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All weekend I sat in miserable 40C heat dreaming of Russian winter, of the sound of snow crunching beneath my boots, and the endless white landscapes. Today my February trip comes full circle, the final post from my most interesting journey to date. I put off writing this post for a long time. For me, it's very sad to close the loop on my Russian adventure. Many times during the trip I felt like the man in this photo, alone and deep in contemplation about the sites and people around me. Like some lone stranger, walking the streets of a very unfamiliar and strange country. Many curiosities and questions remain. I'll continue to write about them, but now let's walk the snowy paths of ancient Novgorod.

1. Before we begin, it's necessary to reflect a bit on the journey to Novgorod. I already wrote about the horrible road that carried us from Moscow to St. Petersburg in my first post. After many hours driving the route, we made a quick stop in the small village of Krestsy. Here also another world! Old women sitting on the side of the road in the bitter cold selling food, drinks and other items. But most interesting are the tiny huts off the beaten path, with their steaming kettles and tasty treats.


2. How many Americans have stopped at one of these roadside shacks? I doubt many, and I'm grateful for the experience. Several women gave me the typical shrug, cold stare and "NO!" when they saw my camera. However, this kind lady was an exception. I'll never forget her gentle spirit or smile. She spoke no English, but waved me into her hut and fed me a delicious apple turnover. See the light in her eyes? The eyes are the true windows to a person's soul - either signs of hope and life, or complete defeat and hopelessness. In most provinces I traveled through, the latter was the norm.


3. Russian dog! You will never see cats in this blog. Dog lover 100% percent.


4. Miles and miles of desolation and sunken homes, but here signs of life. Homes in this area were in better condition, yet no escape from the ever present fences. I have only one mobile pic to capture the scene.


5. We walked through Novgorod with two local journalists. I will not go into a detailed explanation of the history of Novgorod because readers know it much better than me, and should feel free to share interesting facts in the comments. The iconic staple of the city is the old Kremlin and its many towers. In winter, it's difficult to appreciate the full splendor because moats and other nuances are completely covered in snow.


6. St. Sophia Cathedral is visible from most points and is pleasing to the eye with its colorful domes. However, not as colorful as her fellow namesake St. Sophia in Kyiv, which I also visited.


7. Church of St. Stratilata, dating back to the 14th Century. The location seems a bit out of place. Who can tell me more about this tiny church? Detailed English language information is pretty much non-existent.


8. The city as a whole is scenic, with an extremely large number of churches in a condensed space. More churches here than any other Russian city I visited.


9. I'll talk about the great pedestrian bridge later. However, again the love locks I admire. :) Not as many on this bridge, but still interesting to read the names and wonder whether the love and commitment of these couples still endures.


10. This artistic statue sits right by the pedestrian bridge, with the Volkhov River as a backdrop. Very life like and known by the simple name "Tourist Girl." I read it's common for tourists to drop coins in the girl's shoes for good luck/happiness, but I didn't know this during my visit. I'm a real sucker for these superstitions and would have contributed to the pile.


11. The most fascinating thing to me in any country - local people. The way they look, the way they interact with one another and, most importantly, the way they treat outsiders. You can't judge an entire nation by the actions of a few, but in Russia it's sort of a herd mentality. A general distrust of strangers, which is not typical in America. It's merely an observation, not a reflection on the superiority of one country over the other. You will never understand the difference until you've walked the streets of both countries.


12. Young children, of course, the most innocent and precious things on earth. Not yet infected with media-drilled stereotypes and trusting of others, until their parents give them a reason to fear or hate.


13. Russians - they have a distinctive look. I can easily spot them in the States and abroad. How can you tell whether someone is American? I believe this is a much harder task given that we are the melting pot of the world, with every race and nationality blended into society. Very soon whites will be the minority in America. Cause for alarm? Not in my mind.


14. The perseverance of the elderly in Russia constantly amazed me. Here a frail old lady navigating the snowy paths alone, with complete ease. Accustomed to walking on slippery slopes since childhood, while I struggled to stay afoot on many occasions.


