The GoGlobal Blog

Spring Break: Part 3 – Rusland

Spring Break: Part 3 – Rusland

Day 6: Thursday (Entering and Customs)

It literally took us a full 24 hours to get into Russia. (Cami, who was extremely upset at that fact, said she “will never forget” it). As everyone was trying to leave the boat, it got so jam packed that no one could move, so Vince and I just sat on the ground to wait out the crowd. When we finally left the boat, it was snowing and freezing outside—exactly what you would imagine Russia to be like. To get to boarder control, we had to take our first steps on Russian soil over to a nearby building. Just as Vince is telling me that we can’t take pictures at the borders, I snap a picture of him, the boat, and the blizzard around us. He laughed at me but later was really grateful because he ended up loving the photo I took.


Vince and the boat – our first steps on Russian soil.

We realized that our ESN group must have met somewhere on the boat and we missed it because we were the first one to get to customs. At first, it was as scary as I was imagining. Vince went first, then me and Nick went in tandem. I just stayed extremely quiet and did what they told me to do. Cami, who was still upset with how long it took to enter the country, noted that she felt like we have to beg to get into Russia, or at least that’s how it felt to her.

Particularly because we went first, we had to wait forever for the rest of the ESN group to finally enter Russia. We just found seats in the building and ate the rest of our food.  We were glad we got there first so we could relax. Just as we were saying how easy it was to get into Russia, we learned about how the only two people of color were stopped by border control and have been in questioning for the past hour…. sickening, I tell you. The male was taken first and was interrogated for 15 minutes. Then the girl was told to follow, the guards not even looking at her passport before telling her to step aside. So, in short, border control was easy, but only if you are white… After an hour and a half, our ESN leader decided we had to board the bus for our city tour without them.

The first thing the tour guide said was, “Believe it or not, you are in Russia.”

We saw and learned a lot while on that tour bus. Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, the church that used to be the main church for the entire city, is probably one of the most impressive buildings I’ve seen in my life. Russia, with 342 bridges, is nicknamed “The Venice of the North”. Interestingly, 1/10 (approximately half a million people) live in communal apartments in Saint Petersburg. They are basically like a dorm or hostel style living arrangement to keep costs down because most of the people are extremely poor.

Usually I don’t like organized tours, especially those on busses in which you are unable to walk around through the city. However, for several reasons I was grateful to start our stay in Russia with a city tour. One, I was exhausted. Two, the weather was snowy and cold. And three, the tour guide just knew so much about the city! I found it fascinating to learn about it in way I never would have if I had traveled individually.

Despite what I just said, it was too difficult to not fall asleep for a little on the warm, rumbling bus, so soon I drifted off with my head resting against Cami’s shoulder.

Eventually, we arrived at our hostel that we would be living at for the next few days. Luckily, my little crew was called first for our room assignment as well. We had the very top floor and a nice big room all together. Due to our enormous hunger, we immediately went food shopping to try to find items for a communal dinner and for food the next day. It was the hardest shop of my life because I was just so tired and hungry that I was paralyzed and was unable to make an decisions. Cami opted for going solo for dinner so the guys and I bought pasta with meats and vegetables. Cooking took ages (figures) but it was kind of fun all cutting and cooking together. The hostel’s cooking supplies was subpar (no pepper!), so that contributed to the extended wait time. Around 10pm, we had finally finished and I proceeded to eat till I was in pain. Climbing the 5 flights of stairs right after meant that I had to immediately lie down for a little to digest all I had consumed.

Later that night, Cami and Nick decided they didn’t want to go out for whatever reason, so it was just Sam, Vince, and I who set out for a night in Russia. We happened to met a guy named Victor in our hostel who is from Russia. He took us under his wing and showed us the ropes with the public transit, using random cars as taxis, not allowing to take pictures in the tunnels to the trains, etc. Speaking of, I LOVE the metro system in Saint Petersburg!! It is just so cool! Victor said that the deepest is about 100 meters, and to get down there you ride the longest escalator ever!

Victor got a little funny as the night went on. He kept telling us stories of how he’s seen many people get shot before, and all the fights he witnesses on the streets.. Really made me (and the guys) weary of the country. Then before we left him, he said that the men in Russia are crazy and how I, specifically, shouldn’t date them. It was an interesting night to say the least.

The metro escalators that go 100 meters down into the ground!

