Part V: Final Day in Vladivostok

The next morning while eating breakfast at a local cafeteria I had a bit of a startling revelation!! Staring me right in the face taking up an entire wall was a larger than life map of the ex-USSR. I realized that I would soon be crossing this giant landmass called Russia. Of course I knew Russia was large, but when I saw the giant map it really put things into perspective and pointed out to me that I had a loooong journey in front of me to reach Moscow.

However, crossing Russia was a thought for another day! In the meantime I had to hurry up so I could meet up with Inna for our morning excursion to Russkiy Island, home of the brand new state of the art Far East Federal University campus! Russkiy Island in a matter of only several years has transformed itself from a nearly deserted island with a population of only about 5,000 people to a hub of business, education and leisure. All of this due to the fact Russia chose this remote spot as the venue to host the 2012 APEC Summit.

Connecting Russkiy Island with the mainland though was no simple task! To accomplish this goal the government sunk billions of dollars into building two very large and long cable suspension bridges, one of which is the largest in the world. What used to take around an hour to reach the island now only takes about 30 minutes in good traffic.

Crossing over the bridge was breathtaking!!! Since stopping on the bridge was prohibited, Inna made sure to go slow so I could get a good glimpse at this incredible feat of Russian engineering!! Once there, we explored the university campus. I’ve seen many different university campuses in my life and even attended a large university, but this place trumped them all!  Covering an area of 8,000 square meters the university campus with its modern glass buildings that sparkle in the sun, a beautiful large embankment on Ajax Bay overlooking the bridge, a five star hotel, start of the art facilities on par or surpassing anything seen in the west, FEFU is an absolute miracle! I could never have even come close to visiting here if it had not been for my incredible friend and wonderful guide, Inna! To top it all off I even got a VIP tour around the new state of the art athletic facility thanks to Inna’s brother, Sasha who worked there. The university will likely continue to grow as an important player on the world stage!!   

After a quick lunch, we headed back to the mainland and visited the Eagle's Nest Mount perched atop Vladivostok. The views from there were breathtaking, you could see both bodies of water that border Vladivostok, Amur Bay to the west and Golden Horn bay to the east. Just below the Eagle’s Nest Mount is a small souvenir shop with all types of wonderful Russian gifts to buy. No matter what type of gift you are after, this is your place for souvenirs and trinkets in Vladivostok! And, there is no way you can miss it since just a few steps away stands a HUGE blow up matryoshka doll! Even if you don’t feel like buying anything at the gift shop be sure to get a photo of yourself overlooking Vladivostok with this lovely lady!!! The Eagle’s Mount can easily be reached by car or if you’d prefer, you can take the Funicular up to the top and walk a short distance up to the outlook. 

Other highlights of Vladivostok that I recommend is shopping on Okeanskiy Prospect and Svetlana Blvd, the Monument to famous modern Russian singer Vladimir Vysotsky, the Submarine Museum on Tseravich Embankment, the City Embankment and if you have the time and transportation get out and explore the beautiful nature of The Far East!! An especially popular destination for residents of Vladivostok is the beach destination, Shamora.

As my evening drew to a close in Vladivostok I felt a touch of sadness that I was leaving the next morning to Ulan-Ude on The Trans-Siberian railway. My time had been packed full of such excitement and good times, I couldn’t imagine how anywhere else could beat this??? But, as I was soon to find out, this was just the beginning of an absolutely epic trip! Stay tuned for my next article about my stop on The Trans-Siberian Railway the capital of The Republic of Buryatia, Ulan-Ude!

Part IV: sightseeing with an English Language All-Star

After finishing my lesson with the students I returned to Inna’s office to meet my guide for the afternoon, one of her “all-star students”, Victoria. Victoria would take me around Vladivostok to show me all the highlights, help me exchange some left over Korean money I still had and assist me in buying a SIM card for my mobile phone.

Victoria had been studying English for only three years, however one would never know this as she spoke crystal clear with hardly any mistakes and great confidence! I complimented her on this amazing accomplishment but she was very humble always saying that she knew “so very little” English!

Walking around with Victoria and practicing English reminded of the “good ole” days back in the wild and crazy 90s, I say that as as Russia was undergoing a severe crisis then. Back then every summer I’d visit a host family in the suburb of Zelenograd, a suburb of Moscow. My host mother was an English as Foreign Language teacher at the university and similar to my experience in Vladivostok would have her students take me into Moscow for a tour. However, this time was a bit different since then I was the one who was 16 or 17 and they were the ones who were a lot older! Oh well……… time flies!!!! But, I still have the spirit of a 16 year old :) !!!!

