Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Pre-Russia Musings

At this moment it is9:25am in St. Petersburg, -16 degrees Celsius (3 Fahrenheit), and the sun has yet to rise. I am lying in bed in Virginia, where the weather is +8 (46F), 4 and a half days before my trip to that dark and frozen land and I am absolutely terrified! Or at least very nervous about my winter break trip. Even though this will be my second trip to Russia, it is going to be very different than last time when I spent 3.5 days attempting to sightsee in freezing rain and a borrowed jacket over my light sweater which clearly indicated that Russia and I have very different ideas of "spring". This trip will be two weeks with my boyfriend and his family in St. Petersburg= two weeks of below freezing temperatures and barely seven hours of sunlight daily, two weeks of putting my Russian language skills to the ultimate test, two weeks of total immersion, two weeks of getting to know and attempting to impress strangers with whom I don't even have language in common...but I'm also excited! The romance of a Russian winter complete with horse drawn sleighs, a trip to the Mariinsky for the opera, women swathed in furs gliding gracefully across icy streets in stilettos while I totter behind them in my snow boots, snow flakes the size of nickels balancing on my eyelids. It really has the potential to be a magical trip if I do it right, and I feel like I kind of have something to prove to everyone who scoffs at and disapproves of my choice of how to spend my winter vacation. So here I go, off once again into the unknown! I hope I like the food)))

Note: I'm just now posting this, but it was written just after midnight on the 23rd

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Wien. Not wine, mom, see the difference? Wien (pronounced "veen") is the German spelling of the lovely capital of Austria, Vienna!
I spent 2 nights and 1.5-ish days. Highlights of the trip?
  • Finally getting to see Roman!
    • He met me at the train station in Vienna after traveling 155.79 miles from Prague on my best train journey so far (see my last post about getting here).
    •  It was such a wonderful moment to see him again for the first time since July...and I was so incredibly nervous!
    • We took the metro from the train station and walked to the hostel from there. I had kind of wanted to go out and do a little exploration of the 10pm culture of this vibrant European capital! But my better judgement decided against that as we saw our hostel (as hostels tend to be) was more on the outskirts of the city and it was SO cold. Less miserable weather than Prague since at least it wasn't raining, but the wind was biting and the promise of a warm building was too inviting to turn down.
    • At first it was strange to be able to have a conversation with Roman without straining to hear through the static of Skype or watching his face blink in and out every few seconds, but soon it became so normal and just like our virtual conversations, we have so much in common- with just enough disagreements to keep in interesting- and we never run out of things to talk about)))
  •  Stephansdom
    • One of the most beautiful cathedrals of the trip, and definitely comparable to some of the ones in Prague. We went at night and colored lights were shining on the outside of the building and gave it a sort of eerie feel.
    • On the inside, everything seemed to be on fire in a beautiful way. It was so dark, lit mostly by the hundreds of candles that visitors could light in memory or prayer. 
    • Roman and I had a really wonderful conversation about Protestantism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy. We discussed the differences, the similarities, the overarching theme that connections not just those but all religions- love. There is a distinct difference between God and religion...visiting such an array of places of worship really helps you understand that.
  • Kaiserschmarrn
    • I love this food. Best dessert ever. I have been waiting to try this for almost two years since I first read about the pancake-like pastries filled with raisins, topped with powdered sugar, and apparently served with a bowl of fresh delicious jam!
There just wasn't enough time in Vienna...next time, I will go when it's warmer)) And I'm definitely planning on there being a next time. 

"Promiňte, kde je..."

*I sincerely apologize for not blogging for so long. Honestly, when you're traveling you don't want to be stuck behind a computer and as the type of writer that I am, I struggle with just making a short update...BUT here I am, back in the USA and finally readjusted enough to relive the glorious days I spent in Europe last month. So here we go