Day 7: Friday

 On Friday, we ate breaky (what Australians and Kiwi’s call breakfast) extremely fast because we felt unnecessarily rushed to head to the Hermitage Museum. It was a long walk over there, and after 10 minutes or so, Vince joked that we had already walked twice the length of Helsinki.

When we arrived at the museum, we had to do coat check which was the biggest hassle ever. No person behind the various counters were taking our jackets for whatever reason, and the ladies would just yell at us in Russian. So frustrating, but eventually we found a nice woman who took our coats.

The first thing our tour guide did was warn us that “back pockets are the public pocket”, because pick pocketing in Russia is far too common. The museum, and particularly the church, has unreal amounts of gold leaf everywhere. The place was really beautiful but far too large. You’d have to spend days there to really see it all.


Outside the Hermitage museum.
An area inside the Hermitage.

Our group was starving and tired so when the tour ended we searched for a place to eat. The first open and relatively inexpensive place was an Irish restaurant, but luckily we were all able to get Russian cuisine because they provided it along with Irish dishes. I got salmon cutlet which was so delicious – my meal probably was the best out of everyone’s and it was the cheapest somehow. The guy when we paid even gave me and the girls a discount (not the guys for some reason, strange I know).

After that, we set out for coffee, and the only place we found that was crazy expensive was McDonalds! But hey, it was about a buck for a big Americano, so worth it. We were still amazed at how expensive everything seemed to be—we thought it was be beyond cheap in Saint Petersburg.

Later, we went to the top of Saint Isaac’s church, which only cost 150 rubbles or about $3. It was so cool to see the city, despite the chilly wind blasting us. I stood there, alone, just amazed at the city and myself. In other words, I found the city to be so vast that it felt crazy. Then that got me thinking about how I couldn’t believe I was there getting to experience it. So far, all my travels have been to places I never thought I’d see, especially including Russia. I was just grateful to myself for pushing my comfort zone and experiencing parts of Europe that most Americans usually don’t get to travel to/ have no desire to travel to.

The view from the top of Saint Isaac’s Church.

When we left the church, Cami and Bianca wanted to go shopping (something I never have the desire to do), and some of the other guys just wanted to go back to the hostel to nap. I was frustrated because we only had so much time there, so I wanted to keep exploring with or without them (except that I was rather timid of traveling alone in Russia). Luckily Vince opted to stay with me, so once we helped the others find the metro, we split off to go explore.

Again, I really loved spending time with Vince, this time included. As we walked around Saint Petersburg, we discussed how we see ourselves within our generations (I consider myself a millennial, while he believes he belongs to generation X), our parents, taking a gap year, you name it. Eventually we came upon the Grønland of Russia—a really cool outdoor and indoor market with lots of clothing located outside and free food and meats inside. (Grønland is the cheap market in Oslo where we all go food shopping even though it takes over a half hour to get there.)

The entrance to the market Vince and I found.

After leaving the market, we ventured back outside just to walk. While we were on top of Saint Isaacs church, we saw this beautiful blue church in the distance and Vince and I wanted to go see it but figured it was too far a distance to walk to. Well, low and behold, we somehow found it on our walk! It was bigger than I even realized and very beautiful. A statue made of cannons was outside which was interesting. I wish I knew Russian to read what it said. We checked the door to see if we could go in and it turned out that a service was going on. It was Russian orthodox, I’m pretty sure. The inside was spectacular and about a hundred people were standing in the middle facing a few men performing the service. In the back was a small choir singing peaceful church tunes. Every 15-30 seconds everyone was make the sign of the cross and then bow, some just partially and others all the way to touching their toes. It was so unique and fascinating to watch. Vince had never even been in a service before, no matter the denomination. Now we can both say we’ve attended a Russian orthodox one!


The ‘blue church’ with the unique statue in front.

We realized when we took the metro back that we were at the station that just had the terrorist attack about a week earlier. There were still a lot of flowers outside and a ton of scary policemen with unfriendly dogs standing around the main entrance hall. Felt weird to have just been in Stockholm at the place where their terrorist attack happened and then also in Russia where a separate one had just occurred. I can’t really put to words how it felt, but I guess rather surreal is the best way I can explain it.

