Sunday, September 6, 2009

Giraffe travels for Dima!

So, lots has happened since I first landed in Colorado several weeks ago. Here's a recap of some recent journeys, with pictures of my new giraffe friend for Димачка back in the Motherland!

After spending about a week at home in Colorado, I hopped on a train to Arizona. Here's a (rather blurry) picture of the Denver train station, one of the most beautiful train stations in America.

This picture was taken in Raton, New Mexico, halfway between Denver and Flagstaff, my final destination.

The ultimate destination, of course, was the Болшой канён (probably spelling that wrong), better known to Americans as the Grand Canyon.

The trip was amazing, lots of good adventures and nights in the forest. Here's a picture of giraffe friend on the way back, enjoying a cup of complimentary Amtrak tea. (Again, failing to rotate the picture; my apologies.)

And, going home after the great adventure, feeling sad but excited to be going back to Oberlin!

I'm in Oberlin now, working and going to class and all the rest. Stay tuned for the announcement of the final presentation in Russian House, hopefully some time in the next two weeks. And hello to Dima! Привет, Дима!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Final project recap, and home safe!

Greetings from the mountain plains of Aurora, CO! I've been home safe in the U.S. for more than 24 hours now, and though the jetlag has hit me pretty hard, things have been going fairly well. Here's some photos and details from my last project, as promised, with more summary to follow in the next few days. Also, look for an announcement about my presentation in Russian House some time in September!

My final two-week project was located a few kilometers north of the summer village of Bolshie Kotiy, whose name alternatively means "Big Clogs" or "Big Cats," depending on who you're talking to. It was a work-camp gold mine during the Gulag era, and now houses rich бизнезмены from Irkutsk during their summer holidays. Below is a photo of our work site, where we built a set of 33 stairs from the existing trail to the lakeshore below, turning the course of the trail away from a dangerous ridgeline trail to the much more safe rock steps built by a previous project this summer.

Building stairs is even harder than it sounds, because as you build you have to carry materials higher and higher up the steps you have already built. By the end of the project, no one was willing to carry more than two or three bags aof gravel a day because it involved so much effort. The hard work was worth it, however, as at the end of the project we had transformed an extremely dangerous slope into a passable series of steps acceptable for backpackers. Though the stairs will no doubt require maintenance as soon as next summer, we're glad to know that the brunt of the work is now completed.

In addition to the work we did on the trail, there was time for a lot of good times at camp this time around. We had three days of hard rain, two of which were my cooking days, which was hellish but funny in retrospect. About halfway through the project, I had a long-awaited haircut on the beach. An fuzzy rainy-day photo is shown below.

I also had the chance to visit my second campsite on one of our holidays. It was a long walk, but totally worth it for both the scenery and for seeing Dima, pictured below. Though we had rough spots at times, Dima has grown to be one of my favorite acquantainces from the trip. He's got a great personality and a sense of humor filtered through beautifully limited English. We had a nice cold lunch on a cloudy day, which will do until I can host him somewhere else in the world.

Here's a photo of one of my last looks at the Lake - hard to believe even now, more than halfway around the world, that I won't wake up tomorrow morning to hear waves crashing on its shores. I camped on Baikal for 21 days, and I experienced at least 21 different lakes. I drank gallons and gallons of its water, and no doubt a fair amount of my own body is carrying its mass around this desert landscape in the Rocky Mountains... and, slowly, it is adjusting to its new watershed and transforming accordingly.

I'm missing Russia desperately, and my friends there even more. Something tells me I won't be able to stay away for very long. After the trauma of a 36-hour travel day on Tuesday, however, I think I'll have to find a way to make the travel really worthwhile again, by an extended stay and a worthwhile cause. I'm looking forward to the adventures that lay ahead, in all shapes and sizes, and slowly adjusting to the realities of Home.

Thanks for reading, everyone - there will be a few more posts, so stay tuned for updates! And of course, if you're in the US, give me a call! It's crazy to be so connected again, but I'm trying to make the most of it by having those valuable conversations that were impossible this summer. Much love!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Last day in Russia!

