My epic summer travel plans

One of the highlights of working as a teacher isn’t playing with paint or toys everyday, It’s having an amazingly long summer holiday each year!

This summer I will have 2 whole months off. At first I planned an epic trip to China and North Korea but I changed my mind after Trump’s threats. I think it would be an extremely interesting place to visit but I value my life to highly to go there at the moment.

I’ve actually been extremely stressed trying to plan my summer holidays. I decided to go to India and Nepal but I found out August is the height of the rainy season. I also nearly booked an Annapurna trekking tour only to find out that the age limit was 29! I can’t believe I’m apparantly over the hill at 30. I’ll admit I cried a little when I found that out.

After much deliberation here are my summer travel plans.

July

2 nights Suzdal, Russia

I absolutely love living in Moscow, but I have a busy and fast paced life. I have booked 2 night in a Russian country house in Suzdal to have a social media detox and learn to relax again. I want to spend my days exploring the towns of Vladamir and Suzdal, sunbathing, reading and eating local food.

My house is right on the banks of the river in Suzdal

1 night in Brussels, Belgium

Th benefit of there being only 1 direct flight from Moscow to the UK is that you can easily see another city or country when travelling to and from Moscow. This time I’ve decided to spend a night in Brussels. I arrive in the evening so want to drink some Belgian beer and do a walking tour in the morning.

Did I mention that I love beer?

2 nights in the Lake District, England

I’m a very spiritual person. When I was in Thailand I lived with an ex monk in the Thai mountains and I spend 2 weeks at a meditation and yoga retreat in Cambodia. I miss it so will spend 2 nights at a meditation retreat in the beautiful Lake District, a place of immense natural beauty that I used to visit frequently when I was a rambler.

Sometimes I forget just how beautiful England is

6 nights Travelling around Ireland

One of my dreams has always been to travel with just my Mum. And it’s finally coming true. We will be renting a car and driving all over Ireland, staying at a different place each night. I’m excited to see the beautiful greenery, taste Guinness in Dublin and kiss the Blarney stone. Mum’s family are from Ireland so we might even meet family members in Sligo.

July and August

Backpacking around Eastern Europe and the Balkans

After a few days back home in England, I’ll be backing up my backpack and catching a 1 way fright to Croatia. Once there I will travel to various countries in the region overland, just like when I travelled in South East Asia. I’m excited for some spontaneity, even if I did have to plan half of my travels due to travelling in the high season.

I prefer to arrive in a country without researching it first. I like to have no pre-conceived ideas about the country and just experience it firsthand by myself. Does anyone else like to travel like that? I’m travelling solo as I do most times.

Here is my itinerary-

Croatia– 3 nights Dubrovnik and 2 nights Split

Bosnia and Herzegovina– 3 nights Mostar and 2 nights Sarajevo

Montenegro– 2 nights Budva and 3 nights Kotor

Albania– I’ve not planned it fully but I want to spend some time by the beach

Macedonia– Again, I’ve not planned it but I would like to go Kosovo for the day or night

Bulgaria– Not yet planned but I will probably fly out of here.

Croatia

As I said It’s not yet planned and I haven’t booked a flight back to the UK yet. I just want to relax and see where I end up going. At least I know what countries I’d like to visit! I just can’t wait to have weeks of freedom where I go where I like and do what I like.

What do you think of my itinerary? Do you have any tips for places to visit in Eastern Europe or the Balkans? What are your summer plans?

 

 

 

 

Living in Japan and Russia, a comparison

When I look at my timehop app on my phone, I see a recurring theme. Although I had a lovely boyfriend in Japan, lived in a 2 bedroom house (Anyone who has lived in Japan knows how rare it is to find and afford one!), lived an hour from Tokyo and spent free weekends travelling around this beautiful country…

I was lonely.

Lonely at work, lonely at home. I had a few friends but I couldn’t see them as often as I could. I longed for connection with people which can be extremely hard to find in disconnected Japan. Couple this with a long distance relationship and many days brought dread rather than joy.