15. Novgorod has very modern buses, even resembling the public transport buses of Washington, DC. Yes, the antiquated buses in some of the provinces shocked me. Like something from another century.nov20

16. It was in Novgorod that I had another adventure - my first ride in a Russian car! :) Four people crammed into a 2004 Jigulee. I wish I had a photo but this image remains framed in my memory. In the Jigulee we rode through this neighborhood about 15 minutes outside city center. Special thanks to Alexander Frolov for the ride!


17. This abandoned church sits in the middle of the neighborhood in Rakomo. What happened? Locals have several theories. First, that a bomb destroyed the church during World War II. The city of Novgorod was almost completely destroyed during the war, but now fully restored. The second theory is that lightning struck, causing an initial collapse that was never repaired.


18. The cross is still in perfect form. Kind of eerie, the photos displayed underneath. I don't know who the people are, or the significance of the remaining photos.


19. I'll end with the pedestrian bridge in Novgorod, a symbolic figure for me. Many of you came to me after seeing my first Russian post in Top LJ, where I was critical of the country. I don't regret or take back one word in that post. I'm an open minded and reasonable person. I don't judge people based on ethnicity, but rather on the behaviors I see with my own eyes. On the words I hear with my own ears. I've written a lot of opinions and thoughts on Russia, both good and bad. I continue to believe it's a xenophobic nation, yet a fascinating country to which I'll definitely return.

The purpose of my blog will remain the same - to help bridge cultural gaps, to help us better understand one another and the similarities and differences in our nations and mentalities. In the end, we're all human with the same desires for love, acceptance and happiness throughout life. However, the manner in which we live and interact with others is very different.


Readers continually explain to me the root of Russian mentality - the constant oppression and wars throughout history. I understand the foundation for the mentality, but hope for change. I hope those who aren't satisfied with recent events continue to protest, continue to shout until their voices are heard. You can call me a naive American for making this statement, but no change comes from sitting on your ass complaining about the past. My country is living proof of this. A place where gays fought for their rights through protests and in courts, and are now moving toward full equality. Where blacks marched for civil rights, shifting America's conscience.

There's one thing I'll never understand, in my country or any other - radicals/fanatics with no tolerance for divergent viewpoints or lifestyles. I'm afraid this is your current regime, silencing people through laws or jail sentences. A regime that allows people to openly profess faith, yet criminalizes those who "insult" religious feelings. I could never live in such a country, in the same way many of you could never live in America. I don't claim America is a perfect country - far from it. At some point, I'll write a post outlining what I believe are the most pressing problems of my nation. But now I'm writing about Russia. About a place with a very tortured and complex history, deeply entrenched in the neuroses of its citizens. A truly intriguing country and people, unlike any other I've encountered.

Thanks to all for reading! Soon, another travel announcement. :)


( 100 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jul. 22nd, 2013 03:19 am (UTC)
Thank you! It is always interesting to look at ourselves!
Jul. 22nd, 2013 02:00 pm (UTC)
Agree! I like reading your American reports as well. :)
Jul. 22nd, 2013 03:43 am (UTC)
The man on the first picture looks like my dad:))
Jul. 22nd, 2013 02:00 pm (UTC)
Maybe he was trying to escape from you and took a peaceful walk through Novgrod! :))
(no subject) - imur - Jul. 22nd, 2013 02:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jul. 22nd, 2013 02:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 22nd, 2013 04:29 am (UTC)
I like the spelling: Jigulee. :)
Jul. 22nd, 2013 02:00 pm (UTC)
The spelling is wrong?
(no subject) - siberian_cat - Jul. 22nd, 2013 02:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jul. 22nd, 2013 02:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asharky - Jul. 22nd, 2013 02:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - igormur - Jul. 22nd, 2013 06:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asharky - Jul. 22nd, 2013 06:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - igormur - Jul. 22nd, 2013 06:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asharky - Jul. 22nd, 2013 06:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - popados - Jul. 22nd, 2013 04:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 22nd, 2013 04:40 am (UTC)
Very nice ladies from the hut! They are ladies you can tell by their coats.

