Two Months of Travel

St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.

Happy Halloween!

From what I can tell, Halloween is not exactly huge in Moscow. If it wasn’t for my friends’ Facebook posts over the weekend with their costumes and their kids’ costumes, I probably wouldn’t even know what day it is.

That’s what happens after being on the road for two months.

This will start to sound redundant, but I honestly feel like it was just yesterday that I wrote about my first month on the road.

One month ago, I was about halfway through my homestay in St. Petersburg. It got off to a rough start, but after a couple weeks I managed to settle into a routine and ended up leaving with some good memories and lessons learned.

After my homestay finished, I spent five days at the Apple Hostel in the center of St. Petersburg. In those five days, I lost my ATM card, spent a rainy day at Tsarskoe Selo, got my ATM card back, saw a ballet at the historic Mariinsky Theatre, enjoyed a sunny day at Petrodvorets, took a tour of the Yusupov Palace in Russian, saw disgusting displays of deformed fetuses at the Kustkamera Museum (everyone told me I just had to go!) and watched the bridges open over the Neva River at 1 a.m.

Next up was three days in Novgorod – an ancient, sleepy town about 4 hours outside of St. Petersburg and on the way to Moscow. I treated myself to a hotel with free wi-fi in my room and a massive breakfast buffet.

I think I ate more on my first morning there than I had been eating in an entire day.

I also was able to participate as a panelist in the Meet, Plan, Go event in Chicago via Skype (at 4 a.m. my time!) and catch up with my parents for the first time over Skype (gotta love technology!).


Heading to Moscow about a week and a half ago, I took my first overnight train in Russia, which gave me a small preview of what to expect what I set off on the Trans-Siberian next week.

Like most of my trip so far, I have had my share of ups and downs in Moscow.

Up: Arriving on a beautiful, sunny day and spending hours walking across the city, feeling like it was not nearly as overwhelming or crowded as I expected.

Down: Struggling with a nasty cold and cough for the first few days I was here.

Up: Meeting up with a law school classmate, his girlfriend and some of his friends for dinner and drinks. It was so nice to see a familiar face!

Up: Spending the day at the Kremlin Cup tennis tournament, watching the women’s and men’s semi-finals and the women’s doubles final.

Down: After that first day of sun, the next nine days were completely cloudy.

Up: Tim and Olya, the couple hosting me for 2 weeks of my stay here, have been great – their flat is modern and comfortable (with indoor plumbing! and heat!) They also have been enthusiastic about showing me around Moscow. We went to a light show in Red Square, visited the Golden Ring town of Sergiev Posad on Saturday and yesterday, with the sun shining again(!!), we went to the imperial estate of Arkhangelskoe and then to Victory Park.

The Circle of Lights Festival light show in Red Square.

Down: It may be shallow or silly, but I have reached a point where I am feeling horribly unattractive. Wearing the same six outfits repeatedly, not having my normal hair and skin care products and not exercising regularly (or at all!) for the last two months will do that. On top of that, Tim and Olya took me to a Moscow nightclub Friday night, where I was surrounded by tall, thin, perfect-looking, highly fashionable women – I felt like I stood out like a sore thumb and was overcome by self-consciousness.

Up: The day after going to the nightclub, I got a much-needed haircut – which I think is actually better than almost any haircut I have gotten in Chicago.  Also, staying in a comfortable flat with my own room has allowed me to start a strength-training routine to try to get into shape again – I just need to keep it up when I am back staying in hostels! And stop eating so much chocolate…

Showing off my new haircut in Sergiev Posad.

Down: I have also reached a point where I am a bit homesick. Not so much for home – but for my friends at home.  I read this blog post yesterday and even though it is written by an expat who moved overseas, it sums up my feelings perfectly: “I never expected that I would have to try really hard to communicate with people far away, and in the process, I would realize that some people far away wouldn’t want to continue communicating with me.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am soooo grateful for the encouragement and support I have received from many of you throughout my trip thus far. And I am flattered to receive emails from people I don’t even know telling me they are inspired by what I am doing or just enjoy reading this blog. But it has been disappointing that I have heard so little from those I have called my friends over the last ten years. I feel like I have done what I can to reach out to people, but with minimal response. Perhaps I should be trying harder, but I guess I hoped they would try as well.

