folk show with amazing dancing and traditional singing. Kalinka will never be the same again. The next day was spent with a visit to the Hermitage/ Winter Palace and an introduction to its treasures. From there we visited the Peter and Paul Fortress which is the resting place of the Russian Tsars with a special room for the family of the last Tsar Nikolai II and his family – including Anastasia. We then called in to the incredible mosaics in the Church On The Split Blood. Finally we had a tour of the Russian museum led by Vera who became known to the students as Nana Nat as she was indeed the grandmother of Natasha. The final morning was spent in Tsarskoe Selo at the Summer Palace with its famous amber room. There was a lot of snow there. From there we made our way to Pulkovo airport for the flight back to London.
The trip gave the students a real insight into Russia and the fact that a visit there is not as difficult as may be perceived. The Russians are always amazed that young British people have a grasp of their language and responded very favourably to this. The students were great ambassadors for the school and the country and all of them attempted to use their language skills. To visit Russia in winter when the snow is on the ground is a particular memory and all of the students left with a desire to return one day. They reacted positively to everything including a heavy cultural programme, Russian cuisine, freezing temperature, lots of snow and to the Russian people. The souvenir hat industry in Russia did well out of our trip. Tats and Nats spoke favourably of the group and hope to work with Abbs Cross students in the future.
Спасибо всем and to Mrs White and Mr Le Feuvre for supporting the trip.