Actually Americans can be spotted by the casualness of their clothes. The attire of Europeans is more dressy.
Jul. 22nd, 2013 02:01 pm (UTC)
It's true, we're a casual nation running around in our hoodies and jeans. This suits me fine!
Jul. 22nd, 2013 05:19 am (UTC)
Спасибо за рассказ!
Jul. 22nd, 2013 02:02 pm (UTC)
Привет, пожалуйста!
Jul. 22nd, 2013 06:35 am (UTC)
I have so many words to say to you. vary bad, that you do not understand Russian language, because I can not say it in English)))
Jul. 22nd, 2013 02:03 pm (UTC)
You can write to me in Russian, and I can translate online. No problem. I communicate with a lot of readers this way in messages.
Jul. 22nd, 2013 06:47 am (UTC)
"A truly intriguing country and people, unlike any other I've encountered."
Have one more chance! Come to Siberia, you will see another world.
Jul. 22nd, 2013 09:31 am (UTC)
Re: "A truly intriguing country and people, unlike any other I've encountered."
Oh yes, completely agree! Actually, you can visit the republics included in Russian Federation such as Buriatiya, Tatarstan, Altay, Bashkiriya etc. and you will find different worlds inside one country. I can't say for sure, but I guess that the difference between Russian counties is much stronger than between states of America: they even have their oun languages and religions.
Four accent groups - daftmosquito - Jul. 24th, 2013 02:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Four accent groups - peacetraveler22 - Jul. 24th, 2013 02:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 22nd, 2013 06:52 am (UTC)
please, try to translate and read this text "RUSSIAN - THE EVIL PEOPLE, OR RUSSIAN anger - where it came from?" http://mzadornov.livejournal.com/114848.html generally, Mikhail Zadornov is satirist and he "loves" american people)
Jul. 22nd, 2013 02:05 pm (UTC)
I know this blogger and read him sometimes. He's very interesting. Thanks for the link! :)
Jul. 22nd, 2013 11:33 am (UTC)
Oh, you are not American Dostoevski, you Chekhov!
Thahks, it`s realy intersting, I won`t comment the politics, but I guess you`re W.A.S.P. an American elite, and I`m the citezen of Moscow, samething like that.
And a bit about this country. For the last two weeks I`ve been in business trip in Novokuznetsk, Kemerovo district twice , 4.5 hours to fly. Really tied. And last thursday I`ve sitting in airport for 12 houres, the fog, not far from me Italian bussinesman and his Russian interpreter set and talk in English, what a strange country is Russia. He was outraged than all announcements in airport only in Russian. I asked that never lisened announcements in Russian in Europe. Than we begun to discuss the problem of Chines copeis of everything, and I explaned him Russian customs rules, in 5 five minites five guys joined the discutian in good English.
Stereotipes, vodka and bears. Thanks for post!
Jul. 22nd, 2013 02:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Oh, you are not American Dostoevski, you Chekhov!
A W.A.S.P.? No! I'm a single woman living on one salary in a very expensive area with lots of student loans from my doctorate in law. And I grew up middle-class, you saw my hometown in the post I wrote. I'm not an elitist, or part of America's high society. I'm a very down to earth, low maintenance woman.

I'm not the first foreigner to imply that Russia is a strange country. You're Russian, so things that seem odd to outsiders are normal to you because you've lived in the country your entire life. But you've read all of my posts. It's also a beautiful and interesting place. Very unique, in both good and bad ways. On politics, yes we very much disagree. It's okay! :))
Jul. 22nd, 2013 12:21 pm (UTC)
Как узнать русского в толпе
During my visit to Cuba, I asked a cuban girl (she was a translator) "How do sellers in the market know that i'm russian?". I thought that the reason is snub nose. She replied that they recognize the shape of the head. She said that russian heads are more round than others. Earlier, when there were many russian in Cuba, cubans call them "balls". That's funny.
Also i drew attention to the strong contrast between the youth and the people for 30 years. I'm talking about the people from Western Europe. Young people drink a lot of beer, going to the big companies, make a lot of noise. But older people are quite different. Very sedate. Russian do not change so dramatically.

