Writer Wednesday – Meet Polly Barks
When I stumbled upon Polly Barks and learned of her new book, A Complete Guide to Exploring Moscow, I was intrigued. I’ve always wanted to visit this exotic city and knew I had to learn more! Little did I know just how amazing and courageous Polly is as she just up and left her home to live in a foreign city, nearly half way across the world, knowing no one.
Writer Wednesday would like to introduce Polly Barks.
Hi all! My name is Polly Barks and I’m a freelance travel writer and teacher originally from a small Virginia town outside of DC. I went from living abroad for five years in one of the biggest, most dynamic of cities in the world (Moscow, Russia) to coming back to the USA with a Russian husband.
How many countries have you visited?
In comparison to many travelers, not so many. In all, I’ve visited twelve countries – seven new ones last year in 2014!
My favorite place is Moscow! I moved there when I was 21, knowing exactly zero people in the entire city, and I really feel like Moscow shaped me into the traveler, writer, and adult I am today. Plus, the city itself has so much to offer: 24/7 excitement, amazing architecture, a fascinating history, and some of the most interesting, enigmatic people I’ve ever met!
So you up and moved to Moscow, what was it that drew you there and not somewhere else?
I was drawn to Russia (and Russian) purely by chance. I received a scholarship to study a critical language the summer before I began university and between Arabic, Chinese, or Russian, Russian seemed like the best bet for some reason. After an intensive eight-week course, I was hooked. I studied Russian and international relations and even traveled to Kaliningrad one summer on a US State Department grant.
The decision to move to Moscow – a place I’d never been – really happened by chance. I decided very late in the year that I would graduate university a year early. Once I figured out I could, I realized I had no idea what I wanted to do, having prefered to put off big life decisions until later. On a whim, I applied to an English-language school in Moscow and got accepted. I left for Russia less than a month after graduation. The rest is history!
What is your favourite historic site in Moscow?
I’d have to say Vyskopetrovsky Monastery (the High Monastery of Saint Peter) simply because it’s a perfect example of what I love about Moscow. Smack in the middle of an ever-expanding city full of modernization stands a 14th-century religious site largely untouched by history.
If you could describe your method of travel in one word, what would it be?
Slow. I am a huge proponent of slow travel, meaning I spend more time in one place in order to get a deeper understanding of the local culture. For example, I spent one month in Yerevan, Armenia and one month in Granada, Nicaragua and got to settle into life there in a way that simply isn’t possible if you’re passing through in just a few days.
What is your must have travel accessory?
A scarf. Whether it’s a traditionally hand-crafted Russian platok or a simple piece I picked up in an airport, I never travel without at least one or two scarves tucked into my bag.
What is your most memorable travel moment?
It was a pretty normal day, traveling to my new job by local marshrutka (a shared taxi common in the former USSR) when I was chased down by a lovely Russian man who would eventually become my husband! If you’re interested in the whole story, you can find it here.
What is your dream destination?
I’ve always dreamed of living in Ulaanbaatar for a few months and traveling into the Mongolian wild. Convincing my Russian husband that Mongolia is an attractive travel destination is a work in progress!
Do you have any upcoming trips? If so, to where?
Not at the moment, aside from a few local adventures. 2014 was a big year for travel so 2015 and the start of 2016 will probably be a slow one.
How long did it take for your book to come to fruition?
I was originally hired by a small publisher to produce my Moscow guidebook in the summer of 2014 and I submitted the first draft at the start of 2015. We had plenty of issues and I ended up self-publishing (it’s a long story) in November of 2015, so almost a year and a half.
Oh man, where do I start?! I guess quickly:
1) Moscow is incredibly safe. So many westerners are terrified of Russia when in fact I would say it’s safer to travel alone in Moscow than it is in major US cities.
2) Russians are not unfriendly they’re just reserved. Get to know a Russian even a little bit and they’ll be so open and friendly you won’t believe it!
Do you have any new books on the horizon?
I’m taking a break from big projects at the moment but I’m always thinking and planning.
What is your favourite travel book?
Anything by Bill Bryson – he can do no wrong!
What is your favourite travel quote?
“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson