As you read this, I will hopefully be sailing along in the middle of the Black Sea to my next destination – Batumi, Georgia! I say hopefully because the ferry I am taking is notoriously unreliable so I can only hope that we actually set sail on time.
Regardless, I have hit the six month point in this journey, which got me thinking about everything I have done on this trip – and especially about the things I have done most often, such as…
1. Climb tall things.
There is something about climbing to the top of a tall building or a hill for an amazing view that I just can’t resist. And no, it isn’t just the extra workout, although that certainly is an added bonus. I don’t think I realized how out of shape I became in St. Petersburg until I climbed to the top of the dome of the Smolny Cathedral and was sore for the next three days! More than anything, I just enjoy a good view and to get a good view, you usually need to go up.
Including Smolny, by my count, I have climbed to the top of 22 buildings, hills or other climbable things. Of everything I have climbed, I would have to say my three favorite views were from the tower of St. Olav’s church in Tallinn, the dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, and the rocks in the Stolby Nature Reserve outside of Krasnoyarsk, Russia.
My least favorite? The view from St. Peter’s Church Tower in Riga during a snowstorm – not my brightest moment.
2.Take pictures of churches.
I have taken thousands of pictures in the last six months. While I haven’t done any sort of official count, I would guess that the largest percentage are of churches. I find this a little ironic considering I am really not religious at all. However, throughout Russia and Eastern Europe (and really, throughout Europe in general), churches tend to be some of the most interesting and attractive historical sites to visit. This is especially true when it comes to Russian Orthodox churches with their colorful domes and golden iconostasis.
3. Walk. Walk. Walk.
Even when I am at home in Chicago, I enjoy walking. There, my theory is that if I can get there by walking in under thirty minutes, I will walk. The same has held true on this trip – especially because there really is no better way to get a feel for a city than by walking around. I have walked around aimlessly, just enjoying being lost. I have walked with purpose, trying to find specific destinations. And I sometimes have ended up walking much further than I anticipated because I read a map wrong or underestimated the distance – or because I couldn’t figure out how to get somewhere by public transport!
4. Eat really crappy food.
I would love to say that I have eaten well on this trip but I really haven’t. It is extremely hard to eat well and on a budget and stay gluten-free at the same time. I also happen to be a horrible cook. Actually, I take that back. I can be a good cook when I am at home, have a recipe in front of me and have access to the ingredients and cookware that I need (including an oven or a stove!). Unfortunately, cooking in hostels is not often conducive to that – they often lack the right pots and pans (or any pots and pans) and some places have even been missing an oven and stove altogether. It is also hard to stock up on fresh ingredients when the hostel refrigerator is already packed or I will be moving on in a few days and would have to let stuff go to waste – or they aren’t readily available!
Thus, I have had a ridiculous number of meals consisting of rice, frozen or canned vegetables and hot dogs. Yuck, I know.
I have also eaten a lot of chocolate – I think my chocolate budget comes out to about $1.50 per day (which may not sound like a lot, but in places where a large Snickers bar is about 80 cents, it kind of is). The thing about chocolate is that I know what is safe – I know M&Ms and Snickers are gluten-free and most other snack alternatives often are not. So when I am out sightseeing in the middle of the day and I find myself getting hungry but there is no place for an actual lunch nearby, grabbing a Snickers tends to be the best alternative.
But I have a feeling when I get home, I won’t want to go anywhere near another Snickers for a very long time.
5. Visit war memorials.
While I anticipated visiting a lot of museums and seeing a lot of churches during the first half of my trip, I did not realize how many war memorials would be on the agenda. What I quickly learned is that, in the former Soviet Union, World War II is known as the Great Patriotic War. That and Russia’s defeat of Napoleon in 1812 are celebrated as possibly the country’s greatest two achievements. Everywhere I went I found not just one, but often multiple, memorials honoring those who lost their lives between 1941 and 1945.
The thing about traveling solo is that it gives you a lot of time to think. I mean, a LOT of time. This can be both good and bad. It can be good in the sense that you have the opportunity to focus on issues that maybe you didn’t give full attention to back home and being away can give you a new and different perspective.
It can be bad in that you can end up thinking too much – which tends to be what I do. So I have spent hours thinking about everything from failed relationships to failed non-relationships to what I left behind to what I am doing next – next week, next month and next year! I have probably analyzed every single aspect of my life with a fine tooth comb but have yet to make any earth-shattering conclusions or come to any major revelations about anything.
But when I do, I will be sure to let you know.
Have you traveled long-term? What do you find yourself doing the most?