Dateline: Moscow, Day 1

Moscow, Russian Federation
3 June 2009

When I last left off, I had finally arrived at the hostel. I got a bunk, then went out to find some food and get some more money from the ATM, although not necessarily in that order.

I walked back down to the Metro station and then wondered about. I eventually came across a Банкомат1 provided by CitiBank. I figured that would probably be a safe bet.

Money in hand, I set out to find food. Not feeling the best, I decided that the local KFC would fit the bill. Of course, the next tricky part was figuring out how to order. Looking at the menu, I had no idea what was what. So I was more or less relegated to ordering whatever they happened to be advertising on menu board (with pictures). So my plan was thus: figure out what I wanted to eat, then go stand in the line beneath the image. As it turned out, what I wanted to order was also on paper tray insert. So when I got to the front, I just pointed to the chicken wrap thingy (there’s no American equivalent as far as I know) and the Coke. It worked.

18.0 mm || 1/60 || f/8.0 || ISO640 || NIKON D70
Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

I went back to the hostel, which is where I met my first set of hostel friends: Eric and Casper. Eric is from the UK and Casper is from Germany. They both study at university in the UK. They both came into Moscow today and are leaving on the Trans-Siberian railway on Monday.

Shortly thereafter, I met Kate, Lizzy, Tom, Gary, and Ryan. All five of them attend university at Edinburgh. They (minus Ryan) had just come from St. Petersburgs and Tallinn, Estonia, the exact reverse of what I’m doing! They’re traveling to Mongolia via the Trans-Siberian, leaving on Saturday.

According to Eric, the one must get pissed2 on the first night anytime one is in a new city. Furthermore, since there were several different nationalities represented, International Drinking Rules applied. I had no idea such rules existed, but they do:

  • The word ‘Drink’, or any word with ‘Drink’ inside it, must not be spoken during the game.
  • There is to be no use of players real names during the game. Uncommon nicknames and “Oy, you!” may be used. Kate was know as “red shirt.”
  • There is to be no pointing during the game. Elbows are acceptable.
    Ungentlemanly conduct is prohibited (i.e. No swearing, openly belching, etc).
  • Alcoholic beverages must be kept at least one thumbs-length away from the edge of the table. This is known as the safety area.
    Beverages must only be consumed with one’s left hand, if you are right handed, and vice-versa.

These were the rules listed at, which is basically what we were playing.

So, after several drinking games involving cards, dice, beer, and Russian Смирнов3, the group decides that we should go find a bar. And 2am would be a good time to do this.4

So we head out, in search for a bar that’s open. After wondering about for 10 minutes, and being accosted by lots of taxi’s again, about half the group decided we wanted to go back. So we did.

What I didn’t know until the next morning is that while 8 people went out, only 7 people returned.

  1. ATM 

  2. drunk 

  3. Smirnoff 

  4. In retrospect, this was a stupid idea. 

Getting to Moscow

Dateline: Seattle, Washington, USA / Washington, DC, USA, / Moscow, Russian Federation

My flight for Moscow via Dulles left SeaTac at 7:30 on Tuesday morning (2 June). I had finished packing everything the night before and then unpacked it all so I could take a photograph and make sure I could repack everything:

I managed to get a few hours of sleep before I had to wake up. I repacked all my stuff. Added a couple more things that I thought would be useful. I also made a last minute bag change, opting to take a larger The North Face backpack for my day bag.

The check in line at SeaTac was atrocious. However, I made it though with time to spare. I also ran into Trevor Essmeier, who was flying and down-and-back to LA for an interview.

After passing through security, I went over the Red Carpet Club. I can do such things since I’m flying United Business International. On the way in, I saw Jim McDermott walking out. Anyway, I grabbed a couple of granola bars, and a coke, called Dad to let him know I got through security. Then headed up to board.

The flight checked in full. I was sitting in the window seat next to an older gentleman who kept his Bose headphones on the entire time. I ate breakfast, watched Bride Wars, and then ended up sleeping for about an hour.

