July has been one of my busiest travel months almost since starting the blog! This month has flown by and, as this post is going live, I can’t believe that I have a little over a week left of this trip. It has been an absolute whirlwind and an adventure I’ll never forget!
Where I Went
Moscow, Sergiev Posad, St. Petersburg, Peterhof, Pushkin (Russia)
Minsk, Mir (Belarus)
Kiev, Chernobyl, Pripyat (Ukraine)
Chisinau, Cricova (Moldova)
Iasi, Brasov (Romania)
White Nights and sunrise in St. Petersburg. There are some moments that while they’re happening, while you’re experiencing it, you know will stay with you for the rest of your life. I stayed up all night (got back to the hostel around 5:30am), watched the bridges go up, and saw the sunrise over the city on the Neva River. I drank in public (!!!), walked around an empty Palace Square, and got to share it all with the person I love most. It was one of the best nights of my life. I’ll never forget it.
Finally visiting St. Isaac’s Cathedral and Peterhof Palace. Because I got sick on my last trip to Russia, I missed out on so many things. St. Isaac’s Cathedral (in St. Petersburg) and Peterhof Palace (near St. Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland) were two of the things I was most looking forward to doing on this trip to Russia. They did not disappoint. St. Isaac’s Cathedral was spectacular, the interior was amazingly ornate, and I got to fulfill a life-long bucket list goal of seeing the city from the top of the dome at midnight. Peterhof Palace was also incredible—I loved seeing the gardens and the fountains, and wandering through the palace. It really was like a dream come true.
Discovering Georgian food. One of the main tips given to me about visiting Russia was to try as many different cuisines as possible—Georgian, Uzbek, anything else from Eastern Europe or Central Asia. Well, I fell in love (HARD) with Georgian food. My favorite? A khachapuri adjaruli, which is a bread bowl with cheese and butter inside, with a raw egg on top. I’ve eaten so many of them in the last month, and each and every one has been amazing. I’m already planning on a trip to Georgia next summer—mainly because of the food! If you get the chance, EAT GEORGIAN FOOD. You won’t regret it.
Pretty much everything in Russia. Every place I went, whether I had visited on my first trip or not, seemed special to me. I loved using my Russian in real life (mediocre as it is), I loved exploring Moscow and St. Petersburg so in-depth, I loved being back there. It was the best 16 days I could have ever asked for.
Returning to Riga, Latvia. I visited Riga in November/December 2013 for a weekend when I studied abroad in Nottingham. It was my first solo trip to continental Europe (so excluding Britain and Ireland), and my first solo trip to Eastern Europe. I absolutely loved it, and knew that one day I would have to go back and explore more of the Baltics. Well I finally got that chance, as visa restrictions and cheap flights meant a 2-night, 1-day “long layover” in Latvia! I had such a wonderful time strolling around the beautiful Old Town, taking photos, and seeing one or two things I had missed on my previous trip. Riga has changed (more on that below), and I’m so glad I got to visit 3.5 years ago.
Getting through Belarus visa-free with no problems. Ever since Belarus introduced their new 5-day visa-free scheme, I knew I wanted to visit. But there’s just barely any information out there about it (besides government websites), and so I was stressing out quite a bit about it. Luckily, we had zero problems visiting Belarus! Everything went fine both entering and exiting the country, and I was so grateful that I got to experience it when I did.
Falling in love with Kiev. I don’t know what about Kiev it is, but I fell madly in love with it almost instantaneously. I rarely get such good vibes from a city so early on, but Kiev has such a great atmosphere that I connected with the city immediately. The people were friendly, the city was beautiful in its own way, and everything was unbelievably affordable. I loved exploring the city, seeing the churches, standing in Maidan Square, visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, and eating borscht and varienki (dumplings) at Puzata Hata for super cheap. It’s a great city and my top budget destination in Europe.
Booking flights home for Christmas! Yep, you heard it here first: I’m headed back to Minnesota and the grand ol’ 612 for Christmas this year! When some decently cheap flights (one way is DIRECT!!!!!) popped up, I knew we had to pounce ASAP since they’d be gone soon. So we bought them right away and I’m headed home for Christmas! By the time I land, it’ll have been 14 months since I last was in Minneapolis and with my family. I’m so excited to be home for Christmas this year, I’m so excited to see all my family, and I’m so excited to spend another Christmas and New Year’s with Adam!
My phone breaking on Day #3 of my trip. I have a third-hand smartphone that to be honest I mainly use for Instagram, and while I knew it was old, it broke on the third day of the trip and I was at a loss. I should also say that technology has been brutal to me: my laptop takes ages (5-30 minutes) to connect to wifi, and I’m constantly running out of space (and having to go through and delete photos to free up space for more photos); my special memory card for all my video clips from this trip somehow deleted everything (thank GOD everything was still on my regular memory card and I could transfer it all over onto an extra USB I forgot I had); my regular memory card has been weird and now sometimes my laptop won’t even read the disk; and the list goes on and on. Technology has not been my friend, and traveling (without my hard drive) has been incredibly stressful.
Because my laptop sucks so much, I knew I had to get a new phone on the road because otherwise I would have basically no way to check emails and Facebook regularly (because my laptop takes so long to connect to wifi…). I ended up getting another, newer and nicer version of an Android phone for about £100 in St. Petersburg. I’m glad I bought it, but at the same time it was an expense I wasn’t expecting.
Student loans. I got some pretty bad news about my student loans, mainly that my federal monthly loan payment is going up by $183. Which would be fine, if my income was the same as when I re-certified, which was at the end of May, right before I left my job/contract/stable paycheck…but I couldn’t wait until I had left my job to re-certify, since the deadline would have passed and I’d have been stuck with an even bigger monthly loan payment. Having such a big student loan payment (which is really frustrating, because my UK tax wasn’t totally taken into account through my paystubs, since council tax aka local/city tax isn’t based on income but based on where you live—bullshit story for another time) put a huge damper on my spirits, since obviously now I’m unemployed and earning no money.
While I do want to be debt-free and be able to (eventually) pay off all my debt, I made the decision over a year ago that I would rather travel and live my dreams now while I’m young, and pay a bit more in loans later on. It’s a personal choice (and one I know that not everyone approves of), but for me it’s what I wanted to do. It’s just kind of biting me in the ass since I don’t have the stable income they calculated my payment for. Oh well.
Getting sick in Chisinau and missing Transnistria. Being sick when you’re traveling is literally the fucking worst. I’m lucky that I just had some sort of bug or food poisoning, and that it was over in about a day. And I’m especially lucky that a hostel employee, Olga, took Adam to the pharmacy for me, called her mom to ask about doses for medicine, and generally helped take care of me when I’m so far away from home. Then two days later, Adam got sick. And because we both got sick on separate days, we had to miss out on visiting Transnistria, one of our bucket list items. Getting sick sucks. Especially when you only have a handful of days in a place you want to explore more.
How expensive Riga is now. When I visited Riga, Latvia three and a half years ago, it was a relatively cheap destination and they still used the Latvian lats for their national currency. They joined the Euro a month later, and became a very popular destination (especially with the party crowd) not long after. Riga isn’t cheap anymore. It’s actually quite expensive, especially compared to the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius. While it’s a great city and I loved getting to be there again, it has changed so much—and high prices (5€ for a beer) is one of those unfortunate changes.
Getting bitten to death by mosquitoes in St. Petersburg and Kiev. My god, it’s been horrible. And I’m decently used to mosquitoes—I’m from Minnesota, where we often joke that the mosquito is our state bird. My legs were covered in bites, and just when most of them started to go away, I went to Kiev and to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (where the mosquitoes are GIANT) and got bitten everywhere, again. Also, I just have to say that I thought about bringing hydro-cortisone cream with me on this trip, but then I was like, “nah, I just won’t use it and it’ll be another liquid taking up space.” Famous last words.
Constant flights. I know this is probably the most first-world-problem you could have, but I really struggled with flying so much on this trip. I flew from St. Petersburg to Riga, Riga to Minsk, Minsk to Kiev, and Kiev to Chisinau—four flights in 11 days. Flying is so exhausting, especially when you’re traveling carry-on only and constantly have to pack and repack your bag to make sure it’s the smallest it can be. Especially after having to check a bag on the way to Russia because of awful weight restrictions. I’m glad we flew just because it meant being able to visit Belarus (and not have to spend 14 hours on a bus from Kiev to Chisinau), but I really do prefer traveling by land instead of flying. So much less stress.
A mix-up with boarding passes in St. Petersburg. Flying AirBaltic, you need to check in online and print your boarding pass in advance, otherwise it’ll cost you when you get to the airport. I thought we had been so smart, getting our boarding passes for both the Petersburg-Riga and Riga-Minsk flights, but on the bus on the way to the airport, we realized that the guy at the hostel had printed extra copies of the Riga-Minsk flight, and we had no boarding passes for Petersburg-Riga. Luckily, we had phones, could pay a small fee (£5) to use data to download boarding passes on our phones, and they had a free printer at Pulkovo Airport that worked with smartphones. But it was a very, very stressful few minutes.
Tour groups EVERYWHERE in Russia. Hordes of tourists. Everywhere. Queues. Everywhere. I was shocked at how many Asian (mainly Chinese) tour groups there were in Moscow. And it was the summer cruise-ship season in St. Petersburg, and you could tell: I queued for 2.5 hours to see Catherine’s Palace at Tsarskoe Selo and to get into the Hermitage. It really put a damper on those experiences, having to wait so long and then get herded from room to room like cattle. Next time I visit Russia, I want to go not in the summer high season.
