Dateline: St. Petersburg, Day 4 – A.S.Popov Central Museum of Communications and McDonald’s

St. Petersburg, Russian Federation
13 June 2009

I had two goals for today: visit the communications museum and get out of Russia alive.

After packing up my stuff, I made my way, again, to the communications museum. It was right were it should have been, and this time it was open.

The exhibits were very modern and well done, a stark contrast to the exhibits in the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography museum.

The museum covered various forms of communication from the post office through radio communcations to cellular and satellite. Although I was mostly interested in the latter, my favorite part was the working telephone switch board, including a pulse-dial and DTMF interchange. There was also a working manual switchboard, but being unable to read Russian, I wasn’t able to figure out what steps I needed to take to make it work.

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I headed back to the hostel and made sure I had everything packed before I went out for one lase bite to eat. I wanted to get some Russian cuisine, however I ended settling for McDonald’s again1. I’m going to blame my McDonalds fixation on two things. First, I was really tired. Of navigating the Russian culture and just in general. I didn’t really want to put the effort in to attempting to communicate my needs/desires in a foreign language. Second, Russians, especially teens, are absolutely enamored with McDonald’s. You always have to wait in line. In any event, ordering in Russian is easy: биг мак2, кока-кола3, and Fries. I’m actually not sure what the Russian word for fries is, but they get the idea usually. Add in the appropriate hand gestures to indicate size and you got yourself a meal.

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Afterward, I headed for the bus station. Finding the station went without a hitch, solidifying my place as “Badass Map Reader”4.

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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

I placed my backpack underneath and climbed on board with my day back, hoping that I would get some sleep this time.

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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


  1. Yes, again. I swear this only the second time I had McD’s this trip. 

  2. Which is literally pronounced: Big Mac 

  3. Again: Coca-Cola 

  4. seriously though, I’m amazing when it comes to reading maps in foreign places 

Dateline: St. Petersburg, Day 3 – The 16 Kilometer Adventure

St. Petersburg, Russian Federation
12 June 2009

I’ve been traveling for just about 10 days now; and it sort of feels like it. I’ve been nursing a couple of blisters, and I can’t seem to get enough sleep. I’ve also been fighting off some sort of cold for the last few days. Although I think yesterday was the turning to point to winning the war on terror my cold.

Last night, I did some investigating and plotted out what I wanted to do for these last couple of days. I made a list of the top three museums I wanted to visit:

  1. Popov Communications Museum
  2. Museum of Zoology
  3. Museum of Railway Technology

After having missed the Cosmonauts Museum, I made it my first priority to find the Communications Museum. I headed north and to the location where I thought the museum should be.

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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

However, I couldn’t find it. I circled the block, thinking maybe the location on the map wasn’t right, but still couldn’t find it. I pulled on the door for what I though was museum, but it was locked.

While still searching for the museum, I came across the post office. Figuring this would be as good a time as any, I decided to post my cards. This was an adventure in and of itself. I surveyed the scene (I wish I could show you a picture, but they don’t allow photography and there was a security guard on duty who most likely would have hassled me). Standing before me were 30-some windows, most of them closed, a few of them open. There was different writing above many of them, corresponding, I presume, to different postal functions.

I do the sensible thing and walk up to the window with the shortest line. I show the lady behind the counter my three postcards and try my best to indicate that I need some stamps. She points across the room, and I (like a well trained monkey at this point) mimic her gesture, making sure I understand where she’s pointing.

So I walk across the rather large room to the other side and repeat the aforementioned conversation, the gentleman looks at my cards and then points me back across the room. It’s takes a moment to process this before I realize I’m stuck in what appears to be an infinite loop.

I then had a flashback to about nine years ago when I used to spend quite a few Sunday mornings hanging out in the YMM1 office at University Presbyterian Church:
One morning, we decided to play a little prank on our small group leader, Brandon Lewis, who also happened to be an intern. The layout of the room was such that the office space ran along the outside perimeter with a table and a bank of computers in the middle.

