From Russia With Love

Eight days in St. Petersburg gave 27 Flying Longhorns an in-depth, behind-the-scenes view of Russia’s cultural capital.

From Russia With Love

Backstage at the historic Mikhailovsky Theatre, 5 p.m.: Behind the heavy velvet curtain, ballerinas and musicians scurry, making last-minute preparations for the evening’s performance of Romeo and Juliet. It’s a scene that hasn’t changed much since the theater opened in 1833, and one a group of 27 Flying Longhorns never thought they’d have the chance to witness.

Led by a tour guide who tells stories about the theater’s winding layout with the help of a translator, the group stumbles into a dressing room. Sitting in front of a lit mirror, a young ballerina is having her hair and makeup done, and she smiles genially at them. “We later found out she was actually Juliet, the star of the night’s ballet,” says trip host Wendy Wheless, BS ’04, MBA ’08, Life Member, Texas Exes vice president of marketing and business development.

The theater was just one of many Russian cultural landmarks the group explored during eight days in the lively city of St. Petersburg. They toured palaces, plazas, and churches so ornate that their eyes grew accustomed to the glare of gold leaf.

“The gardens are incredible and winding. There are marble staircases outdoors,” Wheless says. “Everything is so grand. You’re just immediately hit by this wave of beauty.”

That beauty extended to the group’s hotel, the Angleterre. Located in a historic neighborhood called St. Isaac’s Square, the hotel sits directly across from the famous St. Isaac’s Cathedral.

Russian-Museum-group-shot2“Everything about the Angleterre was lush and vast,” Wheless says. “Including the spreads of food. Meals were just never-ending. But when they did, they ended with a vodka tasting.”

Between servings of traditional Russian borscht and stacks of dessert pancakes, the Longhorns ventured through the city’s bustling streets. A short bus ride brought the group to the famous Amber Room of Catherine Palace. Before it was looted by Nazis during World War II, the room was outfitted entirely in amber panels and décor. It is known as one of Russia’s “lost treasures.” The current Amber Room is a meticulous recreation constructed by a joint German-Russian effort.

The Texas Exes even cheered on the Longhorns from afar during the Kansas State game.

“We made sure to sing the fight song on the way back to the hotel that day,” Wheless says. “Our tour guide carried around a little Texas flag. We definitely made our presence known wherever we went.”

Lectures on Russian ballet, literature, and government, held in a classroom in the Angleterre and led by local university professors, placed excursions in context.

“We learned all about the rule of the Russian czars,” Wheless says. “Exploring Russia is all the more meaningful when you’ve just recently learned so much about its history and stories.”

Above from top, the gardens of Peterhof Palace have an intricate fountain system; the travelers outside the Russian Museum.

Photos courtesy Wendy Wheless.


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