Didn’t love Italy

The port of Lazise on Lake Garda. It’s way pritt.

Honest truth about Italy: lots of pros, lots of cons.

Let’s start with the cons.

Cons: Tourists up your wazoo, creepy hobos, don’t Couchsurf here, you have to pay to get into almost everything, and train stations are crazy confusing.

Italy is a pain. Of all the places I visited, I felt the most unsafe in Italy.

First, you’re constantly surrounded by people. I visited MILAN (not even Rome, which I’m sure is crazier) in the middle of freaking JANUARY (it was 40ºF) and there were tourists EVERYWHERE. It was frustrating because I like to avoid the crowds and experience the country as untouristy as possible, but I don’t think that’s possible in Italy. The crowds are huge and people are everywhere. Summer must be straight CRAY. (BUTT: I was able to escape the crowds in smaller towns like Verona and Lazise.)

Verona at twilight.

Second, you’d think you’re safe because of all the crowds, but the hobos aren’t afraid to single anyone out. I was walking with my host in Milan and I had hobos shove birdseed in my hands, try to tie a bracelet to my wrist, and try to “help” me buy a ticket at a train station. After doing stuff like this, hobos try to get you to pay for whatever they’ve forced on you (“Ten euro for the birdseed!” “You stole that bracelet! Pay me for it!” “You owe me this much for helping you buy your ticket!”). You have to be very assertive and just be like, “No, I don’t want it, I’m not gonna pay for that.”

In general, I tried to share my money and food with the homeless I saw in other countries, but these guys were so obnoxious I didn’t want to give them anything just in case they tried to pull something on me.

Thanks to this hobo, I got this sweet picture of me being attacked by birds. Also, he tried to take 10 euro from me.

Also, the Couchsurfing options in Italy are iffy. Half the profiles I read while looking for a place to stay either said they were nudists or nudist-friendly, which isn’t inherently bad, but can turn bad real easy (especially since you don’t know these people IRL). So, unless you feel REALLY comfortable with naked strangers, stay in a hostel or hotel.

Another downside of the country is that the economy is based mainly on tourism (which makes sense –> see four paragraphs above), so it costs money to get into EVERYTHING. Take pictures in the Duomo? Three euro. Go to the roof of the Duomo? Six euro. Go into almost any cathedral and you’ll get charged an entrance fee (UNLESS you’re with a local — then it’s free). So be ready with a lot of pocket change to get into what you want to see.

On the roof of the Milan Duomo. That’s my host up front with the hair.

Also, Italian train stations are worse than American DMV’s. Get in line to get a number, get a number, wait for your number to be called (in Italian), then get your train ticket without any platform number or departure time printed on it (it’s basically just a blank piece of paper). It’s silly. I’d recommend getting a local to help if you can (but NOT a hobo — remember).

So that’s what sucks about Italy, but let’s end on a positive note.

Pros: Everything is super old, there’s lots of history; it’s a very small country, so you can land in any airport and be in another part of the country in a couple of hours; and the food is fantastic!

A Roman arch in Verona.

Italy has had a huge influence on the world since before Christ was born. For over 2,000 years, this small country has influenced the ENTIRE world’s art, government, food, education, architecture, and religion. That’s crazy! Because of this, it’s worth taking a little looksie at Italy if you’re planning a trip to Europe.

Because people have lived in Italy for forever, there are cities built on cities built on cites and cathedrals built on cathedrals built on cathedrals. In some areas, you can see an older city’s foundation under the streets of the current city. In Chiesa di San Fermo in Verona, one cathedrals sits on top of an older cathedral underground (that you can go down and look at), which is on top of another older cathedral! It’s like a Catholic sandwich! (But old and made of stone, so don’t eat.)

The foundation of an older city under the streets of Verona, Italy.

There are multiple cathedrals in every city you’ll visit, and at least one of them is bound to take your breath away. The most amazing churches I saw were the Milan Duomo and the Cathedral of St. Anastasia in Verona.

The Duomo is legitly hugenormous outside and covered in intricate carvings and statues (you could spend hours looking at the outside walls of the Milan Duomo), but you don’t completely appreciate how big and beautiful it is until you go inside. It’s dark and cavernous, gives you Mines-of-Moria-esque feelings, and amazes the living butt off of you.

Milan Duomo

The Cathedral of St. Anastasia is also huge, but I mainly loved its architecture and paintings inside. The inside is full of arches and the ceiling is painted with a real cool floral pattern.

Inside St. Anastasia’s.

**NOTE: I’m not usually an artsy person who appreciates things like architecture and culture, but Italy (one of the birthplaces of western art and architecture) straight-up knocked my socks off and made me notice things I’d never appreciated before.

Also, real Italian pizza makes a day in the country worth it. It tastes nothing like American pizza: the crust is thin and bubbly, the sauce is tangy, the cheese isn’t greasy, and the toppings are completely fresh. (If you want a taste of authentic Italian pizza, visit Terra Mia in Orem).

It’s really Italian and really pizza.

Overall, I’d say that Italy is worth a two-to-three-day stopover. One day to see a big city and get annoyed by tourists/freaked out by hobos, and one day to see a small town and appreciate the slightly less-touristy part of Italy.

Norwegia, Norway

When I first met Nils Andersen, I was living in Izhevsk, Russia, with Zhenya Kazakov. I asked Nils where he was from and he said, “Oslo,” and I said, “Where’s that?” Then he and Kazakov laughed at me for being a stupid American who didn’t know anything about geography and told me that OSLO is the capital of NORWAY. (P.S. I accidentally called it NORWEGIA half the time after that anyway, so jokes on them.)

Highlights from my mission aside, Oslo is the capital of NORWAY which is in EUROPE which is where I went in January. I decided to visit this beautiful country after seeing Internet pictures and watching “Frozen” a lot.

So, after England, I snuck over to Oslo for a three-day visit. It was snowy, icey, and rainy, and my feet STILL hadn’t dried from England, but I loved it. The snow, ice, and rain made for some beauti-freakin-beautiful scenery and some GREAT pictures (my favorite pics from my trip are from England and Norway).

Plus, the language is no big because everyone there speaks English. So cool!!!

