This trip has been a very, very long time coming!
I first found the desire to go to Russia whilst I was still at school, and I finished school 10 years ago now! I learnt Russian for three years (even got an A* at GCSE) and whilst I was unable to carry on to A Level I was originally going to study the language at university. Life got in the way, however, and whilst I did make it to Central America and SE Asia and emigrated to New Zealand I never ended up getting to Russia. 10 years later and my life and career have taken a very different path and finally, finally, I am starting to make my dream come true.
I've got 10 weeks off work (paid leave - thank you nursing job for letting me save up a couple years of annual leave!) I've read the guide books, googled my heart out, scoured travel blogs and forums and decided on the route I want to take. I even have a travel partner in my loving boyfriend of 2 years who is keen to take this trip with me even though I've warned him I might be a bit difficult, I am used to traveling alone... This is our first long trip away together, so I guess it'll be a bit of a test of our relationship! I think one of the things holding me back from travelling to Russia earlier was that I did actually want to share the experience with someone rather than go it alone. When I went to Laos a few years ago I did feel somewhat more isolated than I had travelling before. Most people I met were either couples or groups of 18 year olds out for some drunken laughs, although I did manage to meet a few other solos whom I remember fondly.
I've spent the majority of 2012 so far planning the route I want to take. Originally I was planning on doing an independent but organised trip through a recommended company who would book our train tickets and accommodation and a few tours and things, but due to a few factors I decided to bite the bullet and DIY it. I blame the guide book, there were just too many places I wanted to stop. We are also spending a month in the UK and I didn't want to be there during the Olympics so rather than heading there first and working our way back to NZ overland we are travelling East to West. We fly from Dunedin via Auckland to Hong Kong, for a fun filled few days with a couple of my closest friends who now live there. Then we are flying from Hong Kong to Vladivostok on Russia's Far East coast. This is the start/end of the Trans-Siberian train route. Most travelers actually go Moscow to Beijing and don't make it this far east, but if you are coming from NZ or Australia this can be an alternative starting point, especially if you don't want to go to China. If you are coming from Japan or South Korea there are also ferries to Vladivostok. From here we are spending a couple of weeks travelling the rail to Moscow, stopping off for a few days around the Lake Baikal area, Krasnoyarsk, Yekaterinburg, Vladimir and Suzdal. Because my boyfriend is interested in war history, I have managed to squeeze in a couple of days in Volgograd ( formally Stalingrad) at his request. We are flying here to save time, and then flying up to St Petersburg to finish off our month in Russia. You can only get a tourist visa for 30 days so I've planned our trip to be exactly that.
After Russia we will make our way briefly to Prague and Paris, then onto London and the UK towards the end of September. I left the UK in 2006 and only visited briefly in 2007 so this will be my first major trip back to my 'homeland'. Rich has been to the UK more recently than me. I want to catch up with my sister and my friends and take Rich to the places I grew up. Of course this pretty much means travelling the UK almost it's entire length... But hey we'll have just done that in Russia, the largest country in the world, so the UK should be easy in comparison!
We head off on the 17th August and I am counting down the days! I will hopefully manage to keep you updated...