One of my main goals that day was to exchange my left over Korean Wons into Rubles. Seemed like a simple task since the biggest hotel in town, The Hyundai Hotel was Korean. What could go wrong? It’s Korean so obviously they have Korean clients who need to exchange money and it’s a giant five star hotel, therefore it should’ve been a slam-dunk! Except as I quickly learned, never ever take anything for granted when in a foreign country, especially Russia and especially out in The Far East of Russia! We arrived at the hotel and asked where I could exchange money.  They looked at me as if I was crazy and said they didn’t exchange money!! So much for that one! Asked if they knew where I could they blankly stared at me and indicated they could’ve cared less….. Eventually after wandering around for nearly an hour trying to find a bank, I finally found a place that accepted Korean Won!!! Moral of the story……never assume (or as we say in America, you’ll make an ass out of you and me) and always exchange foreign money before you leave a nation!

Once we got the money exchange out of the way and a new SIM card for my phone, we were off to explore Vladivostok’s version of The Golden Gate Bridge, which has a similar name, The Golden Horn Bay Bridge. Built for the 2012 APEC (Asian Pacific Economic Conference) Summit this mammoth sized suspension bridge, is an INCREDIBLE marvel and tribute to Russian engineering. Just a few kilometers down the road sits another suspension bridge “The Russkiy Island Suspension Bridge” which is even bigger and even more stunning. But for today, I’d just have to settle for the smaller of the two, “The Golden Horn Bay Bridge”. Victoria and I walked about a kilometer out on the bridge and were treated to a stunning view of “Russia’s San Francisco”!

Besides the bridge, the fog, and the bay, Vladivostok had one other feature in common with San Francisco……….the hills!!! And walking up and down them all day gave you a workout that made your Stairmaster workout look petty! To put the hills in perspective one day of walking around Vladivostok was the equivalent of walking to the top floor of a modestly high skyscraper!! Much like the cultures of The Andes Mountains who’ve adapted to the extremely high altitudes by having larger lung volumes, I wonder if the people of Vladivostok’s knees and legs have adapted to the tall grueling hills?? Certainly they must be a lot stronger than say someone in St. Petersburg where it’s flat and swampy! Who knows, all I know is that by the end of the day I felt as if I’d completed the Stairmaster workout from hell!

Some of the other cool sights we saw were The Vladivostok Funicular, a cable car on a railway that goes up steep hills! You couldn’t beat the price, a five-minute ride to the top for only a few rubles, which is not even the equivalent to one dollar or Euro!! After viewing Vladivostok from high above, we descended down to the recently revitalized waterfront and enjoyed the cool but beautiful sunny day breathing in the smell of the Pacific Ocean! On our way down we passed through the "Triumphal Arch” built in the 1890s to commemorate the Tsarist family and the visit of Crown Prince Nicholas to Vladivostok. However, the original arch was destroyed during Soviet times and not restored to its former glory until 2003. Victoria told me that when we went underneath the arch to hold my breath and make a wish! And, she emphasized to me that this really worked telling me a story of how her mother passed beneath this arch some years ago while on a visit to Vladivostok from a local town and made the wish to live in Vladivostok with her and her sister. And sure enough, what do you know they now all live happily today in this beautiful city!!

Eventually it was time to return to my hotel! On our way back Victoria showed me some other sights along the way in the center, including The White House (Vladivostok’s administrative building that is painted the color………white), the city’s two main streets Svetlana Street and Okeanskiy Prospect (Ocean Prospect) and the city square.

I’m unsure who had more fun, Victoria speaking English for the very first time to a native speaker without a teacher being around or me being able to see the wonderful sights of Vladivostok? We’ll call it a draw! Huge thanks goes out to Inna and her all-star student, Victoria for making my time in Vladivostok special and epic! I’ll be back with even more impressions about Vladivostok later! Thank you for reading!!!!! 
The All-Star, Victoria, who recently graduated from school!

Part III: Back to School

Day 2 in Vladivostok was ever bit as awesome as day 1, mainly due to my friend Inna and her meticulous planning! She made sure that my every minute in Vladivostok was perfectly synchronized and fit in with any future plans, assuring that no stone was left unturned!!!

