One Month on the Road!

Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Moscow
 

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.

Items discarded:

  • 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!

 

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7 thoughts on “One Month on the Road!”

  1. That’s quite a lot for your first month! Congratulations on that first milestone, we’ve enjoyed following along. Glad to hear that you’re loving St. Petersburg now after the rough start you had there – and what is it about Snickers when you’re on the road?? We also tend to have quite a few at times, and we NEVER ate them back home.

    1. Thanks! Glad you’ve enjoyed the adventure so far! And yes, St. Petersburg is an awesome, awesome city. Despite all the issues with my living situation, I will be sad to leave. I have a feeling I won’t like Moscow quite as much (but who knows, I could be wrong…trying to keep an open mind!)

  2. Phew! What a month! 🙂 I have been following along from the beginning and I was wondering how things were going since the rocky start to your homestay. Glad to hear that things are looking up and that you are having a great time in St. Petersburg. I default to gummi and/or marshmallow candies on the road! LOL
    If you are somewhere it is easy to get mail, I could mail you a sewing kit as I probably have 10 in a drawer that I have picked up from various hotels. Ha! 😀

    1. Thanks Lindsey! I’ll have more about my first month in Russia soon – it’s been hard to keep up with such limited internet access and I wanted to save some things until I had a bit more perspective.

      I would love to take you up on the offer of a sewing kit but I have a feeling, with the way mail is in Russia, it may arrive long after I’m gone! 🙂 Good news is, I found a travel store this morning that sells travel sewing kits – albeit for $11!

  3. Fascinating – I really would like to travel to Russia- but I thought it was still pretty much organised tour only. Would be interested in a post on how to do it as a independent travelller – or does the volunteering get you around the visas situation.

    Cool tip about using the Kindle when there is no WIFI!

  4. Read a lot now. GREAT, true experiences.- The comparison St. Petersburg // Moscow always remembers me what I felt when I went to the USA in the 80s:

    San Francisco and New York.

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