St. Petersburg, Architecture as a Reflection of the City History

Patrick Bond is currently studying abroad in St. Petersburg participating in the CIEE program.


         When Peter the Great became the Tsar of Russia and began working on the expansion of his territory, he greatly desired to acquire a port city. First this led to the acquisition of territory along the White Sea inside of the Arctic Circle, more specifically the port city of ArcAnglesk which could only be used 2 weeks out of the year to have the passage of goods. Later, after wars with Finland, came the acquisition of the territory which constitutes St. Petersburg. There are a number of things about St. Petersburg which have a unique quality about them. Perhaps the first is the great diversity of architecture, and the various rings of the city created during the expansion of the city.  In the centre of the city, and truly the origin of St. Petersburg is the Peter and Paul Fortress on the Petrograd Island. While the fortress itself is an impressive work of architecture placed in a fork of the Neva river to control the river traffic during the early 1700’s, the feature that most greatly defines the skyline of this Island is the spire of the Peter and Paul Cathedral. This cathedral unlike most Russian Orthodox cathedrals of the time followed a much more German, and thus protestant design. From the central origin point of this fortress, it becomes easier to date the rings of the city like a giant tree. Along the river most of the buildings date to the 1700’s and spiral to the inland and other islands which creates a unique feel to St. Petersburg. There are few places in the United States where you can observe different buildings from the past 300 years all on the same block. The photos that I have submitted for the first assignment I feel help encompass the defining look of the city which is very much a significant part of the everyday life of St. Petersburg. As this city is steeped in history, the architecture reflects this аs buildings from the 1700’s to the 2000’s are situated next to one another.


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UVA in Lyon: The Middle Months

Amanda Seiken is a UVA student currently studying abroad in Lyon, France. Click through to read her tales of language classes, making new friends, and traveling far afield to Prague! 


March 7, 2016

I believe, finally, my French is starting to improve. Although, I suppose I shouldn’t say “finally”, since I have only been here two months and some change. I guess I have been thinking about it as a longer amount of time because I now I almost halfway through my program, and “halfway” sounds like a lot of time. But of course, my program is actually very short. Before I came here, five months sounded like an enormous amount of time. But two months in and I am realizing five months is nothing. My French improves in subtle ways. For example, walking down the street,sitting in restaurants, waiting outside classrooms, I am surrounded by French conversations. Before, they were pretty much just background noise. But now, it is like I was listening to a badly tuned radio that has suddenly gotten much better reception, because I can make out what the conversations are now (not that I’m eavesdropping or anything). 

Also, I am lucky to have met a lot of other really fun and interesting exchange students, the majority who are Erasmus students so they come from all over Europe.The main difference between us though is that they have been here since September so they are doing a full year. It has been easy enough to integrate into their friend group (myself and the other UVA students, that is), but we are just now getting to befriends with them beyond a superficial layer. Yet we will still only just be getting to know them when it will be time for us to leave. The difference those months make is very apparent when you see the ease with which they interact with one another from having been friends since the fall, but I feel we will not have the chance to be on that level in such a short time. Noticing this, combined with the improvement of my French, makes me wish I were doing a whole year abroad and not only a semester. At the same time, I still have almost three entire months left, so there is no reason to be sad now.

