I am finally in Russia, after all the hoops I had to jump through to get a visa. The immigration officer seems taken from a cold war movie. He asks me some short, direct questions with a harsh voice tone, looks at me in the eye and stamps my passport. Welcome to St. Petersburg.
The airport is nice and up-to-date. I was happily surprised my flight with Aeroflot had gone so smoothly; not like the scary stories I had heard from my colleagues in Norway. I am excited. Things have been difficult lately between my boyfriend and I. However; I am happy I am finally going to see him again after one month. We’ll talk about our differences, smooth things out, and have a romantic week.
I had contacted a Russian girl through Couchsurfing who has kindly offered herself to come and pick us up at the airport. She stands at the arrivals lobby with a paper card with our names on it. My first impression when I greet her is a very positive one.
“He will be here anytime soon”-I say to her with a confident voice, but we keep waiting for an hour without any sign of him…then I ask her to help me find Aeroflot’s office to check if there was any trouble with his flight. We find the office and she translates for me … I am already very nervous… something in has happened to him I am sure, and he couldn’t call me…something terrible happened to him, and I don’t know where he is… is he dead?!?!
After checking the system the office assistant mumbles something in Russian, she mumbles back they look at each other… the Russian girl turns and breaks the news to me: he never took the plane.
I fall apart…
This is the end of a love story that had taken over a year of cross-Atlantic, long-distance relationship. I am not going to write about the all the heartbrokenness and pain I had to go through in a foreign country during my holidays; or the countless messages, calls, and questions that were never answered…
Someone said to me once: “When God closes one door, He opens another one.”
There I was, in “scary” Russia, having one of the worse moments of my life, trying to make sense of it all… The lovely Russian girl follows me to the hotel, helps me buy some food, makes tea for me and comforts me. I remember her words: “I’ve just met you, but if you need a friend, here I am.” She returns the very next day and takes me for a sightseeing downtown….
I decide to do the best out of it.
Even though I have traveled to many places in my life, I had never ventured on a solo trip. Now the circumstances had forced me to face my fear of traveling alone. Walking around beautiful St. Petersburg with my new friend, I decide I will enjoy my time in this wonderful city, no matter what. Besides, St. Pete had always been a dream destination for me due to all the spectacular art, culture, and architecture that reside in this city.
Fortunately, I had contacted some people through the Couchsurfing community. I had joined Couchsurfing some years ago but never signed until I started to plan the trip to Russia. To be honest, I was a bit concerned since I had heard scary stories about Russia, and I wanted to get in touch with some locals just in case.
During the whole week of my stay, I had the pleasure to meet many Russians who were very friendly and kind. I was shown around the city by one of the most in, funny, and well-educated people I’ve ever met. They were both men and women who were curious about foreign countries and cultures, and who wanted to show me theirs. Unknowingly, they changed this horrific experience to be one of the most memorable ones, and it became a turning point in my life.
Needless to say, it took me a long time to heal my broken heart, but all the positive experiences and good people I met on this unexpected solo trip gave me a kick start. After I returned home, I was ready for more adventures. I started planning my next solo trip, which led to the next one, and the next one, and so on. Since then, I have met countless people from all over the world, and heard the most exciting stories. I have hosted couchsurfers in my home who have become friends. I have been hosted in different countries, got to experience different cultures and got great memories and stories to tell.
Above all, I have become a free-spirited, fearless and empowered woman with a passion for backpacking. Maybe I have been that my whole life, but it was hidden inside of me. Such an extreme experience had forced me to discover that side of myself.
This journey has led me to take more risks and have more confidence in my ability to handle different situations, to trust my intuition more, and to realize the world out there is not as scary as the media shows us. I can’t help but wonder why I haven’t traveled this way before… gMaybe all I needed was to be left on my own at a Russian airport.