Bob Dylan sang ‘You Gotta Serve Somebody’. John Lennon, offended by Dylan’s subordination retorted immediately with ‘You Gotta Serve Yourself’, Well, actually I think they are both kinda wrong, It depends how you look at it.

I am highly strung, full of nervous energy, distractible and scattered. Spread thin. I read 4 books at once and have more pies than fingers, I had recently got out of the London life trap and made it to Russia, but I still carried a million silly problems in my head. Stood on the icy platform in Yekaterinburg I was independent and serving no-one, but it wasn’t bringing much freedom, at least not mentally. It really took some subservience on my part to actually start feeling free. It seems independence brings it’s own pressures whereas freedom lives without them. Big difference.

The next three days could well be hellish. It was a strange time to travel, it was natives only at this time of year, and in this part of the world you are dreaming if you think you will find any English speakers. I was traveling alone but sharing a 4 berth cabin on the Trans-Siberian Express with three Russian soldiers and a dog, a beautifully behaved brown cocker spaniel as it happens, but the soldiers were huge and pretty intimidating. They polished knives in bed. Not of the cutlery variety.

They had faces I wasn’t familiar with, much harder and more defined. I remember thinking I have never met anybody like these guys. This was in February 2014, at the height of the Ukraine crisis and although I couldn’t understand a word of the soldiers Russian,  the occasional ‘Obama’ or ‘Americans’ was distinguishable. Despite trying to look as nation-less as possible, at no point did I feel uncomfortable. There was some concern that if things did escalate much further (and lets be honest it really looked like it would do) I would not be getting across the Mongolian border. I could be holed up in Siberia for a little while, like a spy or something, which was sort of exciting.

So thats the political and physical backdrop. Geographically we were ploughing through the tail end of a tough Siberian winter. Through white nothingness, occasionally broken with pylons and occasional tracts of human life that cling to the metal rails like tubes into hospital apparatus. How could anyone live out here?

She pressed on, resolutely. The rhythm of the track setting the pace for life onboard. The gentle belch of heat from the corridor pipes pumped regular stints of sleepiness into the carriage. The flock patterned curtains, the hoover humming in the distance, the smell of polish, the bubble of hot water . I realised this train was reminding me of my Grandmas house, except she had toilet paper.

At one stop the soldiers bought me a little present, a small stone cat stood upright on its legs. I would have loved to have talked to them, they seemed good guys. I hoped they wouldn’t be sent to fight for our leaders ego’s. I quite possibly had a vodka too many and tried to explain Beatles songs to them at one point. I’m not too sure.

There is something about the in-between destinations where I am at my happiest. Maybe because ‘they’ can’t get you during this period, there is nothing they can bother you with until you arrive at your destination.  All I had to do is sit. and. wait.

It had taken 56 hours since a shower, a little vodka and being held captive at my lost Cossack Grannies, for it to happen. Cocooned, conditioned and regimented, the Trans Siberian Express on its way to Irkutsk is the only place on earth I have ever, truly felt free – and it was down to confinement and structure.

The Russians don’t get it, well not the young ones I met in Moscow anyway. They can’t understand the Western obsession with this ‘so long, so boring train!!’. I laughed, and said to be honest I have no idea why I have always wanted to do it, I just have. The concept of a journey which lasts so long may as well be measured in football pitches or London buses, because it’s just too hard for us to grasp. Perhaps it’s the manipulative nature of time which causes us a lot of us problems, if you can occasionally do away with those shackles, you’ll be half way to serving nobody.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Running away from it all, running out of money. Working on a book on the Beatles. Never been published – probably a good reason for that.

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The Tsar’s Guide to a St Petersburg Tour- Winter Palace

Welcome to the The Tsar’s Guide to a St Petersburg Tour – Part Two, which discusses where to stay, what to eat, and what souvenirs or worth purchasing during your visit to the “Cultural Capital of Russia.”

The Tsar’s Guide to a St Petersburg Tour - Hotel Vera
Hotel Vera

Where to Stay

If you are not arriving by cruise ship you will need a Tsar’s residence to live in during your stay. A boutique hotel such as Hotel Vera is the optimal place to feel the cultural side of the city and not spend a king’s ransom for lodging. The hotel itself is a cultural masterpiece and is part of the St. Petersburg Registry of Architectural Treasures. The hallways are decorated with artwork and live piano music is often heard enchanting visitors from the lobby area. It is also one of the few hotels in St Petersburg that is wheelchair accessible, thus offering all guests the chance to feel like a Tsar.