Hello everyone! Just got back from a fantastic project near Bolshie Koty, building over 30 steps from the lakeshore to the trail above. I'm feeling exhausted, but strong, and proud of the things I've accomplished while here. Unfortunately, my camera doesn't appear to be connecting to my computer, and I'm trying to be as budget-minded as possible on this irrational final-moment day here in Irkutsk, so I think I'll keep this entry brief - look forward to more updates from Stateside. Wish me luck with my 32 hours of travel time tomorrow (all tomorrow, thanks to the International Date Line) and the recovery period before returning to Oberlin in a few short days. Sending all my love, and looking forward to seeing/talking with you soon!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dacha visit, new project!

In Irkutsk today, preparing for my third and final project on the Lake... helped some American ladies around the city who arrived by train this morning from Mongolia. Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting a Russian дача (dacha) with a volunteer from Angarsk.

We travelled there in a Japanese car that had been recently stolen by the Russian mafia - and therefore we were at a high risk for being stopped by the police. Nadya and I were crammed in the backseat behind a camping mattress and my airline banket, peeking out to give directions and catch a glimpse of the scenery.

Here is the dacha, which Nadya's family built themselves, about 70 kilometers south of Angarsk. The energy of the place is stunning; it's a true home.

Here is a picture of part of the garden, which was vast and bountiful with things to eat. We ate more greens than I've ever seen in my life over the course of 15 hours.

Here is Nadya and her Babushka, by the prized flower garden in front of the house. They have an incredibly close family, though it's normal for Russians to be cross-generationally close. I was amazed at everything I saw - an incredible serendipitous visit that I can't imagine missing.

Tomorrow it's back to Bolshie Koty - looking forward to sharing stories once I'm back in the U.S.!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Back from English Camp!

Hello again from the Irkutsk Penguin Hostel, where I am spending a few days relazing before my next project which begins in three short days. I came home early from the Eco-English camp project, located about 9 kilometers north of Listvyanka, because I needed some time to gather my wits before the completion of my time here. And so I am here, in the quiet, quiet hostel, enjoying some privacy and some peace.

I was recently informed that my blog is now linked to the Oberlin blog - so to all you prospective Obies, welcome! I added a link to the much-underused (and long unedited) website for OCREECAS, the fund that provided me with a grant for this summer's work, which you should definitely check out as a huge available resource for you if you are at all interested in travelling, working, and learning more about Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. I'm not a REES major myself, in case you were worried about pressure to major in Russian in order to get funds.

I have no pictures for you as of yet; unfortunately, my camera ran out of batteries early in the trip and I have yet to procure them from shops in town. The region we were living in was one of the most biologically diverse regions that I've ever seen, as well as one of the most beautiful - it was easy to see over 30 species of wildflowers in half a kilometer of trail, or 10 species of butterflies in one place, often landing on your hands or face, on sunny days by the lake. We camped right on the shore, which was a powerful experience, though not quite powerful enough to overcome my sense of disorderly boredom that eventually drove me back to the city. The project was frustratingly run, with little organization and no real role for me as a native speaker of English, and though I had fun teaching lessons about America - more contradancing and singing were involved, as well as a spontaneous rendition of "Cotton Eye Joe" - I found that my experiences this time around weren't expecially rewarding.

In three days I embark on a new journey in the same national park, this time just a few kilometers north of Bolshiye Koty, though the project will have a similar feel to my first project, clearing trails and doing purely physical labor with a mixed group of Russians and foreigners. I think it will be better for me to be in a situation where I am not the only native English speaker, and especially where my ability to speak English isn't the focus of my volunteering. The new friends I made were really great, and I look forward to seeing them here in a few short days... and for now, some rest.

Stay tuned for updates, possibly pictures, and lots of love from Siberia!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pictures! And an update.

In Irkutsk now, spending a night in the Penguin Hostel and enjoying mjy last few moments with my friends from my first project in Tanhoi. My next project is the Eco-English camp, which I thought was a program for children, but as it turns out, I will be helping out with the education of five native Russians in addition to being a loval native expert for sign translation and lesson planning for future projects. I'm fairly disappointed, but hoping that it will be a productive project in which I learn a lot and make good connections for the future.

Here are some pictures from the previous project that I wanted to share with you. The first is of me working on the trail that we built - a full 175 meters of fresh trail through the temperate rainforest along the Southeastern shore of the lake. This is me with a shovel, digging into the light brown earth there.

