University Life Goes Beyond the Campus

The campus is not the only place where university life takes part, there are lots of university activities outside the campus. Being a university student means not only having to go to lectures, doing lots of homework and research, it is also a lot of interesting things to do with other students, doesn’t matter if they are from another group, another generation or another faculty, the thing that matters is that they are part of the same university as you.

As I wrote in my previous entry, I will dedicate this one to some university activities available for students in their free time, specifically about a couple of trips organized by the "Profcom" (Union Committee of Students), of which I also want to talk about in this entry.

The good thing about Saint Petersburg is not only the city itself, but also the fact that there are a lot of interesting places to visit near the city. I went to a couple of them, and enjoyed every moment of those trips. The first place I visited was Vyborg (Выборг).

Part I: Vyborg (Выборг)


On the trip to Vyborg we not only visited the town. Before arriving to Vyborg we visited a little settlement of Vikings called "Svargas". Svargas is a small fortress that is, not an actual surviving Viking fortress, but rather a reconstruction — albeit a very good one — of a real Viking settlement that used to exist a long time ago there even before Russia was founded.

We had a lot of fun in that fortress. The people that worked, who were dressed up as Vikings, showed us and told of the way the Vikings from that zone used to live. Even though it was snowing and freezing, that didn’t stop us from taking part in some activities, some of which included throwing axes, hay sack fighting, bow and arrow shooting, sword fighting, among others. After having some fun, we then proceeded to our main destination.

Vyborg shares something in common with Saint Petersburg in that they are more "European-like" or more "Western" cities. However, whereas Saint Petersburg was founded while being part of Russia — by Peter the Great — Vyborg is actually not a Russian town, in the sense that it was not founded by Russians, but by the Swedes. The town became part of the Russian Empire when Peter the Great took it from the Swedes so the border would be farther from Saint Petersburg, then new capital-to-be.

The main town landmark is the Vyborg castle, built by the Swedes when they founded the settlement. The castle is located on a small island in the Vyborg Bay and is characterized by its single tower which is about 30 meters tall. From atop the tower the view of the town is really nice, as you can see basically all of the town both sides of the bay. The castle itself is small, but from there we were joined by a guide who told us the story of the castle and guided us through the rest of the town.

The town is quite small, but it holds a lot of history, and there a lot of narrow streets with quaint buildings and yards. There are also some buildings which haven’t yet been restored after the Russo-Finnish wars and the Great Patriotic War (both took place during the WWII). One of the buildings that hasn’t been rebuilt is an old church which is almost completely in ruins, and the reason for that is to preserve the memories of the soldiers, both Finnish and Russians but especially the former.

After the walk around the city, some of us bought ourselves some Vyborg traditional pretzels, and a Swedish hot drink called glogg, which is also traditional to the town, to patch ourselves up for the trip back to Petersburg.

Overall Vyborg is a very charming and quaint small town to which I would like to come back in summer. I have a feeling that Peter the Great must have found some inspiration in this town for the architectural decisions made in Saint Petersburg.

Part II: Veliky Novgorod (Великий Новгород)

Veliky Novgorod

The second and last trip that I went to with the Profcom is to Veliky Novgorod. If you are looking into something more Russian, then this is a definite must-stop while in Russia, after all, the country was founded in this city.

There’s something quite unique about Novgorod (not to be confused with Nizhniy Novgorod, an entirely different city located east of Moscow). For one, the city kind of has two centers, each located on each bank of the river. One of them is the so-called "Merchant" side, where Grand Prince "Yaroslav's Court" is located, in very old times it used to be full of shops and among the many churches that are still standing to this day, there used to be a market. Now only the churches and cathedrals remain. On the other side of the river is the Novgorod Kremlin (there is more than one Kremlin "кремль' in Russia! A kremlin is actually a type of fortress common to some old Russian cities and towns) which could be argued is the main attraction and landmark of the city. The Moscow Kremlin of course is bigger and more complex, but I personally found the one in Novgorod more charming.

We first visited the "Merchant" center of the city, where Yaroslav’s Court is located. This part of the city stands out because of the high number of churches from different times, from the first that resembled more closely their Byzantine sisters, to the ones that are more common to Russian architecture with their onion shaped domes. As we were walking through the park, a guide was telling us the story of the city and its many churches. One thing is for sure, Novgorod doesn’t lack in churches and temples, I think I have yet to see a city with so many of them.

After walking some through the park and court; and hearing the many tales the guide had to tell us about it, we crossed to the other side of the river across the bridge — a not-so-small pedestrian bridge — and entered the Novgorod Kremlin. What I really liked about it is that one can freely walk within its premises, unlike the one in Moscow in which you need to buy a ticket to get. Also as I mentioned before, there is some charm to the place that distinguishes it from the Moscow Kremlin, a kind of medieval charm.