What to Eat

Russian cuisine is full of delicious delicacies which will tempt your taste buds. One of the main dishes that appeals to visiting tourists is Russian pancakes, or “bliniy.” It is similar to a French crepe and includes various toppings such as meats, jams, and vegetables. Try pancakes with red caviar to make your dish more extravagant and worthy of a Tsar’s meal. Wash down your pancake with honey beer (Medovukha), which is an alcoholic beverage which is similar to mead which has the sweet taste of honey to quench your thirst.


No grand tour of St. Petersburg is complete without taking home treasures fit for a Tsar. Here are some of the most popular souvenirs which you should consider adding to your treasure trove:

  • Matryoshka Doll – These dolls are often referred to as Russian nesting dolls and is usually painted of a Russian woman in traditional Russian clothes. But these days you can find Matryoshka dolls with everything from President Putin to American football teams.
  • Amber Jewelry – Amber is actually fossilized tree resin which has been valued since antiquity as a gemstone. About 90% of the world’s amber comes from Kaliningrad, the western enclave of Russia on the Baltic Sea. Amber jewelry is something very unique to Russia that you can take home with you and cherish forever.
The Tsar’s Guide to a St Petersburg Tour - Tsarskaya Vodka Gold
Tsarskaya Vodka Gold
  • Russian Vodka – As cliche as it may sound, visitors from around the world don’t leave Russia without taking a bottle of the Russian national drink with them. There are countless varieties although for the purposes of this article we recommend Tsarskaya Vodka Gold complete with an image of Peter the Great on the bottle and filtered through gold membranes. This vodka is truly fitting for your Tsar tour of St Petersburg.

Concierge Service

To make your Tsar’s Tour of St Petersburg complete, great service is essential. Should you have any problems, questions, or requests, you can call the free concierge and information service hotline with English language available – +7-812-300-3333

Travel Guru - Smart Travel Expert About the Author – Brian Schweitzer is the Co-Founder of Travel Guru – The smart travel expert, a website dedicated to smart travel information and connecting travelers. He has traveled to over 16 countries and counting, while living more than 14 years in St Petersburg, Russia. Brian is also a marketing and business development consultant who works with companies around the world to improve their businesses by maximizing the potential of the Internet & Information Age. He is currently traveling the world with his wife Alexandra and their son Dominick, with the goal leaving each place better than when they found it.

Read Part One: Click here!

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The Tsar’s Guide to a St Petersburg Tour- Winter Palace

Visiting the “Cultural Capital” of Russia is a grand experience and chance to view the jewels of Russian culture and history. This guide will help you see the city in the optimal way as if you were a Tsar yourself, but without having to spend a royal budget.

How to See the City

To receive the best experience and information about all the attractions in St Petersburg it is best to use the services of a guide. One example is Dancing Bear Tours which provides shore excursions for cruise ship passengers and private tours for land passengers. Taking a private tour, rather than a large group tour, gives you the chance to see St Petersburg your way, with a flexible and customized tour schedule, and individual attention with the freedom to ask lots of questions and take lots of photos without being pushed along in the herd of a large group tour. A private tour also costs approximately the same as a large group tour and so why not treat yourself to a privately guided tour that is fit for a Tsar.

Using a private guide to see the city also means you can choose the attractions which are most interesting for you. With so many amazing attractions in St Petersburg the large tour companies usually send visitors to the main attractions, but with a private guide you can choose from the full list of attractions in St Petersburg and build a customized tour with your interests in mind.

What to See

St Petersburg has more than 89 museums and is full of attractions which will deliver a cultural insight into Russia that you will find no where else. The issue is choosing the most interesting attractions for your best experience. Here is a list of some of the most popular attractions that are considered “must-see” in St Petersburg.