I honestly think Norway would be better to visit after March, but that’s only because  tours of the Royal Palace and boat tours of Oslofjord were closed and wouldn’t open until mid-March, so now I know.

BUT I did see some pretty sick stuff and here’s what it was:

Oslo City Hall

I accidentally stumbled onto this building. The outside looks really soviet (gray and depressing), BUT there is a cool clock and wood carvings outside. Anyway, I went inside and my jaw DROPPED. There’s a MASSIVE great hall and every wall is covered in murals. Also, each bathroom stall has its own sink. It was WAY fancy and nice and one of my top 3 buildings in Europe (don’t ask what the other two are).

Royal Palace

Like England, Norway still has a monarchy and just like England, I’m not sure what it does. Anyway, like I said, the palace was closed when I was visiting, so be sure to stop by and tell me about it if you’re here after March!
Vigeland Sculpture Park AKA Naked Park in Oslo

Pro tip about Norway: there are a lot of naked statues and murals everywhere. To the Norwegians, it’s not weird. So the fact that there’s a park full of nude statues of men and women doing weird things (like juggling babies) doesn’t really throw anyone off. And asking why the statues are all naked doesn’t really get an answer.
Apparently, this place is the #1 tourist attraction in Oslo. So don’t miss it. But be prepared. FOR NAKED.
Kulturkirken (pronounced “kultur-sheer-kin”)

This building is so amaze-balls inside and out. Look at the intricate carvings on the outside door, then look at the ceiling inside and listen to the organ. Usually, I HATE the organ, but the whole building feels special and great. And there’s an altar where you can write a prayer and the priests will pray for you.

Oslo Opera House

Again, another thing that’s cooler after winter. The opera house’s roof slants down so you can walk from the ground level to the top, BUT in winter, it’s too icey. So. Also, fancy bathrooms.

Eat the seafood

This guy’s selling shrimp out of his FISHING BOAT. I don’t even LIKE seafood, but even smelling it made me want to try this stuff because it’s so fresh! (I didn’t, cuz I forgot to eat half the time on this trip. I was TOO BUSY DOING THINGS.)


Skiing was basically invented in Norway, SO I HAD to go skiing. Pro tip: spend the first two hours falling over, then spend the last hour actually having fun! Ride the metro up to Frognerseteren and spend a day enjoying the scenery, exercise, and ground.

Explore Oslofjord and take sick pix!

PRO TIP: Oslofjord isn’t a real fjord. It doesn’t have hills on either side with water in between: it’s basically just a bay with no hills around it. But it’s still beauty-ful. Even though the tourist tours were closed, I jumped on a random ferry to a random peninsula in Oslofjord and took lots of pictures. It was a good time. But I did get hungry.

Go shopping at Underground

I lost my beanie on the bus from the Rygge Airport, so I got on google and found a close-by thrift store, hence I came to Underground (UFF). It’s actually a vintage shop, which means they don’t take anything newer than 1980. There were sweet sweaters, reindeer bags, sealskin boots, and all sorts of other things. I bought a sweet hat and wanted to buy everything else.

Eat the weird crap Nils gives you.

Norway has a weird cuisine. Aside from the seafood smelling good, they also like to eat liver, jam on meatballs, lots of frozen pizza, and bacon in a tube. The pic above is “brown cheese” with jam on bread. It tasted like old-ish cheese with jam on it. The combo of cheese + jam made it a little creamy, but still weird. So take your taste buds on an adventure!

Find this random statue of Franklin D. Roosevelt.


Norway was a blast and a half! I want to give a big shout-out to Nils and his awesome wife Natali for letting me crash on their couch for three days and helping me find and do all the cool things to do in Oslo! And honestly, Nils is lucky to have scored a girl as sweet as Natali. It was so great to stay with you guys! Until next time!

When your dreams come true in England

Ever since I was a young Gordy, I’ve wanted to go to England. I love Narnia, am a big fan of the queen (J.K. Rowling currently), and have spoken the English language almost fluently for most of my life.
And I’m not the only one who loves England. I’ve talked to lots of others who would love to skip rocks on the other side of the pond.
So what’s it like to be in England? What is there 2 doo? WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO MAKE YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE? Well, I’m about to let you kno.
My first three nights, I stayed on the beautiful London Temple apartments (or FLATS lol). The temple is 30 miles (or KILOMETERS lol) from London proper, but it’s still a pretty rural area.
My face and the London temple!
View of the London Temple from a footpath.

I stayed here Saturday and Sunday and literally just walked around looking at how old, rural, and green (LUSH) everything is. I visited the nearby villages and pubs within walking distance of the temple.

The oldest buildings in East Grinstead, a village close to the temple.
England has a super nifty thing called “footpaths.” They’re just public trails that go through forests and fields, across pub decks and people’s yards. Even though people have lived on this small island for thousands of years, the government has gone to great lengths to preserve its natural beauty, so there’s plenty of trees and greenery to love. It’s like being in a Beatrix Potter story. Just look for a “footpath” sign and follow.
A cool thing I saw on a footpath!
I went to London on Monday. I don’t love big cities, so I only stopped by for a day visit. I rode into Victoria Station at noon-ish and walked to King’s Cross Station by the end of the day. Walking is the absolute best way to see EVERYTHING — touristy and otherwise. Along the way, I saw Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, ate at an Indian restaurant, and went to Platform 9 3/4.

Westminster Cathedral

Westminster Abbey lol

It so big.

Me and one of them Trafalgar Square lions.

Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio in the National Gallery (J.K. Rowling’s fave painting).

Indian food! It was very good.

It’s straight magic, promise.
From King’s Cross, I took the Tube to Paddington Station, then rode a train up to Oxford to visit C.S. Lewis’s home.
Oxford was one of the most amazing parts of my trip. The university is almost literally Hogwarts. It’s hundreds of years old, but it’s still going strong and its ancient buildings are still in use.

A library at Oxford University.

Just like Hogwarts.

Literal Hogwarts.
C.S. Lewis’s home was great. I toured it and learned a lot about his life. A nature reserve dedicated to Lewis is right next to his home. These woods are said to be inspiration for Narnia. I definitely uglycried walking through them as I thought, “I’M IN NARNIA!!!”