Not getting to see Tunnel of Love. This is more of a disappointment than a worst moment, but one of the reasons we had planned so much time in Kiev was because I really really wanted to take a daytrip to see the Tunnel of Love. It’s an old, overgrown railway track that’s roughly halfway between Kiev and Lviv distance-wise, and takes at least 4 hours one way to drive there. The hostel staff had helped us organize BlaBla Cars (a long-distance ride-sharing company) for the trip, but we ended up with one of our drivers cancelling (we were at Chernobyl the day before and had no access to the internet). It was one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing in Ukraine. I guess I’ll just have to go back soon!
I’ve barely published any posts this month, since I’ve been traveling (and it’s actually really, really difficult to run a travel blog when you are actually traveling). On top of that, my computer takes ages to connect to wifi, frequently disconnects from the wifi for no reason, and just in general is old and shit. Plus I’ve been flying, which instead of having 3-4 hours on a bus or train to do blog stuff, I have about 1 hour at the airport (maybe) and 30 minutes on a flight, so I just don’t have enough downtime. I have TONS of posts planned that I want to write though, so there will be great content coming soon! Here’s what I’ve published this month:
Instagram Top 3
I have gotten so fed up with Instagram and changing algorithms and hashtag bullshit in the last month. I lose followers (whereas on previous trips, Instagram is constantly blowing up with followers) and my photos get barely a fraction of the likes they once did. I’m trying so hard not to internalize it and to just remember why I started Instagram in the first place: to share my travel photos. So I’ve tried to take a more laid-back approach to Instagram and to care a bit less about the numbers. Anyway, here are my top 3 from this month!
Happy 4th of July, America!! 🇺🇸 I may be in Moscow, but I think the best place to celebrate (when you’re Minnesotan) is up north at the cabin 🏡 . . This is one of my favorite photos of all time, taken from the ferry going to see the Statue of Liberty in New York City! 🗽 . . . . . #newyork #newyorkcity #nyc #statueofliberty #manhattan #skyline #newyork_instagram #thisisnewyorkcity #newyorkforall #ig_nyc #newyorkstateofmind #what_i_saw_in_nyc #photodream_nyc #nycprimeshot #ilovenewyork #usa #america #murica #stateology #4thofjuly #happy4th #beautifuldestinations #passionpassport #natgeotravelpic #lonelyplanet #lpfanphoto #amazingtravelbeauty #bbctravel #travel #wanderlust
The beautiful onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral! 😍 . . I have loved getting to re-visit some of my favorite places and discover new ones here in Moscow. I have also loved getting to practice my (mediocre at best) Russian over the past few days! 🙌 It’s been two years since I studied the language at university, and I’ve barely used it since then, but lots of things are coming back to me! It’s a bit painful at times but at least now I have proof my degree wasn’t totally pointless 😂 . I have two full days left here before heading on to the next destination. I’m already wishing I had longer! 😊 . . . . . #russia #moscow #moskva #stbasilscathedral #moskva_gorod #beautifulmoscow #itsmymoscow #our_msk #moscowviews #moskvagram #moskva360 #msk_best #ilovemoscow #moscow_photo #instagramrussia #photorussia #unlimitedrussia #russiaonline #ig_russia #russpasibo #russia_pics #easterneurope #topeuropephoto #passionpassport #beautifuldestinations #lpfanphoto #natgeotravelpic #Москва #Россия #соборвасилияблаженного
The magnificent Grand Cascade at Peterhof Palace! 😍 . Peter the Great had this palace built on the Gulf of Finland. It was mostly destroyed by the Nazis in World War II, but has been restored to its former elegant splendor. . The fountains are by far the most amazing part of the Peterhof complex. The Grand Cascade alone has 64 different statues and over 200 bronze statues and decorations. They all operate without pumps, a huge technological achievement for the time! ⛲ . Seeing Peterhof today was like a dream come true. It was one of the big things I missed on my last trip to Russia, since I got sick and lost several precious days of traveling. The palace and fountains are amazing and definitely one place you must visit when in St. Petersburg! ✨ . . . . . #russia #peterhof #peterhofpalace #grandcascade #fountains #stpetersburg #piter_never_sleeps #piterfollow #spb_petersburg #spbonline #spbgram #spblive #spblikes #mskpit #lovepetersburg #vpeterburge #instagramrussia #photorussia #unlimitedrussia #russiaonline #ig_Russia #russpasibo #easterneurope #topeuropephoto #passionpassport #beautifuldestinations #lpfanphoto #natgeotravelpic #Россия #Петергоф
Coming Up in August
I’ll be in Romania for a week before heading to Varna in Bulgaria (on the Black Sea) for some R&R on the beach for a few days. Then back home to England, where I’ll eventually figure out work/jobs/life in general. I’ll probably be making a trip to Northwest England again for a family event for a weekend (pending work schedules), but besides that the rest of the month will be one to relax, recoup, and re-energize.
What have you been up to in July? Any plans for the rest of the summer?!