This is a picture of our river, the Ocanovka, or Aspen, River. It was perfectly clear and absolutely drinkable for Russians and foreigners alike.

Here is a picture taken over the village of Tanhoi, about 9 kilometers' hike from our campsite. This is a sunset over Lake Baikal on our first night out of the woods.

And, of course, here is a picture of our team, bananas in hand as bananaphones on the shoreline on our last day together.

It has been an incredible experience so far, and I'm looking forward to more fun times on the lake in the next ten days. Look forward to more updates, probably at the end oа this project and in the days to follow... missing America lots, and excited to be home soon!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Hello my dearest fans,

I write to you from an Internet Cafe in the city of Ulan-Ude, capital of Buryatia, two days away from the beginning of my SECOND project, which is truly hard to believe. The project I just finished, "In the Jungles of Khamar-Daban" near the village of Tanhoi, was absolutely spectacular. I don't have a cord for my camera, which is sad, because I have lots of incredible photos, but here's some brief highlights to hold you over until I am back in Irkutsk:

  • First day: our "marshrutka" or minibus breaks down on the highway, and we don't make it to our campsite until 10 pm, with no dinner and after 9 kilometers of hiking, and having to set up camp
  • Living and working in temperate rainforest for two weeks, by the cleanest, sweetest, most beautiful river I've ever seen
  • Swimming daily, sunbathing after lunch, and sun almost every day
  • Teaching 9 Russians to contradance on American night
  • Singing "Bananaphone" over and over again to the delight of my campmates, leading to the title "BananaSan"
  • Chopping down 20 trees in a day, and helping clear 175 meters of trail over the course of the project with only shovels and pickaxes for us to use
  • Having a Russian kiss my boot during an awkward ice-breaking game
  • My largest injury: a sliced finger from a rainy-day attempt at a carved spoon (not a recommended activity for the weak of heart)
  • Swimming in Baikal, eating fresh-caught "omul" (the Baikal fish) and sunbathing for our last day together
All in all, it was a life-changing experience. I made incredible friends, did lots of hard work, and simply had an incredible time. Now I have two days with new friends in the city of Ulan-Ude, home of the world's largest head of Lenin in addition to an incredibly interesting community of Russians and Buryats living together in an urban environment. I'm really excited for the adventures ahead, and looking forward to writing more to you from this big, beautiful country!

C liobovio iz Rossia! With love from Russia!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Irkutsk times!

Today is my second full day in the beautiful city of Irkutsk. I really love it here - the city has a character unmatched by the other places in Russia that I have visited. It is a dynamic city with a diverse population of people from all around the world; small enough to be easily travelled by foot, and with a striking architecture and cultural district that reflects a long and intricate history.

Yesterday I walked along the River Angara (accent the final a), which was a stunning sight to behold - as the only river flowing out of Baikal, you can feel its powerful flow as you walk past. I saw a lot of monuments, including the Lenin bridge, technically the largest momument to Lenin in the world! (I have witnessed a great many since my arrival two weeks ago. I'm glad that perhaps with this crowning jewel of Lenin memorials, this trend is over and I can move on to a new theme in monuments.) I also hung out with the 'chairenas,' which I have liberally translated as 'tea gulls,' as the first three letters in their name spell 'chai,' the Russian word for tea.

I've thoroughly enjoyed the multicultural feel of Irkutsk, and today I walked through the Chinese marketplace not two blocks from the hostel. A man sitting in a hat stand asked his coworker in Chinese whether I was a boy or a girl, assuming that I spoke Russian only - it was a funny moment, since if he had asked in Russian, I probably wouldn't have heard him at all. I've found that despite growing out my hair, painting my toenails, making my own jewelry, and routinely wearing what I would call patriarchy-approved feminine clothing, it's still impossible to know how I'll present. Part A, should have known all along, Part B, not really affecting my trip in the foreseeable future.

Here's some more photos from my adventures in Irkutsk:

Here is the sun setting over the city, again taken from the flat in Penguin Hostel - the whole city seemed purple and blue from here.

This is the resident bunny rabbit, aforementioned, in his beauty.

Today my bank card finally worked, so I treated myself to a nice hot lunch! These are "posies," a traditional Siberian steamed dumpling.