After some late morning sightseeing, we returned to the city since she had to be back for her afternoon English language class. She explained to me that she was the director of a college within FEFU (Far Eastern Federal University). When she explained to me about college, I instantly thought this meant she worked with students at the university level. I was a bit surprised when we arrived and all the students were teenagers. I knew kids go to university early in Russia, usually about 17, but these kids definitely looked younger than 17. After a few moments I asked her the age and grade of the students. She told me they were all high school level. In Russia, “college” refers to a high level of secondary education, whereas in the US we use the term liberally to mean any type of higher education!

Since my specialty is English as a Foreign Language Inna felt this would be a great opportunity for me to discuss with her students the US s vs. the Russian system. I had written up a few notes the night before and was a bit nervous to get in front of an entire class of 10th graders, aka sophomores! After all it’d been nearly 3 years since I’d been in an actual classroom since my teaching has mainly been over Skype.

When we walked into the classroom students instantly stood up as if a judge or some honorable person had just entered the room! Having taught in American schools where kids can be rather indifferent to whether the teacher is in, out or entering the room, I was pleasantly surprised! Inna later told me this was the norm and that she made sure her kids ALWAYS showed respect by standing.  

After everyone sat down she introduced me and explained I would discuss with them America and how our education system compares to Russia’s. This instantly peaked the students’ interest. I introduced myself explaining I was from the city of Seattle in the state of Washington. I asked if anyone had heard of my city, but for the most part students were clueless. So to try to break the ice I threw out a few hometown company names to see if that may spark some reaction. The first company name I mentioned was Boeing, which was met by mostly crickets! I should’ve mentioned Microsoft but instead mentioned probably the most well known coffee brand in the world……………Starbucks. So, I casually said, “Who here knows of Starbucks”? The class instantly lit up in excitement!!! They were definitely very familiar with the brand name. Starbucks’ executives would’ve smiled knowing that no matter where you are in the world, everyone seems to know Starbucks!!

I then commented about how very impressed I was that they stood when their teacher entered the room and how in the US this doesn’t happen! A sweet girl raised her hand and quietly asked, “How then in American schools do students show the teacher they’re ready to learn?” I laughed and said generally they don’t care; they’re usually too busy chatting with their friends or playing on their mobile phones.

For most of the lesson I discussed the American education system and some of our high school traditions, such as, prom, homecoming, Tolo Dance, etc… But, the one part of the lesson that I can safely say the students enjoyed the most was when I explained how Americans perceive Russian babushkas (meaning grandma in Russian). Usually a “babushka” to an American is a word that means a type of old unattractive Russian woman who is hunched over with a colorful Russian scarf. They also never can pronounce the word right, emphasizing the “u” in babushka, whereas there is no real accent in the word.

After our discussion about American vs. Russian schools, students had a chance to ask questions or comment about anything I said. Despite my offer nobody took me up on it………..except one boy, the only boy in the entire class, which was a bit of a reflection of Russian society where women vastly outnumber men. He raised his hand and asked me, “What do people in the United States think about the beers”. I thought to myself “what the hell is this kid talking about, why is he talking about beers, he’s no older than 15!!??????”  Since I don’t drink beer or any alcohol for the most part, I had no idea how to approach this question. I knew that Russians liked alcohol, but why was a school kid asking me about beer???? Of course I’d heard such discussions back home in public schools, but I still was stumped trying to think of an answer!! Just as I was about to try and avoid an answer, students jumped in and said he meant, “BEARS”. His question was related to whether Americans think bears roam the streets of Russia! I said that generally Americans have really zero idea about Russia and the day-to-day happenings in this vast nation!

After class the students were still buzzing about my “babUshka” explanation, repeating it endlessly to their friends in the hall and giggling about it. It was such a unique experience to be able to step in for an hour and interact with Russian school kids!!! It’s an experience I will never forget and cherish for the rest of my life. I really have Inna to thank for trusting me to take her class for one lesson!!!  Thanks for reading and I’ll be back with more impressions about Vladivostok in my next entry!!

My class for the day and me!

Part II: Russia's San Francisco

After two more days in Seoul visiting beautiful cultural sights such as the former King’s Palace, an ancient Buddhist Temple in the center and The Blue House, South Korea’s Presidential palace it was time for me to bid a fond farewell to South Korea. I was on my way to Russia’s Far Eastern capital, Vladivostok where I would eventually board The Trans-Siberian railway ultimately reaching Moscow at the end of April.