Although the Kremlin itself is a landmark, it contains in itself some landmarks. Inside the Kremlin are two landmarks in particular, the Holy Sophia Cathedral, and the Monument to the Millennium of Russia. I really liked the Monument to the Millennium of Russia, I now consider it not only my favorite monument from that city, but also one of my all-time favorites. In it is described the history of Russia from its foundation with the arrival of Rurik to Novgorod to the days of Tsar Nicholas I. I like it because of the clever way in which history is described through eminent personalities of different eras and backgrounds of Russian history, which include not only political personalities but also national heroes, enlightened persons, writers, and artists. Something interesting about the sculpture is that Ivan the Terrible is missing from the monument, the reason being his role in a terrible massacre that happened in Novgorod in the XVI century. He is instead replaced in the sculpture by his first wife Anastasia Romanova.

The next place we visited inside the Kremlin is the Holy Sophia Cathedral. Although I am not a religious person I’ve always liked venturing inside old churches because of their peaceful and quite atmosphere. Inside, the church holds some old interesting paintings and icons, although unfortunately not so much has been preserved. Something to note about the cathedral is that compared to its contemporaries it is not as decorated, instead built upon a strong design.

After visiting one more place inside the Kremlin, the Chamber of Facets — an old gothic style building, one of the oldest "civil" buildings that have been preserved in the city — we went to have some food at a nearby café right beside the Kremlin. The food was quite good, and it tasted even better after a mild walk around the city.

For the rest of the day we didn’t have anything else planned as part of our program as we had actually gone ahead of the planned schedule, so we went straight ahead for the hotel. Well, in reality we went all but straight to the hotel. The bus went all around the city in search for the hotel, as it turns out the information on the GPS was outdated and the hotel hadn’t update their location on the maps. Nevertheless, for me that was for the better as I was able to view a good part of the city from the comfort of my bus seat.

After checking-in in the hotel and having some dinner in the hotel, some guys and I decided to venture out to the city before midnight, as the Kremlin closed at that time, so we went out and had a walk around parts of the city we hadn’t been to as part of the tour. We decided to go the less touristic parts of town to get to know it better, sometimes it’s just more interesting to go your own way to the not so glamourous places, and it didn’t disappoint. After coming back to the hotel, we just watched a movie and went to sleep to get ready for the next day. It felt nice to sleep again in a spring mattress after months of sleeping in the flat mattress of my dormitory bedroom.

Next morning, we had breakfast in the hotel restaurant and departed to our next destination. The plan for this day was for the attractions on the outskirts of the city. First, we went to the Peryn Skete, a former monastery which dates back to the XIII Century. What’s interesting of this place is its location and history. It is located in a piece of land which during spring is an island (although it still connected by a road), a previous site of cult to an old Slavic pagan god, Perun, from whom the name of the monastery and chapel inside it comes. The chapel still works as a church, and the place is taken care of.

The following place we visited was another monastery, but this one of more importance for Novgorod, the Yuriev (or St George’s) Monastery. This used to be main spiritual center for the Novgorod republic, although it still functions as a monastery. The site is quite big and there’s a cathedral inside it, the St George’s Cathedral. What’s interesting about this cathedral is that it still retains most of its original paintings from about 800 years back.

The last place that we visited in this trip was Vitoslavlitsy, a former town near St George’s Monastery, now a museum of Russian wood architecture. In this place one can find different buildings made of wood in old typical Russian wood architecture, but mainly churches and izbas. An izba is a traditional Russian countryside log house which formed the living quarters of a farmstead. They somewhat spacious, however, whole families with many children used to live in them, and they are built with the floor higher than the ground so that it was easier to get out of them in the snowy winter months. Although not very complex in architecture, they have some pretty details, and one interesting that we were told, is that to prove that one was wealthy, one would put a horse head on of the extremes of the roof. Of course, from an architectural point of view the churches were more beautiful and complex. Many of those buildings were in fact brought here from other sites for the museum.

Finally, we returned downtown to buy some souvenirs, which fortunately I remembered to do here, whereas I forgot to buy one in Vyborg, so, maybe I have reason to go back to Vyborg. After that we just ate at the café from the previous day and headed back to the dormitory.


Those were a couple of really nice trips and, as lately I had been taking some trips solo without any group, excursion or guide — which is a nice option to visit many places without hurting your pockets — it was a nice refresh to go on a trip with a big group, a university group at that, and with guides which knew how to tell the stories of the places we visited.

If you’re interested in seeing some photos of the trips I took, and other trips and events held by the university, you can go to this site:

I also want to thank the Profcom for including me in both trips. It is really a great organization for students, any student from the ITMO can be part of it, and take part in many events organized by them, even foreign students can take part. If you already are a student and haven’t joined the Profcom, I do recommend that you join them. If you are no yet a student but are thinking of applying to ITMO, you already know one of the many great student organizations you can be part of as an ITMO student.

Student at the Department of Wireless Telecommunications at ITMO University.