Here is some of the typical architecture for the city - wooden buildings with bright, interesting colors and strong geometric designs in the windows and trim. Truly a beautiful and integrated architecture.

Tomorrow is my first day on the trail. We're headed to Tanhoi, a small village on the other shore of the lake that is surrounded by a temperate rainforest. The workers here have said that it's their favorite part of the Baikal region. Wish me luck!

Monday, July 6, 2009

In Irkutsk, finally

Hello, everyone, and my warmest regards from Irkutsk, the capital of Siberia! It has been a long time since I last posted, so I'll try to explain the events of the past five days (really, it's only been five days?) as well as I can at this hour.

I was in Yekaterinburg for three days sort of, two full days in reality, with these two lovely people: Ksenia on the left (my right) and Nastya on the right (the tall one - 6 centimeters taller than me!). This is a picture we took at the train station, right before I stepped on to the worst experience of my whole life - ah, but that comes later.

I stayed at Nastya's house for four nights, where I recieved generosity and hospitality unmatched by anyone I've ever stayed with before. She lives there with her mother, a dog named Daisy (say it with a Russian accent), and a cat named Basia, which makes two animals named Basia that I've met here so far. Nastya was an incredible person, full of energy and good will, and really easy to talk to, despite the language barrier. I felt toally comfortable being her guest, and found that I could understand what she was saying - and respond in a meaningful, comprehensible way - about 85-90% of the time. The gratitude I have for her is beyond explanation. Below is a picture of us on my last night in Yekaterinburg, wearing matching hats. Ksenia had bought one in America and one in Russia, but they really were the same hat. She claims that they were from the same factory in China.

The picture itself was taken at Ksenia's flat, my true host, my Russian TA from Oberlin. It was incredible to be shown around her home town, chatting in Russian and English, and becoming true friends. Below is a picture of me and Quentin, Ksenia's cat, probably the sweetest cat in the entire world.

Ksenia served an incredible dinner the last night I was there, which featured authentic Russian salatiy, an incredible cheese pie, and planbir, the traditional Russian ice cream. We also watched Cheburashka, an old Russian cartoon, in English, which was abolutely hilarious. I had seen them all before in Russian, which was much more comprehensible and cute - the English was truly entertaining, though. It was a fantastic night.

Then came the train ride. I was forced to buy second class cupe tickets after all, because the platscart tickets were all sold out, and I ended up in a four-bunk cabin with three Russians, Vladimir featured above. The knife is mine; he is preparing to cut the block of fat sitting on the table next to him - see it, the one that looks like a loaf of bread? It was probably the worst 53 hours of my life, but they're over.

Now I'm in the Penguin Hostel in Irkutsk, enjoying the company of some very kind volunteers from both Russia and America, and a giant white rabbit named Kroshk. (Picture to come.) Below is a picture of the city that I took at dusk from the balcony of our 10th-story flat near the central market of the city.

Irkutsk is a beautiful and distinctive city, with a lot of old wooden architecture and a complicated sprawl that doesn't resemble the other cities that I've visited. I'm eager to learn more about the city and its history in the next few days. My first project begins on July 9th, in three days, and will feature the temperate rainforest on the other bank of the Lake. I've already met one other member of the team, a professor from New York, and the leader of the project, who seems quite lovely herself. I'm excited to be here and looking forward to visa registration, encephalitis vaccination, and attempting to cash traveller's cheques tomorrow.

All the best from the Wild, Wild East, and happy to finally be on solid ground!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


 I survived the train and now I'm in Ekaterinburg, communicating effectively in Russian, coughing violently, and refusing to sleep.   It's really magical to be able to talk only in a second language (with the help of a dictionary, of course.)  I don't really know if I want to get back on the train in three days, but I guess I'll just have to deal with it.

This is a picture of the train that I took in Perm.  I was on the platskart wagon of a Firmennaya train, meaning that I was on the cheapest nice train there is.  I think it was named "Yamal." I was definitely the only person on the train who spoke a word of English.  When I took this picture, I asked my bunkmate how long we would be here, and he told me about forty minutes.  As it turns out, the train was only in the station for about 10 minutes and almost left without me - I was super embarrassed, and of course scared out of my wits. 