  • State Hermitage Museum – This is one of the largest museums in the world and contains approximately 3 million items. If you spent 1 minute at each item it would take you nine years to see everything the Hermitage has to offer.
The Tsar’s Guide to a St Petersburg Tour - Yusupov Palace
Yusupov Palace
  • Yusupov Palace – To feel the opulence of the Tsar’s and the riches of Russia every tourist should visit Yusupov Palace. This is one of the last standing mansions in the city and every room is bathed in luxury. It is also the place where the famous Russian mystic Grigory Rasputin was murdered. During special tours of the palace you can visit the actual room where he was poisoned and here the fascinating story about his life with the Tsar’s and his mysterious death which ended his influence over the royal family.
  • Church of Our Savior – This church is also referred to as the Church of Our Savior on the Spilt Blood as it was the location for the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. This is one of the best places to make a royal photo stop and the church is one of the most iconic and well-known places in Russia.
The Tsar’s Guide to a St Petersburg Tour - Peter & Paul Fortress
View from Peter and Paul Fortress
  • Peter and Paul Fortress – This is known as the birthplace of St Petersburg as Peter the Great founded the city on this location in 1703. There are several museums inside the fortress including a famous prison. You can walk along the top of the fortress and take amazing photos of the Neva River, bridges, and Winter Palace.
  • Catherine Palace & the Amber Room – This palace truly shows the wealth of the royal family as over 100 kilograms of gold were used for the facade and statues the line the outside of the palace. Inside each room was painstakingly redesigned after the palace was destroyed during WWII. One of the most interesting rooms you will see is the Amber room. It is one of the greatest treasures stolen by Nazi Germany during WWII and the original has never been found. The replica took 24 years to make and cost millions of dollars to finish.
The Tsar’s Guide to a St Petersburg Tour - Peterhof
Fountains of Peterhof
  • Peterhof – Just outside St Petersburg you will find the fountain kingdom of the Tsar’s which is considered the “Russian Versailles” for the grand scale of fountains, statues, and gardens. Watch out for the trick fountains that might surprise you as you wander the trails in the different gardens. The best way to go to and from Peterhof is the hydrofoil services that transports you quickly and easily between Peterhof and the center of St Petersburg.
  • Boat Tour – One of the best ways to see the center of the city is by taking a boat tour. During the summer season boats take visitors at night to watch the various bridges of the city open during the “White Nights” period when the sun doesn’t quite set over the horizon and creates a romantic and enchanting orange glow in the sky. To make this boat trip truly in the fashion for a Tsar, choose one of the boats that provides live music and food.

Continue to The Tsar’s Guide to a St Petersburg Tour – Part Two

moscow russiaHow could a place in northern Euroasia fettered by cold air, so soft and warm shows its beauty through exotic building, which scratched with thousand of history, full of meaning, and have value to its own gold in every location?

Oh Russia! you be the largest country that greets the world with its beauty. He dares to arrogantly told loudly and declared that he was so beautiful, so magnificent, so captivating. This country incised a wide range of places artsy, unpretentious town with beautiful architecture structure. First, He has Novgorod, city knights. Second, Magnificent city of St. Petersburg, with its legacy of history, the arts, its striking beauty, and third, he has Moscow, beautiful city which became the only capital city which has a tremendous beauty, with the buildings architecture Romanesque and Gothic style, arranged and well maintained. Beautiful, and classic.

That’s how I fell in love with Russia, especially the capital, Moscow. This swing was heavy breath, when told about Moscow. Heart rate seemed to want to stop, let the greatness city of Moscow rake every a beautiful creations. How I fell in love with downtown Moscow Kitay Gorod, where the Kremlin and Red Square are on it. Kremlin, classic and beautiful. Accompanied by the Cathedral of St. Basil makes Kremlin became legendary. Yet again, the red square is juxtaposed with the beautiful old buildings, as if to say that the Red Square is always “live” day and night. Moscow so inspiring everyone to spend the rest of his time there. Their beauty is not lost by rain and did not recede by heat.

Collaboration beauty moscow, also carried by the magnificent Moskovskiy gosudarstvennyiy universitet ( MGU ) that look so pretty towering buildings typical of Stalin’s regime . MGU building is the largest building in Moscow . He become the one of the seven main building, skyscrapers.

Not perplexed the moscow city boasted beauty, even to the station in the city is laid out so pretty made combination of a palace. I want to walk down the station throughout Moscow. It seems to want to spend the night on the marble Smolenskaya subway station. Nearly three-quarters of its walls clad in marble ornament, very beautiful. A five-star luxury combined with typical Russian Orthodox church ornaments. Likewise Arbatkaya station, which was finished giving his charm to anyone who wishes to visit. The station is wrapped by the beauty of the interior edifices curve. The floor is clean, dark brown natural marble, make people envious want to go though only to a station Arbatkaya Russia moscow.

No word of regret, to people who’ve been to Moscow. Even the birds are always going from one country to another was respectful with Moscow’s beauty. That’s why it seemed to be eager to go to Moscow to see the whole of what is there wrapped by a very stunning beauty.

Te a mo* Moscow. Falling in love is deeper, especially of the vast developing its Christian Orthodox in Russia, Islam was born as the second largest religion. For the first time, how different religions in a country, can walk hand in neat and harmonious.

I think I want to travel to a mosque in Moscow, which will create serenity, in the middle of a very European-style architecture, which will be wrapped with the solemn chanting of Al Quran, which reverberate there. I want to know, how the beauty of the mosque there, wrapped breath of Islam, to its adherents

People say, there are five mosques in Moscow, including the Balsoi Tatarski Mosque, mosque Prospet Center Mira, then there is a mosque in the museum complex struggle Kutuzovski, and two other mosques located in Otradnoye Rayon. What is interesting in Rayon Otradnoye, it is the fact that the mosque, located in a complex places of worship of other religions, it means that the mosque side by side with the Orthodox Church and Synagogue. Oh how beautiful Islam is present there.

