Friday, March 25, 2011

Москва at Large

Moscow is one beautiful and busy city. The people are very nice, and smile as you pass. We woke up in our most comfortable Marriot Renaissance hotel, and headed down for our, rather American, breakfast. Both the service and food was great, consisting of a spread of fresh fruit, assorted meats, fish and cheeses, as well as other favorites like hash browns, bacon, sausage, backed tomatoes, yoghurt and eggs. The food was decadent.

After our wonderful dining experience, we and our new friends from the American School of Taiwan, headed off to the grand and most famous Red Square in front of the Kremlin. The square was surrounded by impressive buildings and the crimson red brick Kremlin wall. Not only does the term red refer to the color of the square, it also refers to it’s beauty. In addition it was much larger than I expected. The ground was pathed with an opal colored brick, which paired very well with the Kremlin wall. We walked through the most frigid -7oC weather until we got to GUM, the former state department store, where we were able to warm up and take pictures. Again, we headed back out into the bitter cold weather, and off we went to St. Basil’s Cathedral. The building was massive, and had beautiful onion shaped, mosaic tile domes; it was truly a traditional and remarkable structure. The paintings of religious figures and icons were so colorful, even though some of them where a bit white washed from the their restoration process. The church was filled with numerous and rather small chapels, where, in the past, ceremonies occurred.

Who ever thought of a metro station as being so culturally sophisticated? Not me, the Moscow metro stations are like walking into Union Station, in Washington, DC. No, I’m not talking about just one station; I’m talking about every single station. The stations are filled with bronze statues from the Stalin era. One statue in particular that stood out most was one with a soldier and his dog. Many passengers and tourists have been encouraged to rub the dog’s nose for good luck, making it the reason why the dog has a cold and sparkly nose. Not only were the statues magnificent, so was architecture of the walls, some made of mosaic tiles with images of working Russians, as well as images of Soviet leader Vladimir. Our tour guide, Olga, did a wonderful job in leading our group of 20 students around Moscow’s busy and ornate train system.

After our lunch at a Georgian restaurant, we made our way to the Kremlin, the massive walled fortress and house of the Russian government. I was expecting to see mostly political buildings; however, we mostly saw church after church, after church. Later we went to see another church, The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour but this church was different. It was the biggest of all, with immense golden, onion shaped domes, with a white exterior. The church was not the original however. During the Stalin era it was demolished, and the rebuilding process began but after World War II, the rebuilding ceased and the foundation was used as a pool for the next 40 years. After the Soviet Union fell, the replica construction began again, and now stands as “The” church of Moscow.
We learned so much in this one day. The day came to a close, and ended with me here, in our hotel lobby blogging. I leave here now, as I would like to have a little more fun before my curfew. до свидания!!!!!!!!!!

Moscow Metro

I will not steal Cameron's blog thunder (stay tuned), but I did want to post some pictures of our incredible day in Moscow. We are rounding out our picture of Russian history here in this city--some of the buildings in the Kremlin were built in the 15th century, almost three centuries before Peter the Great built St. Petersburg. We took a tour of the Moscow subway, which is honestly one of my favorite things we've done. Each station (of 176) has a different decorative style, with art that celebrates the peasants. St. Petersburg, the Kremlin, and much of Russian art celebrate aristocracy, while the Constructionist-era metro celebrates the worker in an ironically grandiose way. Cameron will fill you in on the rest. Tomorrow, we go to the Modern History Museum (Soviet stuff!) and to see Lenin. Good night! Molly

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Tsar Lifestyle--from St. Petersburg to our hotel in Moscow

After three intense days of debate, sightseeing, and international connections, it was time for everyone to say their goodbyes. The end of the conference came quicker than anyone expected as groups of students would now head to either Novgorod or Moscow. Before we headed to the train station to take the high speed train to Moscow, we visited the Summer Palace on the outskirts of St. Petersburg.

Last night, we experienced true Russian weather with a snow shower that left about a half an inch on the ground. The locals seemed unaffected by the change in weather even though road conditions could have easily closed down D.C for the day. As we road our bus to the outskirts, we were filled in on the unique history of the Summer Palace which was destroyed during WWII with some sections still being restored today. The town that the palace is located in is very historic itself, hosting several statues of Alexander Pushkin who studied at the local university.

The palace itself hosted the most extravagant and elegant rooms imaginable. With marble fireplaces, exquisitely painted ceilings, and glowing gold walls, the palace hosts unbelievable luxury. The size of the palace was impressive as well.
It took us about five minutes to walk from the front gates to the entrance of the palace.

After the tour, we had the opportunity to explore the town and shop at the local kiosks. The cold eventually forced the group inside and we settled down at a local cafe for tea and caviar sandwiches.

