Aunt Kelly and I used part of our holiday weekend to visit Novgorod. This was my second trip to Novgorod, and this time the town itself made a much bigger impression on me. (The first time was in the summer of 2002, and I was travelling with classmates and staying with friends of theirs and the trip was really more about my interactions with all those people than about the town itself. You know how that can be sometimes.)

Living in St. Petersburg, it can be all too easy to believe that grime and grumpiness are integral parts of Russian culture. It was refreshing to go to Novgorod and see that it isn’t at all the case. Novgorod is clean, tourist-friendly and even foreigner-friendly. The museums and historical sites have info in English and the people working at those places don’t try to make you feel like a criminal and/or a source of money to be sucked dry. The “foreigner price” at any of these attractions was only 60 rubles (as compared to at least 300 at any St. Petersburg site, no matter how small), and a 6 km taxi ride also only 60 rubles (whereas a passenger’s foreign accent in St. Petersburg guarantees a 500-ruble fare regardless of distance). Even the souvenir vendors were pleasant and unaggressive.

The museums were all beautifully renovated and maintained. There’s a really nice little art museum which doesn’t house the kind of masterpieces that the Hermitage does, but was unbelievably tidy, as well as climate- and light-controlled. It made me wonder why the Hermitage, with its worldwide renown and support, can’t do the same.

Yes, I understand that St. Petersburg, as a metropolis of four million people, will never be as clean and friendly as a city of 200,000. However, Novgorod gave me hope that a place could be really nice and still be really Russian at the same time.