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Model UN Club in Russia

Day 9, Tuesday March 12, Nevsky Conference
Received Wednesday, March 13, 3:11 a.m.
Patty Baker
Tuesday was spent working in committees. Resolutions prepared by students prior to the conference were presented, amended, modified and either passed or rejected by the committee members. Each committee is composed of representatives of the schools in attendance at the conference, and each is assigned a country to represent. Issues of global importance and concern are debated and solutions (in the form of resolutions) are recommended and voted on by the General Assembly. The conference sessions truly do model the United Nations!

While students were in conference, the adults enjoyed another day of sightseeing with our St. Petersburg guide, Katya. They visited the Dostoyevsky Museum, the Imperial Porcelain Factory, and the Nevsky Monastery.

After a full day of working in committees, we returned to the Hotel to freshen up before dinner with all the Nevsky Conference delegates at the historic Russian Officer’s Club followed by a wonderful Russian Ballet performance. The students were off to bed with sweet dreams of
Swan Lake and many other favorites from Russian Ballet!
It is now Wednesday here, and we are in our General Assembly session of the Conference. We will have closing ceremonies this afternoon, and then off to High Tea and the Astoria on St. Isaac’s Square. I will forward pictures from the tea and the evening disco in my next report on Thursday. We have a full day of touring on Thursday, so you will have more pictures to enjoy tomorrow!

Click read more for the previous entries.

Day 8, Monday, March 11
Received: Tuesday, March 12, 1:23 a.m.
Patty Baker: The Nevsky Conference

It is Monday morning here, and while you back home begin the relaxing week of Spring Break, our students get down to serious business of the Model UN Conference. Five students stayed up late last night fine-tuning the speeches they were to deliver in behalf of their respective country during the opening ceremony this morning. The ceremony took place in the Mariinsky Palace. All of the parents on the trip were in attendance, and we were able to hear the speeches given by all the delegates representing the 32 countries in attendance at this conference. Seriously, we are not biased in reporting that our students were definitely the most articulate, confident speakers, and their one-minute speeches reflected the issues of concern of their respective countries. The students enjoyed lunch with the delegates in their committee, and began lobbying and committee work in the afternoon. They were totally unaware that St. Petersburg was being covered in snow while they were busy at work (some of us adults enjoyed a delightful walk down Nevsky Prospect in the snow!). We all met with our bus for a short ride to the Nikolayevsky Palace, for a wonderful dinner with entertainment (and more snow!).
With no argument from the students, we returned to the hotel with an early curfew, as all agreed we need to catch up on our sleep!! We don’t think they have snow days in Russia!

Day 7, Sunday, March 10, 3:09 p.m.
Patty Baker: St. Petersburg

We started off on our first day in St. Petersburg with minus 13 degrees (centigrade). Driving down the main street, Nevsky, we were inundated with so many buildings and palaces rich with Russian history. We have a new guide, Katya, a native of St. Petersburg. Mr. Mitchell and Katya explained that most of the buildings are painted in pastel colors; St. Petersburg has only about 45 days of full sunshine, so brighter colors are used to offset the “gray” days which occur most of the year. We stopped first at St. Isaac’s Square, with St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the beautiful palace built as a gift for Maria, the daughter of Nicholas I. In the center of the square is the Monument of Emperor Nicholas I on a horse. The story goes that the statue was turned a couple of times because neither Maria nor St. Isaac’s wanted to look out the window and see the behind of a horse!

One of the most beautiful and moving experiences was our visit to the Cathedral of St. Nicholas. It was built in the baroque style. The church is built in the traditional Russian style with 5 domes, the center dome symbolizes Jesus Christ and the 4 surroundings symbolize the 4 evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. A traditional Russian Orthodox service was taking place with the priests in royal religious robes and acapella chanting, incense and many Russian worshippers. Even non-believers would be moved by this service. Katya informed us that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of the Russian fleet, and a special service is held each year on the anniversary of the death of the sailors who drowned in the submarine several years ago.

Next we visited the Grand Choral Synagogue, which is the second largest in Eastern Europe, the largest being in Budapest. The synagogue is orthodox, and we observed orthodox prayer services during our visit. We visited the Wedding Ceremony room , complete with the traditional hoopah and wedding chair. Our visit was completed by a trip the synagogue’s adjoining Kosher foodstuffs store and Jewish culture gift shop. Mr. Mitchell now boasts a Jewish-dressed nesting doll, a cute souvenir and symbol of the region’s fused Judeo-Russian culture.