Of the five mosques, religious places I most wanted to visit was Moskovsky Soborni Mechet (moscow mosques) who can prove that in Moscow there really is a mosque. How the turquoise-colored building, towers sickle tapered with rounded edges, it is formed into a unified whole of the grand mosque for Muslims in the city of Moscow, the largest mosque in the five mosques. Heart felt desire is already booming uncontrollably want to go to Moscow, a place which will give a lot of inspiration and religious values, which is high.
If I can touch the beauty of Moscow .

*it means I love you

About author : Desy Faryani is my complete name, I’m 20 years old. I am currently studying at the academy chemical analysis Bogor. Very fond of children and I liked the discussion. my page :

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

nigeriaIt was a fine day in May in the Altai Republic: a region of breathtaking beauty in the southwest corner of Siberia Russia. From our windows we saw swaths of dark coniferous forest; and rising majestically behind, faint blue peaks capped with snow. This is the rugged and remote land of the Altaians: a distinct Asian people with their own language. They are perfectly at home in the Altai Mountains, a name based on a Turkic-Mongolian word meaning “golden”.

It has been a few years my wife and I learned Russian Sign-Language and began visiting sign-language fellowships and small group of Christians who are deaf. In this country, more than 100 ethnic groups and 70 distinct cultures share one common spoken language, Russian. The deaf among us use yet another language, Russian Sign-Language.

In the city of Gorno-Altaisk, we learned of a few deaf ones who live in a small village 155 miles away. We wonder about these deaf Altaians and decided to drive out to find them. Our enthusiasm excites Yury and Tatyana, a deaf couple who agree to come with us. We loaded a minivan with sign-language publications on DVD and a DVD player. We also packed sandwiches and some water. Finally, we sprayed ourselves, our clothes and our shoes thoroughly with a tick repellent, as tick-borne encephalitis is common in the area.

The road we were traveling winds through spectacular mountain scenery. The air is thick with the fragrance of jasmine and lilac. We were thrilled to see a herd of Siberian deer calmly munching on the grass. Altaian settlements are clusters of wooden houses with neat metal roofs. Next to many of the houses are wooden dwellings called “ayyl”, usually six-cornered houses with a conical roof. Some resemble tepees covered with tree bark. Many Altaian families live in the “ayyl” from May to September and move into the house for the fall and winter.

We were warmly welcomed in the village by local Christians, who led us to the home of a deaf Altaian couple. They were delighted to see us and were curious about where we were from and what we were doing. It turned out that they had a computer, so when we pulled out a DVD, they insisted on playing it. Immediately, all conversation ceased; it was as if we were not there. Their eyes glued to the monitor, they occasionally copied the signs they saw and nodded in appreciation. With difficulty, we got their attention so we could stop the DVD and return to opening scenes, which depict a beautiful picture of God’s kingdom. Pausing on one scene, we discussed what God will do for mankind and what kind of people will make it to His kingdom. We were heartened by their interest, and at the end of the visit, they told us about another deaf couple living a few hours away in another village.

Setting off again, we crossed a spectacular rocky pass cut deep into the mountain and followed the serpentine road to a much smaller village. There we found the deaf family: the husband, the wife, the couple’s small son, and the wife’s mother: who were delighted to have unexpected company. We entered the door of their small “ayyl”, which smells pleasant of wood and butter-milk. It has a round hole on top of its cone-shaped roof, which lets the light in. A whitewashed brick oven and stove stands in one corner, and cherry red rugs carpeted the walls. The couple treated us to an Altaic dish: small fried doughnuts and tea in little Asian-style bowls. We asked them if they have ever considered it being possible to be God’s friend. They ponder on the question. The wife’s mother told us that as child, she once took some food to a place in the mountains as an offering to the gods. “What that meant, I did not know”. She shrugged and smiled. “It is our custom”.

We showed them a DVD on this subject and their faces lighted up. They became eager to continue the discussion; but how? Although text messages usually makes it easy to keep in touch with deaf ones, there is not one single mobile-phone antenna in the area. So we promised to keep in touch by letter.

The sun is already setting as we parted affectionately and set off on the long road back to Gorno-Altaisk, tired but content. We later learned that every other week, the husband travels to a larger town where he studies the bible and attends fellowships with the help of a local sister who knows sign language. How happy we were that our effort bore fruit.

