Natalya works for a company called United Tours Russia, giving free walking tours of St. Petersburg. We talked about life in Russia, her time living in Egypt, and travel in Cuba.
Bonus: I also tell the story of my attempt to visit Vladimir Lenin's mausoleum in Moscow.
Note: Since recording this podcast, I've been paying more attention to the way strangers in Russia interact with me. In fact, many of them do smile, but not in a bright “Hi, how are you!” way like you would see in the United States. This subdued, slightly cautious attitude is growing on me. It seems much more authentic than the over-the-top greetings I'm used to getting from people I've never met.
Maybe I'll talk more about this subject more as I travel through the world's largest country. But for now, please enjoy this week's podcast:
After leaving Iceland, Katie and I went to Finland for about a week. We spent most of our time visiting our friends Fei and Tapani, as well their daughter and Fei's parents. We managed to pack in many small adventures in Helsinki, including taking a ferry to an island that was once a fortress, sampling some of the country's best micro-brews, and making several trips to the sauna. We also spent three days bicycling around Turku (Finland's old capital), and we even squeezed in a day trip to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
We had a great time on this introduction to our yearlong journey. Finland is a lovely country in northern Europe, with landscapes full of rolling hills, tall pines, and long summer days. And of course, there was also plenty of great company.
Here are some photos from our trip to Finland and Tallinn:
Riding the ferry to Suomenlinna, a small island off of the coast of Helsinki.
This was once the largest dry dock in the world.
The fort on Suomenlinna.
A wheat field near Turku.
We ate farm fresh strawberries during our bike ride.
Red barns and rolling hills – are we in Wisconsin?
We slept in Hanka's shelter while waiting for the ferry.
It looks like a lake, but this is actually the Baltic Sea.
Here's the big ferry we had to wait overnight for.
We also got to take a few of these smaller ferries.
This dragonfly landed on Katie's backpack strap. It must be good luck, right?
Lenin hid somewhere in this village.
The view from the top deck of St. Olaf's church.
People sure were shorter back then.
Where to next?
The town square in Tallinn.
There were a lot of cool suits of armor in Tallinn.
Here's the ferry we rode to Tallinn and back.
For more of my photos from Finland and Estonia, click:
Jari and Nadezhda talk about the Trans-Siberian Railway.
While staying in Helsinki, Finland, Katie and I met Jari and Nadezhda. They used to live in Beijing, so we had a lot in common. We swapped many China stories, and I found out that they had taken the Trans-Siberian train from Vladivostok to Helsinki.
Katie and I are at the beginning of our own Trans-Siberian experience. Currently we are in St. Petersburg and plan to head east to Lake Baikal, then south to Mongolia. On this podcast, Jari and Nadezhda gave me some great tips on riding this famous train across Russia. Let's take a listen:
Iceland was nearly a bust. Katie and I had a miserable first day, losing our shirts to the ridiculously pricey public transportation and spending the afternoon shivering and soaking wet from pouring rain. But then the sky cleared and we had an amazing two-day hike, from Skógar to Þórsmörk, between the fantastically-named Tindfjallajökull and Eyjafjallajökull volcanoes. The scenery was beautiful, the company friendly, the weather perfect. On our last day in the country, we returned to the airport, elated to have visited.
The area around Eyjafjallajökull, which famously erupted in 2010.
Sunset at Þórsmörk.
The rumors that Iceland is expensive and touristy proved true, but for good reason. This place is rugged and beautiful. Next time Katie and I have to fly from Europe to the US (or vice-versa), we'll definitely look into doing another stopover deal.
On our last day, I recorded a podcast, talking about our trip and giving some advice for first-time travelers to Iceland. Katie also joined me on the show and talked about how to save a ton of money by dehydrating food.
Here's a breakdown of our spending for four days and three nights in Iceland:
Luggage storage: 3,000 króna Gasoline for our stove: 167 kr Water and coffee at Selfoss: 790 kr Postcard and chocolate: 1060 kr 2 bus tickets from KEF to Mjodd: 3500 kr 2 bus tickets from Mjodd to Selfoss: 2640 kr 2 bus tickets from Selfoss to Skógar: 7920 kr 2 bus tickets from Þórsmörk to Reykjavik: 17,400 kr 2 bus tickets from Reykjavik to KEF: 5000 kr Camping night 1 (2 people): 3000 kr Camping night 2 (2 people): 4000 kr Camping night 3 (2 people): 2400 kr Dehydrated food: $60 USD