One day I just realised that although I loved many aspects of Japan, it just wasn’t where I was meant to be. It was stifling me and I needed to be free. A friend from home once talked about living in Moscow, a place I found exotic and intriguing. I found out I had been offered a job as a kindergarten teacher and snapped it up. Even though I was leaving an awful lot behind in Japan.

Settling in to work

I arrived in Russia a week before I was due to start work. The weather was hot and sunny and I enjoyed walking around the seemingly empty city, gawping at the magnificent architecture and trying to read Cyrillic.

Work started and it was a baptism of fire. In Japan I taught the same lessons day in, day out. I felt like a performing seal rather than a teacher. Although it was easy to plan, it lacked creativity. In Russia I was given a brief theme for each week but expected to plan a challenging curriculum for the children teaching maths, English, phonics, science, fitness and physical skills. At first I was overwhelmed but I soon grew to love the freedom I was given and excelled in creating creative and interactive lessons that the children loved.

Soon I had many Facebook messages offering me extra tutoring or English classes. Unlike Japan people actually wanted to learn English and it made me feel important and in demand. I turned down the majority of tutoring and teaching jobs to focus on getting higher paid clients. It was one of the best decisions that I made.

Learning Russian

Prior to arriving n Moscow, I tried to learn the Cyrillic alphabet. Although not perfect, my skills enabled me to identify words that were similar to English. I watched many YouTube videos, and used the duo-lingo app whenever I could. After I gained some confidence I started going to lessons, and suddenly found out that my level was low and I didn’t even know the alphabet properly.

This knocked my confidence. I now knew the basics but the language seemed to get more complicated the more I learnt. I started practicing with a Ukranian Skype teacher but as my work hours increased my motivation decreased.

Now I can read the alphabet, know key phrases and words. At the moment it is enough for me. Next year I will hopefully have more free time and be able to practice more.

Making friends

The expat scene in Japan was weird. Many people were just there to get with Japanese women or were ‘Otaku’ and obsessed with the Japanese culture. I made some amazing friends but I couldn’t bond or empathise with the majority of expats. They just weren’t like me. Thee expat scene was really snobby too, many foreigners would snub other foreigners and try to talk only to Japanese people. Everyone bragged about how much Japanese they knew or how many years they had lived in Japan like it was a competition.

Japanese people can be extremely closed off to people. Do you know that I never once went into a Japanese persons home? Although I had a few Japanese ‘friends’ I felt that many tried to keep me at arms length and I never formed real friendships with Japanese people that hadn’t travelled outside of Japan.

Moscow couldn’t be more different. It has a diverse and friendly expat scene and there are so many events happening throughout the city where you can meet new people. When I first arrived I met up with people I met on Facebook groups and at language events. I accepted every invitation and as a consequence I started to know more and more people.

Now I have a fantastic social life and am friends with British people, Australians, Russians and Americans. I have genuine friendships and we are all there for each other. I have been inside many Russian homes and have been made welcome. I go to new and exciting places each week and have a cosmopolitan lifestyle. I am truly happy.

Japanese countryside vs Russian super city

When I moved to Japan I was actually excited about living in the countryside. After a month or so I felt suffocated and trapped. I had no car and my world was extremely small. Trains didn’t run until late so I was pretty limited about what I could do after work and at the weekends.

Now I live in one of the biggest cities in the world in an apartment on the 16th floor. Worlds away from my life in Japan. Moscow has no shortage of exciting and interesting things to do. I’ve done something new every weekend and have still not run out of things to do or places to go. Although city life can get overwhelming, I absolutely love it.

Travel

One of the best things about living in Japan was the diversity and beauty of the country. During my time in Japan I was lucky enough to travel to many places such as Fukuoka, Sapporo, Sendai, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Tokyo, Yokohama and even climb mount Fuji. Travel is convenient and safe although it can be expensive.