When we finally got back to the hostel, Vince and I made dinner together and shared our meal with three other people (Dutch, Swiss, and French). They were working on trying to finish the biggest pot of pasta I’ve ever seen for 3 people. Luckily for us, they couldn’t and asked Vince and I to help them eat the food. Ironically, the guy from the Netherlands told us through laughter that he witnessed our friend Sam blow drying his hair in the bathroom for the longest time ever. Except, he didn’t know it was Sam, so as he was telling the story, I realized it must have been Sam because, well, his hair is probably his most prized possession. We all laughed for a while at Sam’s expense.

Speaking of Sam’s hair, he ended up doing all the boys hair that night before we went out. Needless to say, they looked quite snazzy. Our plan was to go to a bar crawl that Sam heard was going on earlier that day. We told everyone else about it, so when it came time to meeting in the hostel lobby, fifteen people from our group was there but no official bar crawl was happening. Sam must have heard wrong. However, since we were all there, people decided lets do our own. I naturally went to my phone and started looking up pubs near us, which somehow indicated to the group that I was now the leader of this shindig. I certainly wasn’t comfortable with it but I tried to do my best anyways because everyone was set on me running this event. They started calling it “Shayna’s famous pub crawl”, while Cami joked that we should have charged them for attendance. It actuality, I got everyone lost a little but it still turned out fun. I was the only American, so people kept joking how they happened to put the American in charge. My friend group ended up just sticking together and talking the whole night, which was just the best. I couldn’t believe how dispite there being so many other people with us, we enjoyed each other’s company so much that we stuck together. I really loved it. It was a very good day that ended in lots of friendship and laughter.


Nick (left) and Vince (right). Clearly loving their hair by Sammy K, and each other’s company.

Day 8

We woke up at 8:15am (kill me) with the intent to try to figure out how to get to Catherine’s Palace on our own for the day. According to google maps, it was a two hour trip by public transportation, which meant there was a lot of room for error that could result in us getting utterly lost.

Despite that fear, we departed by 9:45am first by taking the metro and then luckily finding the perfect bus to take us directly to the Palace that is outside the city. It was all much easier than we ever thought it would be. The public bus system (transit system in general) is really interesting and surprisingly easy to use. The busses, to be more specific, are all very archaic and small but come super often. You pay only 40 rubles and all in cash or coins. The driver will even deliver you your change as he drives. I noticed people going up and just asking the driver to stop random places even. Plus, people on the sidewalk could wave down the driver and he would stop. Maybe I’m weird because I am oddly fascinated by cities various public transit systems, but I think anyone could appreciate the unique Russian busses that we took.

This is the inside of the public bus we took to Catherine’s Palace. I was sitting at the very back, so you can see how small it was.

It only took an hour to get there (silly Google maps!) and immediately we were so glad we didn’t let the fear of getting lost stop us from coming. The palace looks absolutely unreal, and before entering we sat outside listening to a guy play the flute while we ate our lunch.

The crew eating lunch outside Catherine’s Palace.

The palace was so lavish, with gold everywhere and all the ceilings painted intricately. This is hard to describe, but it was cool how the paintings on the outside were an extension of the building and then it opened up to scenes depicted in the heavens. Vince and I stuck together for a while because we lost the rest of the crew but soon we all found one another and toured through the place.

Outside the Palace is just as amazing, in a way. It felt like Christmas of sorts walking through the gardens while it was snowing. Only after a minor snow ball fight did we then proceed with the rest of our day. While on the long bus ride back, I started thinking about what it’ll be like to go home. Even just the thought made me anxious and really sad. I was so happy here with everyone and everything, I didn’t want to leave and I especially didn’t want to stop seeing my friends there everyday. I was already getting upset about how near the end is. But that is so characteristically me; I always get upset when anything ends and things have to change. I tried to remind myself everything would be ok and just to live in the moment, which to be honest, is beyond difficult.

Here you can vaguely see what I tried to describe – the outside of the painting in an extension of the building opening up to the heavens.
The crew walking through the gardens.

Back in Saint Petersburg, Cami wanted tea so we stopped at a place called Oh!MyTea, a small joint with one other person in it. The guys became attached to their phones (free wifi and all) while Cami and I talked with the girl working for 15 minutes. She spoke fairly good English and she was so awesome! She said that Saint Petersburg is an exception to the rest of Russia because it’s so European. She comes from a small town 5 hours away by train but soon she is leaving to a different town on the border of Russia, China and Europe. She told us how she studied philosophy and Italian culture in college. We asked how she learned English and she brought up how she watches the show, Game of Thrones. Me and Vince just started watching it with the rest of the guys this semester (we were on season 5 at the time we were in Russia) so I yelled to the guys how she watches it too, and immediately they joined the conversation and we geeked about the show together. She almost spoiled something about John Snow for Vince and I but luckily Sam stopped her. It was a cute addition to our day, I really do think many of the people in the city are quite kind and lovely to chat with.