My stop over in Dulles was pretty uneventful. I made my way to the Red Carpet Club again, checking in with Dad and some friends, and had my Russian Visa verified1

I ended up staying a little to long in the Red Carpet Club, as they were looking for me at the gate. I got on, and was immediately shocked by how few people were on board. By my count, there were no more 40 or 50 people on board a plane that carries 183 people normally.

Dinner was great, and included some smoked salmon and a glass of Firestone Chardonnay2. I put my on my PJ bottoms, threw the bed into recline mode, and turned on some classical music…sleeping the rest of the 6 hours or so to Moscow.

Upon touching down in Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport, the first thing I noted was all the planes that were parked on the tarmac. Just rows and rows of planes. We eventually got to our gate and patiently waited while the health inspectors checked our temperatures using laser/infrared temperature sensors they would point at our ear. Everyone apparently passed with flying colors and we disembarked.

Getting through customs was completely painless, I think even less so than at Heathrow3. Stamp, stamp, stamp. And off I went. I grabbed my bag and proceeded through the Customs with a wave of her hand.

Immediately, I was accosted by taxi drivers. The signs in the airport warned against using taxis, so I practiced using the only Russian word I know: нет4.

I went to the ATM machine and got some rubles, then made my way to the 308 Bus. I took the bus into Moscow and got off at the Green Line Station, which was next to a shopping center with a set of stairs leading down the tunnel. I wasn’t quite sure if this was the stop or not, but I decided it was when almost the entire bus exited. I followed the mass of people down the tunnel to the subway. Purchasing a subway card involved me indicating “one”, giving the lady 100 rubles, and hoping she knew what I met. She did.

I went down the stairs and then tried to figure out what subway to take. Unfortunately, the trains weren’t marked. So I decided to hop on the first one going in the direction I thought I needed to go. As it turned out, they were all Green Line trains.

I got off at my stop and then started plotting how I was going to find the hostel.

At this point, I need to point out the biggest problem I’ve had thus far when it comes to navigating in Russia: everything is in two alphabets, Cyrillic and Roman. I can do a decent job of figuring out things, but the Cyrillic language just baffles me. Anyway, I went the wrong way for about three blocks, then back tracked and went the right way. I found the building I was looking for, but couldn’t find the white door that i was supposed to go through. I spent about 30 minutes walking around the building, wondering if it was the right building. I finally went into a dentist office and asked the guy (who I think was actually the dentist) if he knew where the address was. He kindly Google-mapped it and I did have the right building. So I threw out my assumption that the door was white and rang the door for the what I thought to be the apartment I needed. It was.

I had made it to Moscow.

  1. This was the second time that United made sure all my papers were in order. It was kind of nice having someone watching my back. 

  2. gratis, of course 

  3. from what I remember three years ago). I showed the lady my passport, with my visa, my registration, and my ticket stub ((I’m not sure why, but she insisted on knowing where I flew in from 

  4. Nyiet 

Going to Russia

Dad picked up my visa today from the Russian Consulate, which means that I’m officially going to Russia now!

The process isn’t super straight forward, so here’s a what I did:

  1. Get an invitation letter. I didn’t find any place that cost less than $30. I asked the hostel where I booked my reservations who they recommended, they suggested…and that’s who I used. It took about 2 days to processes. They’ll send you a PDF, which I printed out (in color).
  2. Fill out Visa Application form (US version), available from Russian Consulate. There’s an option for an online version. I tried using it and would not recommend it. It’s much easier to fill it out manually.
  3. Attach passport/visa sized picture to application. I got my picture taken at FedEx Kinko’s for $12, however later heard that WalGreens is cheaper.
  4. Write a cover letter (here’s my cover letter to the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Seattle). The cover letter needs to explain if you are travelling individually, who is going, where to, when and with what purpose, etc.
  5. Get a Money Order or Cashier’s Check from the bank (it doesn’t have to be from a bank, but it’s pretty easy and you can deduct the money right from your savings/checking account) for the actual visa fee.
  6. Copy your passports vital page(s). For me, this was just the front page (the one with my picture).
  7. Mail (or preferably drop off) all of the above, plus your actual passport to your Russian Consulate of
  8. Pick up passport and visa 6 business days later, in theory.