The flight to Vladivostok was going to be a short hop, only about two hours. Everything seemed just fine at first until only a few short minutes into the flight it appeared on the inflight map that we were deviating quite a lot from our flight path. Instead of taking a right hand turn when we left Seoul’s Incheon Airport, we took a sharp left turn toward China. After all the strange and tragic incidences of planes disappearing from radar or being crashed intentionally I admit my anxiety level was a bit heightened. Luckily in the end we landed safely and nothing came of it!

Arriving in Russia via Vladivostok was a nice change of pace from my usual arrival in Moscow, which is always a chaotic cluster fuck! However that did not make it immune to the usual bureaucratic games of Russia. When I lined up at the Passport Control line I thought I’d be out in no time…….what could go wrong it’s a tiny airport, right…………………..right???!!! Then reality set in, the line went nowhere prompting me to jump to another line with the hope that I may be able to save time. No success as this was ever bit as slow, if not slower. Just as I was about to walk up to the passport control booth, the girl suddenly gets up, shuts off the lights and leaves her  booth leaving me the last one to be processed! Yep… was official I thought, “I’m back in Russia”!

I arrived at my Soviet style hotel, The Hotel Equator, in good time……except for the fact my driver had to pull over to fill up his gas tank, but that was par for the course with Russian taxi drivers. I found the staff to be incredibly friendly and kind! Maybe I was biased because I found the girls to be absolutely gorgeous. Many tourists judge Russia fairly or unfairly as having cold, mean and unfriendly people who work in the service industry. I admit I’ve encountered my fair share of these types of people, but most times during my six weeks in Russia people were more than friendly and willing to help me in whatever way they could.  

Up until 1992 Vladivostok was a closed city meaning foreign tourists and even Russian/Soviet citizens could not visit. This was likely due The Russian Navy Pacific Fleet being based in the city. Once tourists were free to travel there, the city gained a rather unfair reputation that has stuck with it to this day. Many see it as being a boring, dangerous, industrial city, whose sole purpose is to serve as a place of transit before or after taking the Trans-Siberian railway. One Russian friend even asked me “are people happy there??” I responded with a resounding YES stating they were some of the friendliest people I’d ever met in Russia!

My first evening in Russia’s San Francisco which gets its name mainly due to the hills and maritime climate was excellent! I met my friend Inna and her friends for a delicious dinner and evening of fun conversation at a local Russian restaurant called “Nostalgia” on Vladivostok’s “Arbat”. For those unfamiliar with THE Arbat Street, it is a famous street, now a pedestrian mall in Moscow, where one can buy countless souvenirs, watch artists hard at work painting and sketching the classical 19th century buildings and tourists enjoying the festive atmosphere. For the most part Vladivostok's "Arbat" was similar!

At the restaurant my friend, Inna, discussed the plans she had for me for my four-day trip to Vladivostok. She made sure that my first trip to Vladivostok would not only be fun, but epic! Everything was carefully choreographed to give me the best impressions! She left nothing to chance!

Dinner with friends!
In many ways Vladivostok resembles the famous short story by the great Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, “The Ugly Duckling”. The city has been teased and told by the other “ducks” that it was an ugly place, not worthy of anything. However, a funny thing happened, Vladivostok, much like the story has begun to transform itself into a beautiful “swan” remaking itself into a modern day beautiful city that is attracting not only investment from Moscow but from China and other Asian nations. With its transformation in full gear, mainly thanks to the 2012 APEC Summit, the city is truly on its way to greatness!! Stay tuned for more highlights of my wonderful time in Vladivostok where I touch on my impressions of “The San Francisco of Russia” and explain the unique opportunity given to me by my good friend! Thank you for reading!!

Vladivostok Airport

Part I: World's Most Dangerous Place

I’ve traveled around the world, visited exotic lands, taken real risks, and slept in some interesting places, yet somehow I still get nervous before I venture from my humble abode on a new journey! Luckily, the nerves were quickly squashed once I was on my way to Seoul via Vancouver, BC, Canada. Unlike most flight experiences where you arrive feeling hammered, horrible and as if your entire body was put in a blender and spit out I arrived in Seoul feeling refreshed! This was the result of state of the art lighting and pressure features on board the new 787 Boeing Dreamliner.

I felt quite excited to finally make it to South Korea since I’d been flirting with visiting for years! As I settled in at my hotel suddenly I heard sonic boom like claps of thunder and bolts of lightning. An omen to the trip?