With a time wisely spent, our search for honest-heart people can be compared to looking for treasures hidden deep in the mountains. Long hours of searching are rewarded when we find a stray jewel, seemingly by accident. For us, the mountains of Altai will always be golden, reminding us of the sincere ones we met between the rugged peaks.

About the Author: Fortune Obiagbor is a writer and a youth conference speaker. He was once an instructor years back. He enjoys sports generally especially football, sprinting and table tennis.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

MoscowSome time in the last decade, I had come across a calendar with beautiful pictures of churches. The one that caught my eye was a Russian church….with multi-coloured onion shaped domes -it looked straight out of ‘Arabian Nights.’Such a charming church, so different…I had never seen the like of it before. I yearned to see it but knew a trip to Russia would never materialize.

But God had something else in mind. Before the year-end, out of the blue came a posting order for my husband.We were to shift to Moscow for a year. I was elated and quickly allayed my husbands qualms about going to Moscow because of the severe winters.

On the designated day we reached the Russian capital in the morning. As we were hovering over the sky I looked down to see a city shrouded in green.The houses were all hidden amidst dense foliage. As we drove towards the city I rolled down my window to get an unobstructed view as the city unfolded before my eyes. It was summer and Moscow seemed
to be basking in the glorious sunlight. Amidst the unending green we saw a sparkling stream, gurgling merrily on its way. Innumerable parks, all blazing with colours, dotted this vast city. We finally reached the hotel where we were to stay till we got possession of our apartment.

The second day we head out to see the famed Red Square, where the embalmed body of Lenin is kept for public display..On reaching the Square,the first thing that greeted my eyes was the church of my dreams….St.Basil’s Cathedral…as it is known in Moscow.I was overcome with emotions and tears of gratitude welled up my eyes.On the second day itself God had granted my wish .I cannot describe in words the beauty of this church….which looked more spectacular than in the picture. It was an overwhelming experience. and I thanked God from the core of my heart.
Every street and road in Moscow had some church or the other, all of them exquisitely beautiful. Every weekend we ,along with our chauffeur, who also doubled as our guide, visited some church.No matter how small the church, there was one thing in common….the interiors were very ornate, with carvings in gold colour, huge chandeliers and innumerable candles vying for the best spot at the altar. Besides these churches, we visited the Kremlin situated on the banks of the Moscova river.From the outside it looks like a massive fort guarding the seat of the Russian government, the Royal Palace and churches..While cruising down the Moscova river, the bobbing sail boats with their colourful sails added serenity to the whole panorama.

I found the women in Moscow very pretty and smartly- dressed. The local populace spoke nothing but Russian, so out of sheer necessity I had to learn some regular words. Of the few I had picked up, I still remember a handful like the word “kharoshey” (beautiful),”niyat”(no),” “dah” (yes),”musa”(husband) and of course the well-known “spasiba”( thank you)
Soon autumn announced its arrival with severe chill. The maple trees near our apartment had all started decking up in leaves of red and gold. They looked gorgeous in their new avatar. Before we realised, fall had given way to winter .There was a complete transformation – the trees had shed their leaves, and looked like bare-bodied sentinels guarding the apartments.

One morning we woke up to see the whole city blanketed in snow. Outside my window everything looked sparkling white as though they had been dusted with icing sugar. Since this was my first experience with snow I was exhilerated.It had become so cold that stepping out of the house from the warm confines of central heating was quite daunting.

But the overpowering urge to see Moscow in her snow – clad splendour got the better of us. Of course we had to protect ourselves with several layers of warm clothing. I was enjoying the crisp air of the chilly winter, taking in the sights, sound and smell of this season. All the
water bodies had frozen and people used them as pathways. Somewhere water pipes had burst and the water gushing out had instantly frozen into that weird looking shape. Seemed it just needed a magic wand to bring it back to running condition. It was now January , the temperature had plummeted to 28 degrees below zero and venturing out was sheer torture.The snow had hardened into ice and walking on the slippery surface needed some maneuvering, which we hadn’t mastered yet. So slipping and falling became a regular thing.

Before winter ended it was time for us to return home. I bid farewell to the city I had come to love and make my home for the past one year.

About the Author: Onku Ghosh: Schooling from St. Xavier’s School Bokaro Steel City and graduated with English Honours from Bethune College, Kolkata. Have been a homemaker, bringing up my only daughter who is now doing well in her field of work. Am interested in gardening,painting, cooking and writing poems.

mud-volcanoesI am interested in this interaction between the place we are in and the development of our minds. The interplay of space and mind creates place when I think about my sense of place, it’s hard for me to pin it down.