The Train
because it's all about transportation.
  • Very interesting. First of all, I used my Eurail pass for the trip and it was terribly nerve-racking because despite the assurance of the Internet before I bought the pass, few conductors seemed to recognize the pass at first glance. Thankfully, they mostly just took my word that it was legit and moved on. 
  • Finding the train in the city center was an adventure within itself. In probably one of the scariest (see Strasbourg for the other) moments of my trip, I got absolutely hopelessly lost in a Prague suburb while attempting to get to the city center to catch my train. In my state of terror I forgot that I had a certain amount of data on my phone I could have used to look up a map or something, so I was flying blind. Basically: Radek met me in the city center the day before and took me to his family's apartment in a suburb about an hour's train ride to the bus station, 15 minutes on a bus to his neighborhood, then a 5 minute walk to his apartment complex, and then 4 flights of stairs (this is important). While we journeyed he clearly pointed out the route I would need to take the following morning to get back to the city center...I was foolish enough to think that remembering "the bus stop is kind of within sight of the little Chinese fruit market" would be enough. The next day I left the apartment later than I wanted to, which basically meant I had one chance to catch the bus to the train station in the next 10 minutes or have to wait another hour. I descended the flights of stairs...how many was it again, 2? Okay, all the doors look the same. I'll try this one...oh, hello someone's front hallway! Voices? Run. It must have been 3 flights. I go down one more, this door looks a little different, I'll try here...hello, sinister heavy machinery storage closet. The pipes are rattling louder than a jet? Run. Maybe it was 4...maybe I'll never escape this building...FINALLY I got outside. Ha. Then, I had to find the bus station. I won't recount every mistaken step I took, but basically by wandering in circles for about 20 minutes and pointing at words in my phrasebook to the few bundled up annoyed old ladies I passed on the street. I eventually found a bus, the wrong bus, but the driver seemed to understand my need to get to the city center so I just got on his bus and waited for instructions. While I clutched my phrasebook for dear life the old man in the seat across from me stared. I wasn't sure if he was appalled by my intrusion into his peaceful Friday morning, amused by my total failure in regards to direction and speech, contemplating dusting off his high school English and breaching the language barrier (I wish I had tried, but I was paralyzed by fear), or sizing me up to see how much of a fight I would put up...In any occasion, the bus driver managed to motion to me after 30 or so minutes that this was my stop. I was the only one to get off there, and I saw nothing in sight that resembled a train station. My first instinct was to crumple on the broken pavement and sob, but thankfully I mustered enough courage to pick a direction and start walking. As soon as I passed the little wall of trees on my right I saw the golden temple (read: broken windows and graffiti covered tunnel) of the train station!! I vaguely recognized the name of the station and I knew it wasn't the station I was looking for but I didn't care as long as it took me somewhere. But life had another trick up its sleeve...every sign at the station was in Czech, and most were abbreviations that my phrasebook did not include. I was able to understand that there were two trains- one going towards Prague and one heading out into the country. It did not mention, however, which train came to which of the two tracks. I waited nervously at the deserted station for almost half an hour before a tired looking woman approached and she became my savior in a mix of broken English and Czech. I eventually realized that the bus had brought me one station past the one I was supposed to go to, but I am eternally grateful to that bus driver and the lady at the train station because without them I would probably still be wandering those freezing streets. My backpack was heavy. It was cold. And windy. And raining. And every muscle in my body was tensed in terror for a fight or flight response...but in hindsight, I think it was one of the experiences I'm most grateful for from my trip. It wasn't planned, there was no easy solution, I was absolutely forced to use my Czech, and I succeeded. Now I am more confident, more knowledgeable, and more humble with my assertions that "Yes, of course I remember the way"...because I can almost guarantee that I don't))
  • I wandered around Prague some more and saw the beautiful Strahov Monastery for less than $5! This day contained an immense amount of walking, running, rain-dodging, freaking out, and finally the wonderful train ride that took me to Vienna!
  • The reason the ride was so wonderful is because after about 30 minutes I was sure I was in the right place, headed in the right direction, and the compartment was great. I shared a small room with 5 other passengers, a few who were replaced once or twice as the train stopped in towns in Cz and Austria. (I saw Brno through the window!) One other man took the train all the way to Vienna and he and I struck up a conversation. He lives in Vienna and was attending a work conference on public policy in Dresden, Germany (the origin of the train). We talked about my travels and he gave me some advice on Vienna. When he saw me trying to restore my appearance to normal human status, he deduced that I was going to meet my boyfriend and seemed genuinely interested in my well being and got more and more excited with me as we counted down the minutes to the final station. My first experience with the Viennese people was excellent! Something I've learned through traveling is the ability to and opportunities for making "friendships" with adults. When I'm traveling I am mature and confident and able to engage in meaningful and complex conversations with other people, regardless of age or status. I'm not a child, not a student, not an adult because these categories exist only in a vague, indefinite, introductory sense. On a long train ride in a small compartment the divides between people that define my life at home and school so clearly- age, occupation, clothes, money, accent, car- all disappear. I can be exactly who I want to be without falling into the traps of conformity or propriety because there is no "standard" to mold yourself into when you're not even sure what language to say "excuse me" in when brushing passed people in the narrow aisles. That is what makes train travel- and travel in general such a rewarding experience.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Czeching In to Praha