Up: I have to end this on an up note, right? I have one week left in Moscow and it should be a good one – sightseeing with Olya during the week and then a day trip to the Golden Ring town of Suzdal on Friday; going to the Fed Cup final between Russia and the Czech Republic on Sunday; and then flying to Vladivostok to start the Trans-Siberian leg of my Russia trip on Monday night.

Check back later this week for my full Trans-Siberian itinerary – 7 cities in 28 days!

9 thoughts on “Two Months of Travel”

  1. The last Down comment resonates pretty strong with us too. I suppose it’s to be expected, after all our friendships were based on frequent face to face encounters. Even with all the technology we have, it’s hard to mimic sitting in someone’s basement, sharing a glass of scotch, and complaining about the weather, politics, or significant others.

  2. Bit of a rollercoaster, but as has been mentioned better to be on it instead of just watching and wishing you were on it. The downs suck!! Though they can be seen to highlight the good things.

    The friends thing is a tough one. I certainly had friends in the US and have lost contact with some of them. Each person’s life conspires to tie them up and keep them involved in the life. Without daily/weekly contact sometimes people fade. “I should email her. I will when I get time.” kind of thoughts. This said, i have people that I didn’t really keep so close touch with in the US. Though when I went back to visit they were certainly happy to see me. Partially, as Ali says they can’t related quite as well, but most of my friends do still care.

    I imagine this is true for you as well. If you went back into your old life, your friends would welcome you. Though you might find you don’t relate to them the same way due to experiences either. This doesn’t mean they don’t care.

  3. I’m glad you have so many positives here 🙂 I’m sorry to hear about your friends who haven’t been very responsive. I wonder if it’s just a natural, but unintentional, result of changing paths and experiences? Maybe they just can’t relate to what you’re doing and start shifting away. I wonder about what will happen with my friends at home too. I’ll admit I haven’t been the best at keeping in touch with them (culture shock is a bitch) but I can easily see that some friendships will probably drift away. But if you’re actively reaching out and not getting responses….well that just sucks. I hope things improve, and I can’t wait to hear about the Trans-Siberian!

    1. Thanks Ali! I was actually afraid it might be overly negative, but I want to be honest/realistic about my experiences.

      It’s hard to say with the friends – even just getting comments on the blog or on Facebook would be nice. I know the time difference is tough and for a while when my internet was limited it was hard to post or be online when friends at home were. So I’m sure some stuff just got lost in the shuffle. But then I sent out an update email a couple weeks ago to about 20 friends and I think I got maybe 6 responses, which really bummed me out. But like I said in the post, I am sooooo incredibly grateful to the people who are reading and the new friends I am making in the process. My “travel” friends have been great! 🙂

  4. Katie, I can’t wait to hear about your trans siberian journey!! PS, it scares me to hear that you haven’t been able to run. It is one of my biggest fears, since exercise is crucial for my mental health! I hope there continues to be more ups than downs.

    1. Kim – running is totally possible, I just kinda made a before-the-fact decision not to keep at it after I did the Tallinn Marathon. I ran several times in Finland and Estonia before that and it was great. But, my running shoes were shot after the marathon and I knew I’d have to buy a pair of winter boots in Russia, so something had to give – I just wouldn’t have room for both. I also don’t normally run a lot in the winter, so I figured since a good part of my trip will be in winter, it wasn’t worth keeping my shoes.

      I have a resistance band with me and I’ve managed to do some good strength workouts (with some kickboxing moves!) several days a week since I’ve been in my Moscow homestay. I just need to manage to keep it up when I’m staying in a hostel dorm. 🙂

  5. Katie — I have been following your blog and your adventure and you are so inspiring! Thanks for sharing the ups and downs — there are bound to be plenty of both! And remember, you have saved for this and planned for this for a long time. So I have to guess that even your worst day on the road, is probably still better than if you stayed home and decided not to create your own adventure at all 😉 Safe travels!

    1. Thanks for the comment Lori and thanks for following along! And you are absolutely right, even on the worst days, I’d rather be here than back in Chicago working. 🙂

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