As I traveled through the former Soviet Union on my career break, I didn’t just write blog posts; I kept a journal as well. I wasn’t always great about keeping up with it, but it was a good outlet to write about things that didn’t really merit their own blog post (or things that I just didn’t feel like sharing at the time).
I stumbled across my journal this weekend and had a nice time reflecting on a lot of experiences and feelings from my career break travels that long ago slipped my mind. I thought I’d share a few – unedited:
On deciding to stick out my difficult homestay in St. Petersburg:
I got home Wednesday night to find the kids had totally cleaned out my room – and then Sveta surprised me by buying me gluten free chocolate chip cookies and gluten free pasta. So nice of her! And she was so excited about it. And Phillip came to see me and chat and was super sweet. So – I decided to stick it out. I’m almost halfway through as it is and the kids are growing on me. And really, I have plenty of free time and now that I have Natasha’s modem for internet, things aren’t so bad. I’ve started showering in the evenings to avoid Uncle Zhenya and I managed to do laundry again tonight on my own. I may not be getting tutoring experience, but I am getting an experience!
On my first overnight train experience in Russia (from Veliky Novgorod to Moscow):
Got to the train station about an hour before the train was set to leave. It started boarding about 30 minutes ahead of time. I made a quick 10 ruble stop in the bathroom before boarding and I quickly wished I hadn’t – I opened the stall door to find a SQUAT toilet! WAS NOT expecting that!
It took me a while to find my carriage – I didn’t see numbers anywhere on the outside of the cars so I had to keep asking. I got on board and struggled to pull my bags through the tiny hallway. Then I got to my compartment and a girl was standing outside of it with the door closed – apparently someone was inside changing. Now, I had naively really been hoping to have a compartment to myself. So I was disappointed to see it full with 3 others who all were Russian and seemed to be together. It was also extremely tight quarters. And I had the bottom bunk so initially people were just hanging out sitting on the bottom bunks and I wondered how I would nicely ask them to move at some point so I could lay down and sleep.
On going out to a Moscow nightclub:
Last Friday was a disaster. Tim and Olya decided to take me to a nightclub. I just really didn’t want to go – I had it set in my brain from the get-go that it would be horrible. I mean, I’m not a huge fan of clubs at home – I never feel like I fit in, they feel super pretentious and are way too crowded. I imagined a club in Moscow being even worse – I had particularly heard about “face control” and how strict they are about letting people in based on looks. At this point on the road, I’m feeling particularly unattractive. I haven’t been working out, have been eating horribly and feel flabby. I also didn’t have any clothes with me that were anywhere close to appropriate – all the women there were in super high heels and mini-dresses. Not to mention, not being able to straighten my hair like I would at home. I just felt like I looked like crap.
We went with Tim’s sister and her husband. She knows the owner of the club – the Gipsy Club – and that was how we were able to get in. We even had to carry plastic bottles with ribbons on them to show the bouncers to let us in.
There was actually an American rapper, Xibit, performing – he’s apparently big on MTV. The crowd went nuts for him and I admit I think I probably would’ve had a good time if I’d been with fun people I really knew and liked, if I was dressed appropriately and if I’d had more to drink. A similar night back in Chicago with Elaine or Allie, Nancy & Korinne probably would’ve been a blast.
On a great conversation with my guide in Ulan Ude, Russia:
Olga shared a lot about her personal life and how she wants to see the world but she feels like she can’t because her husband doesn’t want to. She told me she couldn’t sleep the night before, she was so excited about guiding me because she loves to meet foreigners, especially Americans. She talked a lot about the local culture and traditions and how people don’t realize what else is out there and how people have a warped view that things were far better in Soviet times. She also explained that the government promotes an anti-Americanism, trying to make people jealous of and hate Americans.
On realizing how guarded I can be:
It’s funny, one of the things I’ve really realized is how guarded and cautious I can be when I travel – especially when it comes to going out. At home, if I lose my wallet it’s not big deal – if it happened abroad, it’s a near disaster. If I lose the people I’m with in a strange city, I don’t want to deal with finding my way back to where I’m staying alone – or get caught with a shady cab driver. Even if I find people to go out with, there’s no guarantee they have my back – it all makes me nervous so I play it very safe.
On meeting guys along the way:
April: I don’t want my last few days to be consumed by stress over [a guy] but I think it will likely still happen. It’s tough because I know he’s a bit shy but at the same time, I feel like I’ve given him opportunities if he was really interested. I guess I just hope before I leave Sunday something will happen to give me some sort of definitive answer. And then I’ll know what to expect and can adjust my expectations when I return in June. Ugh, I’m thinking way too much. I’m trying to justify everything to myself. I need to just enjoy everything at face value.
May: I keep daydreaming about seeing [the guy] again but I am sure reality will not live up. I know I need to lower my expectations, which is easier said than done. I probably like him more than anyone since [another guy], which is saying a lot. I’m scared he may have lost interest or worse – met someone else. Ugh ugh ugh. This is why I shouldn’t meet guys when I travel…
July: Started thinking about guys again with all my downtime – and of course [the guy]. Ugh! Why can’t I get him out of my head?? I’m trying to take some comfort in the fact that while on this trip I at least have managed to in some way attract the attention of 3 guys, for however short it may be. And at least 2 are still in touch, through Twitter and/or Facebook. I would venture to guess I may never hear from [the guy] again in all likelihood – which makes me kinda wish nothing had ever happened because then we could’ve just left and stayed good friends. Oh well. I need to forget it.
On arriving at an awesome hotel in Tashkent, Uzbekistan after a month in rural Tajikistan:
Now I am at the Hotel Uzbekistan – a nice hotel that I booked for half price. I have a huge queen bed! And a working flatscreen TV! And a balcony on the 16th floor! And they have free wifi! And a concierge! And a restaurant! I’m in heaven. So thrilled I’m here 8 days – it’s exactly what I need!
On an encounter with a super helpful guy in Bukhara, Uzbekistan:
I needed to get a SIM card in Bukhara. The line at Beeline was too long so I went to UCell. They guy there said that store couldn’t sell to foreigners but offered to drive me to their headquarters. There, they had issues with my hotel registrations not being stamped in my passport and didn’t want to sell to me, so the guy used his passport to sign me up for a card! Nice! Then he drove me back to the center and gave me his number in case I needed any help. I mentioned looking for a taxi to the border and he said he’d see what he could do. I thanked him and he told me this – “I have been to other countries and people have helped me. So when people visit my country, I think I should help them. They are my guest.”
On a crazy night out in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan:
Bene (French girl), Sylvain (French guy) and I went for dinner at a shashlik place and got a bottle of Moldovan wine. As we ate, a drunk, deaf, mute guy at the next table took a liking to me and insisted on taking a picture together and even wrote me a note. And he kept giving me this sign to call him – even though he’s deaf and mute! Then, when we left, he waited for us and followed us! We went into a supermarket and finally ditched him before going on to a bar/restaurant called the Caravan. And then we started drinking vodka – a lot of it! I think we did 3 or 4 shots in about 15 minutes! As the night went on, we started dancing and made friends with a group of Kyrgyz girls who gave us more shots. Then Sylvain and I started dancing together and went to the bar to do another shot and the Kyrgyz girls seemed to think we were together because they were making hearts with their fingers at us. And then at some point we all went back to the yurt camp. No one remembers that at all.