Let’s start with my hometown. I was born and raised in Agbor Delta state Nigeria. I’ve never wished I were from any where else. People wish they hailed from somewhere else because they’re unhappy with their current place, or their past. They imagine a life that began in a distant metropolis, with a different house on a different street, because wherever they are leaves them unfulfilled.

I remain attached to my hometown, “because it has made me who I am”. However, I find that my sense of place expands far beyond my home in Delta state. Upon examining the settings and situations that comfort me, I find that my sense of place connects intrinsically with my memory.

Whether the facilitator’s ‘place’ is a stage, a group room, a retreat, a gym, a maze or a canvas we use place as a lot more than a setting to create the right ambience for our work. Place can act as healer and as guide as the emerging soul begins the tasks of creating their own world and acting in it. Heron sees these processes as essential activities of the creative psychic states and it is familiar territory for Development.

One of my most vivid childhood memories is a trip to Russia with my mother. I remember sitting in my car seat and gazing out the rear window in amusement of Russians great shaped towers, the maiden tower located in the south east part of icheri sheher; this unique monument of Azerbaijan. A place that was seriously damaged by Russian Naval bombardment in the 18 century and the Moscow night light.

As a ten-year old, in my head Russia was a place to behold. Sometimes the memories of “our earliest life experiences” are “a sensation as sweet as seeing ourselves in our dreams. These memories are ones we could not have formed ourselves in our dreams and quite possibly did not occur. Yet they are often the strongest and most lasting.

If I shukhov toweRhave the opportunity to travel to Russia again, I will look up at those towers and say welcome home. As I said earlier, there are some places in my hometown where I don’t feel any sense of place at all the value of local communities for older people’s quality of life is widely recognized how friends and community affected our trip we had friends of close proximity, a view that was often expressed in terms of the quality of friendship with different ethnic groups.

Where I stayed for the trip I see so many people passing my way, you know and they say ‘Hello, hello’, that’s fine ‘Good morning, nice weather’ or ‘It’s not very nice’, and that’s it. I would like to go and visit them but they want to be on their own, like, maybe due to cultural reasons. So, this is the reason why I want to live within the Community.

Connecting to my sense of place from my trip to Russia as a child, which resided in my imagination, allowed me to chase away some of my doubt and pain, and ultimately helped me reclaim my sense of self.This sense of identity is perhaps what makes one’s sense of place so important. Foregoing a sense of place was more important than accepting an identity I didn’t want to. I remembered the towering monuments, the streets that always appear dry, the taste of a pie and the interesting people around i felt a sense of longing, as if I have left a part of myself there.

moscow-night nlightThe definition of my sense of place, it’s much more than a city tower bell or dot on a map. My “place” is place is in my memory, neither is it limited to a geographic location. It resides in the sight of those historic places and towers in a parallel universe like Russia just like a boy playing at the bank of a sea-shore.

About the Author: I am Matthew Monyem a 21year old simple, gentle, loving, passionate and intelligent young man who loves the beautiful things of life. Find me on Facebook.


sok“Don’t deprive yourself of anything,” said dad giving me a paper ruble, now extinct currency of the Soviet Union. In St. Petersburg in the 1980’s you could buy half dozen loafs of bread, ten glasses of tomato juice or a quarter-bottle of vodka with this amber-green note.

What’s the best way to make a kid feel independent? Give them money and look the other way.

Past the beer stand was a grocery store called “Stekljashka,” Russian for a piece of glass. That was because it was single-story and dark and looked like a piece of a green bottle glass that a sea had spat out. It carried white and rye bread, and if you came exactly at 4 pm, you’d catch it hot straight from the bakery.

Across the street was Universam, the closest Soviet Union had to a supermarket. This was the place to score frozen calamari, cans of seaweed salad and bluish chicken parts that looked that they had belonged to animals that died of natural causes. But the best part was that it sold juice in three-liter jars, and by the glass.

At seven years of age and with a ruble in my pocket I felt empowered. I would run my finger against the rough surface of the note and feel, as dad would put it, that “there are no obstacles to us either on land or on sea.” I was free to do anything I wanted. I could ride a metro to the zoo. I could go to the movies. And most of all, I didn’t have to ask anyone.

I decided to exercise my newly obtained purchasing power in Stekljashka because it was on the same side of the street as our house. I stood in line to the cashier, paid for a half a loaf of bread, took the receipt to the bread counter and watched a woman take a guillotine-style knife and cut a black round loaf in half. Once the bread was in my hands, it was impossible to resist pinching a piece off and biting into its slightly sour gooiness.

I put the bread in my mesh bag and with 83 kopeks left decided to venture across the street to Universam for tomato juice.

