19 Aug 2017 The Freedom of a Traveler in Moscow, Russia
The Freedom of a Traveler in Moscow, Russia
In the fall of 2016, I boarded one of the first in a series of three flights that would lead me to St. Petersburg, Russia. Compared to most college seniors, I hadn’t traveled that much; the most I had ever been on my own was living on a college campus in a small town in Minnesota which happened to be 400 miles from my home state. I was incredibly nervous for the duration of these three flights—except for the last one, during which I slept for most of the two hours—and it took a while to get adjusted to living in a foreign country with a host family. However, one cold, snowy night in November, I said goodbye to my host mother, joined the rest of my classmates, and boarded a train to Moscow. We spent a weekend there together and the following Sunday, I watched as everyone went off in different directions for independent travel week. And there I was, left on my own in a hotel in the biggest city in central Europe.
I spent three days in Moscow; I visited Lubyanka Square each day and made a different path around the city that I made sure would lead back to the metro. At the end of my time in Moscow, I took an overnight train to Veliky Novgorod that arrived at 5am to visit some friends and classmates. Had it not been for a very pleasant, middle-aged woman in the Moscow train station, I would not have known when the boarding for my train started. But she, a native Russian, was able to hear and understand the intercom over the noise of the trains and people around us. As we parted, she said, “Go with God.” I smiled, thanked her, and found the platform on my own. At the end of my time in Novogorod, I followed my friend’s directions on which bus to take to the train station and from there, went back to St. Petersburg.
Since then, I’ve traveled more. I’m currently residing in a different part of Russia and only recently, I took the electric train to a nearby town with some friends. Until I studied abroad, I had not really felt this kind of freedom before, the freedom of knowing you are capable of quite a lot, even as a “stranger in a strange land.” Even if I had never taken all of those trains to various cities around Russia last fall, I would still have tasted a new kind of freedom, the kind you acquire having to navigate a city like St. Petersburg on your own—a city of 5 million people, many of whom take the big and beautiful metro system, as I did nearly every morning on my way to classes. It was a new kind of independence I lived out, having to learn where the grocery stores and apothecaries are by keeping a lookout on my walks home, relying on small maps and the directions of Russian policemen, or even just realizing how different the city looked when the first few inches of snow fell and did not melt.
I was a homebody before my plane landed in Russia last fall. Now, I want to travel the world because I find freedom in traveling. I find freedom in being able to do “simple” things in foreign cities that would be so much less fulfilling in my hometown, things such as looking for particular groceries in a foreign language, being able to successfully communicate with a taxi driver, even just buying another couple of tokens for the metro. The night I prepared to leave St. Petersburg, I managed to get my backpack and suitcase to the nearest metro station and as I entered, I put in the last metro token I had with me. The woman guided me towards the special turnstile they have for people in wheelchairs or with large items, like me. Though I fell asleep after my plane took off, I knew when I woke up that I was going to come back as soon as I could. I had found a new freedom: the vibrant, intoxicating freedom of being a solo traveler. My best wishes to you as you travel more!
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