Moscow is such a big city that it can take hours to travel from one side to the other. Trains are generally slow and because Russia is the biggest country in the world, cities and towns are extremely spread out. Since I’ve lived here I’ve travelled to St Petersburg, Sergiev Posad and a small village in the South. It’s a lot easier to go back to England or visit other European countries. Next month I’m renting a country house in Suzdal, a small but beautiful town about 3/4 hours from Moscow. I don’t feel the same urge to visit as many places in Russia as possible because I feel theat I will live here for many years.

Conclusion

Life in Moscow can be hard. I work long hours but for great money. The city is overwhelming but there’s a vast choice of things to do here. Although I miss Japanese food and hospitality I’m extremely happy in Moscow. I have a great job with prospects, I’m inundated with private students and I have a great social life.

I have a feeling that I will live here for quite a few years, watch this space!

 

 

2016, a year of Travel: Part 2

You can find part 1 here.

July, 2016

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

I’ve travelled to Dubai many times but never to it’s exotic neighbour. My Abu Dhabi story started out badly after I was placed in the hostel from hell. I didn’t feel safe and it was extremely dirty. I moved to a nice hotel for my remaining two nights. Abu Dhabi is charming but lacks the diversity of Dubai. I loved walking through the streets with the locals at night though and took local buses to see the sights such as the Emirates palace. It was 50 degrees one day and stupidly I decided to go for a walk to the beach. At first I was surprised to see no-one walking about but then I realised why, beacsue they weren’t insane like me. Luckily I survived to tell the tale after hailing a local taxi.

The Sheikh Zayed mosque was my main reason for visiting Abu Dhabi. I wore my best Arabian style makeup to try and take some interesting photos but it kept slipping off in the intense heat. I went on the free guided tour and it was definitely worth it. The Mosque felt so calm and serine. I really didn’t want to leave. It was magnetic.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

For my third visit to the Emirate I saw a different side of Dubai. I visited my friend from Windsor, (who I met in New Zealand, friendships get complicated when you are a traveller!) in her luxury hotel on Jumeirah beach. It was nice to catch up in such an exotic location and enjoy poolside smoothies and waiters serving ice cold towels hourly. After luxury I travelled up to Deirah where I stayed in an apartment near the gold souk. I didn’t feel safe but I felt uneasy with the large groups of men that would gather on the streets. For my remaining time in Dubai I saw all of my favourite sites again, ate at my favourite Lebanese restaurant in Bur Dubai and managed to catch the fountain shows at the Burj Khalifa.

September, 2016.

Moscow, The Russian Federation.

I was on the move once again and accepted a job offer in Moscow to teach in a kindergarten. I arrived in Moscow when it was extremely hot and I was pleasantly surprised by the city that I continue to love. I spent the week before I started work wandering aimlessly around the gargantuan city, getting lost on the metro and drinking in a beer garden near the red square.

 

October, 2016.

Saint Petersburg, The Russian Federation.

I had a well deserved week off work so decided to spend it exploring the so called ‘Venice of the North’, Saint Petersburg. I also had my first encounter with Russian trains when I rode the Sapsan to Saint Petersburg. I was surprised how luxurious and efficient it was, it was like being on a plane.

Although it wasn’t even winter Saint Petersburg was freezing. I bought a fur hat from a street vendor because I felt like my ears were going to drop off. I attended the free walking tour on my first day to orient myself. I was amazed by how beautiful Saint Petersburg is, it felt completely different to Moscow in so many ways. I would like to revisit in the summer during the ‘white nights’ when it barely gets dark.

I spent most of my days wandering around the city and eating amazing Russian and international food. Saint Petersburg is a lot cheaper than Moscow so I was able to splurge without going over-budget. I spent a day in the Hermitage and another day in the art gallery opposite. I’ve never seen so many works of Renoir, one of my favourite artists in one place.

December, 2016

Nottingham, England.

My year ended with a not so exotic trip to Nottingham to catch up with friends that I met in New Zealand. We chose Nottingham as a base because of it’s location in the Midlands. Nottingham turned out to be a charming city and we enjoyed visiting a cat cafe, the castle, and even enjoyed a pint in the oldest pub in England, (probably in the world!).