Carrying a heavy jar home seemed like too much so I paid for a glass and began to stir in salt with a metal spoon attached to a salt dispenser with a piece of oily rope. Someone touched my elbow and said,

“Devochka, (meaning girl), where did you get that bread?”

Startled, I spilled salt on the counter. A very bad sign.

“I bought at the store across the street,” I said to a square woman with a badge saying “Director.”

“Do you have a receipt?”

I checked my pockets and remembered tossing it into a trashcan by the beer stand.

“No, but the cashier there probably remembers me.”

“So? Our store carries exactly the same bread. You have to either pay for it again or I will call your parents.”

I took two sips of my tomato juice and followed the woman that moved like an ice breaker down to the aisle to the checkout stand, where I spent the next 13 kopeks. So what that my bread ended up being twice as expensive and the juice never got finished. Being independent was priceless.

About the Author: Anna Huddleston is an award-winning travel and business writer in Las Vegas.

Brilliant autumn weather in Moscow. Far too brilliant not to leave, I decide. Oh yes, it is true, the leaves on the Moscow trees are very colourful as well. But the concrete and the asphalt are simply too overwhelming to be able to really appreciate all these colours. And so I gather some stuff and leave. On my way to places where nature still rules and where the influence of men and machine is limited. The good thing about this immense city is that it is surrounded by a far more immense countryside. Just a matter of catching a train to the north, east, south or west. It does not matter, the rural areas are everywhere.

With these thoughts in my head and with my suitcase in my hand I am standing at the metro station. Surrounded by thousands of people who are all on their way to their jungle. Of concrete. I cannot help it but suddenly I feel very happy. Just because I realize that in a few hours I will be in Suzdal. The pearl on the necklace known as the ‘Golden Ring’, a name given to some cities located east of Moscow. ‘Gold’ refers to the time, long ago, when Moscow was not yet the capital of Russia. Even refers to the time that Russia was not yet a nation. Then these cities were important and influential and their governors powerful. ‘Ring’ refers to the geographical location of these cities. Connecting all of them creates something like a circle. All these cities breath, even today, history. Although several of them at the same time breath pollution caused by old Soviet industry or modern industries.

Soon I leave the masses of the metro behind and change them for the relative peace of the train. These Russian trains always make me dream about places, several days away from Moscow. About tundra, taiga, emptiness, Siberia and Kamchatka. But today all of this is just in the back of my head as Suzdal is in fact just around the corner. Only three hours by train. It is nothing for Russian standards. Hardly time to drink a tea, so to say. The train slowly heads eastward, clearly we are not in a hurry. But it is all fine with me, as I am suddenly also completely relaxed. The speed of Moscow already forgotten, the craziness of the city left behind. The lady in charge of the wagon offers me a tea for 25 euro cents. Even the prices are suddenly much more relaxed! Sipping my tea I am looking through the windows. Gradually, the flats of Moscow are disappearing, instead I see old and small stations and a messy periphery. Not much later replaced by wooden houses, trees with golden leaves and green fields. Moscow might be huge, it still does not take a lot of time to reach the countryside.

In Vladimir, another Golden City, I swap the train for a bus. Sadly enough it is already overcrowded when I get in. And so I have to stand. Looking around I notice that all my fellow passengers are Russians. Obviously they all want to go to Suzdal. Strange, I think, after all Suzdal is not bigger than Oude Pekela or Surhuisterveen. Moreover, it is a place where, as far as I can remember, never anything happens. So why all these Russians are heading for Suzdal? Once again I do not understand them. Not at all. But 45 minutes, when we enter Suzdal, I do. Suddenly, I even feel connected with them. Like me, they just want to see the skyline of Suzdal. How logical! Onion shaped churches in various colours, white monasteries, the colours of autumn, tiny little rivers and tinier wooden houses. This is the panorama of Suzdal. The sun and the blue sky make it really look like a fairytale. Surprised and full of joy I am breathing the fresh Suzdal air.

Completely relaxed I wander through the city, looking for a place to sleep. Are there more churches here than people? It seems so. At least, I see more of the first. After a while I notice a sign indicating ‘ komnata’. Just what I am looking for. I follow the sign to find out that it is one of these wooden houses where I could spend the night. I knock the door, half and half expecting that an old lady with a hairy chin will open the door. But when the door opens I see her granddaughter. She smiles at me and tells me that she has a place for me to stay. Of course she has. The season has ended and Suzdal is without tourists. I might even be the only one in town. When I enter the house I notice a dozen cats running away from me. The whole place to myself I will not have, this is clear. The house is old, small, and too hot, but still somehow clean. It reminds me of Hansel and Gretel. More fairytale ambiance!


