Returning From Russia: Book Research, Fellowship, and Way Too Much Tea.

Okay, the title of this blog post is a lie–there’s no such thing as too much tea. (#amiright) 😉 As of six days ago, hubby (Mr. Ninja) and I returned from visiting Tver, Russia.

I’m back in Hobbiton–ahem, I mean the U. S. And like Sam, I’m missing Frodo and Gandalf and my other friends who live across the sea. However, I’m also content in the Shire. (That was just a geeky way of saying there are both joys and sorrows to being home.)

My heart feels split down the middle–like it’s unsure where home really is. I supposed that’s the ache of having citizenship in heaven–no place on earth is truly home. I have a constant longing to be with all my brothers and sisters in Christ,  but I won’t ever fully be with them until we’ve all left this earth. It brings me sorrow, and yet it brings me joy because God had prepared us a permanent place of fellowship and reunion. Someday, I will never have to say good-bye again.

It reminds me of the aches Parvin felt in A Time to Die–when she was trying to understand death. And how it’s really just a temporary separation.

This trip to Russia was beyond anything I could put into words or even a blog post. The most I can give you are tiny snippets. To talk on a deeper level about what God did while we were there, you can always send me an email.

The Moments:

Living off of tea and one-eyed-sams (or whatever your family calls them–toad-in-the-hole, eggs-in-a-basket, etc.)

Learning new Russian words like umbrella, puddle, weather, pothole, eggs, good job, and dwarf.

Combining my broken Russian with their (far-less) broken English to communicate and share life.

Eating traditional Russian shashlik cooked over the fire on a beach. (nomnomnom) And then getting hailed on and running to the cars for safety and–once the hail passed, leaving a funky icy flood in its wake–we all ventured back down to the beach and cold sashlik and…ate it anyway. 😏 (nomnomnom)

Taking an over-night road trip to Saint Petersburg and sleeping in the car. #worthit Then exploring Saint Petersburg in purple ponchos and doubled T-shirts because apparently there are only 30-50 sunny days there a year.


Visiting the Anastasia ballroom. (And yes, Mr. Ninja made me dance with him.)

Eating a macaron for the first time (yes, in Russia. No, not in France. 😛 ) And then learning that a macaron is not the same thing as a macaroon. (Who knew?)

Playing baseball in the name of Jesus. (p.s. I hit a double and played first base!) And watching the passion and excitement of these teams as they take the American sport very seriously. I couldn’t help but join in their pride.

Being guests at an English club held in The Milk & Honey, where several Russians gathered to practice their English and hear our stories.


The places:


view from our hostel room

Their buildings are so colorful–pastels and old bricks and white window frames. Though many Russians said they were embarassed for the state of some of their buildings, and said they were strashnaya (ugly), I found a beauty in them.

street view from our hostel



Walking into our room at the hostel, we were greeted by this sunny window scene. I frequently sat in the deep sills and watched the life bustle by below me. We opened the windows at night to let in a breeze and listen to the city sounds. I feel like this photo captures how I feel about the people of Tver. <3



During the last two days of our trip, we hopped into a car and drove 8 hours through the night to Saint Petersburg. We arrived early morning, stretched our creaking bodies, and then went adventuring through the Catherine Palace (there are a million ways to spell this, so I’m going with Catherine. There is no standard.) before the other tourists clogged up the gardens and pathways. We pretended we were Russian royalty and tried to imagine what it would have been like to live with perfectly manicured a garden the size of a small village at our disposal.

The People:

Some say blood is thicker than water, but I say spirit is thicker than blood. We will always be connected to Sasha and Alyona through spirit. They have hearts for shalom. They are family.

We saw so many other friends and met so many new people. I felt the language barrier more than ever when I wanted to express how much I cared for them and will be praying for them, but didn’t know enough Russian. Good thing the Holy Spirit is multilingual, eh? 😊

I cracked my heart open and left a giant chunk with the people of Tver. And I don’t regret it at all. Our hearts were meant to be given away in pieces.

A final aspect of this trip was book research for a future book idea. I took copious notes, walked around with experts on some of the history of Russia, jotted down descriptions and learned more than I ever dreamed I could. I can’t wait to fold it all up between paper and ink and–hopefully someday–place it in your hands. 🙂

If you want to know more about the trip, shoot me a message!

In conclusion:

I’ve spent days trying to journal out the moments and memories from this trip. And I keep coming back to hubby’s favorite verse:

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. [Deut 4:9]


Basically….don’t forget. Don’t forget the things God has done. So, as Samwise Gamgee would say:



What’s a favorite memory from your life? –a trip, a moment with friends, an epiphany…

If you could visit Russia, what would you want to see/do?




