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armeniab

Last week, I turned 44 and it's time for my annual birthday trip. The decision on where to travel came quite easily - back to the Caucasus!

This region is like a wonderful partner - there was an immediate connection when we met, and it goes beyond the mere physical elements. Of course, the stunning contours of the landscapes, and excitement of something "new" to explore are what initially led me here. But it's more than that. I love the Caucasus because they are both calm and wild at the same time. Perhaps it's difficult to comprehend, but there is a sense of belonging here. The countries are small, completely different from the massive geographic swells of my home country, or even Russia. This is part of the appeal - that you can conquer an entire nation in a very short period of time, and simultaneously ignite a spark in the soul and mind with all of the stunning mountain landscapes, ancient sites and warm, friendly people. It's an intoxicating blend of Earth, mountain, sky and human curiosities...with the negative aspect of increased heartbeats due to the wild driving culture you must endure to reach these remote places. In such environments, boredom never arises. There is a real sense of feeling alive beyond the mere habit of breathing each day, or going through the routine motions of adulthood that trap us. Boredom - it is the most brutal enemy for me personally. I'm always fighting it off, and can't stand to be captured or held hostage to it for even short periods of time. Yes, I need adventure, stimulation - maybe similar to a young child. :))

I will depart for Tbilisi next week, spend a few days there, and then drive to Armenia. If you know interesting places in Armenia, colorful people, or any other facts you wish to share, please write in comments. If you missed my prior stories about Georgia, you can read them here, and there are still many which remain unwritten.

Sorry for the very long absence from the blog. I am alive and well...and hope the same is true for my dear readers!

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© Miriadna.com

I'm always so excited to hop on a plane and journey to some far off, exotic place that I fail to remember all the beauty and diversity in my own country. This year for my annual birthday trip I've decided to travel to Montana. I've long wanted to visit this State and my cousin now plays in an amateur hockey league there. My home base will be Helena, but I plan on visiting Bozeman, Missoula, and possibly taking a train trip to Whitefish. This is a real cowboy State, filled with ranchers and amazing mountainous landscapes. The main objective is to take a winter excursion to the famed Yellowstone National Park. Such adventures are only possible in winter via snowmobile or snow coaches, but what awaits are endless snowy landscapes, bison, wolves and plenty of frozen wonders. It's also possible I'll be able to visit an authentic Native American reservation, as the family who hosts my cousin during his hockey season are members of a tribe.

Do I have any readers in Montana? Suggestions on what to see? Tentative travel dates are 18 February - 24 February. I will be pleased to meet any readers who live in the area!

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alaska

While most humans run toward the sea and bright sun in the winter months, I chase the frost and freezing temperatures. There's no season I love more than winter. To step outside each morning and have my nostrils slightly burn from the cold, to breathe crisp air and feel the slight shudder of my body...in these moments I feel completely alive and human. What's more romantic than sitting by a cozy fire in a secluded log cabin, with ice-covered branches and the forest as your only companions? For me, almost nothing. I've never craved sunshine or bright light, even as a child. Perhaps I'm secretly a vampire. :)

Each winter, I take a big trip to celebrate my birthday in February. The past three years I've had great journeys in Russia, but now my three-year tourist visa is expired and I don't wish to go through the hassle or cost to renew it. It's time to explore another winter wonderland this February, but where?help me decide! )
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samanthasmithletter

Hello dear readers! I know many of you voted for me to travel to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, but unfortunately finances are tight and airfare there too expensive. So, in a week, I'll return to my beloved Maine and go on another road journey to New England. During the trip, I plan on meeting with Samantha Smith's mother in Boothbay Harbor. What questions do you want me to ask her?

I've had no time for the blog recently due to a hectic work and life schedule. :(  However, next week I'll show you "good Russia," with stories about Kazan and Ples from the winter journey. In the meantime, please let me know what questions you have for Samantha's mom. I'm happy I can finally leave the office for a week, meet with her, and relax in the beautiful surroundings of cozy New England. Does the younger generation in Russia know about Samantha's legacy? How do they learn about her? Or, is she mostly known to those who grew up during the Soviet period? I think her mother will be interested in knowing these facts. :) Have a nice weekend!

