Wow, has it already been a month?
In some ways, it feels like the last month has flown by.
In other ways, it feels like it has been forever since I was in Chicago, enjoying last meals of Mexican food and margaritas and tapas and sangria.
If you haven’t been following along since the beginning (shame on you!), here is a quick recap:
I arrived in Helsinki, Finland in the middle of a drizzly rain on Tuesday afternoon, August 31.
During my 3 days in Finland, I stayed at a hostel for the first time, enjoyed some peace and quiet at Suomenlinna Fortress, explored the Helsinki Zoo and went to my first international football (i.e., soccer) match, a Eurocup 2012 qualifying match between Finland and Moldova at Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium.
On Saturday, September 3, I took a fast ferry to Tallinn, Estonia.
In Estonia, I sort of learned how to folk dance at the Estonian Open Air Museum, got lost too many times to count in Tallinn, spent 3 days in the town of Kuressaare doing mostly nothing and, oh yeah, ran a marathon on September 11, achieving a new personal best time.
While Finland and Estonia were great, I still felt like I was on a short vacation during those first two weeks. I had a limited amount of time and I tried to cram in as much sightseeing as I possibly could.
I feel like my journey really began when I entered Russia on September 12.
I have been in Russia for nearly 3 weeks and it has been a series of ups and downs. I am here in St. Petersburg through a volunteer program with Geovisions called Conversation Corps. The premise is that I am living with a family and spending time tutoring them in conversational English each day. Through the same program, I also signed up for 2 weeks of Russian language classes to refresh the 3 years of Russian I took in college (which was a long time ago!). If you follow me on Twitter or are a fan on Facebook, then you know that things have not gone as I expected – I will post more on that later once I have completed my homestay. That being said, I have settled into a routine and the overall experience will be one that I never forget.
Some highlights, lowlights and facts from my first month:
Happiest moment: running the Tallinn Marathon
Second happiest moment: discovering gluten-free hamburger buns at McDonald’s in Helsinki.
Most peaceful moment: sitting on the rocks eating a picnic lunch at Suomenlinna Fortress in Helsinki.
Toughest moment: most of my first 2 days in St. Petersburg.
First time I cried: my first night in St. Petersburg.
Favorite food: the gluten free raspberry torta I had at a cafe in Helsinki.
Favorite city: Despite my rocky start, definitely St. Petersburg. I seriously could live here.
Thing I miss the most from home: the last 3 weeks, I have really missed having a full bathroom in my condo and central heat.
Total miles traveled by air, boat and bus: 4,891 (give or take a few)
Total pictures taken and edited: 440 (I tend to delete pictures I don’t like once I see them on the computer, so deletions aren’t included)
Total Snickers bars consumed: A lot. Maybe I should start keeping track.
- 2 short sleeve t-shirts (both kind of dingy, was planning to ditch them once I hit cool weather)
- a white camisole that got discolored doing laundry in Tallinn
- black skirt that I realized I will never wear
- running shoes (that was the plan after I finished the marathon)
- REI pack duffle bag (while this was great to protect my backpack when I checked it on my flight to Helsinki, it was horribly big and awkward to carry around and even when packed up, takes up too much room. Given that I don’t expect to take more than about 3 more flights this entire trip, I had to toss it).
Items used the most:
- Marmot rain jacket, worn nearly every day (it rains a lot in northern Europe this time of year!)
- Kindle with 3G (great for internet access when no wi-fi is available).
Items I wish I packed from the beginning:
- a small sewing kit (I desperately need one now and cannot find one anywhere!)
- bug spray (I heard mosquito season would be dying down by the time I hit St. Petersburg in mid-September, but that has definitely not been the case).
Major items purchased:
- winter jacket – on sale for $80
- fleece lined black khaki pants, just $30 (these give me a fairly warm non-jeans option)
- fleece gloves and a hat for a total of $10 (who says everything is expensive in Russia??)
- Russian-English dictionary and Russian grammar book to accompany my language classes.
Looking ahead to the next month
What is up next? Well, I have changed things up a bit (yes, even the craziest of planners can change plans!) and am spending a few extra days in St. Petersburg at the end of my homestay, followed by a couple days in Novgorod before heading to Moscow. I am doing the same Geovisions program in Moscow, but I have cut it back to 2 weeks instead of a full month. I will be in Moscow for a few days on my own before moving in with my host family on October 23.
I hope you continue to follow along!