March 28, 2016
I was in Prague the other weekend. Prague has long been on my list of must-see cities in Europe. In fact, the only two cities I was determined to visit while I was here were Amsterdam and Prague. And since I had come down with food poisoning in Amsterdam, I was hoping for a redemption round in Prague.Well, I was not disappointed. Prague was beautiful, like incredibly. In a way,it almost was unreal. We (my friends and I) stuck to sightseeing by foot as our main activity in order to save money, but this was fine for us since the city had so much to offer in terms of churches and castles and other amazing architecture.
Naturally, my favorite part was the food. This city is well known for its meat dishes, and for being very very cheap.  I was in an AirB&B with some other friends that was about an hour from the city center by foot, but the advantage of being farther from the center was that our area was essentially free from tourists (save us of course). We ate in a restaurant with animal heads on the wall, filled with Czech people speaking loudly and had the best ribs I’ve ever eaten, for about $5. When we asked for a dessert menu, the waitress said, “nothing sweet here, only meat”. This ranks among my top 3 meals I’ve had while studying abroad (slash my life).
We also were lucky with our AirB&B host, an older couple, of which the husband gave us a 20 minute history and overview of Prague in mostly comprehensible English, and brought us over a cake that his wife had baked.
However, Prague was not all fun and games. Instead of flying, we took a bus because it was pretty cheap if we traveled with Erasmus Nation, which is basically a travel/tour company that targets students traveling abroad. A bus to Prague, we thought, how bad could it be! Well, this is a city near the middle of the Czech Republic, which is a country on the other side of Germany, meaning to get there from France, one must drive straight through Germany. At first, we were told by our Erasmus guide the bus ride would take 10 hours. This seemed not great, but whatever, we could sleep.The bus ride did not take 10 hours. It ended up being 15 hours. Now, being on a bus for 15 hours (both ways!) is an experience I will never forget and hope to never repeat.
At the same time, I think I got to know my friends in a way that would never have happened otherwise (I think this phenomenon is known as “bonded by tragedy”). These people went from strangers sitting next to me in information meetings, to friends sitting next to me on this Prague bus, giggling deliriously because we’d been on it for 11 hours but still had 4 more to go. For this reason, I’m glad I went to Prague for more than just getting to see the city.
April 3rd, 2016
For the past five weeks, I have been holding English conversation workshops with students from Lyon 2. These “workshops” are organized through Lyon 2 and both the students and myself earn credit for doing them. I met with two groups once a week, and advanced and beginner group, simply to sit and talk for about two hours in English to help them practice their speaking skills.However, these workshops were just as beneficial for me as (I hope) they were for the French students. I had the opportunity to ask my peers any number of questions on the things I didn’t understand about French culture or the language,and I learned so much.
It is actually pretty difficult to meet and befriend true French students, and not just because of the language barrier. The only time I am naturally with them is in class, but classes are almost two hours of solid lecture and there is not really a way to socialize. I have made plenty of other friends, but they are all other exchange students. Living with a host family has been great for practicing my speaking and learning about Lyon, but of course some topics are off-limits. So it was great to discuss with the other students about anything from slang words, best bars, political opinions, etc.
I was also lucky in the fact that I had the same two students come to everyone of my beginner English workshops. The way it works is any student can sign up for a workshop, so you are not guaranteed to have the same ones every time. This can be really hard, especially in the lower level group, to start from scratch, as well as exhausting because it’s all on you to keep the energy up and carry the conversation. But these two guys were the only ones in my very first workshop and they turned out to be the only ones in my very last workshop (I had more than just them come to the ones in between)! Actually, I was disappointed last week because on the last day we were supposed to meet, everything was cancelled because of protests (Which are a very common in France, and right now many young people are upset about a new labor law in the works. Classes had been cancelled because the students had barricaded the entrances to the school.)
 So I emailed the students telling them not to meet for conversation, and was just in my room hanging out when my phone rang and it was Antoine asking me where I was! I was like, “Antoine, I’m in my room, workshops are cancelled because classes are cancelled.” And he was like, “What! I didn’t get the email, but Avet and I are here anyway so we might as well meet and get lunch like we were supposed to.” (That is a paraphrase of what was actually said because remember, his English is not that good). It was a really nice way to end the workshops, and now I have real French friends!

The Road to Istanbul

Anna Wallace is a UVA student currently studying abroad  through the exchange program in Istanbul. Check out her photos from her first month abroad and learn more about this beautiful and historic city! 



This is a stunning view of the Bosporus, looking closely one can see the ferry sailing over to the Anatolian side of the continent with the huge bridge that connects Europe and Asia together in the background. I took this photo because to me the Bosporus and the bridges that connect these two land masses are really an integral part to Istanbul.



Another photo of the Bosporus, this time with a closer look at the European side of the strait and another ferry waiting at the docks. This body of water is actually called the Golden Horn, which is a small inlet from the Bosporus that cuts into the European side of Istanbul.



The iconic Blue Mosque of Istanbul, complete with towering minarets and a beautiful faded blue façade. To the Turks, this is one of the religious pinnacles of society and just one of the 3000 mosques that make up the city.



A beautiful depiction of the Hagia Sophia mosque, which is actually pronounced Hay aSofya in Turkish. To me, after seeing this fantastic piece of architecture I think it finally hit home that I was actually living in Istanbul.



One of the many animals that you will find around the city. Tags in their ears mean that veterinarians have fully vaccinated them and then re-released them back to their home on the streets. The stray cats and dogs of Istanbul are seen as beloved pets by all, in fact most restaurants will give you food for free if your intention is to feed it to the animals.



Called the Obelisk of Theodosius, this was originally built by the Roman emperor Theodosius I in Istanbul as a copy of an ancient Egyptian obelisk. Unfortunately, it was in this area that a bomb went off about three days before I came. However, this place is seen as one of the most integral and historic areas of Istanbul.



A closer view of the obelisk as well as the rose memorial recently placed in front,dedicated to a Dutch family that sadly passed away in the recent explosion.
Photo 8: Taksim Square, located on the European side and a major tourist district with many clubs, restaurants, and hotels. 