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marijuana

Thanks to all who voted in the poll for my next journey! Colorado won with an overwhelming 64.8% of the votes! It seems people are very interested in reading about the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, so in late July or early August I'll visit the Rocky Mountains and tell you all about it. Shop owners and pot cafes are receiving huge profits, but there are many legal dilemmas associated with this "pot rush," which I'll explain later. How profitable is it? You can see the astounding 2014 figures in this article from the Washington Post - $700 million in legal marijuana sales and over $60 million in tax revenues for the State of Colorado. Yes, many Americans like to smoke weed. There's not much stigma associated with it anymore. People of all professional levels and socio-economic classes enjoy it. I'm not sure what the perception of marijuana is in Russia, or if there are any efforts to legalize it there. I highly doubt it, but perhaps I'm wrong.

On an unrelated note, thanks so much to the kind and thoughtful readers who sent me messages recently inquiring about my absence from LJ. I was only gone for a little over a week, but everything is okay. :) I was still dealing with legal issues and a very important immigration case at work. Please remember the blog is not my job, unfortunately. It's merely a hobby, and one that takes a lot of time and effort. I hope everyone is doing well, and enjoying the long, warm days of summer! Someday, I'll make it to Peter for the White Nights Festival and scarlet sails...

P.S.: Any readers living in Colorado? I will be happy to receive suggestions on which towns/places to visit!
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La-Jolla1

In a few weeks, I'll journey cross country to San Diego for a work conference. The conference lasts five days, but I'll arrive two days early to explore the area. I've been to San Diego several times, but usually stay in the Old Town area with family, eating Mexican food and sipping margaritas. This time, I'll rent a car for two days and explore the region in more detail, with a lot of freedom of movement and time. Where should I go? I've already done all the typical tourist stuff during prior visits - the San Diego Zoo, sitting like a vegetable on the nice beaches, etc. I'm thinking about taking a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park, about three hours away. Has anyone been there? Not sure I can survive the brutal desert heat. :( And finally....drum roll please )
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route

Sorry, I don't have much time to write this week. :( Here's the proposed route for the Russian road trip. It was purposely drawn to avoid big cities. What do you think? Know any interesting, unusual places in these cities? Or unique people, living or working in an offbeat manner? I love to meet and write about such humans, in my country and others. After this route, I'll return to Moscow and then venture somewhere in Russia by myself for a few days. The two options are Kazan or spending a very short time in Siberia (2 - 3 days), including a ride on the Circum-Baikal Railway. Where do you want me to go - Kazan or Siberia? For foreigners, Siberia is very intriguing and mysterious, and it has always been a dream of mine to see Lake Baikal in winter. But it's soooo far away!

There are many kind bloggers in Kazan who contacted me and offered to show me places in the city and surrounding areas. Thanks for that! Do I have any readers in Irkutsk who are willing to meet, have tea or coffee and show me the city? I promise to bring cookies from the State Department..:))

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peter

It's now official! I just purchased my tickets to Russia. :) Here I am, standing on the frozen Neva River in Peter. Glorious! Dates of the visit will be 23 February - 9 March. For those in the U.S., airfares on Aeroflot are incredibly cheap now. Nonstop flights from Washington, DC or New York City to Moscow cost only $492 USD roundtrip, including taxes. I can't even fly to many places in the U.S. for this price.

The first week I'll travel with my Russian friend on a road journey to some new cities, though I'm not yet sure where. Proposed options include the following:Read more... )
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Christmas-Market-26677148

Yesterday, I booked tickets for a short holiday trip to France to visit one of my best friends living in Bon-Encontre. This is a small, rural town located in Southwestern France. The trip will be very short, from 4 December - 8 December and the plan is to visit the countryside of Bon-Encontre and take a day trip to Bordeaux to visit the Christmas Market and city. The main thing - to spend time with a dear friend I haven't seen in person for over three years. The last time we met was in Kyiv, when I visited him during the summer of 2011.

Already, America is gearing up for the holidays. Soon, we'll celebrate our annual Thanksgiving feast and turkeys and other festive foods have already arrived in the grocery stores. Smells of cinnamon, cakes, cookies and pine trees will soon follow. During the last week of the year, I'll probably take a week long journey somewhere in the U.S. Which State are you most interested in reading about? Let me know.