Next we visited the Church of the Spilt Blood, which is named this because it was built on the site of the assassination of Alexander II. It is also known as the Cathedral of the Resurrection. It is truly a work of art in itself, especially the mosaics, which cover 6000 square meters inside the cathedral and 1050 square meters outside. It is similar in style to the Cathedral of St. Basil (see group shot from yesterday).

After a wonderful lunch, we were excited about our next stop, the Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace of Catherine the Great. Words cannot begin to do justice to opulent beauty of this place! (editor’s note – click on the link to see a video of the inside). Our guide stated that it would take nine years to visit all areas of the Museum. As you may know from history, the palace became a private museum housing the fine art collections purchased by Catherine the Great. As her collections grew, more buildings were added to the palace to house her private possessions. We were able to see works by such famous artists as Rembrandt, Rubens, Leonardo da Vinci, Renoir, Gaugin Monet, Matisse and van Gogh. I did purchase a DVD which I will be happy to loan to any interested parent or student who would like to see more of the Hermitage Museum and Winter Garden.

Before joining our fellow delegates to the Nevsky Conference for dinner at the Tchaikovsky Restaurant, we rode by several other historical sites in St Petersburg such as the Summer Gardens and the Kazan Cathedral. We ended the evening at our host school for the Nevsky conference, the historical Gymnasium #2. After introduction to our committees and delegates, we returned to our hotel to rest before opening ceremonies Monday morning.

Special note: We had one of those 45 days of sunshine today—I think we brought the Florida sunshine with us to St. Petersburg!!!

Day 6, Saturday, March 9, 1:16 p.m.
Patty Baker

Saturday was a travel day. We were able to sleep in a little later before heading to the train station to take the speed train to St. Petersburg. The trip took about 4-1/2 hours, but it was a very comfortable train with excellent amenities. The students had time to fine tune their position papers and conference opening session speeches.

After checking into the Radisson Hotel Sonya, which was named after the main character of Dostoevsky’s book, "Crime and Punishment," we enjoyed a delightful dinner with the great great great, etc. grandson of the grandmaster novelist himself. He speaks very little English, but we were able to communicate through our new St. Petersburg guide, Katya. We have another full day tomorrow so it was an early night for us. We are looking forward to beginning our tour of the city nick-named the "Venice of the North!"

Saturday, March 9, 1:47 p.m
Terry Mitchell
Saint Edward's School Nevsky MUN delegation departed Moscow this afternoon for Saint Petersburg. We have had a very full schedule over the last several days and with a very large student group this year, I am very busy with logistical issues. I also have incredible pictures of some of the places we have visited in the last several days. When we arrive in Saint Petersburg, we will begin serious conferencing and the students are ready.
More to follow.
Day 5, Friday, March 8, 2:17 p.m.
Mrs. Baker / The City of Moscow

We started off the morning with a tour of the City of Moscow. Our delightful tour guide, Sasha, provided some interesting facts about the city laced with his quick wit; he throws in quizzes periodically to keep us on our toes. As it turns out, today, Friday, is a National holiday in which the Russians celebrate the equivalent of Mother’s Day. Good news for us, because the traffic in Moscow is beyond anything we have seen in the U.S.; only Los Angeles comes close. The traffic is at a stand still from 6:00 am until at least midnight. Russians celebrate many holidays, according to Sasha, and advises against visiting in May, as many holidays occur during that month (editor’s note: click link to read about Putin issuing a “staycation holiday” including time for gardening). (Note to all you future travelers)!

The first church we visited is Christ the Savior. It is quite a magnificent view driving toward the cathedral. We could not take pictures inside, but I must say, even the most seasoned traveler would be in awe at the beauty and ambiance inside the cathedral. We do have many pictures of the exterior of the cathedral. Along the drive to Gorky Park and Leo Tolstoy’s residence, we passed the quaint church of St. Nicholas. It seems to have an Alpine architectural influence. We also passed by the Moscow River and the more modern nautical statue of Peter the Great.