This is the Monument of the Republic, which depicts Turkey’s iconic leader Ataturk. It was also in this square that many protests such as the infamous Taksim Square massacre have occurred.

 A flower market in the corner of Taksim square. Shop and street cart owners always have the best of manners and will good-naturedly haggle with people about fair prices while offering Turkish çay or tea as a sign of friendship.



 In the more touristy part of Taksim, an old-fashioned trolley runs through the streetsand stores, which offer everything from delicious kebabs to beautiful Turkish carpets. I took this picture because I think it really represents how full of life this area was.



The Church of St. Anthony of Padua, located near Taksim in the Beyoğlu district. Pope John XXII actually preached in this church for ten years before becoming the pope and this church has the most followers in Istanbul.



Built in 1348, the Galata Tower rises above Istanbul in the Karaköy district. It actually was the tallest building in the city when it was built, and now it offers a restaurant at the top along with an absolutely incredible view. However, the line was so long when I visited I decided to save that view for another time. At night, the top of the tower lights up in beautiful colors and to me, is one of the most beautiful things I have seen in Istanbul so far.


The front entrance to Istanbul University, located in the heart of the city (Fatih district) and boasting a huge population of 88,500 students. While you need ID to get inside, the view from the outside is just as impressive.


This was taken inside of the Grand Bazaar, a place so impressive it would take oneweeks to fully explore and know its many wonders. Everywhere throughout the place these beautiful, one-of-a-kind lanterns gleamed brightly, taunting me as I know I will have no room for one of them in my suitcase. The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and biggest covered markets in Turkey, with over 3,000 shops and 61 covered streets. Coincidentally, it is also one of the biggest tourist attractions in Istanbul.




The Nuruosmaniye Mosque, located near the Grand Bazaar and Istanbul University.Made in Ottoman Baroque style, I found it to be astonishingly beautiful and yet again another example of the fantastic architecture in Istanbul.  



Away for the Weekend in Prague and Paris

Dylan Ferrer is currently a third year abroad in Florence, Italy at Palazzo Rucellai. He updated us on his weekend adventures in Prague and Paris!
Two more weeks have gone by in Florence, and I spent the weekends in Prague and Paris. Both were beautiful cities, and they were strikingly more modern than Florence. This was particularly evident in Prague’s roads, which were wide, efficient, and tightly integrated with their tram public transportation system, and also with Paris’ metro and tram systems, which were far superior to public transportation even in the US. By contrast, many of the roads in Florence are so narrow that they can only fit a single car at a time, there do not appear to be many road signs or consistent driving guidelines, and the public transportation system is based largely on buses.This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it was interesting to note that Prague and Paris felt almost like sprawling, efficient US cities whereas Florence feels like a densely-packed microcosm of the ancient world, with few hints of modernization to be seen.In Prague, I walked across the Charles bridge, took a free tour of the Prague castle,visited the Lennon Wall, and spent some time wandering around the city, going to various stores and eateries. The Lennon Wall is my favorite thing I have seen in Europe so far, as despite it’s relatively small size, it was incredibly moving to see messages of love and peace written indifferent languages and interspersed with various likenesses of John Lennon drawn in different styles (see picture below). The food in Prague was delicious (and cheap, due to the favorable conversion rate between the euro and the Czech krone), and they seem to put a heavy emphasis on pork and beef dishes, with the fantastic Czech goulash being the classic dish to eat in Prague.
In Paris, I visited the Eiffel Tower (picture below), the Louvre, the lock bridge, Notre Dame, and Sacré-Cœur. I particularly enjoyed the lock bridge (although Paris has recently boarded up the bridge to discourage couples placing locks on it due to concern over the bridge’s capacity to handle the weight of thousands of locks), which was packed for Valentine’s Day, and Sacré-Cœur, which, along with San Miniato al Monte in Florence, is one of the most beautiful churches I have seen so far. Paris also felt similar to DC or NY in much of the city’s population used the metro to get from place to place; indeed, it was incredibly cheap and efficient to navigate the city using only the metro. It was also interesting to discover that Paris, unlike Florence or Prague, was incredibly hostile to people who are not perfectly fluent in French.
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My experiences in Prague and Paris also led me to the unfortunate conclusion that Florence is not a great place to learn Italian. Whereas Prague and Paris seemed truly immersive, in Florence I would have to walk for 20 minutes to run into a local who does not speak English. Indeed, the only truly immersive interaction I have had so far was with a barber,and it was fun to navigate that encounter using only my limited Italian and all sorts of hand gestures. As much as I love Florence, my Italian has barely come along at all, and perhaps it would have been more useful to stay in a home-stay or choose a program in which the courses are taught in the native language or in which there is not a two-mile radius of English speakers around my apartment.