Sanctuary 2.0: Princess to Pioneer

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Once upon a time, I lived in a land far, far away. A land of fairy tales populated by peasants and kings, bears and wolves, composers and poets. A land filled with beautiful things: lacquer boxes with miniature paintings, Orenburg shawls, intricate samovars, khokhloma kitchenwarematryoshkas, faberge eggs, and gzhel. In this magical land, I had a magical romance. Or maybe it wasn’t so magical but only felt like it was because I was in my early twenties and still believed love was the most important force in the world and still believed in its power to strike down all adversity and sorrow. But then I became too old for fairy tales and my Russian prince and I and our 12 gzhel statues moved to America where we were commoners with common lives and common problems that love could not vanquish. And then we didn’t have love anymore and so we parted ways. The gzhel cow, the gzhel pig, and all their fragile blue and white friends were relegated to a storage bin, packed away with the other memories of a life gone by, or perhaps a life that never was, to be pulled out and examined once or twice a year when nostalgia for the emotional intensity and naivete of young adulthood grew unbearable. But as time marched on, those ancient images and emotions were no longer strong enough to push through the haze of present day concerns, and the value in toting physical representations of memories from place to place was lost. It was then that the gzhel barnyard animals met their tragic end in a dumpster in a grimy alley in Denver, Colorado, far from their snowy origins. Except one. A rooster. The rooster refused to be tossed aside. He scratched and clung on, crowing for attention, urging my former self to allow one piece of who she was to remain, no matter how far down in the bin he had to be and no matter how much other detritus hid his existence. Just don’t let go. There’s more to come.

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KiZhi, Russia (Spring 2005)

While You Are There: Imagine that you are a Russian peasant living in the 1700s. And then be glad that you aren’t and that we live in the 2000s and you can go admire places like this as a tourist. Just don’t pay for one of those absurdly overpriced cruises up the Volga to get here. There’s so much to see in Russia. Hop on a train from Moscow or St. Petersburg and see some other places along the way.

Why It’s On My List: Because I want to live there. The serenity, the architecture, the history. I want to raise sheep there and write books. That’s all. The whole thing about it being a UNESCO heritage site kind of puts a crimp in those plans, but I can dream, can’t I?

For this year’s A-Z Blog Challenge, I’ve decided to showcase 26 of my favorite places in the world. I’ve only been to 22 of the 196 countries, so I’ve got some more travelling to do, but these places are well worth a visit.

железная дорога (2002 – 2006)

Yes, I realize I’m fudging the alphabet a little here because this should technically be under the letter Z, but since the Cyrillic letter looks like an X, let’s just go with it. This post is the Railroad!

While You Are There: You can do everything on a train. A train is a world unto itself. You can

  • meet locals you can’t communicate with in words but still enjoy the company of and eat all the food they offer you
  • meet interesting tourists, like an older Italian lady and her boy-toy, because the conductor forced you to sit in a tourist car because he doesn’t think it’s safe for foreign women to be travelling alone
  • get woken up on the overnight car by soldiers coming onto the train and locking it down so you can travel through a particularly dangerous area, all while a Buddhist monk sleeps across from you, making you feel like nothing bad could possibly happen
  • ride in the conductor’s berth because the train was sold out but you really need to get home the next day and he feels bad for you so he lets you share his space
  • buy delicious snacks from independent vendors at the stations
  • pretend you don’t speak any Russian in order to stonewall Russian guards who want to “fine” you for not having the correct permission to live in Moscow as you are trying to get to Finland for a flight to Spain, and laugh when they finally give up because they don’t speak English and no one else stepped in to help translate
  • get in trouble because your university laminated your rail pass and that’s against the rules and then you get fined and then the town finds out and the local paper publishes an apology to the foreign students for the “rude” treatment they suffered from train personnel for something that wasn’t their fault
  • go on an epic cross-country journey, lose track of what day it is, get on your train on the wrong day, get woken up in the night by the person whose berth you are in, watch as mass confusion ensues while a helpful local runs into the station to buy you a ticket valid for that day, and then be eternally grateful to that person even though you spend the rest of the night in overcrowded sitting-only car

Why It’s On My List: I love train travel, for all the true stories enumerated above and more. I only posted pictures from Russian train trips I took, but I’ve also taken the train in India, the US, and Western Europe.

For this year’s A-Z Blog Challenge, I’ve decided to showcase 26 of my favorite places in the world. I’ve only been to 22 of the 196 countries, so I’ve got some more travelling to do, but these places are well worth a visit.

Uniform

I’ve had my fair of jobs that required me to wear a uniform, starting with my very first official job at Burger King. I still remember the stiff and scratchy navy blue pants, the chunky black orthopedic sneakers, the visor that did nothing to keep all the grease out of my hair, and the polo. The heavy, ill-fitting polo shirt. Polo shirts that are three sizes too large seem to be the unifying factor of all jobs in my life that required a uniform. I don’t understand why uniform manufacturers seem to think the minimum weight for anyone in a job that requires a uniform is 150 pounds, but that seems to be about the weight that aligns with the smallest size polo available. Besides Burger King, these jobs also subjected me to this fashion crime. Continue reading →

Sierra

Sierra Mist? That seems to be my only association with the word sierra, although Sierra Mist really came out after my soda drinking phase.

