Ballet, prison beds and charming the locals – a special school visits St Petersburg

10th June 2015 at 07:00
Inside the Hermitage Museum
Three A-level students from a specialist school for visual impairment are visiting St Petersburg to learn about Russian history and culture. The students, from the WESC Foundation in Exeter, are accompanied by their teacher Julian Davey and their carer Huw Hennessy, who will be blogging throughout the trip. For this fourth installment, the students reflect on their own experiences with the support of Huw.

This is George, reporting from St Petersburg. Harry, Tom and I have given Huw the day off so we can tell you ourselves what we've been doing.

We've been to so many amazing places that I don't know where to start. So we'll just tell you about a few of our favourite things.

One evening, we had tickets to the ballet at the famous Mariinsky Theatre. We had special seats that were easy for us to get in and out of, even with Tom's wheelchair. I liked the music and could make out some of the colourful scenery. Harry thought it was "fantastic", because he loved identifying all the different instruments in the orchestra as Huw whispered to him about what was going on. However, Tom said it was "pointless" because he couldn't see a thing and doesn't like classical music anyway. You can't please everyone, can you?

The Peter and Paul Fortress, where many revolutionaries were imprisoned, was a huge and interesting place. We could go into the cells and even lie down on the metal beds. They were actually quite comfortable, but our history teacher Julian told us that the conditions were very tough for the people who stayed there.

Yesterday we went to the State Hermitage Museum, one of the most important art museums in the world. We went when it was closed and had our own private tour. We even had two security guards accompanying us. Did they think we were going to steal stuff?

The galleries were amazing, and we could get up close and touch things that we wouldn't normally be able to, like sculptures and gold ornaments. We all liked one huge bowl, which was about ten feet tall and weighed about 60 tons. It was made of black granite and it took 160 horses six months to carry it all the way from Poland.

Apart from the special sites we've visited, the thing we have most enjoyed has been exploring the streets and meeting Russians. They are much friendlier than people think. They always stand up to give us a seat on the metro and help Tom on and off with his wheelchair, which weighs a ton.

We have only seen one other person in a wheelchair the whole time we have been here, though. This surprised us a bit. We haven’t seen any blind people with canes either. There aren’t many ramps and lifts to make it easy to get around the city, but everyone always helps us.

Harry has loved talking to the Russians, particularly the ladies. He even got a bouquet of flowers from a mystery woman at our hotel. He wants to find out who she was so he can thank her properly, with one of his poems.

We leave St Petersburg today. When we get back to England, we'll tell you more about the whole trip. We hope you've enjoyed hearing about our adventures as much as we’ve enjoyed being here.

Poka ─ see you soon.

Pictured: The WESC group and their tour guides inside the State Hermitage Museum


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