The following day left no time for jet lag recovery as I had a trip to the infamous DMZ planned. For readers who are unfamiliar with this term it means, Demilitarized Zone, a buffer zone designed to prevent fighting between the two Koreas. Although, there is no formal fighting, the two nations are still technically at war since there has been no peace treaty implemented since the ceasefire. 

Our first stop in the DMZ was a beautiful train station which would was supposed to be the last stop on a united railway between the two Koreas. It was to serve as a place where people would go through South Korean customs and passport control. But unfortunately due to hostilities this untouched new sparkling station sits vacant and the train dead ends here (at least until the two nations either re-unite or tensions thaw) making for an eerie and even sad sight.

Next stop would be the JSA, Joint Security Area, the nerve center and probably the most tense part of the DMZ. There we would watch a brief movie about the history and state of the DMZ today. In my opinion the most intriguing parts of the film was the detailed look at  how the north built four infiltration tunnels into the south, one of which we would have the pleasure to visit during our visit. According to the film there likely exists many more tunnels that have yet to be discovered.

Immediately following the film we proceeded to the entry of the 3rd infiltration tunnel where we checked all of our things and donned hard hats. The first part of our journey to the bottom of the tunnel was pretty benign, but about 1/3 of the way into the tunnel, things became much dicier. Suddenly the walls and ceilings narrowed to the point where we had to hunch down and nearly crawl the rest of the way to literally the North Korean border. It wasn't hard to tell where the actual "border" was but it was obvious we were at the end due to a couple meters worth of barbed wire strung in front of an iron door. Supposedly just behind that door stood North Korean soldiers ready to shoot at a moment's notice. We weren't given much time to look around, only time to briefly glance at the iron door and the barbed wire.

One of the more ironic facts about the DMZ, a place many say is the most dangerous place on earth is that it has become a sort of place place of refuge for endangered and threatened species due to the lack of any real activity or development. Most activity in the zone consists of the two sides endlessly staring at each other waiting for one to blink.  

Our next stop would take us even further into the JSA right up and inches into North Korea. For this half of the tour our Korean guide would stand aside for a US soldier guide who would escort us through the area. The first destination was The Dora Observatory which gave us a pretty clear view of North Korea and the village on the other side. Looking over into "The Hermit Kingdom" one of the first features that struck me was the GINORMOUS North Korean flag pole with the biggest flag in the world. According to our guide the flag pole is in such bad shape that it is rare to see the flag itself flying.....however, just as he completed his sentence, the flag started to fly!!!!

Below the flag pole sat a small, but very nice modern looking village. According to our guide the village is basically empty, serving as a propaganda tool by the North Korean government to "prove" to the South Korean people the modern and comfortable lifestyle enjoyed by its citizens ultimately in the hope of luring people to defect. The area was absolutely surreal, very quiet (until a large tour bus full of Chinese tourists pulled up) with a distinct and strong smell of burnt earth due to land mines spontaneously combusting due to old age.

After glimpsing the north from up above it was time to head down to The Peace House which sat right on the border. The guide instructed us to follow him in a single line and not to make any type of gestures or anything that could be considered the slightest bit threatening. The Peace House was built specially for reunions between northern and southern families. However, this vision of reuniting families in what was supposed to be neutral territory quickly fell by the wayside when the North Korean government pulled out fearing that its citizens would end up defecting. So, until North Korea decides to let families reunite with those from the south, The Peace House will sadly sit empty!

Once we walked through the beautiful peace house we came upon an open area that sat right on the border. There in front of our eyes was North Korea guarded by several North Korean soldiers standing across starting at South Korean soldiers. Next to the soldiers were several non-assuming blue buildings. However, these blue buildings were very far from non-assuming as they were used for high stakes negotiations between the South and the North.

Across from the invisible line dividing the two Koreas was a rather grandiose building with a North Korean guard standing in front of it. We couldn’t come near it but could use our zoom lens to get a glimpse. Standing guard on the steps of this beautiful marble building was a man the American troops affectionately call, “Bob”. He had been working there for ages and stands guard nearly all the time. Our soldier guide explained that qualifications for a job like Bob's requires those who would have no hesitation in executing one’s entire family. When I posted this fact on Facebook, a friend of mine eloquently stated, “that must make family reunions a bit awkward”. I suppose if you’ve executed your entire family, then there may not be family reunions. Although Bob was there night and day standing guard making sure the utopia of North Korea stayed safe from the "evil" west, there were signs that the long, brutal hours of standing there day and night was taking a toll on him. According to the soldiers, they recently noticed Bob falling asleep on the job while standing! May not be too long till Bob is put out of his misery and replaced with someone else!

