After many messages from the Canadian embassy asking its citizen to leave Russia because of the economic sanctions and the difficulty to find an international flight, we decided it was time to go. I know many of you wanted us to depart sooner, but as we are students and not just on vacation, a lot had to be taken into consideration. As I repeated many times, we were never at risk, I lived in the North, nothing much happens in Arkhangelsk and also after 28 years’ of traveling experience, my judgment is still good.
Alejandra, my 17 years old flatmate from Colombia was coming with me. We had to consider where to fly. Going back to our respective countries was not an option we considered as we wanted to be close enough to be able to continue our classes online. Being underage and in need a visa for Asian countries made a bit more complicated as to find an affordable flight (Europe had closed their airspace by then). We first contemplated Kyrgyzstan, a country that spoke Russian, that had a 2-day e-visa process (or we thought so, took almost 2 weeks). We booked our flights, but then heard that all international flights were cancelled, we changed our flight from Moscow to Saint-Petersburg. Michael, a Quebecer studying in Moscow met us there. All three took a bus to Tallinn, the Capital of Estonia. Now, this was the first time we saw him and yet, here he was sharing our room for the next month and a half.
As for the border crossing, on the Russian side, she didn’t ask any questions and on the Estonian side either. I did manage to leave my suitcase at the immigration booth. The officer came to see me and asked me if it was mine. I apologized and told him I wasn’t used to traveling with a suitcase. It was the middle of the night after all. Half of our bus was filled with Ukrainians and one guy was sitting next to me and he was surprised that we spoke some Russian and I asked him if he was from Russia. When he just looked at me and slowly said: no, I am from Ukraine, I wanted the seat to eat me up. I apologized many times, I felt so bad. I should have known better, but well, it was not intentional. We did continue to chat afterwards.
Despite everything that is happening, we loved living in Russia; it’s the country where I was the most welcomed. It’s just hard to comprehend how such a situation can be. I will not discuss it any further as I was there to study and I loved my program, I wasn’t there to do any politics. It was hard decision to make as we were just getting settled, we had our routine, just started classes in person, made new friends, had my CrossFit and Russian classes. We didn’t want to leave. I know I am privileged as I can go to another country and even switch program if need be. It’s still was a lots of changes in a very short time and although our problems are small in comparison of what is happening in Ukraine, we still feel that our dream is slowly escaping us.
We went from living alone to sharing a hostel room (Tallinn) us three, and now, sharing a small albeit beautiful studio in Riga for a month. We have our habits, I tend to go to sleep and wake early, the two others are opposite, I snore, and it bothers Michael. He constantly talks about girls, and it bothers me. So yeah, it’s an adjustment alright and throughout these difficult times, we had so much laughter. I’ve decided this article will be about all the good times we had as there is enough sadness to go around.
Our first night in the “shitty” hostel, we had a triple room. Alejandra goes to bed before me and quite early, I follow suit at around 7pm (we took an overnight bus, so we hadn’t sleep in a long time). At around 1am, I lay in bed awake when Michael pokes me and tell me I am snoring. I said, no, I am not snoring, yes you are. I’m thinking how that is even possible as I am awake? Am I in a parallel universe? I leave it at that. I wake up around 7h30 quite hungry so I get up and go to the kitchen. Michael hears snoring again so he wakes up to wake me when he realizes I am not in bed and that it’s Alejandra that is snoring, he can’t comprehend how a 17 years old can snore (she had a cold, and her nose was congested). Alejandra and I have been sharing an apartment for the last four months, but we just met him. He couldn’t understand how come I woke so instantly when he touched me and, I was well, obviously I wasn’t sleeping!!!
The hostel had long term resident that were either weird or yelling at each other. It was definitively not like in the website pictures, lots of things were missing, but it was a great location, right next to the old town and the shower were good. At check-out, the guy at reception was not happy that we woke him up at 6h30, he told us it wasn’t a time to disturb people. Then he refused to give me back my 10€ and said we owe him 30€. He was angry at Michael and yelling because he spoke to him in Russian. Sometimes, it was easier to speak in Russian as they didn’t speak English. I was angry as well as I had read some reviews regarding the key deposit, and we had a bus to catch. We woke up the other lady that worked at reception and she sorted it out, she told us that it was his last shift, and he was angry that he got fired. I finally got my key deposit, and I called a taxi. He arrives and he obviously was upset for whatever reason. He didn’t help us and ignored of completely. It was time to leave Estonia.
The bus ride to Riga, Latvia was smooth, 4 hours in between cities and no border crossing. We took the tram to our studio which we found easily, but I did manage to hit a few people with my backpack. Everyone was laughing at me, at least they were not offended. Not the easiest to be carrying a suitcase + backpack and day pack. I am carrying my winter clothes as it was -30ºC in Arkhangelsk when we left. In the Baltics, it’s around 8ºC. Quite a difference. The studio is small but is exactly like in the pictures and after the bad hostel, this was a good upgrade.
Life in Europe is definitively three to four times more expensive than our lives in Arkhangelsk. It’s another adjustment as our budget hadn’t planned for living in the Baltic’s. We will probably head to Bulgaria after this for another month or so. It’s strange as I never thought I’d be coming back to these countries and here I am again. They are beautiful, but we are not here on vacation. All this moving made us late in our assignments, so this weekend has all been about catching up in our studies. Having said that, we did travel to three different countries in three days. It was nice to catch up with Heidi in Helsinki, hadn’t seen her in 10 years.
For my part, I am waiting to hear back from the university in Norway to see what will happen to my exchange to Svalbard in the Fall. I also applied for the Arctic expedition in July / August. If that falls through, I found a similar Master program in Iceland and the administrator told me I could probably finish the program in one year as my degree is quite similar and they would credit me all elective classes. I also would be able to keep my thesis subject. At least, there are other possibilities. But I want to go back to Russia, I’ve been making progress with the language, but also I want to see my friends again.
Hope these pictures make you laugh.