In the afternoon, we gathered the group and our belongings, hopped on our bus for the last time, and headed to the train station to catch the high speed train
that would take us 400 miles across Russian territory towards Moscow.
After an interesting and exhausting day, we arrived at the Renaissance hotel to find much larger rooms, a hot tub, and pool for some much needed down time!

SPIMUN as Served Up by Steven

Wednesday was the last day for MUN in St.Petersburg. In the morning, I was in the General Assembly conference. It was the longest debate we faced. There was one resolution discussed in the General Assembly, which I worked on as the Bullis delegate of Argentina in Disarmament Committee; I was the main organizer of the resolution. After an exciting and heated debate, the resolution of prevention of cyber terrorism was passed in the General Assembly for further debate. In the General Assembly session, the quality of the resolution was proved by the seriousness of diction and thoughtful arrangement. Through the three-hour debate, the resolution passed in the General Assembly with super majority. It was a great success for Bullis MUN. With an exciting closing ceremony, the 15th SPIMUN finished its last agenda. The SPIMUN is the first international MUN Bullis attended. During the compressed three-day conference, Bullis MUN had a lot of improvement and received some success. There is no doubt that St. Petersburg trip is meaningful to Bullis MUN club. In this international MUN conference, the club experienced more serious debate and got to know other more experienced MUNers. Indeed, the international MUN is also a good opportunity for Bullis students to get to know new people as well as a new culture. At the last night of MUN, all of us attended a Disco Dance in St. Petersburg. It was an exciting night for all of us. The power of music drive all the people participate of MUN gathered as friends. Clearly, the chilly wind of St. Petersburg couldn't put off the passionate fire of the excitement. The gathering was also a great opportunity for people to get to experience interesting European culture. Overall, the last day of MUN in St.Petersburg will be a remarkable page in Bullis MUN history. The effort we put into the MUN finally paid off in the conference. This will clearly be a new fresh start at a new level for MUN in Bullis.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Debate Begins: March 22nd

Model UNers from all parts of the globe, Albania, Belarus, Cyprus, Egypt, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Kuwait, Mexico, Panama, Taiwan, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine, the United States, and Turkey, assembled into their assigned committees and began their important work: debating important issues of concern for our ever-changing world. I began my morning observing Alex and Idrienne in the Human Rights Committee. The morning’s topic: Advancing Women in Government and Politics. Alex delivered a convincing speech in support of the first resolution while Idrienne, our newest Model UNer, sat near the delegates representing Saudi Arabia and Russia, learning the ropes.

By the end of the day, Idrienne shared that she had asked questions and put forth amendment ideas to improve existing resolutions.

Next, I visited the Special Conference on Youth where Priscila represented Romania. I watched as she passionately argued in support of a resolution that she co-sponsored with Japan. The way to prevent youth from involvement in political and religious extremist movements, she explained, was to advance educational or civil service opportunities.

Both these committees were held in Gymnasium 157 founded in 1868 by Princess of Oldenburg, granddaughter of Russian Emperor Nicolas I. Next stop, the Disarmament & International Security Committee held at the University of Service and Economy near the school. Delegates were fiercely debating how to prevent cyber terrorism. Cameron and Steven closely followed the debate on an amendment to a resolution and voted several times.

I will admit, I had a difficult time following this debate while our students did not. Why? Too technical in nature… this type of informational system was needed, this one was to no longer be used. The Model UN Director from Taiwan turned to me at some point to ask, “Do you follow this?” I replied, not really, but the students do, which is what is important. Both Cameron and Steven filled me in during a short recess. This to me, was the ultimate Model UN experience. Young people finding solutions for pressing or future problems. MUN directors learning from them. My last stop, the Environmental and Cultural Committee housed in the beautiful Vodokanal Museum of St. Petersburg, where the last resolution of the day was being debated.

The topic: the Role of Youth in Safeguarding cultural heritage. Tyler delivered a strongly worded speech in support of this resolution, which was chosen to be presented in the General Assembly today.

Bullis students were engaged in the important work of the conference but at the same time made friends. At the end of the day, Idrienne told me about her conversations with her Egyptian peers. They shared their experiences of the recent Egyptian revolution: families afraid for their lives and their livelihood, people being killed as they stood up for their beliefs, hopes for a bright future led by the youth. The Egyptians almost didn’t make the conference as their schools were closed for a month. I am so glad they did as all of our students have bonded with them. I constantly hear about the Egyptians and their experiences from our students. I close this day’s blog with a short description of our evening: a Classical Ballet at the Hermitage Theatre.