Do I have any readers living in the Bordeaux area? What is interesting to see there? Not castles, because I have seen so many in my lifetime! Where will you celebrate the New Years' holiday? In Russia, or abroad? I'm always so jealous of the long period of vacation Russians get during this time!
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israel2

Sometimes opportunities arise when you least expect them. It happened to me recently when a new travel company asked me to visit Israel and participate in a test tour. I pay only airfare - everything else from luxury hotel accommodations to food are covered by the organizer. Israel isn't a country to which I previously envisioned traveling, but how can I resist such an opportunity? It gives me a chance to explore an entirely new region of the world. The schedule will be out of my control to some extent, but the organizers will work with participants to visit areas of interest. I know for certain that we will be in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I don't know if we will go further into Palestine, but I hope so.

Of course, the primary tourist attractions in Israel are religious sites but they're of no interest to me. What else can I see/do in these cities? Where can I find the most dramatic desert or scenic landscapes? Interesting people or markets? I want to make the drive to Ramon Crater, and am curious about the bedouin village/school in Khan al-Alhmar after reading this report. Has anyone been there? Please leave any suggestions about interesting places or people in comments. If anyone knows local English speakers in these cities who may be willing to answer questions and/or act as a guide, please let me know. I'd also be grateful if you could throw links to interesting photo reports from other LJ bloggers who have traveled in the region.

Thanks, in advance, for the help! I depart next Sunday, and will be sure to share photos and impressions of my journey.
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sochi

Perhaps you remember this photo from my Moscow post last year? I came across this Sochi countdown structure during a stroll in the city, yet never imagined that a year later I'd be attending the Games. On Sunday, I'll leave America for a very short yet interesting journey in Russia. I've never been to an Olympic event, but am intrigued that Russia is the host country so I'll go and witness everything for myself. During the trip, I'll also take the opportunity to ride the Russian rails. I wrote here that I've always been curious about long train journeys, so I'll take a ride from Moscow to Adler on the new double-decker trains. This journey is over 24 hours! I'm sure to get a good taste of what it's like to travel on Russian Railways, maybe see some interesting scenery along the way and hopefully sleep a bit. Here's the full itinerary, although it's subject to change:

(1) Arrive in St. Petersburg the evening of 10 February. I'll have a free day on 11 February. If there are any readers who can walk with me or show some interesting places in the city during the day, please send me a message on LiveJournal or to my personal email account at shanrocks75@gmail.com. Of course, it's necessary that you speak basic English as my Russian is very bad. I visited St. Petersburg last winter and like this city very much. I've seen all the standard tourist sites, so I'm looking for a unique place or person in the city that I can photograph and write about. Any suggestions from locals?

(2) On 12 February, I'll take the high-speed Sapsan train from St. Petersburg to Moscow. From there, the real adventure begins. I'll board the new double-decker train and ride all the way from Moscow to Adler. I'll stay in Sochi for two days, then fly back to Moscow. One day there and then back to America. The entire trip is only one week, and I'll have no time to meet with readers in Moscow. I'm sorry, as I know many of you have requested such a meeting. Hopefully next time I'll be in Russia much longer and have time to arrange a gathering.

I truly hope Russia shines on the world stage during the Games. I know many readers are opposed to the financial resources dedicated to the Olympics, or have no interest in competitive sports, but for me it's an opportunity to see Russia in a new and unusual light. To assess Russia's ability to accommodate a huge influx of foreign tourists and engage in hospitality on a grand scale. I'll be sure to share my observations about the good, bad and ugly encountered at the Games and on the rails. This is Russia - always something interesting and strange waiting for me. :) You can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Please share this post and my journal with others who may be interested in my Russian journey. And a special welcome to my new readers who found me through the community [livejournal.com profile] ru_learnenglish!
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rura1

It's autumn and time to hit the road! In a few weeks, I'll meet up with my buddy [livejournal.com profile] macos in Moscow, hop in the car and journey to Eastern Europe. The approximate route is here on the map. Along the way, we'll explore the rural areas of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia. A huge amount of miles in about two weeks. I'm sure there will be many "interesting" roads on which we'll travel. Start and end point will be Moscow, but I'll only be in the city for one night each direction and probably won't have time to meet with readers. If plans change, I'll be sure to make an announcement. However, I'm certain I'll return to Russia later in the winter and will try to arrange a gathering then.