This is the boy who caused all of my trouble, but of course, also all of my joy - a Ukrainian kid named Vasilly.  He was traveling with his mother to Siberia and slept in the bunk underneath me.  He told me, after taking several nonconsensual photographs, that I was the first American he had ever seen.  I gave him an American flag and a whole lot of distance.  He really was a nice kid, although I certainly had trouble understanding his habits - listening to loud Ukrainian rap music set to the theme of the X-files while I tried to sleep, giving me grossly false information about stops at various stations, and of course, wanting only to talk about marijuana, vodka, and whether or not Tchaikovsky was gay.  He also drank at least 6 beers in the course of one day, starting at 9:00 Moscow time this morning.

At the end of the trip, though, as we were pulling into Sverdlovsk, he played really loudly for me a remix of Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend."  This got him a lot of bonus points.

Here's the view out of the window, close to Sverdlovsk.  There were a lot of birch and pine trees, and a lot of villages, filled with brown wooden hutches and birghtly colored summer homes, or "dachas."  I figure if I lived in a country like Russia, I would paint my house bright purple and turquoise, too.  Maybe I would no matter where I lived...

My adopted Ukrainian family - Vasilly's mother was really a good friend to me.  She fed me cheese and sausage while discussing comparative literature through extremely broken Russian.  She painstakingly repeated every phrase about four times until I understood what she was talking about, and when I didn't, I just smiled and said "Da."  You can see what close quarters we were in - my bed was about 5'6" long and had very little headroom.  You sit on the lower berths during the day.

Everyone told me to expect wild parties on the train, but I found people to be relatively boring.  Almost everyone was asleep by 9:00 pm Moscow time - it was just me and my headlamp after that, reading and writing letters.

This is the drunk man from the Ukraine who apparently lived less than 500 kilometers from Chernobyl when it exploded.  That may explain why he talked so slowly and incomprehensibly...

And now I'm in Ekaterinburg, staying at the house of my teacher's best friend from university.  I really love it here, especially the conversation and the sense of adventure.  Or whatever.  I gave her some maple syrup as a gift, and I had a really hard time explaining what it was for in Russian - I'm not sure if she'll ever use it (it's on the bookshelf now) but she did seem pleased when I brought it out to light.  Tomorrow, sightseeing in the town and buying more train tickets.  And right now, I should definitely sleep.

Споконой ночи!  Good night!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hello, all! I am writing to you from a rushed encounter with an Интернет-Кафе near Yaroslavsky station, less than one hour from departure to Yekaterinburg on the second leg of my Russian journey. Here is my beautiful, long-labored after train ticket that I bought successfully in Russian:

I am riding platscart, which means that I will share a cabin with 51 other wagonmates for the next 26 hours. I've heard it's more fun, and more safe for people traveling alone. (Also it's about ten times cheaper than cupe.)

Yesterday I went to the Moscow "White House," the central Russian government building. This is a picture of a townspeople-created memorial to those who died during an attack on the White House in 1993, when the Soviet Union fell. The government refuses to acknowledge formally what went on, or create an official memorial for the 100 or so people, many of them bystanders, who died during the event. Standing next to the wall of faces is my friend Marina, who I stayed with for two nights near Arbat.

Here is another memorial created by the people of Moscow - this one for Michael Jackson. There were tons of people there crying yesterday. Incredible.

This is the "Fountain of the People's Friendship," located in an old Soviet exposition-turned-mall in the northern area of the city where I spent the last two nights. The women around the fountain are each wearing the national dress of a Soviet state, which they represent.

And, of course, here is a picture I took of myself during the final hour of my 20th birthday, which was yesterday. Thanks to all who sent me good wishes yesterday, and lookig forward to being home and celebrating when I'm back.

Lots of love to you all, and missing you from the train!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Moscow, Part 1

I've been living the past 3 days in a beautiful apartment near Arbat street in downtown Moscow. My adventures here have been absolutely wonderful, ranging from sightseeing in Red Square, walking around pretty much all of the inner city, and enjoying the life-endangering feel of the Moscow subway.

