From Home

July 23rd, 2010

Well, I’ve been home for a couple days now. It seems like there is a lot to do, and nothing to do, and I feel I’ve never left. My box from Ukhta is still MIA, which is slightly worrying. My computer doesn’t work so well anymore, so I’m waiting to get a new one before I post pictures. Trust me, I’ve got some pictures.

I’ve really enjoyed my travels over the past few months. It was REALLY HOT in Eastern Europe this July, and we had some stressful times with trains on occasion. I now like Russian trains decisively more than European trains because, besides all the advantages listed in my last post, you can literally set your watch to a Russian train, whereas the European trains we took were regularly at least an hour late.

So, after I talked to you last, my parents and I spent some time in Prague, where we saw the sights, got to meet up with retired Wooster Russian professor Elena Sokol, and hiked a bit in “Czech Paradise.” Then I caught a train back to Vienna when my parents flew back home with my suitcases. In Vienna, I met my friend Emily from high school, who had come to backpack with me for the next two and a half weeks. I previously posted a map of our itinerary, and all was going according to plan until we decided to go to Iasi. We hit up the Abortion and Contraception Museum and the Schonnbrunn Palace in Vienna, the House of Terror (museum about the Nazi and Soviet occupations) in Budapest, Peles Castle in Sinaia, Romania (one of the top 3 castles I’ve ever been to – I now have no need to see Neuschwanstein), and the communist grandeur of Bucharest. From Bucharest we had planned to go to Odessa, but there weren’t any trains, so Emily suggested that we go to Iasi, a city in northern Romania. We had a couple rides left on our Global Pass (valid in Austria, Hungary, and Romania), and we figured we’d be able to get to Lviv from Iasi. Long story short, we were wrong. We ended up spending two days in Iasi looking at churches and trekking to various travel agencies, train offices, etc., before we gave up and used our pass to get back to Bucharest, where we modified our plans to go through Timisoara, Romania and Bratislava, Slovakia to arrive in Krakow, Poland on the 17th as previously planned. So we missed Ukraine, which was quite disappointing for me, and Bialystock, which was disappointing for Emily, but the places we did go were quite interesting.

I would love to go back to Romania especially. I would give Bucharest and Iasi a miss next time, but Timisoara, Brasov, and Sinaia were absolutely beautiful, and I would like to spend more time in the mountains in future. Romania is also dirt cheap. I also really enjoyed Krakow. It seemed like the hippest city we went to. On the square in the evenings there was a huge market selling all kinds of neat (albeit overpriced) things. We also saw a couple impressive breakdance performances, a quartet of accordions, and an outdoor jazz concert with a full orchestra. In Krakow I also fulfilled my dream of tasting Georgian wine, which was good, even though the food didn’t live up to the Georgian fare I’ve tried in Russia. From Krakow we went back to Vienna and then took the long plane rides home.

It hasn’t taken me long to adjust – I’ve been waking up a little later every day, and seeing friends and family has been really nice and kept me busy. Reverse culture shock has been minimal. I’ve been eating more than I should (and much more than I ate in Ukhta), and walking less as well, so I need to get back to my European habits on that front. I see a lot of things, on TV and in ads especially, that betray a distinctly American logic that doesn’t seem so self-evident to me anymore. However, I am an American, and this feels like home.

When I get my new computer and get pictures up, I’ll post the link here, but otherwise, this is my last entry. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you all around in the States.

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