Posted by: Anna | October 26, 2010

Haikus to Russia and other final thoughts

In keeping with the tradition established in Grand Teton, we’re going to try to do haikus.  Not every day, but for each stop on the destination as a reflecting point.  We each wrote two for our time in Russia, so here they are, followed by some final thoughts.

Ruslan saves the day; the Red Square shines in photos; vodka makes the night.


Onion Domed churches; bears riding a bicycle; the Russian people.

– Tommy (on favorite things about Russia)

If Peter the Great; ran the CubaHostel now; I’d say spasibo!

– Anna (Spasibo is Russian for Thank You.  Anything would be better than the current management of CubaHostel)

Not a vacation; but the start of a journey; hope it gets warmer.


Starting out on this trip, we didn’t know exactly what to expect. Would it get tiresome to travel and sightsee every day? Will we feel isolated without our friends and family around? Will we “find ourselves” – what does that mean anyway? How long should we stay in each place? What strategies should we use to make the most of our time together and in each place? Did we pack the right clothes? Will the Russian police steal our passports and make us pay a bribe to get them back (thankfully, no. Although we met some people who had experienced this charming phenomenon.) Would we bore people to tears writing a blog? Would we bore ourselves writing it?

I can’t speak for you, although I hope if you’re still reading we haven’t bored you yet, but writing the blog has helped us to focus our travels and created purposeful reflection as we go along. I still keep my journal for my own ramblings, but writing this has helped me to try to step back and see the days from an outside perspective, which actually is interesting and different to me.

We experienced challenges in Russia that we shouldn’t encounter for the rest of the trip (that’s probably a sentence that will be able to be written about each place we stay for any length of time).  In Russia, we had to deal with reacclimatization to the world of budget travel.  We had to deal with the cold.  We had to deal with the stupid Cyrillic alphabet and the fact that all maps use Roman letters but all street signs are in Cyrillic.  And we had to deal with CubaHostel.

Not surprisingly, we both got sick within the first week here.  The dramatic temperature change, the built-up exhaustion of getting ready to leave and the 36 hours spent in airports or on planes combined to wipe out our immune systems.  Hopefully, we’re over that for the most part and we’ll be able to stay illness-free.  Other than that, we got back in the swing of budget travel just fine. It took a few days to get used to sleeping in the same room as 9 other people (well, for Tommy.  I’ve slept like a log every night) but we actually are sleeping better than we were at home – we’re crediting it to the lack of responsibility weighing on us.  We finished Russia slightly underbudget – which is great news for our longterm goals since Russia was the place we had the highest per-day budget ($100/day combined, if you were interested.  On the flip side, our budget for India is $6/day.)

Russia has the honor of being first. We are not jaded of traveling, or full of recent memories to measure it against. It gets to stand alone, for now. There is something to be said for being first. Russia is a place I’ve wanted to go for a long time. In college, Russia was one of my two countries of focus for the European Studies degree. I have Russian family in my background. And it is a curious place – corrupt, with a completely unique history, including the horrors and just complete weirdness of Soviet life, returning to a strong Russian Orthodox faith today, still adjusting to capitalism, with an undeveloped tourist infrastructure.

We joke a lot to each other, although I don’t think we’ve really written about it, that nothing is easy in Russia, especially Moscow. Few people speak English, signs are not in English, even in tourist sites, and things do not work in a consistent manner.  In some places you could buy tickets at the box office; other theaters lacked a box office and tickets could only be purchased through dealers in kiosks around town.  And that’s hard to figure out through elaborate games of charades.  After hearing warnings and rumors that Russians were unfriendly, we had lovely encounters with kind Russian people. A reminder that human nature is true around the world, both evil and good. Most people will help you if they can, but some just won’t. Some are just plain weird. And in Russia, some (many) love acid wash jeans and mullets. I don’t know why.

We kept discussing with each other over the last few days how subjective an opinion of a city is.  Even though we feel like we’re staying for a long time (and we are, in traveling terms) we’re really only in a city for a few days.  That’s enough time to get an impression of Moscow or St. Petersburg and see the major stuff, but it’s not enough to know a place.  Our experience was really colored by the few people we met and the few experiences we had.  When it was all said and done, we both had a strong preference for Moscow.  We were excited to leave St. Petersburg.  If we spent a year in each, we both feel like we’d probably like St. Petersburg better.  But based on our week, Moscow was the winner hands down.  Mostly due to the incompetence of CubaHostel, but also because of Ruslan Kim and the construction worker who helped us get Bolshoi tickets.

In the end, it doesn’t matter which place we liked better.  We learned as much as we could about both cities in the time we had.  We met wonderful people, had memorable experiences and got to see some amazing sights like the Kremlin and the Hermitage.  We’re both glad we went to Russia…but are eagerly awaiting our time in Israel.

Anyway, thank you for reading. It gives me a feeling of being connected, even though I’m thousands of miles away. It’s hard to describe the kick that Tommy and I get from your comments and just from reading (we have a counter that tells us how many people visit each day). Thanks!!



  1. safe travels to israel & your blogs are anything but boring!!! Love you guys!!

  2. I eagerly turn on my computer each and every morning hoping to find words of your travels. You both have made me feel like I am right there along with you. Keep them coming, PLEASE!!!!

  3. I enjoyed visiting Russia with you guys, but I can’t wait for Israel!

    Safe Travels, love from Aunt Sandy

  4. little chance encounters; ordinary people; city reputation shouted to thousands

  5. I am LOVING reading about your journey and check in everyday just to see if there is a new post. I am looking forward to hearing about Israel and all future destinations.

    Tommy, you picked a good year to be away from college football.

  6. Here is my comment – the blogs make me happy and the skype calls a little sad. The blog reminds me why you are there and your fabulous experiences, and the calls that I miss you. But I love the calls because I get to hear a little more than the blogs can tell about the crazier or nicer people.

    Israel is the place I am most jealous of you visiting. The Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious ties to one place seems endlessly inspirational to me. I know you will welcome the sun and the English speaking.

    To me the language barriers would be the one thing that would wear me out the most. But you are coping really well. Luckily lots of folks all over speak English so you should always have someone, somewhere to talk to.

    Keep safe. Love you.

    P.S. Jerry – I love the haiku.

  7. You guys got Bolshoi tickets?! = I’m jealous! I’m also jealous of your Israel trip. Say hi to Alon and Hether for me!

    Also, who knew that you both were so poetic?!

    Are you guys carrying a laptop? How’s the wifi?
    Are you in web cafes?

    • Hi Lisa!

      We have a little netbook, and so far we’ve had easy access to internet both using wifi in the hostel and some cafes for a change of pace.

      We have plans to see Alon and Heather today – looking forward to it.

  8. I love it! The way you guys describe everything is amazing – I almost feel like I’m right there with you. Again, I’m very jealous and hope you both have the time of your life on this trip!!

  9. Glad to hear you are safely leaving Russia and will hopefully warm up in Israel.
    Texws Rangers vs. San Fransico Giants in World Series begin tomorrow. Go Rangers!!

  10. We REALLY enjoy your travel blogs…they are so well written & so clearly described that we feel like we are there with you seeing the sights,meeting your new friends, & tasting the food! We r so excited for u!!! XOXOX, kita & UBE

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