One of the most astonishing places we went to was the Church of the Savior on Blood, otherwise known as the Church of Spilled Blood. It was entirely decorated in mosaic—so hard to believe! I stood there in awe of the building for ages.

The outside of the Church of Spilled Blood.
The inside of the Church – everything is mosaic.

The rest of the day was spent eating dinner and going out. The following day which was Easter meant everything was closed in the city for the most part. We traveled a lot on another boat to Tallinn the next day which is beautiful (I wanted to move there for the summer, I loved it so much).

Please note, the rest of day 9 and 10 I didn’t take notes on (I usually do and that’s how I am able to remember the small details of my travels for these blogs). Hence, I am just going to skip to my last reflections while I was heading back to Oslo and just note that there is a significant gap in my recollection of events during this time period.

Day 10: The end of Spring Break

 While sitting on the train from Stockholm back to Oslo, I began to feel this hint of melancholy nostalgia for not only my spring break trip coming to an end, but for my entire semester thus far. Everything seemed to be moving so much faster than I anticipated and I felt as though I couldn’t catch my breath. Don’t be mistaken, in many ways that is a good reaction because it is indicative of an amazing experience, with incredible friends and memories. But at the same time, to be honest, I was terrified of it finally ending. The end always seemed so far away, just like how my spring break–which I planned with most of the people on this trip way back in Poland–always seemed far in the distance. But yet there I was, closing in on my last hour on the train back to Oslo–the place I now call home. I understand that before I know it, I will be on a plane back home, just an hour away from touching down in Denver.

It’s funny, Cami showed us last night a video of Zach and I back in Poland in January. We were sitting at the dinner table of the sushi place we went to on our first night. Our waiter was showing us on a map where the cool bars and clubs were. Nick, Cami, and Sam talked and laughed about how young Zach and I look. I concur, I actually looked like a different person even though that was just a few months ago. Cami said we all have changed so much since then, which I guess I hadn’t realized as of yet. Nonetheless, she is right. We have all changed so much in such a short period of time, and soon we would be forced to leave one another and nothing will be the same.

These last 10 days were phenomenal. I truly loved our group. Although we are all quite different, we meshed together almost seamlessly which allowed us to spend so much alone time with one another with zero clashes. Hell, one night all five of us slept in a room the size of a handicap bathroom stall–talk about being close with people!

It is worth noting as well that it was also a unique experience for me to be the only American while traveling on this trip. I learned so much from other cultures, specifically those in which my friends derive from, and I recognize I have so much more to learn.

Although I just discussed how particularly sad I seem to be, I also just want to highlight that I always get sad at anything ending. I’m an “easily pleased” person as my friends describe me, and thus, I am constantly sad when various amazing events in my life come to a close, this trip specifically. I guess I want to close this blog post with a moment of gratefulness for the various events that occurred during my travels.

I am grateful for Nick, who handled being alone with me like a champ. I am grateful for bread, peanut butter and salami, which got me through so many meals those 10 days. I am grateful for the alone time I received in Djur garden. I am grateful for the curry I shared with Vince and Nick because sharing is certainly not my forte. I am grateful for exploring the rest of Stockholm alone with Vince, only to happily run into the entire crew on the way to the boat. I am grateful for shared meals on the floor of various cabin rooms while aboard ferries. I am grateful for duty free vodka and fun nights of dancing, laughing, and bonding. I am grateful for the hours dedicated to playing the card game presidents/scum, as people call the game either name (we combined the names and denoted it as P.S. from now on). I am grateful for Russia not giving us any troubles and only good memories. I am grateful that our group always stuck together and had such an amazing time talking and got to know each other better and better. I am grateful for Russia’s metro system, and how easy the buses are to take. I am grateful for Vince exploring Saint Petersburg with me and happening across the blue church we were both so keen on finding. I am grateful for both the snow and sunshine that we received while traveling. I am grateful for the beautiful day we received in Estonia. I am grateful for being able to return to Stockholm’s national library before we came back to Oslo. I am just grateful.

Peace Spring Break, and thanks for everything ✌️ Peace Spring Break, and thanks for everything.

The crew in Tallinn, Estonia.
Love these people.
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