          I left Germany Wednesday night and took a veryy long overnight train- City Night Line 495!- to the Golden City of Prague. There was a small ordeal with getting my train reservation since I had a Eurail pass...basically Sarah and her dad saved my butt from not having a train to Prague at all. I am extremely grateful to them for their help, and eventually I found myself safely on CNL 495. I had the second cheapest sleeping option with six bunks in one little cabin. And it was extremely little, there was barely enough room for one person to stand in the space between the bunks! See what it basically looked like here- but that picture is actually nicer than my train was. You couldn't sit up in bed either, so the whole time you're forced to either lay on your back, lay on your stomach, lay on your side, dangle one leg into the space between bunks, or pace in the aisle outside the cabin. I choose mostly options 2 and 5 since I really wanted to see the countryside pass by (since I'd never seen Eastern Germany) and a giant Chinese man and his mail order bride had pretty much laid claim to option 4. Well I made it through the hot, sweaty, suffocating, clausterphobic night without too much discomfort and arrived in Prague just before 11 am. I was thankfully able to leave my backpack at my host's work place in the city so I could roam burden free. And roam I did! I walked almost the entire city, my first day I did the East bank of the Vltava which includes the two quarters Staré Město (old town) and Nové Město (new town). Staré Město is where a lot of touristy things are such as the Powder Tower, one end of Karlovy Most (Charles Bridge), the Astronomical Clock and all the other delights of Old Town Sqaure, and Josefov the old Jewish district. Nové Město has a cool mall...haha it's not very touristy but Wenceslas Square and the long, broad boulevard that leads up to it is nice. (I have pictures of everything that will be on Facebook!) 
The next day I did the West bank with Mala Strana (the lesser quarter) and Hradčany (loosely "Castle town"). I saw a lot of great sites here like Prague Castle, Strahov Monastery, "embassy row", St Nicholas Cathedral, and Karlovy Most. 
I think I did much too much to talk about it all but it was a good time for sure and exhausting. 

I walked so much. Honestly, I walked everywhere and traversed more ground than I thought possible but it was a wonderful experience just exploring on my own! 
  • There was a constant cold wind and on and off raining...I saw the sun once
  • I have zero pictures of myself in Prague since I was alone and had no one to take pictures of me!
  • It was admitedly a little lonely, especially while eating
  • KGB Museum! 
    • For the price of approximately $10 I got a personal tour of the one room "museum" from the die-hard Soviet owner. The highlight of the museum was undoubtedly the collection of KGB photos in the Czech Republic taped to a sheet hanging on the wall. $10 well spent and I definitely recomend it for the benefit of meeting the owner alone.What a character!  ;)
  • Prague Castle
    • I didn't get around to it the last time I was in Prague, but I think despite the rain and the arduous trek up the MOUNTAIN it sits atop that it was worth it. The castle itself is stunning and really quite imposing and the area around it is facsinating, filled with "palaces" that were once the residences of courtisans and aristocrats. 
  • Speaking Czech
    • I really love the language and it was great to have the opportunity again to practice with native speakers
  • Mala Strana
    • I think my favorite quarter in Prague, I got to really explore it on this trip. It actually reminds me a little of San Francisco. Kind of edgy, lots of university-type hang out spots, and the river is visible from lots of hilltops.
So basically, Prague was wonderful! I think for a solo trip I had just the right amount of time there, and as always the food was delicious- I actually tried sauerkraut and didn't absolutely hate it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