Brandon happened to have a cordless phone at his desk (the only person in the entire YMM office with one, I believe), which I took and hid above the lowered ceiling tiles in the middle of the room.

My thinking went that Brandon would hear his phone ringing and think it was on the other side of the room. He would walk over there and listen for it again, only to hear it coming from the other side of the room. He eventually figured out the phone was in the middle of the room.

Perhaps God was attempting to humor me. In the middle of the large room is an open topped shop. I walk in, show the lady my cards, and get my stamps.

I walked out of the post office and decided to give finding this museum one last shot. There’s an upscale hotel near by and I ask the security guard if he speaks English, he doesn’t but another guy does. I show him the address I have for museum, and he confirmed what the map already told me. So I go back around and scrutinized the doors one last time.

This time, I see the note:

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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

The note appears to convey information about the museum being closed for Russia Day on 11 June and 12 June.

At least I know where the museum is.

I decide that I should still go to at least one museum, so I head north again, across the Bol’shaya Neva river, to what I think is the Museum of Zoology, but is actually the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography.

The line to get in is pretty long, stretching to the end of the block, and is made up of an unusually younger crowd. I figure that I’m here and might as well go in, so I jump in line.

Most of the museum was pretty bland with exhibits that I thought were pretty outdated. I was struggling to find why so many people wanted to get in. Then I found it, the First Natural Science Collections of the Kunstkamera. This room isn’t even on the same playing field as Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

After the museum, I strolled by the water front before making a dash to the Peter and Paul Fortress.

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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

Once I got to the fortress, I noticed a helicopter had landed. Rather curious as to what this bird was doing next to the fortress, I naturally went to investigate.

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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

As it turned out, Baltic Airlines was offering 15 minutes aerial tours of St. Petersburg by helicopter, a twin turbine Mil Mi-8 to be exact. For a mere 2000 rubles2, I too could enjoy the sights that millions of others had enjoyed before me, but in the air! How could resist? Honestly, it was a really tempting offer. For a helicopter ride, $65 wasn’t a lot of money (all things considered). However, in the end I decided not to do it. I didn’t really think seeing St. Petersburg by air would be that cool and it looked like all the window seats were taken. Besides, if I’m going to pay money, I at least want to be able to fly the thing.

I did decided to wait around for the helicopter to take off; and let me tell you something, I was nearly knocked off my feet! That thing creates one heck of a downwash.

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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

I wandered about fortress before exiting on the north side. I passed by the Museum of Artillery, Engineers and Signal Corps as it was closing before doing a loop around the Zoo (on the outside, not the inside).

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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

I had been walking for about eight hours at this point and my feet were about ready to kill me. My plan was to catch the metro at Gorkovskaya, however it turns out (after later research) that the station was closed.

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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

I ended up walking another 2 kilometers to the Sportivnaya metro station, and my feet did up killing me. I did manage to get home though, having romped over 16 kilometers through St. Petersburg today.

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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


  1. Youth Mission and Ministry 

  2. $65 dollars 

Dateline: St. Petersburg, Day 2 – The Hermitage

St. Petersburg, Russian Federation
11 June 2009

I ended up going to the Hermitage today. That makes sounds like I was talked into going or something, which I wasn’t. But I wasn’t exactly set on going if no one else was. Evan and Jared were going, so I went with them.

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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

In general, I’m not what you would call an art museum person. And I generally tend to steer away from them unless the museum is of utmost importance. But my friend Staples said that the Hermitage was pretty cool and worth seeing. And he was right. It also helped that I was able to finagle my way in for free as a student (I actually didn’t have my student ID card, but they accepted my drivers license instead…probably not realizing what it was).

Word of warning about the Hermitage. Do not, under any circumstances, underestimate its size. It’s freaking huge! I did not realize this before going in.

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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

Anyway, it way huge. Pretty cool. Definitely worth seeing, even if you have too pay. You name the artist, and they are probably there: Picaso, Rembrandt, Monet and Manet. This list goes on. There’s also a neat collection of Egyptian artifacts that’s worth finding.

