You know how when people talk about travel they always say stuff like “destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things,” or “experience, travel – these are as education in themselves” or “a ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”? Well when I say “people” I mean “no one”, and when I say “stuff” I mean “things I would actually say only after I’d Google image searched ‘larvae’ and plucked every hair from my head,” but I digress.
Last week I took a nine day trip to the south of Russia with the group of American students studying at my university. We took a 30 hour train ride south to Rostov-on-Don, where I took the opportunity to wade in the Don River and sing the classic Sisqo hit “The Don Song” (let me see that Don-da-don-don-don).
We drove around for about 5 more days in a ghetto bus with a velour interior and outer space-themed curtains. We went camping on the Steppe (I took this opportunity to make a million “Steppe” puns- lemme see you one, two Steppe), went to the largest Buddhist temple in Europe, spit off a bridge which unites Europe and Asia (my saliva was forever lost in the continental divide), visited a place called “Chess City,” and ate delicious Armenian food.
Traveling as a vegan can be a hit-or-miss experience, depending how flexible you’re willing to be. I prepared before we left (lugged instant oats, almond butter and dried apricots around a good portion of southwestern Russia) and every time we were near a store I stopped in to stock up on whatever fresh/dried fruit, fresh/canned veg, nuts, canned beans, bread, or dark chocolate I could find. I was lucky in that I was largely in control of my meals and unlucky in that I explored the frightening world of Russian preserved vegetables. FYI, pickled cauliflower is only OK.
On the other side of this trip I can say a few things about travel.
1) Preparation is key but you can’t anticipate everything (flat tires in the middle of absolute nowhere, nothing vegan except pickles and vodka for meals, etc). Flexibility is always a good thing but especially on the high open seas
2) Unexpected friends from random places are the best friends. I met some unlikely characters along the way (re: friends who make balloon animals together on a 40 hour train ride stay together). When we were at a stop along the way in a town called Voronezh I befriended a toothless woman who felt a Christmas sweater was appropriate for the 80 degree weather and gave me a free ice cream. When she found out I was from the US she petted my dirty train hair and cooed “Amehhhhhdeeka, Amehhhhdeeka!” and told me how she had a feeling she’d see me again on the television one day.
3) Steppe softly and carry a big stick.
*Almost all of these pictures were taken by my talented friend Sashinka (known to the rest of the world as Alex Bird). GIRL GOT SKILL.