I don’t think I’ll ever get over the awe and excitement of traveling to new places. Traveling brings about a rush of experiencing new things and being pushed outside comfort zones. These feelings were especially strong during the study abroad trip to Russia. Russia has always been a top destination for me so this trip holds a special place in my heart on top of all the wonderful memories made. After having lessons in Russian language, hearing about memories and mishaps from past trips, and lots of anticipation, the day to embark on our journey to Russia had arrived.
The trip started before we even arrived in Russia however with all the study abroads, senior interns, and SALT coordinators traveling on a bus to the train station in Riga, Latvia. After stopping at The Hill of Crosses and having a big lunch, we were all ready for our 16-hour train ride to Moscow. Moments like these, of the journey before the destination, were my favorite. I loved the feel of anticipation before arriving and joy among all of us as we prepared for the coming journey. The train ride didn’t feel long at all as we all filled the time with games, joking around, and talks of what the week ahead would bring.
And the week ahead did not disappoint. Every day of the trip was filled with new and exciting experiences, some that were expected, like touring the Kremlin and other experiences that were more spontaneous like visiting Flacon, an art district with many interesting murals and sculptures made from two former factories.
One of the most memorable moments of the trip for me was one of the first. After stopping at one of the many ornate metro stations to buy our tickets upon our arrival in Moscow, we traveled to GUM, a giant department store near Red Square, to eat lunch. As we walked towards GUM, I looked up to see St. Basil’s Cathedral, the candy church that everyone pictures when thinking of Moscow, standing tall in the distance. Honestly, seeing it from afar in all its colorful beauty almost brought tears to my eyes. Although we later had a chance to see the church up close and even tour inside, I’ll never forget my first time seeing St. Basil’s in person. After seeing it so many times in pictures, it felt so surreal and magical to see the real cathedral right in front of me.
Although that was a very special moment for me, I think my favorite memory from our three days in Moscow was shopping and bargaining at the Vernishazh Market. Before leaving for Russia I had a plan for what souvenirs I wanted to bring back for family members and friends. I was a little worried about whether I would be able to afford these souvenirs but luckily you don’t have to be a rich kid to buy nice things for loved ones at the Vernishazh. You simply need a friendly smile and a willingness to try to bargain with the sellers!
When we first arrived, I felt a little overwhelmed by how many vendors there were. Booths holding various souvenirs seemed to go on forever. The market was full of all sorts of handmade goods and beautiful treasures. Anything someone could want to bring home from Russia could be found there, especially tons of Matryoshkas, the iconic Russian nesting dolls. There were also stands selling various pins and memorabilia from the Soviet era, beautiful scarves, elaborate Faberge eggs, and even assorted knives.
After walking past a few stands of hopeful vendors trying to entice me to stop and look at their items, I stopped at a stand selling old Soviet and Russian pins. Pins are my souvenir of choice and before leaving for Lithuania, I made it a goal to collect a pin from every country I visit. After looking at the huge assortment for a few seconds, the vendor started telling me about what the different pins meant. He didn’t speak much English but he was very helpful and it was nice learning more about the history of the pins he had and where they came from. It also gave me a chance to bargain and the vendor gave me a deal on two Moscow themed pins that I picked out.
Although the thought of bargaining with sellers intimidated me and my fellow study abroads before arriving, it was actually much easier than expected. A good amount of the vendors spoke English and were willing to bargain with us, and if all else failed we just had to be persistent. It was honestly fun trying to make a deal with the sellers and finding gifts for loved ones back home.
The remaining time in Moscow and our time in Saint Petersburg was filled with many more magical experiences that pushed us outside of our comfort zones and helped us all to grow closer and appreciate the memories that were being made together. Moscow is a city that I’m so grateful to have seen and one that I know I’ll never forget.
Next stop, Saint Petersburg!