Workaway in Moscow
I always planned on spending some time in Russia after finishing my master’s. I felt like I studied a language that wasn’t close to me at all and wanted to change that. I graduated in December and started my adventure in January.
Workaway seemed like the right choice because it wasn’t too long and it granted me free accommodation and possibly people to hang out with. I chose to work in a hostel called Keds. Workaway is an online platform where you can find volunteering opportunities all over the world. You can work in hostels, animal shelters, help in people’s households as a nanny, gardener, etc. There’s no salary, but you get a place to sleep and some food. You can search for «employers» for free but need to pay a 30 euro yearly membership fee to be able to contact them. It’s also possible to do Workaway with a friend or partner.
I expected to be cold a lot, make new friends, speak lots of Russian and be very productive. Some of these things happened, and some didn’t. The weather seemed cold to me, but I’m someone who lives in a coastal town where it never snows, so my opinion doesn’t really count. Russians said that there was no winter this year, just a very long autumn. I guess they’re right: the temperature was usually a few degrees below zero, but nothing too drastic. It was minus seventeen only once, but it did snow often.
The most positive outcome of my five weeks in Moscow as a Workawayer was the friends that I made and how the whole thing was like a little Erasmus. I met a fellow volunteer from Germany on the first night and we were inseparable until she left three weeks later. On our third week, an Italian and a German volunteer joined, and we got along just as well with them. We also quickly made friends with the regular hostel workers and the people who lived in the hostel.
After the first ten days in the hostel, we, the volunteers, started noticing that some of the guests have been there for an oddly long time. They also behaved as if the receptionists were their childhood friends. After some digging, we figured out that at least one-third of the guests lived in the hostel permanently. Some have been there for months, some for more than a year. The reason is the expensive rent in Moscow, as well as not wanting to live alone.
The fact that not everyone spoke Russian meant that we had lots of conversations in English, some in Italian and Spanish and quite a few in Russian too. I might not have spoken Russian all the time, as I originally planned to, but I did make Russian friends and fell in love with Russian films and music. I also made a dictionary of slang and swear words (because uni once again failed at preparing me for real life).
Just like the ten months that I spent in London on Erasmus three years ago, Moscow was like a long holiday. Lots of hanging out, wandering around the city, partying and wasting time in the hostel. Everything seemed to be funny and everyone was tired all the time. It was wonderful.
The whole Moscow experience felt like I was living a different life. My people were thousands of kilometres away and two hours behind, but I was never lonely. I lived in my own little world, always had plans, was always surrounded by people and was never bored. Five weeks went by in a heartbeat, and before I fully realized it, we were saying goodbye, promising that we would meet again.
Solo travel in Piter
It’s incredibly easy to travel from Moscow to Saint Petersburg, it only takes about three and a half hours. Piter is known as a city with shitty weather: there are only 75 sunny days per year on average, mostly in the summer, it snows and rains often and can get very cold and windy. I soon realized that the end of February wasn’t the best time to visit it. Staying alone in a hostel wasn’t one of my brightest ideas either.
I stayed in a small hostel called Old Flat on Nevsky. It would’ve probably been easier if I had someone else with me. The only two positive things in the hostel were the location and the very kind cat that lived there. The receptionists were rude, and the (permanent) guests of the hostel were weird and unfriendly, and they regularly stole food from me (which really shocked me lol). Luckily, I had my own room and spent most of the time sightseeing.
It took me a few hours in Piter to realize that this was the first time I was really travelling alone. Of course, I have travelled to places on my own before: to visit someone, to participate in an exchange or a language course, to do a practice or to volunteer. There was either someone waiting for me at the destination or I made friends really quickly. I’ve never actually spent days alone somewhere, just sightseeing, though. I spent the next five days deciding whether I liked it or not.
Pros and cons of solo travel
Solo travel definitely has its perks: you go wherever you want to, whenever you want to. You can walk around listening to the surroundings or to music, you have lots of time to think and you learn how to be by yourself in a completely new place. You’re forced to find the right way (and I’m someone with a very bad sense of orientation), take yourself to lunch or dinner and interact with strangers.
This brings me to the bad sides of solo travel. I don’t usually have a problem interacting with strangers, but I did have it this time. The people in the hostel just weren’t interested in me. Most of them were decades older than me and knew each other from before because they were flatmates, of course. Another thing I missed was just chatting with someone, expressing my thoughts about the place or just having a laugh. I’m a very social person and I missed this part very much. I honestly don’t think I’d enjoy solo travel for months at a time, at least not in a hostel like this.
What also influenced my mood in Piter was the fact that I had just been taken out of a very friendly environment. I was never alone or lonely in Moscow, and then in Piter I was suddenly on my own all the time, partly sad because I left all my friends behind and partly impatiently waiting to get to my friend in Finland. I also had the constant feeling that I’d have to travel to Piter again. Even though I got two sunny days, which must have been a miracle, it was cold and windy, but most of all clear that the city is ten times better in the summer, especially for the White Nights.
Mini Erasmus reunion in Lahti and Helsinki
Travelling from Piter to Finland is ridiculously easy too (except for the fact that they’ll check your visa and passport and then ask what you’re carrying about fifteen times, first the Russians and then the Finnish). I had a ticket to Helsinki and was planning on taking a train to Lahti (where my friend lives) from there. However, to my (and her) surprise, the train stopped in Lahti too.
Lahti was a wonderful experience. Most of all because I saw my friend after so many months, but also because it felt really nice to not live in a hostel. Lahti is surrounded by lakes, ponds and forests, which was more nature than I’d seen in a month and a half (unless you count Park Gorki, which you can because it’s huge).
Two days after I arrived, we went to Helsinki and moved into a hostel again (Cheap Sleep). It couldn’t be more different from Russian hostels. It was huge, had a bar, free breakfast and almost exclusively young foreign travellers. I found Helsinki, its harbour and its island beautiful and really enjoyed the vegan scene too.
Russians and Finns might have very different mentalities, but I still found many similarities between Russia and Finland. They love their vodka, porridge and other hot dishes and, of course, saunas. Finland was my transition period: a European country that seems somewhat Russian in many aspects.
I loved being able to use euros again, even though the prices are crazily high. I enjoyed my short Finnish adventure, but I was happy to finally go home. It was also one of the last weeks when it was still possible for me to do it without problems. I’m writing this from my quasi-quarantine in Slovenia, but I should actually be in Spain now. Cheers to whoever got through this essay. I hope your quarantine life is more interesting than mine!
2 comentarios en “Moscow, Piter, Helsinki: Workaway + solo travel”