Me in front of C.S. Lewis’s home.

C.S. Lewis Nature Reserve.

I also visited the Eagle and Child, the pub where Lewis used to bash around story and philosophical ideas with his mates, including J.R.R. Tolkien. 

A great place to get drunk. jkjkjkjkjkjk!!!
In general, Oxford is such a cool city. It’s very old and there’s just such a cool feeling there.
England was everything I’d dreamed it would be and more. It was like stepping into my favorite books and stories I had as a kid (and still have). It rained at least twice a day, my feet weren’t dry for a week, and I absolutely loved it. DREAMS COME FREAKING TRUE.

If you wanna see more Anglo pix, check out my tumblr: gordyyates.tumblr.com.

Freaking Russia

So I love Russia and I hate Russia. On my mission, I loved the food and church members and little differences between Russian and American culture (like Russian Christmas and Baptism Day). Since coming home, I’ve loved telling people what Russia’s REALLY like instead of them only knowing what they see in American propaganda.

But as soon as I’d bought tickets to go to Moscow in January, I remembered that Russia isn’t a SUPER safe place. Flashbacks of being chased by drunks, dodging flying beer bottles, and being followed by teenagers came back to me. The last month of my mission, it really felt like I had SURVIVED, rather than served, a mission. And now, for some reason, I was going back and would have to SURVIVE another couple days!! Plus, I’d be ALONE this time, no mission companion to provide “safety in numbers.” I WAS GOING TO DIE.

Also (and this is important), I’d forgotten that the Russian government requires Americans to obtain a visa in order to enter their country, even if it’s just for three days, and the cheapest option for a visa cost more than $200. (Before you get too mad at Russia, just remember that we require the same inconvenience of Russians AND that Russians are poorer than us AND I’m pretty sure we deny them visas more often than they deny us visas, but I don’t know for sure.)

I tried for over a month to switch my flight from Moscow to somewhere else: Helsinki, Oslo, Athens, Frankfurt — anywhere but Russia again. Unfortunately, there was no alternative that would cost less than $400, so buying a visa and going to Russia turned out to be most economical option, even if it didn’t feel like the safest.

However, going back to Russia turned out to be one of the best parts of my whole trip. I’m so glad I went and I wish I had enough money to go every year.

The week before going to Russia (and to Europe in general) I was literally dreading it. I would probably get mugged, kidnapped, raped, and killed. But, since all that was most likely to happen in Russia, I told myself that if I could make it past three days in Russia, the rest of my trip (into four other countries and across three weeks) would be CAKE.

I landed in Russia with a dying phone and congested head. My ears wouldn’t pop and none of the outlets in the Domodedovo Airport would work. I had barely been able to sleep in the 15ish hours since I’d left San Diego. Fortunately, I was able to keep my head and not get stressed (which is something I learned about myself on this trip — I don’t get stressed easy).

I walked up to the first Russian I could and asked where I could find an “ay-tee-emm.” They were like, “What the freak are you talking about?” and I was like,”The thing that gives you money,” and they were like, “Over there, you loser American.” (They were a lot nicer than that, I’m just writing what they SHOULD have said.) Literally two steps after walking away from them, though, the Russian word for “ATM” popped into my head — “bankomat.” And I was like, “Yes! I got this!”

I found an ATM and withdrew 3,000 rubles ($50ish). After that, a representative from my favorite Russian phone company (МТС) was standing right outside the gate. I popped out my AT&T SIM card, gave them 1,000 rubles, and they popped in an МТС “seem kartichka” with 12 gigs of data on it. (I only used, like, 3 or 4 gigs in my three days, so that was a bit overkill, but it was nice not to worry about running out of data.)

The Domodedovo Airport is about 30 miles from Moscow, but since Europe is so much better about public transportation, I knew there must be a cheap shuttle to the city somewhere. The train that takes you to Moscow is called Aeroexpress (Аэроэкспресс). It costs 450 rubles and takes about an hour.

After buying some water, I jumped on the train and sat next to a really sweet girl from St. Petersburg who was going into Moscow to visit a friend. She reminded me of how normal and nice Russians are (By “normal,” I mean they’re literally just like Americans. STILL trying to convince people of that.).

I hopped off the tram when it reached its one and only stop: MOSCOW.

Since I served in the Samara Mission, I didn’t really know anyone I could stay with in Moscow. I ended up connecting with a random Russian couple over Couchsurfing who said I could stay with them. We’d agreed to meet in front St. Basil’s on Red Square at 10 pm.

I got off the train and, since I had no idea what I was doing or where I was, I picked a random person and followed him. I figured that he knew where he was going, so I’d follow him until he got there. He went into a big building and down some stairs into the metro. I made a mental note, found a cafe upstairs, charged my phone for a couple hours, then jumped on the metro to Red Square.

An escalator going down into the Moscow Metro.

I’d never been on a real subway before and I’d heard of how confusing the Moscow Metro is, so my only hope of finding Red Square was talking to people. Of course, like I said, Russians are beyond helpful and nice. I asked a babushka and she told me which train to get on and a student told me which stop to get off at. I got out on the street and asked a couple which way Red Square was and another lady corrected me when I took a wrong turn. I found Red Square, took a selfie in front of St. Basil’s, and met up with my hosts Katya and Slava.

I was so relieved to meet Katya and Slava. I’d been ALONE travelling for a day and a half and now I had friends! They were so nice and Katya spoke English very well. They gave me a whole apartment to myself (cuz they have two) and let me babysit their cat! They were the best hosts and they were definitely one the best parts of my trip to Moscow. They showed me around the best parts of Moscow the next day, found a nice banya for me to visit, made me homemade pelmeni (like Russian ravioli), and drove me to the airport on Friday. They’re the literal best!

Landing in Russia WAS the hardest part of my trip. I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t know how things would ultimately work out. I had to figure out how to get money, set my phone up, get transportation, navigate the streets of a foreign city, and find a place to sleep. But figuring all that out was really satisfying and making more Russian friends was the best! Despite my initial regrets and misgivings, Russia was one of the best places I visited my whole trip.

