My third trip to Europe was to Scandinavia and Russia - two very different places and I took something different from each place. I'm not sure I opened up that much to new things on this trip, but I think the whole experience opened me to the possibility of being more open.
Scandinavia isn't one of the most happening places. The cities are nice and there is stuff to do there, but after seeing Paris, Rome, London the cities here didn't jump out at me. What did though was the extreme beauty. I'm not a nature girl, bugs are gross, I'm afraid of animals, hiking is work, and camping is beyond me. But after I spent a couple days in nature - mountains, lakes, rivers, waterfalls - I was able to really appreciate the beauty and the peacefulness of it. I'm still not into camping, but i can certainly stop to enjoy the beauty and the calm of nature. It was even worth freezing my butt off through Scandinavia.
Russia was my true introduction to Culture. This was the first place that I went that I really had a different culture in my face. It was also the first country that I spent more then 4 days in. There was definitely a difference in the people and the vibe and the whole country. The younger people spoke some English and were generally a little friendlier. But those little old Russian woman, wouldn't want to mess with them! The food was a little different - borst, salads without lettuce (still haven't gotten over that), dill, and high levels of grease - I wasn't a fan of the food. My local guide in Moscow (and the guide in St. Petersburg to a smaller extent) did a really good job of helping us understand the Russian people. Her story about the first McDonalds I think really shows how different of a culture the Russians were in under Communism. Here is a synopsis of the story: You would wait on line for about 2 hours, typical for Russia. When you walked in, the floor was clean, that was the first sign that something wasn't right. When you got to the counter they had a smile in their face and asked what you would like. This was Russia at a time when you hoped they had something at the end of a line, let alone what you actually wanted. You ask for a Big Mac. Then to add to the confusion - they asked how many you wanted? Not only did they have food, you could get as much as you wanted. This caused so much stress and confusion (people thought it might be a trick and the government was listening) that they had to put up a sign limiting the number of Big Mac's to 15, people literally didn't know how to handle a lack of limits and choice. This was Russia where you went to a store and took what they had, they didn't have selection but they did have limits, there was a 2+ hour line behind you after all. In the bathroom they had... toilet paper, and if you took the toilet paper they put a new role on. When I think of this story I think of how hard an adjustment it must have been to change to Capitalism, and to learn to be friendly to people. In one place you would find someone friendly and willing to try and help you, in another they were totally unwilling to help. It was a taste of old and new. And the Communist relics - the idea of how to deal with that as a country. As an American the closest thing we've had to this is the issue of the Confederate Battle Flag when it was still flying in South Carolina.
While I didn't necessarily embrace all these things I started to see them as a positive part of travel. Stepping out of your comfort zone and experiencing something new and accepting it even if you don't like/agree with it. I learned to stop and smell the roses and just be where I was and soak it all in.
- I'm a 30 something who loves to travel. I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels. I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt. I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney. My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.