First of all, I apologize for not posting in so long! If you have ever tried to write a blog, you might understand, but it just kind of gets in the way sometimes. You come home late from a long day of touring, shower, eat something, collapse exauhsted into bed, and the last thing you want to do is go over the day again by typing it out on a tiny touch screen keyboard. However, due to popular demand, I have returned! I am cuurently in Helsinki waiting for the train to St Petersburg and will now reverse a little and give an account of my trip to Strasbourg! Sarah and I decided to take a little excursion to France since she lives just 10 minutes from the border, and we travelled to the lovely metropolitan city of Strasbourg. With the two of us combined we had about 32 words of French and 15 of them were numbers...so it was a challenge. But we made it to the city, and the drive through rural Alsace was so beautiful! I often think of French people with a very specific stereotype- wearing ruffled sweaters and berets, strolling along the bank of the Seine, a baguette in one hand and the leash of a precocious poodle in the other, swishing about and throwing disdainful glances at anyone without a perfect French accent. WELL this drive let me see a very different view of French life. We saw a lot of men on tractors, women (in non-designer brand clothing) pushing stollers and carrying bags of groceries through small towns, just a slow, honest, hard working life in general and it was good to see that side of France. When we got to Strasbourg we did all the typical touristy things. We saw the Parliament of Europe and all its satellite buildings with very interesting architechture. The city is wide and open, and the weather was perfect for enjoying all the parks and boulevards. We ended up walking in the opposite direction from the city center for like 10 minutes before realizing that our surroundings were getting less urban rather than more...and the adventures in French began! Surprisingly few people spoke either English or German so we resorted to hand gestures and bribes (okay, only one bribe). We managed to wrangle a bus back into the city center and bought our token choco-crossaints, saw several gorgeous churches and city government buildings as Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace, and then we "met" that guy. That Guy Sarah and I found a really sweet mini-park in the city center with cherry trees and blooming bushes and lots of pigeons! We strolled for a while, and all the time there were bikers zooming around us in every direction, all moving at light speed and kind of nerve wracking to be honest. We were constantly monitoring the ground in search of bike paths to avoid. One guy, however, seemed to be enjoying the trees and sunshine as Sarah and I were and just stood with his bike a few meters from us. I didn't pay him much attention until maybe 10 minutes later when we crossed the street to see the old university library that was under construction. Because of the construction work we couldn't go inside and were forced to walk around the corner down a smaller street. It was not an alley exactly but maybe a kind of residential street and no one else was there...except the man with the bike from the park. About half a block behind us, I realized it was kind of odd that we were seeing him again, that he would be on this little street, and that there was nothing to stop and see yet he still was riding very slowly on his bike. I mentioned it to Sarah though and she didn't seem concern so I just quickened our pace a little and got out into the full sunshine where other people were. We saw another church, went around a corner, crossed a bridge, and through all of that the guy on the bike was still behind us...always lurking just in the corner of our vision, riding his bike in circles or back and forth if we slowed down. We were getting pretty nervous at this point and decided to test our stalker to see if he reslly was following us so we stopped to take pictures for like 5 minutes and when we looked back to where he had been across the street- he was gone! Maybe, we thought, it was just our imagination running wild? We crossed the street to get a better view f the river and THERE HE WAS AGAIN! Definitely following us. With this absolutely creepy smile on his 30-something fave. I snapped a picture(I will post it to Facebook) and then we hopped on a bus and finally lost him. Close call...my first experience with a stalker. I guess I'll stay optomistic and say at least it was exciting! We stopped in Hagenau on the way home for some ice cream and then I packed for and (with ample help from Sarah and her family) I boarded the train that took me to Mannheim where I boarded the sleeper train that took me overnight to Prague! Which I will gush about in the next post...if I get around to blogging again before I get home)) But that was Strasbourg! Now to St. Petersburg. Better get all my smiles out on this side of the border. =))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

Monday, March 26, 2012

Cultural Differences

This post is going to be where I will record some of the things during this trip that have confused, surprised, or delighted me with their differences from what I'm used to experiencing in America. I'll organize it by country to make it more streamlined for my 12 or so readers  =p