Here are some cool things I did while visiting Moscow that I think you should do (plus some tips!):

1) Learn the Cyrillic alphabet or bring someone who knows it. A lot of the signs are transliterated from Cyrillic into English, BUTT unless you’re used to reading and pronouncing words like “Preobrajendkaya” (Преображенская), the English transliteration won’t do you a lot of good.

2) Drink peach juice and Chudo (Чудо) drinkable yogurt and eat chocolate, especially Super Snickers. Why don’t we have more juice and yogurt in America?!! Also, my Norwegian friend tells me that the Snickers in Russia are the best in the world (better than American and Norwegian, at least), and I would have to agree. Ughhhh. AMERICA PLEASE MAKE BETTER FOOOOOOD

3) Eat at a restaurant on Old Arbat Street. Old Arbat is one of the oldest parts of Moscow and has a lot of touristy things to do and see, plus it’s not too far from …

4) RED SQUARE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There are a couple things at Red Square you should see. 1) St. Basil’s: It’s not an operating church anymore, just a museum. It’s 250 rubles ($5ish) to get in, but it’s very worth it, especially if you wait for the choir upstairs to start singing! 2) Lenin’s tomb: It was closed when I went, but you should see it! 3) The Kremlin: It didn’t even occur to me that you can go inside while I was there, but I hear you need to plan in advance to get tickets to go in. I’m sure it’s way great! 4) GUM:It’s a big shopping center. Go inside and see what it’s like.

5) The Catheral of Christ the Savior: It’s the main cathedral in Moscow and it’s way pretty! It’s also not far from Red Square.

6) Banya it up: The idea of being surrounded by dozens of naked people (if you go in a gender-specific one), getting boiling hot, then drenching yourself with ice cold water (Ice Bucket Challenge eat your heart out) sounds awful to most sane people, but it’s a very Russian thing to do and I loved it. Just know you’ll be SUPER tired after. The one I visited in Moscow was called Sanduny (Сандуны) and I really recommend it. (I’ll post a vid of how-to lates.)

7) Spend time with the people and learn for yourself that they’re not cray cray.

My new friends Slava and Katya. They thought I was cool cuz I’m from California lol.

How to go to Russia (BORING butt informative)

Babushka cat lol

Back in October, I decided that I was a winner and to congratulate myself on being such a winner, I bought open-jaw plane tickets to and from Europe for $900 flying into Moscow and out through Dublin.

HOWEVER, I’m a cheapskate and I forgot that Russia requires you to get a visa (an EXPENSIVE visa too) and an official invitation in order to enter the country, so I tried to reroute my flight for almost a month, but it’s almost impossible to economically change your flight once you’ve purchased airline tickets. LESSON LEARNED.

I finally decided to buy a visa to go back to Russia almost six weeks before my flight to Moscow. I contacted BYU’s Kennedy Center because I heard you can get free help getting a visa (and I was still a student at the time). They directed me to a company called Travel Broker that basically does all the paperwork for you. You pay them $100, they take care of the finer details of the visa application AND get you an invitation into the country. So, no free help, but I think it was the best option for me at that time. The visa itself cost about $250, so the entire visa process cost me about $350. 🙁 But whatever.

Travel Broker sent me to the Russian visa website. They told me to fill in the visa application, then print it out and take it to them.

A couple things about the visa application:

  •  It asks you to list every country you’ve visited for the past couple (five or something) years. I just wrote in every country that’s stamped my passport in the past five (or something) years.
  • It asks you to write the address of every place you’ll be staying in Russia. Travel Broker told me that I could just write any address in the city where I was visiting (Moscow) because the government doesn’t follow up once you get there. So, I just googled a random hotel in Moscow and wrote its address. (And no, I didn’t stay at that hotel and no it wasn’t a problem.)
  • It asks you to write in every city you’ll be visiting and how you plan to travel in between cities. I was only going to be in Moscow, so I didn’t have to worry about that part, but I assume you can just write in whatever you want here too because they most likely won’t be following up on you.
  • It also asks you to write in the dates of every other Russian visa you’ve ever had. If you’ve had multiple Russian visas in multiple passports, you only have to write in the visas that are in your CURRENT (active) passport.
  • Remember that when you’re visiting Russia, if you stay in any city/location for more than three days, you have to register, so it’s easier to plan to be in the city for three days or less.

So that’s basically the tricky part of the visa application.

I filled out all the paperwork, brought it to Travel Broker (they have an office in south Salt Lake), and I had a Russian visa within 2 1/2 weeks.

Next post: what to do/how to survive in Russia. IT WILL BE A FUN POST, I PROMISE.

Why it’s worth going to Russia.

Almost six years ago today, I got my mission call to serve in Russia. When I first realized I would be serving in Russia, I was like, “Crap. Russia.” I didn’t want to go to Russia. The language seemed super hard, the culture and history didn’t seem very interesting, the people never smiled, and I knew it would be a challenge living in a country that had no technology, not even have cars or indoor plumbing.

When I got there in November 2009, I started learning what Russia was actually like.

No technology
First, there ARE cars and indoor plumbing. Before I went to Russia, I thought horses were still the main mode of transportation (the only things I knew about Russia, I’d learned from Fiddler on the Roof and Anastasia, so can you blame me????), but after being in Russia for a day I quickly realized that cars, indoor plumbing, and even light bulbs are just as common in Russia as they are in America. In fact, the biggest cities and tallest buildings I’ve ever seen are in Russia, so it is definitely just as modern and developed as America.

Unfriendly people
Everyone in America told me that Russians never smiled and were a pretty tough people to befriend. HOWEVER, some of the FIRST THINGS I saw in Russia were couples walking outside holding hands and SMILING, friends walking around together and SMILING, and people just looking like normal people, not like the communist robots I’d heard about. I realized that most of the Americans who’d told me about Russia had never actually been there, so how would they know what Russians are actually like?

Russia is effing cold. I had heard the word “cold” before my mission, but never actually knew what it meant. I’d lived in California basically my whole life, so the coldest I’d ever felt was, like, 32°F. When I got to Russia, winter was just starting, so it was 32ish°, which I thought was the coldest it could ever be. I was so cold, I wore two scarves: one for my neck and the other for my face. People told me I looked like a Muslim woman.