I picked up some postcards and wrote a couple notes to people back home1.

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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

We headed back to the hostel, walking half the way and riding the metro the other half. I made a quick stop at the grocery store for some essentials (eggs, bread, yogurt, beer), then on to an evening of relaxation and making plans for the next few days.


  1. If you want a postcard too, send me an email with your address and I’ll see what I can do 

Dateline: St. Petersburg, Day 1 – The Amber Room

St. Petersburg, Russian Federation
10 June 2009

Sleeping on the train was one of those worthless endeavors that I still attempted anyway. It wasn’t because the train was bumpy or loud; on the contrary, it was smooth and quiet. I really blame the short length of the bunk (my feet easily hung off, and I’m no Michael Jordan) and the fact that I was sick, which made sleeping in general uncomfortable.

Thus, sleeping for the night consisted of me rolling into and out of consciousness.

We arrived in St. Petersburg pretty much right on time, and I made my way to the metro. The St. Petersburg Metro is exactly like the Moscow Metro, except deeper (the deepest in the world by average depth of all stations, according to Wikipedia) and they also use a coin token system instead of the RFID system that Moscow uses. The stations are also less conveniently located.

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I took the metro for one stop and popped off. Finding the Crazy Duck hostel was pretty easy, especially considering my state of sleep deprivation. I checked in, chatted with a couple of friends back in the States, and then promptly crashed on the couch until a bed was ready.

Around noon, Evan, Jared, and Max showed up and we all checked in and got beds.

Shortly thereafter, Greg and Mike, two brothers from the Seattle area invited me to come with them and Kennon from California and Gianni (pronounced Jonny) from Italy (but living in Germany) to Tsarskoye Selo.

After a bit of walking and a 30 minute bus ride to the outskirts of town, we arrived. Tsarskoye Selo is a former Russian residence of the imperial family and visiting nobility1 and houses, among other things, the Catherine Palace and Park, home of the Amber Room.

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The line to get in was over an hour long. Fortunately, there was also the park to explore. Greg and Gianni held our place in line while Mike, Kennon, and I went to explore the gardens. The entire grounds, garden and palace, is very western looking; often times I would completely forget that I was still in Russia!

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Aleksandrovka, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


Roses are Red
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Aleksandrovka, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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Aleksandrovka, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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Aleksandrovka, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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Aleksandrovka, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

Then we switched. And it started to rain. And then pour.

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Aleksandrovka, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

The entire palace is magnificent really, the Amber Room particularly so, although I was pretty fond of the front stair case with it’s stark white walls contrasted by red curtains and blue-faced clock and barometer.

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Aleksandrovka, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia


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It was still raining by time we left. We made a quick dash for the bus stop and then rode back in to town. This would, fortunately, be my only real experience on the roads of Russia (save my overnight bus trip). Traffic, even in St. Petersburg, is pretty horrendous and drivers take on an every-man-for-himself approach. Not terribly bad, just moderately concerning.

On the way back to the hostel, we decided it would be a good idea to get something to eat. Armenian was the choice and I sat down to a feast of cold-seasoned beans, a bread boat with egg and cheese, and beef medallions with a beer.

I called it an early night (at 11:30pm) and headed to bed.

Update: Removed hanging sentence from third-to-last paragraph.


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsarskoye_Selo 

Dateline: Moscow, Day 7

Moscow, Russian Federation
9 June 2009

I’m going to be honest, I didn’t really do anything today. Mostly because I wasn’t feeling to well. I dragged my feet in the morning, but eventually made it to breakfast and a shower.

I packed my bags and cleared off my bed. Then promptly crashed on the couch for a couple of hours.

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

In the afternoon, Jared invited to be to coffee and beer at Cafe Pushkin, a restaurant akin to The Metropolitan Grill in terms of classiness and price.

