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!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Getting Ready...

One week until departure from the U.S. and I'm still figuring out what on Earth I'm bringing with me for the next two months. Tried out my rain gear today in the shower; felt a lot like Ippolit in "The Irony of Fate":

The trial went well - nothing underneath got wet at all. At least I didn't attempt to venture into a January night in St. Petersburg after leaving the bath... but of course, my New Year's celebrations often fall on days that are far more hospitalble than the typical weather on the Russian Новый Год.

Here's to a new year, starting the instant my plane lifts off from the New Jersey ground and heads East - an adventure bedecked with camping gear, Russian phrasebooks, and long-anticipated fish soup - and I'm positively terrified. At least I'll be prepared if it rains...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hi everyone!

As many of you know, I am leaving in a week to travel around Sweden and Russia for two months, the majority of which will be spent in Eastern Siberia on the shores of Lake Baikal.

I am spending six weeks working on trail maintenance and trailbuilding with the Great Baikal Trail project, the largest project of its kind: a group of international volunteers working together to create a system of trails around the worlds largest freshwater lake. The project helps stimulate ecotourism in the area, and also provides an opportunity for a diverse array of people to come together, work hard, and learn lots from each other in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Oberlin's OCREECAS (Russian, Eastern European, and Central Asian Studies) program has generously sponsored my trip as one of several Oberlin students and alumni who have lived and worked with GBT.

Because I will be leaving the country, I will not have access to my cell phone or my personal computer for two months. That being said, the best way to reach me will be through email. My email address, for those who don't know it, is smadaytr@oberlin.edu. Here are the dates that I will be in Irkutsk, and thus have internet access:

July 6th-July 8th
July 22nd-July 27th
August 10th-August 11th
August 21st-August 23rd

The dates in-between those times, I will be hiking/backpacking on the lake, and thus won't be able to contact you. If I don't get back to you right away, don't fret! I'll be sure to get back to you as soon as possible. I'll be back in the States starting August 25th.

Mail is extremely slow and unreliable; however, for those who have their heart sent on sending me a letter while I'm in Russia, you can send it to the hostel where I will be staying. Mail takes about a month to get to Irkutsk from the U.S., so plan accordingly.

Maday Travis S. L.
Penguin Hostel
Ul. Yamskaya 5A-46
664000 Irkutsk, Irkutsk

I do plan to be writing to people from Irkutsk, so if you want some mail, leave your address!

Check out more information about the project I'm working on at http://www.greatbaikaltrail.org
There's also a translated site about Baikal here: http://www.baikal.ru/old.baikal.ru/fra_e.htm
I also highly recommend the view of Lake Baikal from Google Earth.

I'm super excited to be traveling and can't wait to share stories about the adventures ahead!

Much love,