They’d laugh and say, “You know it’s going to get colder, right?” and I’d laugh and say, “That’s not even possible, right?” But it did get colder. The coldest I ever felt was -40° (which is where Fahrenheit and Celsius meet), but that wasn’t typical. -5°F to -15°F was pretty normal. Cold, but livable.

I learned to enjoy the cold, so much so that when I went back to Russia after my mission, I made sure to go during the winter. To me, Russia isn’t Russia if your nose hairs don’t freeze.

Hard language
Yeah, Russian’s hard, at least for me, no getting around that. The alphabet only takes, like, two weeks to learn, but actually speaking the language sucks butt. However, I think being able to understand is much more important than being able to express yourself. Listening for the few words I understood and paying attention to context went a long way in helping me understand what people were saying to me. And, since I had a mission companion, I could rely on him to say what needed to be said.

So the language is daunting, but it isn’t everything.

Uninteresting history and culture
So Russians may not be the cold-hearted people that Americans make them out to be, but they certainly have a colorful history. They’ve existed as a people for nearly 1,000 years, so of course they’ve had some super interesting stuff happen. They were invaded by Huns, they drove the Huns out, they had fake tsars the people elected, they had real tsars the people killed, they had fake tsars they elected then decided to kill, they have beautiful literature and art, they had communism, they sent the first man into space, they had Stalin, they have Putin, and BORIS NEMTSOV WAS SHOT FIVE DAYS AGO OH MY GOSH WHERE IS THE TRUTH AT? So, interesting stuff.

Of course, I didn’t know a lot of this while I was actually living in Russia since I was busy doing the WORK OF THE LORD, but I learned it in college after and it explained a lot of what I’d seen on my mission. So definitely take a Russian history course if you get the chance, especially if you’ve been to Russia before and you’re wondering “What the eff???”

So I ended up having a blast in Russia. I finished my mission three and a half years ago, but I really wanted to go back, so that brings us to the next part of this story ….

Is it worth it to pay for a study abroad????? AKA I went to Eurussia on the cheaps

Gordy Yates had the big fat dream of going to Eurussia and having a cray cray vacay.**** So, he bought a plane ticket to Russia and started saving his money (lol — really he just stopped going out to eat and buying deodorant). He left, traversed all across the Eurussian wilds for 24 blissful days, and returned a happy and fulfilled young gentleman. Do you want to make your cray cray dreams come true?

Looking so happy and so fly in Moscow.

If you want to make your cray cray dreams come true and want to get a small itsy-bitsy baby idea of what it might cost, here’s a little break down:

  • Multi-city (aka open-jaw) ticket to Eurussia (San Diego –> Moscow, Dublin –> Salt Lake) (United Airlines/Lufthansa): $903.26
  • Traveler’s insurance (probably a smart idea even though I don’t know what it’s for): $49.95
  • Russian visa (Thanks, Obama/Putin): $351.90 (I got it through Travel Broker, which is a company that basically does all the paperwork for you and you pay them $100ish. So I could have gotten the visa for cheaper, but I really don’t know how, so it was worth it in my oponion.)
  • Flight from Moscow (Domodedovo) to London (Gatwick) (EasyJet): $158.53 (could’ve gotten it for, like, $50 if I’d bought it a month or two sooner :(((((( )
  • Flight from London (Standsted) to Oslo (Rygge) (Ryanair): $24.51 (#unbelievablycheap)
  • Flight from Oslo (Rygge) to Milan (Bergamo) (Ryanair): $21.09
  • Bus from Austria/Germany back to Milan: $25.58
  • Flight from Milan (Bergamo) to Dublin (Ryanair): $29.43

I bought all this (minus the bus ticket) BEFORE going to Europe.

Total pre-Euro costs: $1,564.25

Once I got to Eurussia, my bank charged me $5 every time I withdrew money at an ATM or 3% every time I used my debit card to pay for things. I always withdrew cash and avoided using my card. Some countries, like Norway, have chip cards instead of magnetic strip cards, so American cards don’t always work, so I used cash 99.99% of the time. At the start of my trip, I withdrew in increments of $50ish, but by the end of trip, it was increments of $150ish.

A harbor in Norwegia. Literally so pritt.

The total amount I withdrew while in Europe was $1,295.15, which combined with $55 in withdrawal fees, is $1,350.15.

What did I spend all that $$$$ on? I didn’t keep an exact record, but according to what I remember/train tickets and phone cards I saved (none of this is exact, y’all):

  • Food and chocolate: $388.43
  • Intercity transport (long train and bus rides): $189.56
  • SIM cards and data: $186.50
  • Housing: $160.50
  • Public transport (short train and bus rides): $101.64
  • “Cultural experiences” (museums and junk): $100.50
  • “Souvenirs” (pants, sweater, hat, socks, and an extra bag): $81


So, in total, it cost this little boy $2,914.40 to make his dreams come true for 24 days in Eurussia. He thinks he’s a winner.

A sample of the exotic cuisine this little boy sampled in the Eurussian wilds.

I went to BYU’s Kennedy Center website and compared this to what it costs to do a study abroad in Europe. I always thought, “Why pay tuition AND pay to travel? That must be a crap-ton expensive!” but I never knew for sure if I was right.

Well, after a quick survey, I found out that I’m right. A study abroad that’s 33-days-long and visits 8 countries (I went to 9) is $5,200-5,600 NOT INCLUDING airfare, public transport, museums, and most meals. So, crap, that’d probably be, like, three times more expensive than what I did in the long run.

Of course, there are other study abroad options that are cheaper/might be more worth it (like a water study that’s only $2,200-2,400 in Belgium and The Netherlands INCLUDING airfare and museum entry) and if you have a scholarship, it would be cheaper for sure. BUT if you’re like me, you’ve never had any luck getting a scholarship (#BaveragestudentatBYU) and you love figuring things out for yourself without The Man interfering (we all know I like to avoid hanging out with The Man).