My host here has a fabulous pair of animals - a dog that loves everyone and everything, and a cat that is very calm but definitely is not interested in playing with you whatsoever. Here are some photo snippets from the past few days' time:

Michael Jackson died the morning I left from Sweden. The headline reads: "Dead in the night." I think he actually died in the afternoon... in the night in Sweden. I couldn't believe that this could happen while I wasn't in the States! I'm super grateful that I am spared the incessant playing of "Thriller" by being here in Russia...

This sign in the metro says: "Every minute, three more children are born in Russia. The country needs your support!" (i.e. Have more kids!) There's a payoff for mothers with many children, because it isn't a popular venture and the Russian population is declining rapidly. My solution: make visas cheaper!

(According to Wikianswers, there are about 8 children born every minute in the U.S., which is lower than the global average.)

Here is a sideways picture of me looking sexy in front of the Kremlin. (Edits soon.)

Here is a tree that people put locks on when they get married for luck. Yesterday I must have seen about 15 tacky weddings going on in Red Square. I like this tradition of the lock, though, I think it's very cute.

Anyways, I have to run off to meet my next host in the northern part of the city - thinking lots of everyone I love back home, practicing my cute Russian lots, and wishing you all all of the best from the world's supposedly most unfriendly city!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hej då, Stockholm!

I've had a fantastic three days in Stockholm, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I've had a great time hanging with my good friend Emma, staying with a group of friends in a nearby suburb of the city, travelling in the extremely clean (and extremely quiet) metro, visiting places that have ben important in my family's history, and enjoying time spent with good friends, new and old.

This is Emma and my mother's friend Sonja, outside of her Finnish church in the Old City. Not long after, we had a fantastic lunch while listening to a daily organ concert held in the afternoons there. The performer was a 23-year-old from Russia, who was apparently the Nordic organ champion this year. Really great.

Early in the day, Emma dn I went to visit the small suburb she lived in while she was studying in Stockholm University, Sundyberg - she was willing to indulge me in some bird watching down in the local park. Here is a picture of an extremely common bird in the city, the magpie, which I am absolutely infatuated with.

After the park, we went to IKEA together to have bro time. Here's the lunch I got there for less than $10 - 15 meatballs, potatoes, lingonberry sauce, a salad, coffee, some juice, and a "princess cake" made of marzipan. Really good - very filling.

Finally, here's me and a friend I made in IKEA - not an excellent representation of all the amazing people and places I've become familiar with in these three days, but it'll have to do for now.

Best wishes, and see you in Moscow tomorrow night!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Change of plans, and a new outlook from... Sweden!

Hello everyone! It seems like ages ago that I was on the ground in Chicago, but in reality it wasn't even 24 hours ago - it is currently 6:30 here in Stockholm, where I am staying with my friend Emma and her friend Emelie, who shares a beautiful apartment on the south side of the city.

Despite having slept minimally in the last 72 hours, I'm feling pretty good. Stockholm is strikingly beautiful, and I've found that being here with a friend makes it that much more rewarding (and maneuverable). I'll be sure to post more later on, especially once I've seen more of the city, but I wanted to let you avid readers know some good and bad news. My plans have changed because on eof the programs that I was scheduled to do was cancelled, and so I will have similar projects, but in a closer time frame - meaning that I will have less internet/leisure time in the Irkutsk area, but it does mean that I'll be heading home earlier than originally planned, now on August 18th.

So great! The sun is shining (as it will until... well, autumn), the kids are playing out in the community yard, and the magpies are singing and being beautiful here in the suburbs of Stockholm. More to come, and thanks for following!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Greetings from Chicago!

The first leg of my journey is about to be completed - a one-night stay in the great American city of Chicago. I stayed with Daniel, an old friend of mine, in an amazing apartment building in Hyde Park - The Suzanne.

My backpack straps look a little lopsided - I'm working on that - but in reality, it's probably me who's a little lopsided this morning. The weather here is unbearable after the dry heat of Colorado - muggy, hot, and sweaty, especially in the third-floor room I slept in last night. Daniel just moved in yesterday, so I had the opportunity to try out my sleeping bag for the first time, but since it was about 90 degrees in the room I was in, it was hardly necessary.