My house was full of soda when I was a kid. Soda and Little Hugs (remember those?). We had pallets of soda in glass bottles in our garage and back hallway, and boxes and boxes of Little Hugs my dad brought home from the dollar store. We weren’t allowed to gorge on them, however. We had a strict limit of one per day. The same principle applied to our candy drawer and cookies; we always had plenty of junk food in the house but we had to ask permission every time we wanted something and my mother kept our intake moderated pretty well. Continue reading →

Papa

Well, I could tell a story about my father but I never called my father Papa, so I don’t think that’s appropriate. But when I was a child I read a lot of fairy tales and stories in which the father was called Papa, so I’ll write about one of those. My favorite storybook was The Nutcracker. Not just any edition, mind you, but the hardcover 1985 edition retold by Ronald Kidd and illustrated by Rick Reinert. No other version will do. I must have read that book hundreds of times as a child. Naturally, every time I did, I imagined I was Clara. The nutcracker that my mother had on her roll top desk every Christmas was my favorite holiday decoration, and I lay in bed every night during winter break waiting for it to come to life. The rats, well, those I could without. I didn’t need the nutcracker to save me from anything, just to come to life and dance with me.

That book was so special to me that I went to see the Nutcracker Ballet at the famous Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg my first Christmas in Russia. There was simply no question of taking a trip elsewhere or of not getting tickets. I had to see it and I had to see it there. I also have a lifelong dream of spending a Christmas in Vienna and seeing it there as well. That probably won’t happen this year, but soon. Continue reading →

Delta

My first international flight, which was also my first flight ever, cost $899 one way. It was scheduled to go from Buffalo to New York City to Manama to Melbourne. A snowstorm in Buffalo derailed that plan, so I ended up on a flight from Buffalo to Washington, DC to London to Singapore to Melbourne. This was back in the day when airlines took care of their passengers when things like this happened, no travel insurance needed, so my unexpected 14 hour layover in London came complete with a free stay in the Radisson Edwardian for the day, lunch, dinner, and transportation to and from the airport. Then I ended up in bulkhead seat (back in the day when you didn’t have to pay extra for those) on a double decker Quantas plane all the way from London to Melbourne. Not a bad outcome for a highly price conscious 19 year old.

I never played the airline mileage game until a few years ago, which was really a waste considering how much travel I did and how many miles I could have earned. I always looked for the cheapest flight possible. The best deal I scored was round trip on Air Transat from Toronto to Frankfurt, Germany for $425, all fees included, back in 2001 just before the TSA ruined airline travel for all of us. Sometimes I got lucky and landed deals on luxury Asian airlines, like Cathay Pacific from Melbourne to Bombay, with a free three day layover in Hong Kong. If you’ve never flown an Asian airline, you have to try it. Our first class is their economy. And I got an amazing package holiday deal to Iceland when Iceland Air opened direct flights from Denver to Reykjavik. Continue reading →

Six Months in the Mountains: Snowpocalypse

Today marks our six month anniversary at The Sanctuary, and Mother Nature has chosen to celebrate by dumping 18 inches of snow on us since Sunday afternoon. After the stereotypically warm and sunny Front Range January, winter is back. The pure gravel road that I walked down on Saturday to meet my friends coming up in their little rental sedan to check out a lot for sale is once again a treacherous stretch of slippery snow that will turn to deadly, mile long ice slick next week as the temperature climbs back into the 50s. I have already seen my life flash before my eyes 11 times this winter as I’ve crept around the switchbacks at two miles an hour. I’m preparing for at least a half dozen more. Continue reading →

eXpatriation

Yes, I’m aware expatriation doesn’t really begin with X. But what else can I write about for the letter X? I don’t think I had any big misconceptions in my younger years about x-rays, xylophones, or Xerses the Great. I’ve never been xenophobic either, obviously, or I wouldn’t have been an expat for so long. In fact, I love all things foreign – people, food, traditions, geography, climates, history, cultures. Bring them on! When I started travelling, I thought I would never return to the United States. I even contributed several segments to a book on leaving America. There’s just so much to explore and experience that it seems a waste to just sit around the same place all the time. But in some respects, Dorothy was right.

My longest stay in any foreign country was in Russia – I spent one academic year in Volgograd and two in Moscow. We were five foreign teachers at my language school in Russia and I was the only non-Russophile. I chose to teach in Russia because, well, why not? I had taught in Mexico first and then South Korea, so I was looking for some place that would be very different from both of those. Aside from Greenland or Vanuatu, I think Russia was really the best choice. Continue reading →