So, yeah, I’m a major … I mean Gordy’s … a major winner. Go Gordy, right? And I coulda done it cheaper!!!! (keep an eye out for those blogs l8r)

Joy that cannot be contained. Honestly, my eyes creep me out in this pic.

And the adventure’s not over yet! Maybe some Taiwan or South Amricka this summer? And keep an eye out for #EURUSSIACRAYCRAYVAYCAY2016 next March. And give me money maybe so I can go?

****Urban Dictionary spells it both “vaycay” and “vacay,” just FYI. Not sure which I prefer — vote below!

Station Twenty-two (and Three Quarters)

Displaying IMG_20140910_121258.jpg

You know a sandwich is good when it takes you a day and a half to stop thinking about it. This story is about one of those sandwiches.

There’s a tale of boy who runs into a train station wall and is magically transported to a magical school. I don’t know a whole lot about magic (JK — I do), but running into Station 22 is almost as magical as running into a wall.

This little sandwich shop is located on Center Street, which means that eating here is a hipster adventure. The vibe is a step more hipster than Guru’s: the menu is shorter and seasonal (meaning it’s based off of ingredients available during that time of year), the space is smaller (giving it a cozy feel), it’s filled with the randomest knickknacks (like cowboy boots and toy ships on shelves, sheet music used as light covers, and hunting mounts hanging on walls), and you drink out of MASON JARS. But, like Guru’s, it’s not a gross hipster place (I’m sure the people here wash their hands and take showers).

The specialty here is sandwiches and the prices are pretty reasonable. Most menu items run around $10.

I ordered the Memphis Chicken Sandwich. This sandwich is made of the crispiest, juiciest piece of fried chicken you can imagine, topped with red cabbage coleslaw and a spicy butter glaze, placed lovingly in a ciabatta bun. I was a little nervous about the red cabbage slaw since, for the most part, I don’t believe in pickled foods, but it worked on this sandwich.

Memphis Chicken Sandwich with fries

The chicken is the best piece of fried chicken you’ve ever tasted: tender, juicy, and crunchy all at once; the coleslaw gives the sandwich the tiniest taste of sour, the cabbage adding a delicate crunch to every bite; and the spicy glaze gives the whole ensemble the slightest little zing. All the flavors stand out from each other, but they simultaneously work together. This sandwich was deeyyyuuung good — I literally couldn’t stop thinking about it all the next day (the fact that I was in church until 4:30 may or may not have had something to do with that).

The fries were good: crispy, delicious. I’ve also sampled their sweet potato wedges and those are DANG good. However, the fry sauce here is gross — I can’t eat it. It tastes too mustardy and Gordy don’t like mustard. I asked for barbecue sauce instead, but even that was gross — it tasted bitter (come to think of it, they may have given me Worcestershire sauce instead of barbecue sauce … not sure why). Best to stick with ketchup ’round these parts.

I came here on a date and my date ordered the Club 22. She say it was good (like, she really liked it). I’ve been here a couple times on dates and neither me nor my dates have ever been disappointed (but I will say I prefer their sandwiches to their burgers).

Club 22 with sweet potato wedges, photo cred to special guest photographer Paige Bennett

So in this back-to-school season, if you want to take yourself on a magical journey, run into Station 22. It won’t suck, promise.

The back of cafe has a wall full of soda. I don’t support soda, but it’s pretty nift to look at.

Sub Zero is okay

So I went to Sub Zero Ice Cream on Friday after the stupid BYU football game. I’d never been, but I’d heard lots of things about it. Mostly, I’d heard that it was real sciencey, so I was intrigued by that. Heads up, though: it’s way overpriced (like, $7 for a small bowl). But liquid nitrogen IS expensive, so that’s fair.

Sub Zero’s thing is that they use liquid nitrogen to freeze your ice cream right before your eyaz. You choose a base (normal premium cream, lowfat cream, custard, yogurt, nondairy milk, soy milk, or rice milk), choose a flavor (they have a plentitude to throw in — choco powder, fruity flavors, and other junk), and then maybe some mix-ins (like brownie bits or fruit chunks or whatever), then they spray it with the liquid nitrogen (or whatever — I don’t know how it works, but here’s a video of the scientific process), then they scoop it into a cone or bowl for you.

Cool process, but how does it taste?

I chose premium cream because it was obviously gonna be the best/tastiest. Then, because I’d been using this super-good-smelling mango and pomegranate soap all week, I chose mango flavor. I didn’t get any mix-ins because they cost 70 cents a pop and I’m a cheapskate.

Mango, yo.

The texture was terribly creamy. Just cream on cream on cream rolling through my mouth. I loved it.

Unfortunately, the mango was super fake-tasting and I don’t like super fake. I like my ice cream like I like my women: real and THICK. Even though it was creamy enough, the mango tasted like waxy chapstick. After the first couple bites, I got used to it, but it didn’t taste like how I liked that soap. So sad.

I sampled some other flavors to see if just the mango was sad. Chocolate was legitimately good, cheesecake was super sugary, and raspberry was good too.

Brownie batter. Mmmmmmmmm.

So if you want to take your tongue for a stroll on the sciencey side, take it to Sub Zero, but maybe ask someone there for a flavor suggestion.

Bahston pizza

Once upon a time in a place called America, there was a city on the east coast where free-blooded Americans and awful British people or, as they were known in that day, Tommy Redcoats, lived together. The Tommy Redcoats lived terribly happy lives, but only because they spent all the times oppressing the free-blooded Americans.

One day, the free-blooded Americans decided to do something to get rid of the Tommy Redcoats. They knew that the Tommy Redcoats really liked tea: they drank it for breakfast, lunch,dinner, and teatime. The free-blooded Americans thought that if they hid all of the Tommy Redcoats’ tea, they would leave for good.

So, on Christmas Eve when all the Tommy Redcoats were sleeping, the free-blooded Americans snuck into the Tommy Redcoats’ kitchens and took their tea. Then they ran to the local harbor and tossed the tea into the ocean so that the Tommy Redcoats could never find it.

When the Tommy Redcoats awoke in the morning, they went to have their morning spot-o-tea, but couldn’t find any. They looked in all their cupboards, but there was no tea to be found. So, they walked up to the American President and asked where they could find some more tea. He said, “Not here. Maybe in British England.”