You may be wondering how we managed to get in wearing out travel grub if Cafe Pushkin requires dress slacks, shoes, and a collard shirt (I’m assuming). The answer is we didn’t. We were turned away at the door and went off to find our beer and coffee somewhere else.

We settled on a small outdoor restaurant and got a couple half-liter glasses of beer. I also grabbed a sandwich that involved salmon in either a smoked or raw state, hoping for the former. We shot the shit about grad school1, then made our way back.

I dicked around on the Internet, getting last minute instructions for how to get to my next hostel from the train station and figuring out where the US Consulate was, just in case. I made my peace with everyone at the hostel and then was on the subway.

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

I wasn’t quite sure how much extra time I would need, so I was sure to give myself plenty. I get top marks on that account, arriving at the train station even before the train did. I make a quick survey of the grounds and figured out just where I needed to go.

I was in third-class seating with beds. My ticket listed me on car 4. I assumed that there would be just one train car with the number 4…as in 4th car from the engine, or something like that. There’s actually several #4 cars. I picked the one I liked best and got in line. I handed my ticket and passport to the ticket lady. She check me off, then wrote 26. I assumed that I had done something wrong, and was trying to figure out what, when someone kindly said, “No, it’s seat 26.” That made more sense.

So I went in, put up my stuff, and took a seat. An older lady lady, thin but kind, was my bunk mate. Across from us, a mother and adolescent (perhaps 16) who clearly did not want to be on the train with his mother, let alone sleeping above her.

We started moving almost right on time…it was barely noticeable.

The ticket lady came by again to collect my ticket this time.

As soon as we were sufficiently under way, I climbed in to bed and tried to fall asleep.

Moscow was an interesting city, definitely not one in which I’d care to live. Perhaps one I’d visit again. Here’s to hoping St. Petersburg would be even better.


  1. Jared just graduated CU with a BSME 

Dateline: Moscow, Day 6

Moscow, Russian Federation
8 June 2009

Having gone to the Central Armed Forces Museum yesterday, my plan for today was to go the Cosmonaut Museum.

I headed out on the metro with Eric and Casper. We made our way to the Cosmonaut Museum, taking pictures along the way.

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

We got to the entrance and…

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


…it was closed. On Tuesdays (which I knew) and Mondays (which I did not know). I was definitely disappointed, and it showed.

We decided to make lemonade out of our lemons. There was a giant ferris wheel a bit north that we went to investigate. It turned out to be the All-Russian Exhibition Centre. We walked around for a while before heading back.

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

When I got back, I asked Daniel, the guy who runs the hostel to write me a note so I could get my train ticket for St. Petersburg. I went down to the train station with Jared (who was trying to get a ticket for Evan and himself) and, boy, let me tell you something about getting train tickets in Russia.

If you don’t know any Russian, it may take you forever.

We went to three different train stations, stood in several lines, and I finally managed to get my tickets after over three hours of figuring the system out.

The first station we went to was for what I (believe) to be a regional train; the next city and such, perhaps less than an hour away. We stood in line and the lady pointed us in another direction. So we went outside and looked for another building that looked like a train station.

We went inside that one, and, after spending 20 minutes finding the ticket office, stood in line for another 45 minutes (at least) only to be told that, “No, this wasn’t the place to buy tickets for St. Petersburg, it’s аовлу овлфдщу лодфш Leningradsky vokzal аодушгв оудлфы”1. She did write the words, ” Leningradsky vokzal” on a piece of paper (Which I still have, just in case). I assume that this is the station we needed to go to.

So, we walked back across the street. Asking people if they knew where “Leningradsky vokzal” was. And they’d point us in a direction and we’d walk in that direction until we were confused. We finally found someone who spoke a bit of English and were able to get sufficient directions to get to the right station.

Now we just needed to figure out which tickets to get. Jared thought that we should go to the Information Booth to figure all of this out, which I thought was a good idea. So we found that and after much (and I do mean much) back and forth, Jared figured out a couple of trains he could take (he and Evan wanted to leave in a couple of hours).