Edited at 2013-07-22 01:52 pm (UTC)
Jul. 22nd, 2013 02:23 pm (UTC)
Re: Как узнать русского в толпе
Round heads? Hmm, I never noticed this feature. For men, their faces are usually much more angular than Americans or other Europeans, with sharper features and jaw lines. Russian and Slavic women usually dress much more provocatively, and are more made-up than their Western counterparts. I suppose this is a great thing for many men. But to me it's extremely artificial, and I would never be attracted to this look if I were a lesbian. I like men and women au naturale, in their purest form. I'm not attracted to men in suits, preferring the outdoorsy/mountain man type. :))

And I'll respond to your other message later. You pose challenging questions to me and I need to think about my response for a bit :))
Jul. 22nd, 2013 03:04 pm (UTC)
Interesting. We have our own Kremlin (or, speaking more precisely, what is left of it after several ages), but our Kremlin is white.
Jul. 22nd, 2013 03:10 pm (UTC)
Many interesting sites throughout Russia! :)
(no subject) - nar_row - Jul. 22nd, 2013 03:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 22nd, 2013 04:27 pm (UTC)
amazin post, Shannon, you become a most famous American-Russian bloger))) Like a very beautiful bridge between 2 empires))
Jul. 22nd, 2013 04:50 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm not famous, it's impossible for an English language writer on LJ. "Bridge between 2 empires." It's a nice title. :)
Jul. 22nd, 2013 04:55 pm (UTC)
I can recognize Russian people even from the back. One day my husband and I walked on the cruise ship deck and I pointed to the couple in front of us saying "Look, these are Russians." And later I was confirmed that that was true. :-)
Russians have slightly bow-backed pose with drooping shoulders while Americans always walk with a straight back.
Jul. 22nd, 2013 05:05 pm (UTC)
This is a special talent! I must see the face. :)
Jul. 22nd, 2013 05:07 pm (UTC)
mr Putin
"There's one thing I'll never understand, in my country or any other - radicals/fanatics with no tolerance for divergent viewpoints or lifestyles. I'm afraid this is your current regime, silencing people through laws or jail sentences."... Very unlikely they are bigots. To me, they are seen as sneaky bastards, like the Latin American dictators.
Jul. 23rd, 2013 12:02 am (UTC)
Re: mr Putin
Seems to me they push a highly religious agenda, and I believe in full separation of church and state.
Re: mr Putin - andrey_kaminsky - Jul. 23rd, 2013 09:17 am (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 22nd, 2013 09:08 pm (UTC)
I recognize Russian just from behavior. They never say thank you to the staff in any hotel, almost never say Good morning to unfamiliar people in hotels, they drink too much and are very loud. That is my experience from may holidays. Such a difference with Brits and other European.
Jul. 23rd, 2013 12:15 am (UTC)
Oh yes! I remember the first time I said hello to someone pressed up against me on a crowded Moscow subway train. He looked at me like a complete alien. It's a very interesting social experiment for me - to flash my fake American smile and say hello to strangers there. :)
Thailand, sweet Thailand - andrey_kaminsky - Jul. 23rd, 2013 04:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
strictly business - andrey_kaminsky - Jul. 23rd, 2013 05:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: strictly business - nar_row - Jul. 23rd, 2013 05:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: strictly business - andrey_kaminsky - Jul. 23rd, 2013 06:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tv_daniil - Jul. 24th, 2013 08:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - notabler - Jul. 24th, 2013 08:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tv_daniil - Jul. 24th, 2013 08:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - notabler - Jul. 24th, 2013 09:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tv_daniil - Jul. 24th, 2013 09:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jul. 24th, 2013 09:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tv_daniil - Jul. 25th, 2013 04:42 am (UTC) - Expand
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