  • The keyboard: I literally had to Google how to type @! And y and z are switched around so I often tzpe things like this when I'm tzping quicklz.
  • Shoes: Apparently if you walk around the house barefoot or in your socks, you're insane or stupid. Always wear shoes.
  • Pillows: American pillow look like this- short but long and full of stuffing. European pillows (I've noticed this here and in Czech Republic) look like this. I had no idea how to sleep on them at first.
  •  It's very common in Europe, but all water is carbonated. And bottled. I constantly am being offered bottles of mineral water and carbonated apple juice! I can't figure out if you are allowed to drink carbonated water after you brush your teeth at night...
  • Bread is highly revered and eaten with just about every meal
  • Windows in the ceiling! I really love this, especially the one in the bathroom. You can take a shower with the window wide open and no worries about anything)) (these are not skylights, don't get confused. I will put pictures on Facebok)
  • Eye brow waxing? Ha. We all have perfect eye brows in Deutschland, who needs this?
  • Be on time. (I struggle with this one)

Facebook message me or comment on this if you have any questions or anything you want me to comment on! I will update as I travel.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"I've never felt so German!"

Today, my second day in Germany, Sarah and I went to Heidelberg! The plan was to start in Heidelerg, see the castle, et some lunch, then finish the day in Mannheim before we had to head back. There was just so much in Heidelberg, though, we ended up staying there the whole time! After many adventures with the GPS we got a pretty good driving tour of the city- still as beautiful as I remember! It's a university town, so very hip with lots of young people and bars, cafes, shops, parks to entertain both students and tourists alike. The castle is the city's biggest attraction, probably one of the most romantic places I have ever been,it took my breath away in the middle of the day, I can't even imagine it at sunset! Although maybe it was hard to breathe because of the giant extremely steep hill we had to trek up to reach the castle...on the way down though, Sarah and I broke out some pretzels/bread that her mom had sent us with and as we strolled and tried to keep our balance, a torrent of American high schoolers on some kind of tour came flying down the hill screaming and pushing each other and acting so...negative stereotypical American =/ At that moment I felt such a contrast between myself and them. Here I am, also an American high school student for the record, strolling down a narrow cobblestone path eating a pretzel from the local bäckerie with a castle framing me in the background and the Neckar River flowing below me and I had never felt so separate from those raccous Americans. I turned to Sarah and literally said "I've never felt so German". It was a nice moment. Now I'm getting ready to go soak up some nightlife with Sarah and some of her friends in the next town over. Maybe I should have brought some clothes other than t-shirts and cargo pants...oh well, I'll figure something out! Bis später))

Poison and Reunion

I think my toothbrush may be poisoned... I bought one of the little folding travel toothbrushes and I think it's for little boys- green and blue, thick rubber handle etc. Well the maker must have had it out for male children because it tastes like straight up arsenic when I use it. Add "new toothbrush" to my shopping list. Speaking of shopping- that's how I spent my afternoon! Landed in Frankfurt around noon and Sarah met me at the airport. After a traipsing around probably the entire complex once or twice, we got me some Euro cash and activated my Eurail pass! Then Sarah and I went to a giant, beautiful almost-outdoor mall in the city. This mall honestly had everything from H&M and Primark to a drug store and florist/open air fruit market. It was also where I had my first meal of the trip. I wanted it to be authentic German, and lucky for me there was an Alpen-style bratwurst restaurant in the mall! It was designed to look like part of a ski lodge with carved "wooden" benches, "snow" on the roof of the kiosk-type restaurant, and little woodland creatures displayed about the area (A lovely compliment to the LIVE chick petting zoo in the center of the ground floor for Easter!). Anyway, my käsekrainer was sehr gut) Our shopping trip was pretty reminiscent of the exchange program, since that's about 60% of what we did haha Unfortunately, this time around I have no room in my backpack or my budget for shopping =/ So Sarah drove us back to Zweibrücken and I fell asleep in the car before we left Frankfurt. When I woke up, I was so shocked to see the countryside. I had forgotten how startlingly beautiful Rhineland-Pfaltz is! Low green rolling hills for miles in every direction off the Autobahn. Maybe it was just that stretch of road, but it seemed like every inch of that land was planted and manicured perfectly. There were no crumbling farm houses, overgrown yards, rusting out card...I really love the character those things give to an area, but this was really wonderful too. It's just a pretty big contrast. I am so glad to be back in this house)) Surrounded by memories of 2010- I noticed right away that it has the same scent, the multitudes of bottled water and appfelschorle (my favorite) offered to me, the little palm tree in "my" bedroom, the tiny tiny shower. All of it just makes it feel like home! Of course I miss everyone from home and wish I could share this with them, but I'm not lonely or uncomfortable. This was the perfect place to start my trip because it is so familiar. Staying up much too late is also familiar! In Germany I always got the sense that days are longer, I figured it was a mix of the 24 hour clock and the sun patterns, but maybe it's because I consistently lose track of time and end up awake past midnight)) So, I'm safe in Germany! My toothbrush is probably slowly poisoning me, but all in all- I ate sausage, pizza, and German pretzels (for Kirstyn!), drank appfelschorle, stumbled out some German with the family- I'm good and glad to be home away from home)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