47 days until I leave!


Things to Do, Things to Pack

Plans are well under way now! I just booked my flight to Europe. I’ll be leaving on June 2nd at 7:30am and flying Seattle to Dulles (UA916/767-300) to Moscow (UA964/767-300), arriving at 10:45am on June 3rd, business class. I’ll be spending just over 60 days in Europe before I fly back on August 3rd, flying at 8:25am from Frankfurt to Chicago (UA945/777) to Seattle (UA929/757-200) and arriving at 2:24pm the same day, also business class. Fortunately, I’m using miles. Otherwise it looks like it would cost about $9,539.76 out of pocket.

Here’s the seat I’ll be getting to enjoy for the 15 hours it takes to get the Moscow:

Unfortunately, United hasn’t started to upgrade the seats on the 777, so my ride won’t be as comfortable on the way back. However, I do get First Class for the Chicago to Seattle flight.

I also booked a hostel for my stay in Moscow, I’ll be at the Olimpia Hostel. Should be good.

With all that done, I figure I better turn my attention to what I’m going to bring (and not bring). Like my itinerary, this list will definitely be updated as I think of more things and people suggest things to bring or not to bring.

To Do

  • Check on current level of travel insurance (health and theft)
  • Get travel visa for Russia
  • Buy Europe on a Shoestring1
  • Convince Quinn to come
  • Convince Charlie to come
  • Get ISIC (International Student Identity Card). Should only be $22?
  • Check into touring Chernobyl and get dosimeter badge

To Pack

  • Backback: The side loading green one2 or top loading grey/blue one
  • Clothes:
    • Orange REI jacket or Blue The North Face running jacket
    • Four t-shirts
    • One better shirt
    • Four pairs of socks
    • Four pairs of boxer-briefs3, they really are quite comfortable
    • One pair of nylon khaki pants with zipoff legs
    • One pair of4 shorts
    • Swim trunks
    • Sleepwear
    • Hat
    • The North Face green fleece/The North Face black polypro
    • One set of shoes5
    • One pair of sandals6
  • Camera/Electronics
    • One camera bag with slot for netbook and will double as day pack
    • One Nikon D90
    • One 50mm f/1.8 Prime lens
    • One 18-70mm lens
    • Headphones
    • One Netbook
    • Laptop lock
    • US/Europe/Russia electricity converter
  • Toiletries
    • Deoderant
    • Hand soap/Shampoo
    • Washcloth
    • Toothbrush/toothpaste
    • Floss
    • Mouth guard
    • Ibuprofen
    • Melatonin
    • Flagyl7
    • Moleskin8
    • Antibiotics
    • Bandaids
    • Medical tape
    • Charcoal pills
    • Penicillin
    • My meds
    • Nail clipper
    • Tweezers
    • Sunscreen
    • Lip balm
    • Contacts/contact solution/contact case
    • Glasses/case
    • Ear plugs
  • Miscellaneous
    • Nalgene
    • Money belt9
    • Padlock
    • Flashlight w/extra batteries
    • Laundry soap
    • Small towel
    • Sleeping bag
    • Pillow
    • Sunglasses (el cheapo’s)
    • Swiss Army Knife
    • Casio Waveceptor waterproof watch

Many items taken from: Packing Checklist for Asia and Rick’s Packing List.

  1. and finally return the library their copy 

  2. my parents took on their trip to 

  3. ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go® Boxer Brief 


  5. New Balance 991 

  6. Keen’s 

  7. in case of dysentary 

  8. in case of blisters 

  9. Rick Steves Essential Silk Moneybelt 

A Flight To Moscow

I’ve talked to the Russian Consular in Seattle, United Airlines, and a Russian man in Moscow with decent English.