I looked at the timetable to so I at least had an idea of what trains I might take. I just wanted the cheapest one that left in the evening.

So we go get back in line. And these lines move sloooooow. Slower than molasses slow. Seriously. I have no idea why it takes to freaking long to book a ticket (be it train or museum). So I wait and wait and wait.

Jared ends up heading back to the hostel because it turns out that you need a passport to book a train ticket…no idea why, you just do.

I’m about two spots from the front when this little old lady with purple dyed hair (not a really strong dye job, more of a tinting) comes over from another line and cuts right in front of me! I’m like, “Niet! Niet!” Thinking, WTF is this lady doing?! She points to the lady in front of her and says something that I can only surmise is, “I’m with her.” Which is complete BS, for the record.

I’ve been standing in lines for 3 hours and really don’t want to get kicked out of train station for arguing with a little old lady, so I’m like, “Whatever”…which translates to rolling eyes with a disappointed face.

Our line isn’t moving fast anymore, and about 5 minutes later the little lady with the purple hair goes back to her original line. Problem solved.

I get to the ticket counter and slide my note and passport through the tray2 to the ticket lady. She takes a couple of seconds to read my note, then types some stuff on the computer. She turns the screen around to show me the departure, arrival, and price. It’s about 300 more rubles than I want to pay, but I’m honestly too tired to argue…not that it would do any good at this point. So I nod, “Da,” and get my ticket.

She prints it out. I look it over to make sure it looks okay and then head back on the metro.

I’m feeling a bit rushed at this point because Eric and Casper are leaving and I want to say goodbye before they take off. Fortunately, they’re running a bit late and I catch them in my terminus station buying tickets

We exchange contact information, say our goodbyes, and go on our way. Eric and Casper off on the Trans-Siberian; me to my bed.


  1. I’m actually not sure if that’s what she said, it was all in Russian. And that last little bit is the critical parts of the instructions that tells us where to go, but that we didn’t get that part 

  2. Side note on the the tray: Every business has a tray. You never really hand or get money directly from the person. It always goes to the tray first. I have no idea why…and I often forget to do it 

Possible Itinerary

After months of plotting, I think I have a possible itinerary. I’m going to call it Itinerary v0.1. It’s basically a version of The Lonely Planet’s Behind The Old Iron Curtain in reverse.

  • Seattle, Washington
  • Paris, France
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Moscow, Russia
  • St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Tallinn, Estonia
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Belarus
  • Ukraine
  • Poland
  • Hungry
  • Romania
  • Bulgaria
  • Macedonia
  • Albania
  • Serbia
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Croatia
  • Slovenia
  • Austria
  • Czech Republic
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Seattle, Washington

A quick glance at the math yields 21 countries in 60 days, or about three days per a country. I still think this is a little fast, so I will be whittling this down to hopefully 15 countries or less (4 days per a country is a bit better, I think). The entire Behind The Old Iron Curtain trip is supposed to take 2-3 months, according to The Lonely Planet, with a budget of €30-50 per day. Currently, this would be $38-63 per day. Or up to $3,800 for 60 days. This is definitely within my budget. Although I don’t think that includes transportation. Still, I think things are looking pretty good.

I also checked United and A) I definitely have enough frequent flier miles; and B) it will only cost about $60 to book the US to Europe part of the flight.

Now, at this point you may be wondering why I want to tour former Eastern Bloc countries. Two words: Cold. War.

A little know fact about me, if I had to be a history major, my area of expertise (I’m assuming history majors have these) would be the Cold War. I think the Cold War was amazing for a variety of reasons. Two super powers on the brink of self-annihilation. Covert operations. Incredible leaps in technology that we’re still taking advantage of today. The list goes on.

There’s a still a lot to figure out though, including, but not limited, to: A shorter list of countries I’d like to visit. Medical Insurance. Theft Insurance. Visa for Russia (and possibly other countries). A travel partner (for at least some of the trip).