T-minus 25 Hours

        It's really an interesting feeling to know that 48 hours from now I will be in Germany...coupled with the fact that I have three tests tomorrow before I am free. So my rational instincts are screaming at me from two angles- one telling me that I need to pack, there is still so much to buy, what about snacks, did you verify luggage dimension regulations? etc. while on the other side I'm hearing "LH, FSH, estrogen, progesterone" repeated steadily in the attempt to convince me to actually read the biology notes that have sat in front of me for the past hour. As I'm sure you've guessed, however, a third instinct has thus far dominated: procrastination! So I'm writing this blog, checking my e-mail, walking up and down the stairs nervously without actually going anywhere...but as soon as I finish this post I will get to studying, I promise!
Me and my Deuter on a test run
       I finally bought a backpack last weekend. It is a 60L internal frame Deuter, beautiful green, top loading, and includes my most sought after feature- the fanny pack-like pocket on the waist belt. My fanny pack meant everything to me in Prague. I don't care how touristy or dorky I looked, it led to so many great things! Everything from the pre-meal hand sanitizer to chapstick to phrase book to stealthy hiding place for the stolen/bought Kofola mugs came from that fanny pack and it devastates me to leave home without it...but alas, moving forward! I think my backpack will compensate nicely))
       Today I received my much anticipated (and I think well earned, judging from the despair apparent in my last post) passport in the mail that included my RUSSIAN VISA! I admit, I broke out in dance for a few minutes. Now I am absolutely 100% going to Russia! My final itinerary looks something like this:
  • Germany
    • Staying with former exchange program partner Sarah
    • Trips to Heidelberg, Mannheim, München, Luxembourg(?)
    • Catching up with old friends and reminiscing on my time in Zweibrücken over smokey Schwenker
  • Prague
    • Staying with the family that facilitated my church's August 2011 mission trip to Prague
    • Being a tourista*
    • Dancing like a local ;)
  • Vienna
    • Meet up with the most amazing college student from St. Petersburg I have ever met- Roman (aka Russian boy)
    • Being a tourista
    • Hostel life
  • Budapest
    • Personal guided tours (Roman is a self proclaimed expert on the city)
    • Hostel life
  • Helsinki
    • Short stay
    •  Being a cold tourista
    • Abbreviated hostel life
  • St. Petersburg
    • Staying with Roman
    • Exploring the city like a local
    • Escaping from Roman and trying Russian on shop clerks who will hate me for smiling
    • Offending people repeatedly
So wish me luck! I truly appreciate your prayers and will also gladly accept kind thoughts, Facebook posts, blog comments, e-mails, cash or money orders.

*The word tourista is used in place of the more common "tourist" to represent a traveler rather than a vacationer and to remind the reader of the sincere appreciation the tourista has for the popular sites she is visiting.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

I Had a Bad Day...

Today. My worst day of 2012 so far.
Mom: "See? Good idea! You're such a good problem solver."
And that's when I realized that the only reason I am mildly adept at solving problems is because I am extremely skillful at getting into problems. It seems no matter what I do, it absolutely never works out the way I planned. At first I thought it was just because I set my sights too high- planning a trip on my own, going to a country where I need a visa, acquiring a visa, taking a road trip, etc. but then I realized all the little things I have failed at: getting coffee in a city where there is a Starbucks on every corner, not turning the wrong way down a one way road, listening to my GPS, not paying way too much for parking, using the free Wi-Fi at the public library, not running out of gas, not spending all my money on useless purchases (cupcakes), not falling asleep in public etc.
This little problem of mine causes me to be indecisive, anxious, unreliable, and all sorts of other negative qualities! On the up side, however, I have gotten pretty good at solving problems...so let's chalk this (and every awful situation I get myself into) up to another good learning experience and move on!