I don't know any points on our route except the countries and some cities, so I'll simply arrive in Moscow, jump in the car and be surprised along the way. All part of the adventure. A few years ago, I traveled to Slovakia but only spent about a 1/2 a day in Bratislava in transit. I was with my male cousins at the time, and they simply wanted to lounge in cafes and drink huge amounts of beer. Below a few photos. What I remember most about Slovakia is the beautiful women! Just stunning, with dark black hair and very natural appearances. Less made up than Russian women. And wonderful statues throughout the city, like the one in the photo. It was very easy to find English speakers in the main part of the city, but I suspect it will be different in the villages.
Collage
Knowledge of the other countries is limited. Of course I know most are former Soviet bloc countries but detailed history of each country is beyond my frame of reference. I'll be sure to study up on the countries before the trip. Or, you can share interesting facts in the comments.

Now the main task is to figure out how to get a visa for Belarus. I need one, even though we will only transit through the country on the return. It's the same bullshit as Russia where you need an official "invitation" letter from a tour company or hotel authorized by the government. Tonight I'll search the Internet and find some company that generates such letters for a fee, which is how I also got my Russian invitation. Why do countries do this? Make solo or independent travels so difficult? I don't believe you need an "official" invitation for an American visa. My understanding is that you simply provide an address where you will stay on the form (either someone's home or a hotel). I know for certain that once you enter the country you are free to roam it from coast to coast as you please. The way it should be.

Also, I'm not certain how to handle the Russia situation. Has anyone traveled outside Russia with a foreigner via car, and then returned through the border? In general, it's necessary for Americans to register upon arrival in the country but there's no registration requirement if your stay is less than seven days. I will only be in Russia one or two days each way, but given that there are no borders in the EU nations in which we'll be traveling I'll have no passport stamps to prove this. Thus, I think I should still register to avoid any problems when I cross back into Russia. I don't wish to deal with Russian officials, be detained or pay some ridiculous bribe to enter the country again. Thoughts?

I'm very excited for the trip! Certain to be an interesting and unique journey. I will likely have a free day in Frankfurt, Germany on 23 or 24 September. If I have readers in the city who have free time to meet for coffee or take a quick walk, please send me a message.
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Thanks to all who voted in the poll for my next journey! Wyoming won by six votes. I'm happy because it was my preferred destination. At the end of next week, I'll attempt to fly there on my United Airlines flight benefits. I will get on the flights only if there is stand-by space available. Please keep your fingers crossed, say an extra prayer, or heavily meditate for positive vibes and luck on my part.

I'll visit the area known as Jackson Hole, in the heart of America's Wild West. I plan on renting a car and driving around on my own, hopefully finding interesting things to write about and share with you. And this weekend I found a cowgirl hat, so I'm now fully prepared for the trip. :) If any readers have been to this area, or know of interesting things please share. Yeehaw!
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Some type of intense restlessness has recently set in. I don't know the root of the problem. Probably because I haven't traveled abroad since my trip to Russia, five months ago. This is too long for me. Summer is difficult for travel because of huge tourist crowds, my intolerance for heat, and packed flights which make standby travel very risky. This was apparent a few weeks ago when I flew to Vermont for a short getaway and got stuck on the return because flights were full. I finally made it home to DC on the last flight of the day, which departed around 10 p.m.

I originally thought about going to Toronto for a long weekend, but now I'm considering a four or five day trip to Wyoming. I've traveled many times to the Western part of the U.S. but never to the "Wild West." Strong desire to see this region, with its beautiful mountain landscapes, ranches and wide-open roads. In early autumn, I'll travel overseas for a few weeks but the destination points are yet to be determined. So tell me - where should I go at the end of July or beginning of August? Which reports will be more interesting for you - Toronto or Wyoming? Vote below and you can help determine my destination! I'll leave open until Friday.

[Poll #1922925][Poll #1922925]
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Niagra
© Kaj Bjurman

I hope everyone enjoyed the May holidays! In America, we are getting ready for Memorial Day weekend next week. It's the official start of summer, my least favorite season. However, I plan to travel to Toronto in mid-June for a three day weekend. Of course I will visit Niagra Falls, but if anyone knows of other interesting or unusual places to visit in the area please let me know.

Next week I will publish some new posts. This week I had no energy, tired and drained. I wish everyone a pleasant weekend! 

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