Yesterday I had the privilege of picnicking on Lake Michigan, yet another beautiful inland lake. I'm always amazed by the ocean-like scenery of the Great Lakes, their vastness, yet it's nothing compared with the vastness of Baikal. In fact, the water from all five Great Lakes wouldn't fill Baikal to its current levels - that's because these glacial lakes' depth pales in comparison to the mile-deep basin of the mountains. (Lake Superior is 1,332 feet at its deepest - Baikal, 5,315.)

One cold shower and a cup of city coffee later, I'm now enjoying the cool air conditioning of the UChicago library, grateful for my new perspective on the internet (a privilege, not a vice), and preparing myself for the next spurt of travel, a 10-hour flight sequence on Malaysian Airlines from here to Stockholm. I'll leave you with one more picture.

Here is Daniel, in my now-abandoned cowboy hat (can't wear both the hat and the backpack - something that wouldn't have occurred to me when I bought it), wearing a shirt with a Swedish-speaking squid, who says: "One language is not enough." On the Tyrannosaurus rex's backbone, it says, "staircase." On its teeth, it says, "hedgeclippers." And on its jaw, it says, "cranberry."

I'll leave the interpretation up to you. See you in Sweden!

Thursday, June 18, 2009


So here I am in my fourth day of blogging and already I've got visitors from 5 continents. (None from Russia yet, though - hopefully there will be soon!) Welcome! Sorry that there's not much yet to report... still 3 days away from departure to Chicago, then Stockholm, Sweden. I touch foot in Moscow, Russia first on the night of June 26th.

Right now all of my time is spent either packing or worrying about packing. Here's some highlights from the list of things sneaking their way into my 20-year-old backpack on loan from my aunt for the trip:

  • A green tennis dress first owned by my grandmother, and then my mother, and now me
  • An assortment of anarchist zines for a couchsurfing host interested in the unpublishable
  • About 5 pounds of maple syrup, brought as gifts (apparently there are NO sugar maple trees in Russia - tragic)
  • A tin mug that reads "World's Best Dad" (got it at Saver's for 69 cents)
  • A straw hat that makes me look like a cowboy - or a tourist
  • Four plaid shirts, five A-shirts, and six pairs of mens' underwear (so much for not being out in Russia)
  • Twelve American flags (I'm sure it'll help in customs)
I've been having trouble sleeping, and when I do sleep, all I dream about is travel mishaps in bad Russian. Things are finally falling together, though, for better or for worse. I wish I could find my "Anarchist's Cookbook" in the piles of storage here in my mother's apartment, but again, I'm not sure it'd help during the customs search on my way into the country... anyways, keep reading! More to come!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Travel up until now

It's true that I'll be doing a lot of travel this summer, but I've already made my way around a lot of the United States. Here are some highlights:

(This is also a not-so-secret plot to have pictures available to share with people in Russia/cheer me up while I'm gone...)

Through May 29th: Oberlin, OH This small Northeast Ohio town has been my home for two years now as a student at Oberlin College. This year, I stayed through graduation with a bunch of my closest friends in their house in the north part of town.

May 29th-June 1st: Woods Hole, MA An old childhood haunt; I stayed for several nights with old friends in this beachside town. Full of scientists and tourists on their way to the Islands; it's definitely a unique place. And one thing is for sure: it never changes.

June 1st-3rd: Western Massachusetts It's true. I went to high school out here. And thus, many of my dear friends still live out here, too. Plus it's the most beautiful place in the world. (Well, at least the United States.)

June 4th-10th: Worcester, MA The place I grew up in, Central Massachusetts is a sub/urban hellhole that I still call home. My dad lives here still with his wife and my three half-siblings.
June 10th-June 20th: Boulder/Denver, CO This is a new home to me; my mother just moved out to Denver in February and my aunt, uncle and cousin live in Boulder. In the few short days that I've been here, I've been overwhelmed by the hospitality of the people, the friendliness of the cities, and the stunning beauty of the landscape. I've also had the privilege to meet some great people in the folk community and already feel like I have a third family out here in the mountains.
And that's where I'm at now. Last night I went to a house concert in Nederland, a mountain town about 3,000 feet above where I am now, and was overwhelmed by how welcomed I felt. In the course of three hours, I met 30 people, invited to several folk events (all of which are happening while I'm in Siberia), and was even offered a gig with a local band. So wow. Now I've definitely got an incentive to come back here in August.

More to come! Stay tuned!