Beautiful Window Shutters on Siberian Village Home
Beautiful Window Shutters on Siberian Village Home

Off to a Siberian Village on the Shores of Lake Baikal

Kay and I enjoyed Irkutsk and its pleasant atmosphere of a university city. But after a couple of days, we were off to Bolshoe Goludnoe, a Siberian village on the shores of Lake Baikal, not far from Irkutsk. Once again, we had pre-arranged this through Monkey Business who had taken very good care of us so far.

Beautiful Window Shutters on Siberian Village Home
Beautiful Window Shutters on Siberian Village Home

Lake Baikal is the oldest and the deepest lake in the world which contains 1/5 of all the fresh water in the entire world. Even though the weather had been hot during our Siberian adventure, the depth of that lake and the amount of water ensured that the water was constantly freezing cold.

My first impression of our new homestay was that village homes seemed more spacious than city apartments. These were actual houses rather than apartments. Our homestay  had a nice large country style kitchen – the kind that has a big kitchen table where everyone can sit while Natalia, the lady of the house, cooked meals. That kitchen was a far cry from the tiny kitchens we had seen at both previous homestays with Elena and Irina.

Besides having a big kitchen, the village home had more rooms and each room was larger than anything we had seen at our previous homestays. Like in Irina’s apartment, we had a bedroom that didn’t function as anything else, but this bedroom was substantially larger than the one at Irina’s. I guess people can take advantage of the abundant space in Siberia and build larger dwellings.

Along the Shore of Lake Baikal
Along the Shore of Lake Baikal

A major difference, though, was that Natalia’s Siberian home had no indoor plumbing in her house. Her husband had rigged up a way to have water in the house for washing dishes. He had installed a sink without the regular pipes. High above the sink was a place to put a bucket of water that had a hose coming out from the bottom. This hose had a lever that allowed water to flow through when it was open.

Underneath the sink was an empty bucket that would catch the water when it came through the hole in the sink. So Natalia could fill up the sink, wash dishes, and then let the water drain into the bucket below. Very ingenious and handy.

The bathroom, though, was another matter all together. No indoor toilet – just an outhouse for that need. I’ve done enough camping and traveling in places where toilets were not available that I wasn’t bothered by having to use the outhouse. But it was a bit inconvenient for my middle of the night trip to the ‘bathroom.’

There was one main similarity between Natalia’s home and the other homestays we had experienced. Natalia’s house was full of stuff – once again, old newspapers, old magazines, figurines, things that didn’t seem to serve a functional or artistic purpose any longer. There wasn’t an empty spot anywhere, but we weren’t surprised by this since we had already noticed it in our previous homestays.

Typical Siberian Village Home
Typical Siberian Village Home

There was plenty of empty space outside though, and we took advantage of being in the countryside to do some long walks – through the village, through the nearby forests, and along the shore of Lake Baikal. It felt so liberating to be out in the countryside for a while with its fresh air and wide open spaces.

In addition, the homes we saw were so charming, especially the window shutters which were often intricately carved and painted bright colors. We had already seen similar homes from the window of our train as we sped past, so now I was happy to have the opportunity to see them up close and take some photos.

My favorite experience in our Siberian village, though, was in the banya, the Russian version of a Finnish sauna. I was told that most homes throughout Siberia have a separate building on the property that functions as the banya. Unlike a Finnish sauna, it is used for many functions – bathing, washing clothes, washing hair, or just sweating your way to health and beating yourself with birch branches.

I don’t generally like saunas or steam baths. I’d always found that I couldn’t stay in either one for more than a couple of minutes. But the banya was different. The heat came from a stove that sat on one side. There were two rows of benches – one higher than the other. That much so far is similar to a sauna, but in addition, you took a bucket of freezing cold water into the banya with you so that when the heat got to be too much, you put a dipper into the ice cold water and splashed that water over your body. The contrast between the heat from the stove and the cold water on your body created a really invigorating feeling that I loved. I began to understand why Finns often jump into cold water or snow after coming out of a sauna.

I loved our stay on the shores of Lake Baikal, but now we were off to Ulan Ude to the east of Lake Baikal and the site of a Buddhist monastery. I’ll tell you all about our visit there in Part 7 of my posts about my Siberian adventure. See you soon.

About the author:

Kate is a seasoned traveler and tour director who has lived on the island of Java for the past 30 years. Java became her home when she took a 3-month work assignment to train Indonesians on word processing equipment in Jakarta, and she fell in love with the adventurous lifestyle that she found there. Although she continues working as a tour director in many countries of the world, she now spends most of her time writing in her home/office in Yogyakarta, Central Java, which she shares with her three Dalmatians. You can visit her at KateBenzin, at her blog Traveling Forever, or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.