J8, Day 2. Touring the sites
By John Varoli
On a hot and humid weekend that saw temperatures reach 30 degrees Celsius, the J8 delegates were treated to a whirlwind tour of Russian history and culture. The territory covered ranged from the earthy culture of the Russian peasantry, to the pulsating sounds of Russia's current pop music singer; from the splendor of gold-plated imperial palaces and cathedrals, to the sleek and minimalist interior of a high-tech, 3-D entertainment club.
The cultural divide has been a factor to contend with, and some things have been lost in translation. But after two days of a hearty and active introduction to Russia, these eight delegations have begun to put cultural and language barriers behind as they prepare to tackle the
First up on the agenda, however, has been breaking the ice and having some fun. On Saturday night, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and James Bond legend, Sir Roger Moore, joined UNICEF's Executive Director, Ann M. Veneman, and top Russian culture and education officials in the stunning Imperial Throne Room of the Catherine Palace to launch the J8 Summit.
After introductory remarks and words of encouragement and support, the 64 delegates and J8 staff were treated to heartthrob Dima Bilan's MTV concert in the main palace courtyard, culminating in a spectacular fireworks display as twilight descended just after midnight.
Ready to go on Sunday morning, the delegates travelled by bus to Shuvalovka, a mock Russian village, where they were greeted and entertained by `peasants' decked out in the rich colours and patterns of folk dress. Serenaded by village songs and dances, the delegates saw a side to life of Old Russia much simpler than the palace luxury of the night before.
Down the road from Shuvalovka was more czarist splendour, however. The Peterhof Palace, Peter the Great's lavish summer residence, has long been prized for its intricate system of fountains and breathtaking grounds.
``Everything is great, and I've only seen something like this in movies,'' exclaimed Diana Perez, a member of the U.S. delegation.
From the edge of the Peterhof grounds on the Gulf of Finland, a hydrofoil took the delegates on a 30-minute journey to St. Petersburg's historical centre for a tour of major sites. Top on the list was St. Isaac's Cathedral, the Winter Palace and Palace Square, as well as the Peter and Paul Fortress where the Romanov czars and czarinas lie in eternal rest.
`It's been my dream to visit Russia and St. Petersburg,'' said Sarah Labhar, a member of the French delegation. ``I'm so passionate about Russian art and history.''
The weekend finished with the delegates coming up against and resolving their first major clash: the World Cup Final between Italy and France. Though the delegates split, boisterously rooting for their team, the spirit of cooperation prevailed and set a positive tone for the challenging week ahead.
13 July 2006: At Junior 8 Youth Forum, delegates strategize to put intolerance in check