Not quite Russia

11/28/2015 09:57:00 pm

For some reason, I have recently been getting a huge amount of web traffic from some questionable corners of the interwebs, based mainly in  former Soviet bloc countries. It brought Russia to my mind, and reminded me of a trip that I didn't take...

Aside from the day-to-day adventure of living in a new place, where the culture was so confusingly, almost imperceptibly, different, the year I was in Sweden, there was always something happening. A different Nation every night of the week, gasques, fika, sledding on garbage bags, and any kind of activity fuelled by jaeger and vodka (bought from Systemet in the 2.64 hours a day, but not Sunday, that it is open) and the realisation that in Europe the world is quite literally an oyster, waiting to be gobbled up, and only a 2 hour flight/bus/ferry away.

Actually, Kiruna was a 16 hour train trip. I will never, ever, repeat such an experience. But for the first, and possible only, time in my life, I saw metres upon metres of snow, and the Northern Lights. I cross-country skied too, but like the train, it will never happen again. 
Paris. Never go there in a relationship that's almost run its course. 

In this whir of activities, there was an organised group trip to Russia (optional). The visa and sponsor, as well as transport were all figured out by someone else, and I think a lot of the travel was done by overnight bus.  But at the time the $800 AUD it would have cost just felt like too much, especially since I had just lost what felt like an insurmountably large sum of money thanks to a shitty international bank transfer (lesson learned on that one: just withdraw the money from an ATM and pay the fee, much cheaper overall).

Preserved fishing villages, along with their poles for preserving fish,  dot the coast of Gotland. From a quick look at the map just now, I think this is Nyhamns fiskeläge, but my map reading skills are questionable. 
Sunset on the beautiful Baltic Sea. I couldn't get my head around the sea being flat as a tack and full of swans. Still can't. 

Also, although I was a marginally cooler person in Sweden, compared to Australia, the group who were going were the actual cool people. Even on exchange, the social divisions of high school persist.

Even New York is close enough to go for a four day trip. No idea how I justified that one to myself! The flights were cheap, but it was a lesson that KLM is to be avoided at all costs.  And, if I recall, we had a very big night out before I flew out, during which I lost my bag, containing my house keys. Although I shared with 12 people, we had individually-locking rooms, and my passport was in the room. For what felt like hours I searched for that bag, screeching (or possibly slurring...) at anyone who would listen, "Jag har förlorat min väska, har du sett den?"  Of course, the bag was at the coat check, but I had forgotten. 

I know I would not have enjoyed the part where one of the Australian boys drank so much on the ferry to Finland that he got held by the police and was left behind by the bus heading to Russia. I know that I would not have enjoyed the part where they smuggled many litres of vodka back into Sweden (why, why, when you are passing through border controls where the staff have automatic weapons??). I just can't keep up with that kind of dangerous recklessness. Couldn't then, and I'm even less inclined now.

Portofino - thanks to my wonderful friend Vittoria, whose family has a summer home on the Italian Riviera. I remember walking through the airport, wondering when I would hit Customs/Immigration. I stepped through another door and found myself standing outside at the taxi rank. The man with the machine gun and an expresso...he was it.

In spite of that, I have always sort of regretted missing the opportunity. Even though I usually despise group tours, and I took the night bus to Oslo enough times to cure me of any notion that bus is an ideal mode of transportation for long-distance travel.

The wettest place in Europe, Bergen, lived up to expectation. Both in terms of the moisture and the scenery. This is Hardangerfjord, and although the day was terrible for photo-taking, the boat trip was spectacular. Also on re-reading the post I wrote after that trip I was reminded of (1) how hilarious I found it when Jenny tried to pat a friendly-looking sheep, which promptly bit her on the finger, and (2) of the most impressive set of eyebrows I have ever witnessed. 

Although it was Sunday and the streets were quiet, the smell of sweet roasting nuts filled the air,  sold by these authentic mediaeval mobile phone using locals. After Tallinn, I have never been able to look at a danish pastry the same way...

Alexsander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn, Estonia. About the closest I got to Russia. The ferry ride over was amazing, because it cost us only $22, and we figured out very late in the evening that the doors to the ball pit were not locked. 

I went to so many other places, and saw such amazing things, but never Russia. Not quite.

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