My New years resolution is the same every year: travel more. And perhaps I like having the same one because I always manage to do so, or maybe I´m just too lazy to come up with a new idea. Although I also decided to be able to walk on my hands and do the splits in both directions as two other resolutions, but thats totally unrelated to everything.
I´ve taken more flights in the last couple weeks than there have been days in this year, so Im on some sort of right track… or I’m just unrighteously depleting my carbon footprint quota for this year. My 27th birthday is in a month and a half, and I’ll be just shy of 120 countries by then, so only 80 to finish in the next 3 years… that’s do-able, right? I’m kind of nervous since I tried to save some of the easiest and most accessible for last (ie. all of Eastern Europe) but also have about 10 completely unreachable countries (ie. Nauru, Tuvalu, North Korea), but then again there are more than 200 countries by some lists, so that leaves room for omissions.
My biggest failure to date is still not making it to Russia. I got close in 2009, when me and my friend Mike Reiter were in Helsinki and tried to figure out a way accross to St. Petersburg. It wasn’t possible then, but since then they’ve introduced have this 24 hr tourist visa thing that you can get in Helsinki to take the train over. Sigh.
The last week in Norway was also a big tease, since me and Mike Reiter met in Kirkenes to go dogsledding on the Russian border. We could see the lights of Nikel but couldn’t get over the river, a.) because it wasn’t frozen and b.) because we didnt have visas. We couldnt get visas, since you’re only allowed to get a Russian visa in your resident country, and Iceland’s Russian embassy was closed Jan 1 – Jan 8, the exact (and only) dates I’ve been home in the last 3 months. I was booking my travel to Asia over a month ago, and decided to fly through Moscow with a 16 hour layover, since I (though I) knew I’d be able to figure out a visa in the meantime, somewhere between Africa, Northern Norway, and my travel to Korea.
I flew to Norway Jan 7, and couldn’t do anything about it in Oslo. But, randomly, I met the ex-Norwegian ambassador in Russia in a bar in Tromso. He was old, very drunk, and had some secret man crush on Mike Reiter (he likes Ukrainian Jews), but refused to discuss any way that he could help me, except admitting that he definitely could and knew the “very friendly” current ambassador, but he didnt want to because he hated Russia and thought Moscow was the most dangerous city in the world.
So, long story short, I never figured out a legitimate (or illegitimate) way into Russia, so I boarded my 8 our plane from Oslo to Moscow knowing this was the closest I’d get to experiencing Russia for the next 24 hours. I’m not sure if it was psychological or not, but I was convinced the plane smelled like vodka. I spent the flight learning the phonetics of the Russian alphabet by using a map of the world with city names I could sound out. Then I sat in the Moscow international airport for 16 hours, and although I couldn’t find any way out of it (atleast not with a way back in), somehow a bird had found its way into the completely sealed, glass-walled airport. The airport didn’t let on many Russian stereotypes, since the most notable things there were Costa Coffee, TGI Fridays, and hundreds of Asian commuters on their way back from Europe to China, Korea and Japan. Only the unfriendly faces of staff I met on the plane and at the airport supported the stereotype of that Russian coldness people always talk about.The weather was foggy, grey and cold to match, making an escape seem less appealing anyway.
I basically ended up going to Moscow to write blogs and eat lunch at TGI Fridays, which are very normal (non-Russian) things I would have rather done somewhere else in the world… But, now I can read Russian, I still have no idea what the words I’m saying outloud mean, but that will hopefully change by the time I actually make it into this god-forsaken tourist country… if I ever do!