How was your 2016? My life seems to change so much every year of my life. I never thought I would find love in Japan and I never planned to move to Russia, it just happened. I wonder what 2017 will look like for me?

I really want to visit more new and exotic countries, I miss the thrill of visiting somewhere new and forming an opinion on it. I want to visit North Korea in the summer but I’m putting m travel plans on hold until I know more about the volatile situation there.

Why I moved to Moscow

Yesterday I went for a walk in Moscow. I walked across a covered bridge and was greeted by a familiar sound. “Irasshaimase”, the voice boomed. I looked to my left and spotted a Japanese vending machine. I peered closer and saw that all of the drinks inside were Japanese too. This simple sight brought back such strong memories. As I continued my walk I felt confused and disoriented. A feeling that you can only understand if you have called more than one place your home.

Japanese vending machine in Russia

Most people are surprised that I moved to Moscow. Russia seems like a scary place to most, a place with a dark past, a dark present and maybe even a dark future. Wheras Japan seems like utopia, it’s clean, safe and culturally rich. Moscow seemed like the kind of place I could be happy, be myself.. In many ways it’s the antithesis of Japan, that’s just what I needed. I’ll talk more about Japan in another post.

Before I went travelling I asked advice from an old friend and colleague. Along with living in Hong Kong and travelling South East Asia she lived in Moscow. Her face lit up when she talked about Moscow. She was so inspired by living there that she started a blog. My mind suddenly went into overdrive about Moscow and Russia. It seemed like such an exotic place, mysterious too. Little did she know that she planted a seed that day and ever since Moscow has always been in the back of my mind.

Its 2013 and I’m in Laos. I’m in a steam room and wearing only a small towel to cover my dignity. The heat and humidity become to much for me so I step outside, gasping for air. I sip tea and watch the people walking into the steamrooms. They are segregated by sex. A ladyboy covered in makeup strolls out of the changing room and enters the female steam room. A smile sneaks onto my lips and my eyes make contact with a guy across the room. He’s also smiling.

He walks across the room and we start talking. He says that he lives and works in Moscow and he has done for years. Even though I’m in Laos I find his tales of snow and Oligarchs fascinating. I feel butterflies in my stomach.

I’m falling for Moscow.

Fast forward two years. I’m alone in my small apartment in Japan. I’m lonely and isolated. The Japanese culture makes me feel uneasy at times. I find it claustrophobic and fake. I decide to look online for jobs in foreign climes. After applying for a few jobs in Hong Kong and Korea I come across a job vacancy for Moscow. I don’t apply for it but it sets off a frenzy of internet searches. I’m hungry for information about this exotic land. Unsurprisingly there’s very few blog posts about people who have actually lived there. People who know the real Russia.

My crazy internet searches lead me to Coursera course about understanding Russians, contexts of intercultural communication. The more I learn about Russian culture the more I want to live there, to experience it for myself.

A statue in Victory park
A statue in Victory park
VDNK park
VDNK park

I start to apply for jobs in Moscow. Many were poorly paid but I  am offered a few well paid ones. I accept one and thats how I end up in Moscow. Alone but not afraid. Starting afresh once again.

I started working here in September and I do a job that’s very different to my last one. I’m not just an English teacher but a home room teacher for a class in a Kindergarten . The job allows me to be creative, something I missed when working in Japan. I also get to enjoy the personal aspects of teaching. Rather than teach a class and retreat to the staff room or scurry to another class like in Japan, I’m with the same children all day so I get to actually know the children.

Although it’s not easy, it’s a lot more rewarding.

In short, I moved to Moscow because of a feeling. Something called me to live here. Now I just need to work out why!

 

Have you ever lived abroad? If so how did you decide what country to live in? Do you belive in fate or that you were called to live in a specific country?

St Basils cathedral in Moscow
St Basils cathedral in Moscow