I have a confirmed (but not booked) flight from Seattle to Dulles (UA916) to Moscow (UA964) leaving at 7:30am on June 2nd and arriving at 10:45am on June 3rd…15 travel hours later.

I also have the return leg booked (a la “Open Jaw” magic) from Frankfurt to Chicago (UA945) to Seattle (UA929) leaving at 8:25am August 3rd and arriving at 2:24pm August 3rd…13.5 travel hours later.

All for the low, low cost of $95.00 plus 105k airline miles 🙂

As for actually getting into Russia, the process goes something like this:

  1. Figure out dates to be in Russia
  2. Find hostel that will issue you a tourist voucher and confirmation
  3. Book hostel and acquire tourist voucher
  4. Fill out Russian Visa application form
  5. Turn in original passport, a xerox-copy of it’s vital pages, the original tourist invitation voucher, one passport size picture of applicant (that would be me), a cover letter explaining who is going, where to, when, and with what purpose
  6. Pay $131.00 for 6 day processing (cheapest)

I currently still think it’s worth it to go to Russia. But there sure are a lot of hoops to jump through. I currently have an email into the HM Hostel Moscow (US$36.05/night) in Moscow and I may end up contacting the Olimpia Hostel (US$17.35/night).


Updated Itinerary

Progess is being made! I’m calling this Itinerary v0.2. It appears that the only country that will need a visa is Russia. Thus, I’m going to going to start my travels there since it will have to be the most planned part of this trip. I talked with Jeff last night, as he had traveled to Russia several years ago, and got some good information on places to go. I’m hoping to have trip start and end dates locked down and reserved by the end of March, along with all the Russian parts locked down and reserved. 

I also talked with Quinn and Charlie, both of whom have indicated they would at least be interested in doing some traveling with me as well. I have calls in to Katelyn and Erin, both of whom have been and are currently in Turkey, respecitvely.

Below is a list of places that I think I would like to visit, in roughtly the order that I would visit them. I’ve also added notes (mostly to myself) about things I’d like to do there. I think this seems like a more managable list than previously. I’m also trying to setup a framework of things to do, however still allow the trip to progress organically.

  • Day 1: 
    Seattle, Washington 
    Dulles, Washington, DC
  • Airplane/10 hrs/UA964
  • Day 2: Moscow, Russia12
    • Red Square
    • The Kremlin
    • GUM
  • Airplane/1.25 hrs/$60 USD/Rossiya – Russian Airlines3
  • Day 6: St. Petersburg, Russia45
  • Bus/6 hrs/€30 ($40 USD)/EuroLines
  • Day 10: Tallin, Estonia6
  • France:
    • Paris, France (Paris Air Show – 15 to 21 June 2009)
    • Toulouse, France7
    • La Barre, France8
    • Vélizy, France9
    • Bidos, France 10
  • Italy:
    • Rome, Italy
    • Venice, Italy
    • Grottaglie, Italy11
    • Agnone, Italy12
  • Switzerland
    • Arbon, Switzerland
    • Interlaken, Switzerland13
  • Austria
  • Czech Republic
  • Poland
  • Ukraine
    • I’ve heard you can visit Chernobyl…could be cool.
  • Hungary
  • Turkey
  • Germany -> Seattle (UA8718)


  • Sweden14
  • Denmark->Seattle (UA9394)
  • Romania
  • Macedonia






  7. 787 Production Stop: Groupe Latécoère 

  8. Birthplace of Jean-Luc Picard 

  9. 787 Production Stop: Messier-Dowty 

  10. 787 Production Stop: Messier-Dowty 

  11. 787 Production Stop: 

  12. We visited Agnone a couple of years, it’s where my maternal great-grandfather was born, and  I’ve wanted to return here to just spend a few days hanging out 

  13. I’ve heard this is a must 

  14. 787 Production Stop: Saab