Simply exquisite. Our students dressed in their formal wear, checked their coats into the cloak room, preceded up the red-carpeted stairs into the oldest theatre in St. Petersburg created during the reign of Catherine the Great and basked in the cultural heritage of this great nation. The beauty and grace of the dancers was an extraordinary end to our day. (Ms. Vardi)

Idrienne's View on the Ballet

Today after a tiring but fun day of debating in our conferences, we went to watch a ballet in the Hermitage. The Hermitage is a large place unique in design and culture, and home to arguably one of the best Queens who ever lived: Queen Catherine the Great. This ballet was magnificent, not only because it was a collage of excerpts from famous pieces know around the world such as The Nutcracker, excerpts from The Black Swan and much more, but because it was performed in a palace’s theatre where the architecture and decorations brought even more life and beauty into the ballet. This was a wonderful experience; we were able to enter one of the greatest palaces ever, which many people in their whole life span will never get a chance to see. This theatre was so unique and different from all the other rooms in the palace; the other rooms were yes unique in a way, because different things happened in different rooms, however they all had the same over arching theme which set them alike. In contrast, the theatre was different, it had to show freedom of expression, as well as elegance and control and this theatre unparticular did exactly that. All of these wonderful aspects contributed to the beauty of not only the room, but what was going on inside of it which is the reason why this ballet was son special.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Let's Go MUN!

March 21, 2011 (Tyler)
Today was a profound day for Bullis’ Model United Nation because it marks the first day of lobbying and debating in an international conference. The Opening Ceremonies were held at the beautiful Smolensk Palace which is light blue, gold, and white.
Although the opening ceremonies were pretty long, it was a great experience hearing the different views and perspective that students from other countries have about the country that they are representing. Our President Alex Anderson delivered a great speech that stated the views of the delegation of Argentina.
After the opening ceremonies, we ate lunch and then quickly started lobbying and debating. The setup here is very different than recent conferences that we’ve been to because within each committee, the delegates are divided by the topics they chose to write a resolution for. Today was a working day to collaborate with other nations to create to resolutions for us to debate about tomorrow. Throughout the entire conference we met many people from places such as: Italy, Albania, Russia, Germany, Panama, Egypt, and Mexico. Today was such a productive day and I can’t wait for the fruitful debate and interactions!

Sunday Sight-Seeing, or Petrograd According to Priscilla

The day started with a lovely buffet breakfast complete crepes and fresh juice. We departed from our hotel with a great view as you can see here,
the Dostoyevsky, in our casual clothing, on a tour bus along with two international schools from Florence Italy, and a school from Albania.
Ina, our tour guide, began by explaining the history of the city, we learned about the political leaders who had come in and out of power and the different regimes in Russia. The city of St. Petersburg has had many names; it was named St. Petersburg after its founder Peter the great in the 18th century, then during WWI the name was changed to Petrograd for the sake of the original name sounding too German; then the Soviet Union changed it to Leningrad on behalf of Vladimir Lenin.
Leningrad literally means Lenin’s city.

Our first stop was St. Isaacs Cathedral in front of St. Isaac’s Square. Ina explained to us that St. Petersburg when founded was completely marsh land. Peter the great had to sink billions of rocks to create foundation strong enough to build building. Because the foundation o the city still isn’t quit firm there is a law which restricts any building more than six stories. St. Isaacs Cathedral is one of the tallest buildings in the city.

Ina knew the weight of the buildings in the area, I found this strange because if anyone asked how much the White House or Lincoln monument weighed DC tour guides wouldn’t know. St. Isaacs Cathedral weighs thousands and thousands of tons. It was truly beautiful it had free standing marble columns and a rotunda. Our next stop was the Church of Spilled Blood.

The name of the church comes from the fact that Alexander the Second was assassinated on the road where the church was then built. Anyway the Church of Spilled Blood is my favorite building in the city. It is truly Russian, it has domes and chains on Hershey kisses on top (or garlic balls as Idrienne called them). It has colored tiles and paintings of saints.

We passed the only castle in the city, which is famous because Paul the only “poor Paul” came to lie in the castle and had many secret tunnels and safe rooms built because he was so afraid of attack and assassination. Unfortunately, Poor Paul’s neck was snapped while he was in bed one night and never truly got to rule. Ina told us that the buildings are all so many different colours because if not people would become depressed because of the bad weather.

Here are the tombs of the czars in the Peter and Paul fortress:

We then stopped at a bridge designed by Eiffel. We went to gift shops and then had lunch.

After our Stroganaff lunch, it was snowing. We went to the Hermitage and looked at really old painting and statues.

We saw Da Vincis and Picassos. My favorite gallery was the impressionists section, with Matisse and Gauguin paintings. Then the lights turned off and we were stuff with babushkas on the top floor of the green palace…. To be continued tomorrow. It’s 11:00 and Ms. Vardi said I have to go sleep.