About Nadine Brandes

Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She never received her Hogwarts letter, but rest assured she’s no Muggle (and would have been in Ravenclaw House, thank you very much.) This Harry Potter super-nerd has been known to eat an entire package of Oreos (family size) by herself, and watches Fiddler on the Roof at least once a year. She writes about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her dystopian trilogy (The Out of Time Series) challenged her to pursue shalom, which is now her favorite word (followed closely by bumbershoot.) When Nadine’s not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she and her knight-in-shining armor (nickname: “hubby”) are out pursuing adventures.
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  1. I would looove to visit Russia because a) it’s overseas and traveling and adventures. It just sounds so exciting. And b) STORY RESEARCH. My dystopian trilogy takes place in Russia a fair amount, so I’m devouring ever bit of information from your trip. 😛
    It sounds like you guys had a great time. <33

    • If you need more details, shoot me an e-mail! Both Mr. Ninja and I have been to Russia 3 times and my dad has been there 50+ times. I’ve got your back on the research front. 😉

  2. It looks so pretty! I didn’t really have any desire to go see Russia until now… and I loved what you said about how no place on earth is truly home because I’ve struggles with that feeling too. I’m so glad you got to go on this adventure! (And glad you’re sharing a piece with us!)

    • It’s an odd feeling, isn’t it? I love the quote from C S Lewis: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

  3. The way you describe being split is exactly how I feel when I return from overseas. There’s definitely a longing to go back and be with the great friends you met there. When you’re back home, it feels like there’s something missing.

    I haven’t visited Russia yet, but I would love to. I think there are some obvious things I would like to see, like Saint Basil’s Cathedral. But I like to avoid making my trips overseas too touristy. As much as possible, I want to live like they do while I’m there. I want to experience their culture, their language, their history, their food, their music, etc.

    Do you have any recommendations of things to see or do in Russia?\

    • I’m the same! Both hubby and I have talked about how we really dislike being tourists. There’s nothing WRONG with being tourists–I’ve done it plenty of times–but it’s just not for us. We want to dig into the culture and, like you said, live like they do while we’re there.

      When in Russia, I recommend trying Borscht, taking a walk through whatever city you’re in (there is so much to see that you miss when driving!) If you ever find yourself in St. Petersburg, visit The Grand Maket (maket, not market) — it’s an enormous miniature of the entire country of Russia and it will blow your mind.

  4. This is so beautiful. And I understand exactly what you mean about leaving a giant piece of your heart with the family you met overseas. I can’t believe it’s only a few days until I leave this country. My heart hurts already just thinking about it.

    Here’s a quote that really fits here:

    “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of living and knowing people in more than one place.” – Miriam Adeney

    <3 <3 <3

  5. So beautiful! It too brings me so much joy to know that we have eternal citizenship in heaven – where there will be no more goodbyes. 🙂

    Haha, One-eyed Sams? That’s definitely a good name for them. My family always called them Egg-in-the-nests. ;P

    All the pictures are stunning! I love the one of the baseball.

    • I think every country and every family has had egg-in-the-nests / one-eyed-sams to some extent. 😉

      Yes, what a joy and comfort eternal citizenship with Him is!!!

  6. What an amazing trip! Loved the pictures you shared. I’ve never been to Russia but Catherine Palace would be a must for me. A favorite memory from a trip for me would be when I had a Belgium waffle in Brugge, Belgium. It’s something I can still taste. 🙂

  7. Hey! Glad you’re back safely!

    I’m an MK from Russia, always have been. 🙂 And it IS so hard when you can’t be in both places at once… (I posted about it earlier this summer, if you want to check out my thoughts:

    And isn’t shashlik awesome? So very delicious, especially hot. 😉 I haven’t been to St. Petersburg yet, but hope to someday. Someone I know went to college there, and I am trying not to be jealous…

    • Also, if you ever wanted some input or answered questions about Russia, I would absolutely love to help!

    • Ohhhh!!! Thanks for the link and for your offer of input! I would love to know more about your life in Russia.

      Yes, I still need to have shashlik fresh off the grill. 😉 Not fresh out of a rainstorm. 😛

  8. Ahhh it’s so pretty!!! I love it all. The Anastasia ballroom is amazing!! How fun that you guys got to go 🙂 St Petersburg sounds like it has my kind of weather 😀 Thanks for sharing your adventures with us! I had never really considered Russia a place I wanted to visit, but now …. 😉

  9. I love that you danced in the Anastasia ball room! So cooool 🙂

  10. This post made me cry, Nadine. :’) It sounds like it was a beautiful experience.

    I’ve never had a burning desire to go to Russia. If I did, I’d mostly want to see the beautiful architecture (especially that ballroom!), but it’s not high on my list of places overseas that I want to go. Not that I have the money to travel anywhere outside the US, anyway. :p

  11. I’ve read that the full saying was originally “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb” – meaning effectively the opposite to the usual version! I don’t know how accurate that information was (tracking the history of language must be pretty hard), but it’s an interesting thing to consider.

    Looks like you had an amazing time in Russia!
    Jem Jones

  12. Jill Williamson

    Gorgeous pictures and people, Nadine! If I went to Russia, I’d want to go to Moscow and look for the places I put in the book I set there, just to see how they compare today to when I chose them (using the street version of Google maps). Alas, my international traveling days are on hold for now. But someday, I hope!

I love hearing from you!