So the Tommy Redcoats packed up all their things and moved back to England, leaving the free-blooded Americans to be freer and bolder than ever before.

This event came to be known as the Great Boston Tea Party and is still written about in American history books today.

Thankfully, the free-blooded Americans and the British (as they are known today) became best friends by means of a young ambassador named Harry Potter and fabulous garden parties between Thomas Roosevelt and Margerie Thatcher.

And that is how the city of Boston came to be world-famous.

Our very own Provo has a restaurant that honors this famous city’s cuisine: the Nicolitalia Pizzeria (or, as the younger generation calls it, the NCMO-italia Pizzeria … boom chicka chicka). I went to visit this landmark of Provo patriotism with an authentic person who once lived in Boston. It was a special special special special special special dinner time. And the person was a girl.

Here, everything is in Bostonian which, as my girl-person told me, means you put a really pronounced “A” sound in random words. So instead of “appetizers,” here’s it’s “appetizAHs,” instead of “paremesian,” it’s “pAHmesiAHn,” and the like.

Anyway, I asked the girl-person what we should eat and she, being the Bostonian she is, suggested we got the Nicolitalia Special. We got a large (14”) pizza and a side of breadsticks. The total was about $20 and there was definitely enough to fill both of us up.

The Nicolitalia Special is basically a combo pizza. Sausage, onions, peppAHroni, mushrooms, and peppAHs deck this pizza out. According the the girl I was with, these toppings make the signature Boston pizza. I’ll take her word for it. As far as I’m concerned, it was just a dAHn good pizza.


The sausage was just a tinge spicy, the onions were juicy and flavorful, the peppahs were fresh, and the peppahroni and mushrooms blended into the background, enhancing the flavor and texture of the overall pizza. Also, the crust was perfect: just a bit crisp on the outside, yet chewy and fluffy on the inside. Derng.

Proof that we ate it.

The sauce and cheese were also good. The sauce was flavorful, but there wasn’t too much of it (a good thing). It seems that the cheese’s primary purpose was to keep the toppings attached to the top of the pizza. There was just enough of it to cover the whole surface of the pizza, yet not so much that it wasn’t dripping from the pizza. Get out of town, Tommy Redcoats! America’s got this pizza under control!

The breadsticks were also good. They were all different, definitely made by hand at the restaurant, not some made-in-China box. Some were skinny, some were lumpy, some were skinny and lumpy. They were all very soft and chewy, definitely not as crisp as the pizza crust. We ordered the house sauce (a mix of marinara and ranch dip) to dip them into. It was a pleasurable experience.

In order to appreciate America’s rich heritage of not drinking tea and getting rid of people we don’t like, all free-blooded Americans must go here. The pizza’s real good and so are the NCMO’s boom chicka chicka.

Get rid of the stressmester

Doesn’t going to BYU suck sometimes? If you’re like me, you flew by in high school (and community college), but doing real college is a lot harder. What make it so hard?!! What’s the secret?

Well the secret might be:

1) Before the end of this month, you’ll probably have taken at least one  midterm, written two papers about stuff you didn’t even want to read about, and read two books you’d never heard of before.

2) Don’t forget you’re a Mormon, which means you probably need to write a talk, visit your home (or visiting) teachees, and plan a ward activity before the end of the month too.

3) Add to this the twenty hours of work you squeeze in on a weekly basis and:

Your life is a jungle gym of stress, complete with monkey bar midterms, relationship slides, and that spinny-wheel thing that gives you a headache and makes you want to throw up.

 Although you may feel stressed enough, there’s one more thing you have to do which is all-too-often ignored: Family History work. Joseph Smith said, “We without [our ancestors] cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:18). Recent Church leaders have particularly encouraged youth and young adults (i.e. the computer-literate generation) to be actively involved in Family History research. So basically, do your Family History or go to hell. No pressure.

But when you hear a talk about Family History, you’re kind of like:


Understandably, Family History work gets pushed to the sidelines in your life. You might go to a Family History class or attend the temple periodically, but aside from that, the hard-core, nitty gritty of researching your ancestors gets pushed back to “someday when.” “Someday, when I don’t have homework anymore,” or, “Someday, when I’m retired.”

Oy vey! With all the fraking things already attacking your attention, what are the effects of doing Family History research on your stress level?

As a student entering my fifth year of college (anticipating my effing sixth), I’ve tried a lot of methods of de-stressing myself. Some, like regular exercise and temple attendance, have been effective. Others, like spending four hours a day on Facebook or watching movies all weekend, have not been effective. I think the reason has something to do with this: if I’m taking a break by doing something I know I should do anyway (like exercise), then I feel less stress. If I take a break by doing something I know I should do sparingly (like check Facebook), I’m just going to stress myself out more. I’m no genius or anything, but it turns out I’m on the right track.

According to the Internet, having a productive hobby can simplify your life by reducing the pressures you feel from other obligations. The Internet says, “Serious hobbyists feel less anxiety, depression and hostility, and enjoy more positive moods than people who spend their time in other ways.” A stress-relieving hobby should be challenging, but not so hard that it makes you want to give/throw up. However, passive hobbies, such as watching TV or having a one-man pizza-eating contest, are bad hobbies.

How many nights have you postponed homework by watching a movie, playing a video game, eating a bowl of cookie dough, or staring at your roommates doing their homework, just because you needed some time to de-stress?

A truly effective method of de-stressing is by participating in a guilt-free hobby. Why not do Family History as a guilt-free, stress-reducing hobby?

Family History is hard, but the hard part of Family History work can largely be eliminated if you’re a BYU student. Major resources at BYU are available for freeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!

  • First, the BYU Family History library is open seven days a week (except for the first and third Sundays of the month) and offers Family History classes.
  • Second, Ancestry.com, the world’s LARGEST database of genealogical documents, can be accessed for freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee when you’re hooked up to BYU Internet. Whoa.

As with many hobbies, getting started on your Family History can be hard, but it becomes easier the longer that you do it, and, when you do it at BYU, starting isn’t as awful as it could be.