After we got a good ten minutes to look across to the other side we entered one of the blue houses used for negotiations. Once inside the guide explained that half the building sat in South Korea and the other in North Korea stating how this was done intentionally as a way of making negotiations appear neutral. When our guide finished his history and current events briefing, we were free to wander around and even "walk into" North Korea for a few moments.

However, our several minute free time to look around came with two gigantic caveats! Under absolutely no circumstances we were to open the door on the north side and we were not to touch or get too close to the South Korean guard who stood there like a wax figure. If we got too close to him or touched him there would be hell to pay, mainly a smackdown to the floor! I asked our soldier guide if he'd ever witness such a thing and he replied with a definite yes! Looking at the South Korean guard he truly looked like a wax figure, standing there silently without moving a muscle and barely breathing. It is said that those who serve in this position are highly trained individuals in tae kwan doe with a superb attention span! 

One of the more interesting events I learned about while in the negotiation house was of a little known war that became known as, “bladder wars”. Some years ago during marathon negotiations neither side would get up to use the bathroom feeling it was a sign of "weakness." Due to this "stand off", negotiations now include a mandatory 15 minute break.

Although the real highlights were done, we had one last stop at a place called “The Bridge of No Return” which runs across a small river between the two nations. This unassuming small bridge served as a point where prisoners of war were exchanged and given the choice of either staying in the north or going back to the south. I can only imagine how heart wrenching a decision it must've been for families! This made me wonder if we ever will see peace on the Korean Peninsula. Our guide told us that recently Kim Jong Un declared this was the year the two Koreas would reunite. Since it’s doubtful he would ever make peace with the south and give up his power the most likely scenario is "The Dear Leader" maybe looking at going out with a bang! 

The trip inside the DMZ was a moment I will soon never forget and would highly recommend to anyone who has the guts and courage to venture into the heart of what has been called “The Most Dangerous Place in the World”!! If you visit Seoul and have a day to spare and are approved to travel to the DMZ (you must undergo a background check and present your passport a week before any excursion) I would HIGHLY recommend taking an excursion to this fascinating place frozen in time! Stay tuned for more adventure! Thanks for reading!!!

Preface: The Then and The Now!

Twenty-eight years ago I had a dream, that one day I would visit an exotic place, somewhere out of the ordinary and off the beaten path. My travel experience at 14, was limited to having only visited Hawai’i, British Columbia, Canada and Alberta, Canada. Often when I had free time I would practice my travel skills by navigating the Seattle bus system visiting such far-flung destinations as, Auora Village, SeaTac Mall and Southcenter Mall. My grandfather was a retired airline pilot and often told me fascinating stories of his travels around the world to exotic destinations, only fueling my desire to escape the mundane and visit these far off places.

Anyways, I digress, back to my “dream”. While at a friend’s house one day he started telling me about how his next-door neighbor’s sister just retuned from what was then the Soviet Union. Turned out that because she was taking Russian language at our local high school, she had the opportunity to go there on a two-week trip during summer. Suddenly my ears perked up and I could see a long shot opportunity to fulfill this dream coming into sight!

To make a long story short, barely a few weeks went by before I started to lay the groundwork to fulfill my dream. I started to study Russian, even though high school and the “big trip” were still two some years away. Eventually I fulfilled “the dream” and was ready to move on to bigger and better things. Each summer until I entered college I would return to Russia to visit a host family only deepening my love, passion and desire to continue my travels.

Throughout the years I’ve continued my travels visiting such places as, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, the politically charged war zone of Kashmir, India, Southeast Asia, The Pacific Islands, Australia, New Zealand and many places in and around European Russia. Although I’ve visited 44 nations, there’s been one place that’s been missing from my list, a place that sends shivers down peoples’ spine (literally), elicits fears, and stops people dead in their tracks when they hear the name……………SIBERIA!!!

On April Fool’s Day (and yes, this is no joke!) I will begin my journey to this mystical frozen land of Siberia! Stay tuned for updates as I begin my journey around the world in less than 80 days starting from Seoul, South Korea taking The Trans-Siberian Express and eventually ending back in Seattle!