For the specifics of why today hit me with an anvil:
-Refer to earlier post saying I had all my passport/visa stuff figured out for the TRIP
-Realize this was a blatant yet optimistic lie
-I got home around 7:30 pm last night (Monday) to find my new passport had arrived from Washington that I drove up last week to apply for. This trip was ultimately successful although it did involve getting lost, wasting money, running out of gas, and driving for 7 hours in torrential downpour conditions...
-So after seeing my passport had arrived, I immediately began to plan when I could come back to DC and apply for my Russian visa (while procrastinating my geography paper and studying for my bio test)
-I realized that thanks to lovely Russian holidays (Really, they're lovely! Just SO frequent...) either today (Tuesday) or tomorrow (Wednesday) were the only days I could come and Wednesday afternoon was booked so I had now less than 12 hours before leaving to DC...again.
-I completely ignore my other assignments and get my application all shored up- ready to face the embassy!
-Leave school early, miss biology test (not too devastated), miss 2 meetings, have to reschedule my only source of income, drive 3.2 hours to Washington.
-Facts: 1- the Russian embassy website lists at least 5 phone numbers. You call any of them and 8/10 times it is either busy, rings endlessly, or plays the dial-up tone...if someone does answer, only 1/4 times will they be proficient enough in English to actually help incompetent Americans like me! 2- There is one address on the website (which you must rely on due to fact 1) 3- it clearly states that visa application will accepted from 9:00am-2:15pm
-Fact Evaluation: 1 is absolutely true. 2 is half true. 3 is absolutely not true.
-When I got to the absolutely terrifying embassy gates, the guard barely speaks English, hands me a sheet with the address for the consulate. He then tries to give me directions which result in my circling the 4 blocks of Wisconsin Ave that Russia has laid claim to until I find the door of the consulate- which turns out to just be on the other side of the embassy building (but like I said, it's basically a marathon to walk around this mammoth complex). Plaque outside the door: "Visitors from 9:00-12:30". Current time: 12:42.
-Turns out the website was all a lie! They only accept visa applications until noon. I shouldn't be surprised...but I literally collapsed against the concrete wall outside the consulate and stood there like melting butter for a good five minutes, shouting the most appropriate Russian phrases I could think of at the camera- na pol! (get on the floor), pashla von! (get out), konyechna! (of course), ya nyenavizhu sebya (I hate myself)...I hope this doesn't affect my application...no, they were all at lunch, nobody was there to see my desperate outburst!
-I then trudge around DC for the next 3 hours with a 10 lb backpack trying to get my head together (it doesn't work)
-Anyway, sorry if this was boring, but if you read all that then good for you! I have family who live nearby, so I'm staying with them tonight and trying again in the morning. I hope to be back before 1pm tomorrow!
-I have to waste money on buying a new toothbrush now...it's all just a cycle...
-Right now I am siting in the admittedly beautiful Georgetown neighborhood public library taking a break from my geography paper to write this. The Wi-Fi connection dies every 3-4 minutes, the guy across from me smells like an airplane bathroom, someone behind me has consumption, and I am slowly developing a migraine...good thing my phone battery is about to die! I hate contact with sane people who I care about))
-The worst part is, though, I already felt so guilty about driving up here wasting gas, money, time, missing school for MY trip...it all is starting to feel pretty selfish. I've got to pull this together.

"When you have a bad day always remember someone else's day is worse. Be thankful for what you have and what God does for you! It could be worse."
PS: as I read this quote I heard an ambulance siren whine by outside and felt like a total jerk...so thanks God for letting me be alive today, at least I have my health and my family and friends!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Travel Milestones

What things have I accomplished/experienced/visited/eaten that are considered quintessential travel moments?

I’m starting a list right now:

Eiffel Tower:Climbed it, age 5
Eaten: French escargot, Czech goulash, Russian borsch, Spanish paella, Panamanian ceviche, Thai noodles, Swiss crepes, German pretzels/schnitzel/maultaschen, Saudi lamb and rice, Sri Lankan curry
Great Barrier Reef: Snorkled, age 6
Cyprus: ate a hamburger larger than my 6 year old head
Charles Bridge: Prague, shopped til I dropped
Panama: hiked through the Barro Colorado rainforest/island preserve
Panama Canal: boat tour through it
Madrid: watched group football in Plaza de Colon, toured the city, authentic flamenco
al-Hamra: toured, age 14
Washington DC: Everything- including get lost dozens of times, sit by homeless people in a public library, Georgetown Cupcakes, stalk college students, meet an ambassador (Botswana!), get locked out of the Russian consulate...the list goes on (except the Washington monument)

I'm sure there are many more I’m overlooking…updates to come!