When we visited ”Swan Lake”, with Sasha’s approval we let the kids venture out onto the frozen lake (we have a picture for you!). The park affords a beautiful view of the Convent, which is where Peter the Great kept his sister Sophie. If you can see the two windows in the white building in our picture, he allowed her to watch all of his activities around the beautiful lake from her windows, including lots of executions! How very generous of him (my own commentary!). We visited a shop with many beautiful gift items (and free bathroom facilities!) before we headed to Red Square and the Kremlin. We rode through the main downtown area past many government buildings, including the American Embassy. (Question: who can name the American Ambassador to Russia?). We passed the beautifully renovated Bolshoi Theatre (BTW, we learned “Bolshoi” means grand), and the old KGB building, now called FSB (Question: who knows what FSB stands for?).

Next we stopped at Red Square. We took a group picture at the beautiful backdrop of St. Basil’s Cathedral; many of the sites we visited today did not allow pictures to be taken inside. After we walked around Red Square, we went in to tour St. Basil’s Cathedral. St. Basil was restored within the past few years. There is a legend of the architects who built the cathedral being blinded by Ivan the Terrible; this was done to prevent them from building anything that might be viewed as more beautiful than St. Basil’s Cathedral. Obviously, Ivan the Terrible was serious about copyright material (Sasha’s joke).

We had lunch at a quaint Soviet style restaurant; we did get to have authentic Russian borscht (editor’s note: click on the link to cook up some this weekend) which was quite tasty. Refreshed and recharged, we headed to the Kremlin. Again, no inside pictures, but the information from our tour guides and just to walk through these buildings with their rich history was almost sensory overload!! The Tsar Cannon and Tsar Bell were there –impressive in size—and both have never been used. We toured the Cathedral of the Assumption , which was the site of coronation of many Russian tsars.

We did learn some fascinating facts related to all the churches and cathedrals we visited: each church is laid out in the same manner, with judgment fresco paintings and icons on the West wall, the altar is on the East wall, those who have risen to heaven are on the ceiling, and the saint for whom the church is named is always the second icon to the right of the altar. It was interesting to see this format carried out in every church we visited.

Probably one of the most interesting sites of the day and, believe me, it needed to be big because we were all in overload after such a full day of sightseeing, was the State Armoury (see video). It represents the wealth accumulated by Russians princes and tsars over many centuries. The various rooms contain arms and armour, carriages and sleds , ambassadors gifts presented by visiting emissaries from the Netherlands, Poland, England, and Scandinavia, Catherine the Great’s coronation dress and other beautiful royal gowns, the State diamond fund, and beautiful Faberge’ eggs. It was a great ending to our day touring Russian historic sites.

Just when we thought we had seen it all, we visited GUM, which is a HUGE, modern Russian shopping mall. Just about every high-end shop you have ever visited anywhere in the United States is in this mall!! It is truly a shopper’s paradise!!

We walked from GUM to our dinner destination, Boris Godunov’s Restaurant, stopping long enough to snap some beautiful pictures of the Red Square at night. We were pleasantly treated to Russian entertainers at the end of our dinner. Sadly, we bid farewell to our wonderful tour guide, Sasha, as we headed back to our hotel at the end of our final night in Moscow.

We spent many hours walking and touring today, but even the students said it was the “best day” yet!! We all have much to ponder and appreciate as we prepare to leave for St. Petersburg tomorrow. “Moscow Nights” is still playing in our heads!

Day 4 Thursday, March 7, 2013, 2:08 P.M.
From Mrs. Baker: Suzdal and Vladimir

We awoke Thursday morning to a beautiful sunshine on the snow-covered grounds of our quaint wooden cabins of the Sloboda hotel and after a buffet breakfast, we boarded our bus with our new guide, Nadya, who started us off with a tour of the Museum of Wooden Architecture, which is an open-air exhibition of wooden buildings brought from all over Russia.

One of the buildings we saw was the Church of the Transfiguration which was built without using any metal nails. As we rode through the streets of Suzdal, we were informed of the rich and interesting history of Suzdal and the surrounding territory; our interest was held by Nadya’s inclusion of funny stories and folklore told in her thick Russian accent! We then visited the Monastery of our Savior and St. Euthymius; as a special treat we were graced with an accapella song by two Russian monastery workers who happen to have wonderful voices! Because of the small size of the monastery rooms and the unique structure of the high ceilings, the acoustics are incredible.