Also, you could start with an easy part of Family History, then move on to the hard parts as you gain more experience and confidence. Different aspects of Family History include:

  • keeping a personal history (easy)
  • interviewing family members on the verge of death and recording their stories (easy)
  • indexing (never been a fan)
  • digitizing old photos and sharing them online (you’d get legit kudos if you did this)
  • doing the research for your own ancestors and taking their names to the temple (my favorite)

As you get tired of doing one certain part of Family History work, you can move on to a different part, gaining new skills and knowledge the whole way. #winning

When you do start working on the nitty gritty research for your own ancestors, have a specific goal for a specific ancestor instead of trying to do the work for multiple ancestors at once. Otherwise, you’re gonna have a bad time. Also, don’t research your ancestors ONLY to do their temple work. The real benefits come from learning who your ancestors actually were.

Family History is totes a worthwhile distraction from school. By spending an hour or so doing Family History research each week, I’m able to find information about ancestors that no one in my family has known before. I’m able to reunite families that have been separated for centuries. Heckfire, doing Family History research and taking my ancestors’ names to the temple is a lot more satisfying than going to the Testing Center has ever been.

If you’ve served a mission, how great would it be to take a break from the constant nagging of homework by feeling the way you did on your mission? Even if you haven’t served a mission, you’ll find that a servicful hobby is much more rewarding than scrolling through Facebook or eating a carton of ice cream.

But perhaps you feel that all of your Family History work has been done already and, therefore, taking up Family History as a hobby would be pointless. My BEST FRIEND Kaden Taylor is the great-great-great-grandson of John Taylor. You’d think he wouldn’t have any Family History work to do, but of course he does, just a bit less than the average Mormon.

Kaden tells me that having less ancestors that need temple work allows him to focus his research. He also likes the idea of finding information that no one in his family has known before. Dang, he’s great.

Doing Family History was something specially designed for our generation. We’re pros at Facebook-stalking our crushes and googling random crap that we NEED TO KNOW. Why not do the same thing for our ancestors?

“It is no coincidence that FamilySearch and other tools have come forth at a time when young people are so familiar with a wide range of information and communication technologies,” Elder Bednar said in the October 2011 general conference. “The skills and aptitude evident among many young people today are a preparation to contribute to the work of salvation.”

As a Latter-day Saint, you’re also a pro at deciding what’s important and devoting your energy to that. For example, even though money is a very necessary part of life, you set aside ten percent of your income to give as tithing, still having enough to pay the bills and go on dates. You’re also capable of fulfilling a calling, a commitment that’s sometimes a full-time job at other churches, while still fulfilling work and school obligations. Heck, you may even be so good at time management that you set aside work and school obligations for eighteen months to two whole years in order to serve a full-time mission. Being a Latter-day Saint is to your advantage when it comes to setting aside time to do Family History research. Time management and making priorities are something you’ve been doing your whole LDS life.

Adding Family History to your list of priorities is not something that will drag you down and drown you like a sack of unwanted puppies. Family History is a sure-fire way to take your mind off your hectic day-to-day life and allow you to think about what matters most.

Your life is busy and you’re doing your best to meet all your school, work, and Church obligations. Thankfully, you have Family History to take your mind off things every now and again. Take advantage of the resources available at BYU to make Family History research a guilt-free break from your stress-prone life.

Saucy pants


I learned how to make sauce from tomato paste when I was in the Russia. We only bought tomato paste, so I learned by ear how to mix the right amount of water and spices to make the perfect sauce. And this sauce is perfect. You start with a tiny can of tomato paste and end up with a whole ton of suited-to-you tomato sauce. Look at you, fancy pants.

Turn this …


… into food.



6 oz. can of tomato paste
1 cup water
A fistful of onion (about 1/4 of a large-ish onion)
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 Tablespoon basil
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teapsoon pepper

Step 1: The onion

The top layer (or two) of an onion is papery — you don’t want that. Peel it off and throw it away. The layer beneath that is rubbery. You don’t want that either; throw it away. The layers beneath that should be crisp and easy to cut through: that’s what you want. (This may be “duh” to some of you, but having lived exclusively with guys for the past four years, I know that things like this aren’t always intuitive.)

Cut a quarter out of your onion and chop it into baby pieces (like, a quarter the size of a french fry or smaller). Throw it into a pan greased with cooking spray, oil, or butter. Heat it at low or medium heat. Cook until the onion pieces start to become transparent. You don’t want them to turn brown or crispy-looking.

I used red onions, butt it doesn’t matter.

Step 2: The sauce

While that’s cooking, y’all need to mizz your water with your tomato paste. Dump the insides of your can of tomato paste into a big-ish bowl. Once you did this, dump that 1 cup of warter on top. Mix with a fork (or hand) and you’ll get a saucy mizzture.
It looks like tomato poop lol.
Tomato diarrhea!

Step 3: Get the Spice Girls

Next, you’re gonna want to flavor your sauce. You can just pour the seasonings into the bowl with your tomato-paste-now-tomato-sauce.

1 1/2 teaspoons of garlic powder: Garlic powder is a necessary part of ANYTHING tasting good.

1/2 tablespoon of basil: A delicate herb; it’ll make the sauce taste fresh.

1 1/2 teaspoons of oregano: Given my extensive knowledge of Italian cooking, I can say that oregano is THE Italian spice. Your tomato sauce won’t taste like tomato sauce without it. Likewise, if you ever have a pizza that needs a pick-me-up, sprinkle some oregano on it.

1 teaspoon of salt: Not too much, but just the right amount will make all the other flavors come out (#everysundayschoollessonever).

1/4 teaspoon of pepper: Packs a punch that your sauce will be boring without.

Mixzz all the seasonings with your tomato sauce and stick your finger in it to see if it tastes how you want. #magic

Step 4: Mixzz

Pour your bowl of seasoned sauce into the pan of now-cooked onions and heat until the sauce is warm. Then put it on pasta and eat it.

Obviously, you can add anything to it that you want (like cooked ground beef or veggies).

And voila! You turned a tiny can of tomato paste into a panful of tomato sauce. That’s a big deal, saucy pants.