So I thought I would explain the title of my blog, and sort of my philosophy on travel which comes along with it.
Obviously, the title is a play on "Love at First Sight". I basically wanted something kind of cutsey stereotypical Tumblr-y and in a way it's meant to be sarcastic, but I really do like the sentiment behind it.
I have always loved travel. I boarded my first plane before I was 1 year old, and since then I have been abroad by air at least once a year for 10 of my 18 years.
I grew up in Riyadh, KSA and that gave me the wonderful opportunity to become a frequent flier. Thus, many of my fondest childhood memories revolve around travel, airports, airplanes, etc...so here is a list of all the great things from my childhood of traveling and how they have carried on into the rest of my life so far.
  • Making blanket forts in between two empty seats with my sister
    • I now always have the urge...but I can't remember the last time I was on a 747+ with enough correctly positioned empty seats for that
  • Going to the Riyadh airport and being enamored with the gorgeous hexagon tiles and incredible fountain (at least it was impressive when I was a child)
    • I have high standards for airport aesthetics
  • Coming home to a house that has that special haven't-been-here-in-a-while smell
    • I close every door in my house before I go on a trip to trap in that scent
  • Waking up when it's still dark out and driving to the airport with the ambiance of the night sky but the promise of an entire day ahead of you
    • Before sunrise is my favorite time of day
That's just to name a few! But honestly, my travel as a child and throughout my life so far has given me a certain perspective on the world. I never say vacation, for one, I prefer 'trip'. If you read my post entitled The TRIP, you will realize that. And this one is so special to me it gets to be in all caps! I also don't like to be a tourist, but I love touring...so I go with tourista. I think it's important to try and become immersed in local culture as much as possible, and I know it's a cliche but it's a cliche for a reason, right? In summary- travel for me is not about lying on a beach or seeing as many cathedrals as possible in 10 days. Travel for me is the journey, because it's all a journey from the moment you leave for the airport, through the potential language-barrier charades, through trying to figure out the metro map, to the last goodbye...it's all travel and it's all precious and valuable.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -Mark Twain


So I finally have booked all my flights, gotten my Eurail pass, and figured out all the passport/visa hassle. I am actually and completely going to Europe! In less than a month...but don't worry, of course the stress and worry don't end here. I have an appointment with the passport agency next week because I unfortunately overlooked the requirement that to receive a Russian visa your passport must be valid for a full six months after your scheduled return date- 5 months and 11 days doesn't cut it. But as soon as I get my expedited passport (for the expedited passport fee) I can apply for my Russian visa (for the expedited visa fee). So as I empty my savings account before I even leave for the airport, I am getting a little apprehensive. I am traveling to Washington, DC three times before I leave- four if you count my actual flight which is from IAD. It's all worth it though! I will be spending 16 glorious days, plus two in transit, in Europe! My rough itinerary:

-South and South Western Germany
-St. Petersburg

I come back on April 9th, which is kind of disappointing as it's the day after Easter which is my favorite holiday! At first I was really stoked to get to spend Easter in Russia with all their traditions, but then I realized that to Orthodox Russia, the holiday isn't until the 15th  =/
But I will instead throw a Western Easter party on the 8th! So that should be an entertaining disaster at least.
The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.
St. Augustine

People as Water

Today I realized that people are like water formations:

some are cold, some are hot

some are salty, some are fresh

some are shallow, some are deep

some are clear, some are murky

some are moving, some are stagnant

I think it’s important to recognize especially the last one in people. I am a mover, I have never been stagnant in my life and if I feel the waters beginning to calm it throws me into a mild state of panic. If you, like me, are a mover, then it can’t be enough to just settle with the stagnant people! Don’t limit yourself, surround yourself with positive influences and examples of the kind of person you want to be. Be like a flowing river, not a murky pond.