We traveled to the Kremlin and we walked through part of the snowy grounds leading to the main building. Our Florida students were very excited by a hill of snow and we took a small detour while they climbed to the top; some decided to try sliding down the hill and a few did face plants; some funny pictures should be forthcoming!

We enjoyed a hearty Russian lunch at the Kremlin Trapeznaya Restaurant before our bus for a short ride to Vladimir. In Vladimir, we were again amazed by the rich Russian history that emerged from this city. We entered the city through the Golden Gate, and made our first stop at the Cathedral of the Assumption, which is the most famous monument in Vladimir. Some superb frescoes by medieval masters Andrey Rublev and Daniil Chernyy are still visible under the choir’s gallery.

Definitely ask to see the works of art made by the students in our master class of Matryoshka doll painting (editor’s note: click the link to learn how to make your own nesting dolls.). As Mr. Mitchell pointed out: we needed some tactile stimulation after all of our bombardment with Russian history facts and figures!!! After dinner at the Russian Izba restaurant, we boarded our bus for the ride back to Moscow. Most of the students and parents slept on the bus in preparation for an exciting day in the city tomorrow.   Dos Beedonyah!!

Day 3: Wednesday, March 6
3:30 p.m. from Tour Leader Mr. Mitchell

All have arrived in Moscow well and we are now in the interior of Russia...what I call the heart of Russia... Today we visited Zagorsk (which is how I understood this town in Soviet times), now it has reverted back to Sergei Poasad and the spiritual home of Russian Orthodox Christianity. Students are having great time:"More interesting observations to follow.

1:06 p.m. from Mrs. Baker
Our Russian Adventure
After a very long flight, we arrived in Moscow and were met at the airport by our wonderful guide, Sasha. The drive to downtown Moscow at night was quite an introduction to the city, and Sasha’s knowledge of Russian history combined with his sense of humor kept us entertained in spite of our jet lag. We enjoyed a light dinner at a local restaurant and then checked into Hotel Izmailovo Vega, which consists of 5 high rise buildings. The hotel was used to house athletes during the Olympics. We stayed in the good old Best Western high rise! Finally, we were off to bed around midnight Russian time.

After a wonderful buffet breakfast a la Russian style, we boarded our bus heading for Suzdal, with several interesting stops along the way. Sasha provides a constant narrative on Russian life, past and present. We arrived in Sergiev Posad at noon and toured the Sergiev Trinity Monastary. We have many beautiful pictures to share upon our return and, in spite of the blowing snow, we were able to snap a group picture on the steps of the main Trinity monastery. After our tour, we enjoyed a delightful Russian lunch at a local restaurant in Sergiev Posad, and we emerged from the restaurant to a beautiful sunshine on the snow-covered streets. (Editors’ note: Check the weather in Suzdal here.)

The afternoon was spent on a long bus ride to get to our next destination: the beautiful town of Suzdal. We rode through vast open, snow-covered fields that you could see for miles. And, news flash: we think we saw a glimpse of Alaska!!!
What eye candy awaited us in Suzdal: the hotel Pushkapskaya Sloboda is exquisite!! It consists of individual wooden cabins decorated in quaint Russian style, but with all the comforts of home. The students were able to get in a snowball battle before dinner! We will send more pictures of this place tomorrow.
Day 3: Wednesday, March 6, 10:53 a.m.
From Mrs. Baker: Greetings! We have had a busy morning and are currently on the road to Suzdal. Internet service is sketchy, but I hope to send details and pictures tonight. Let me summarize by saying we have started our Russian adventure with snow, a beautiful monastery visit (Sergiev Trinity Monastery), and a lot of very interesting facts and history provided by our guide, Sasha. More to come tonight!!

Day 2: Tuesday, March 5  
Chaperone Patty Baker emailed School at 2:30 p.m., our time on Tuesday, March 5th to say that they have arrived safely in Moscow and that it is very chilly. The SPIMUN trip itinerary shows that the group is stopping by Red Square before checking into their hotel. According to the hotel's website (thankfully translated into English) "The enormous Izmailovo Hotel complex was built in 1979 on the site of the historic Izmailovo village and Royal Estate." 

Check out their itinerary here.