Saturday, May 8, 2010

Our Story Unfolds

May 8, 2005- May 9, 2005


Joe and Sebastian and I leave the house at 7:15am. We're fifteen minutes behind schedule, which isn't that bad for us. We're in Brownfield at 7:40am and figure we probably won't be at Wendy's for the 8am call time. It's all right...it's why I planned extra time this morning.

While we drive, we play the "Did I forget anything of vital importance" game. Joe finally concludes that since I have both my passport and clean underwear, I'm good to go. Sebastian is passed out in the backseat as he is not a morning dog. So his mother's son.

We get to Wendy's at 8:30. Jake and Alison are already there, trunk open and ready for loading. And there's a lot to load. We have six suitcases and three carry-ons. The partridge in the pear tree just didn't fit so we decide we'll have to make due without it. We manage to make it all fit in the car which is suddenly a lot lower than it was before and Wendy declares us ready to go. I point out that she might want to close the front door first. She does and then we're ready to go.

Next stop is Kelli Lane for a Bon Voyage breakfast. Dad mans the griddle and we feast on pancakes, eggs (well, not me so much...the first trip kind of ruined eggs for me), fried potatoes, muffins and a wide assortment of breakfast meats. Very full and running short on time, we say our goodbyes and see you laters. Dad comments that I have to be the calm one to which I reply, "Scary, isn't it?" We promise to call when we can and go out to the car. Sebastian doesn't understand why mom's getting into a different car than he is and suddenly, Jake seems to think I need a tissue.

We get to Boston at 12:30pm and get a luggage cart to help tote the load. It still doesn't hold everything so I end up pushing the cart with one hand and pulling a suitcase behind me. We manage to make it inside and up to the Lufthansa counter where we find out that you're only allowed one carry on and one personal item. This is a definite kink in our plans so we shuffle around some items and check six bags instead of four. Our Lufthansa rep is very nice though and doesn't charge us for the extra bags.

"Give him chocolate, quick!" Wendy says. And I would...except I just checked all the chocolate.

We thank him profusely instead and go on to security. As there's no line, it's both quick and easy. My backpack gets selected for an extra special search that doesn't seem to involve actually opening the bag. Instead it's wiped down with a Stridex pad and pronounced clear of plastic and chemical explosives. A good thing to know.

After security, we wander. We go to a newsstand and I stock up on Midnight Milky Way bars. Wendy buys a toy airplane for Omar. It makes take off noises when you hit the little red button (Or you drop it. Or you jostle your bag.). We go next to the food court and Wendy has salad and I have a chocolate croissant. We know we shouldn't be hungry, not after the enormous breakfast we just ate, but we are. There are worse things in life.

There's a Borders book store down by our gate so we go in and I buy two books because I didn't already have enough to carry. I pick up Cold Service by Robert B. Parker (the latest Spenser mystery) and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares. I start reading the Spenser book while we wait to board.

We get on the plane at 3:30pm and are amazed by all the room in the overhead compartments. We wonder exactly why we had to check six suitcases. The in flight movie is Coach Carter which is disappointing because they also had Meet the Fockers (Wendy's choice) and National Treasure (my choice). Better luck next time, kids. Dinner is a choice between pasta and chicken. Wendy gets pasta, I get chicken. We both drink Sprite. Isn't this a fascinating trip journal?

After dinner, we both try to sleep. I keep having delusions that the plane I'm currently on is the only one I'll be on. Then I wake up. After two hours of sort of half sleep, I give up and go back to reading. I finish the Spenser book. Wendy finishes her adoption themed book. We fly past Greenland which is totally amazing and beautiful and camera worthy but we don't have access to a camera. We do manage to get it out in time to take a picture of the sunset. We fly over Ireland and England, more specifically Liverpool and Nottingham (singing the Disney Robin Hood theme song, much to the delight of our neighbors), before flying over France and landing in Frankfurt, just after 5am, local time. It's just after 11pm at home.

We disembark to find that they have changed the departure gate for our connecting flight and apparently don't feel the need to post the new one. We have to go upstairs to find a Lufthansa rep who can tell us the location of the new gate and then go back downstairs to get to the new gate. It's still too early to check in though so we're left to our own devices. Never a good thing. Wendy amuses herself on the moving walkway and I take pictures. Hell, no! We ain't tourists! We use the bathroom (Eastern European style, but clean and containing both toilet seats and toilet paper) and then we discover that they've changed our departure gate yer again. This time, however, only across the hallway. So we pack up and move. The new location is nice and comes complete with complimentary copies of USA Today. We get one and read it while we wait. And wait. And wait. And then wait some more. We're obviously not leaving on time.

When we do get on the plane, we find out that it's not a full flight so we're able to spread out and each take our own rows. Wendy stretches out to sleep. I stretch out and write and listen to the iPod (thanks, Heather! And Colin too, of course!). This would be the part when my pen explodes and leaks bright blue ink all over me, the notebook and the seat. I retreat to the bathroom and scrub my now blue hands to no avail. I return to the seat with my hands of blue in time for the flight's meal. If you were a hobbit, you would call it "Second Breakfast". I only eat the roll as I can't identify anything else on the tray. Wendy's sleeping so she doesn't get anything.

We land in Moscow and go wait in line at passport control. As on the first trip, we're last in line. The line is shorter though, however, it is a holiday in Russia (Victory Day) and so there's only one poor woman available to check everyone's passports. I go through last and get funny looks. Maybe because my hands are blue. Hard to say. While the nice lady contemplates my smurf hands, Wendy rounds up the luggage. It's not hard as they're the only suitcases left. One of the advantages to being last through passport control, I guess.

It takes a while to figure out how we're going to get everything through customs because Wendy has to go through the red line (something to declare) while I have to go through the green line (nothing to declare). We load her bags on a luggage cart and she disappears into the red line. I drag my suitcases in the opposite direction. The guards standing there wave me through without looking at anything and I go out and see Olga (our Moscow translator from the first trip) waiting for us. It's nice to see a familiar face. Wendy soon joins us as there was no red line and the folks at the green line didn't care to check her stuff either. They don't care how much money you bring into the country as long as you leave with less. How they know how much money she's bringing into the country when they didn't care to find out, I don't know, but I don't really care either.

Olga falls over when she sees all the luggage Wendy and I are schlepping. But she recovers and takes a suitcase and then leads the way out of the airport. We have to meet Boris (the driver with the Red Sox (not the Yankees) hat) in the parking lot as there is a parking ban near the airport because of Victory Day and the subsequent arrival of numerous world leaders, including our own. Olga tells us of Bush's visit. We don't particularly care except for slight annoyance because he's the reason we have to haul all the luggage out to the parking lot.

Boris too falls over when he sees the amount of luggage. He wonders how two little women could carry so many bags. We assure him we'll have less on the return trip. He makes us sit while he loads the trunk. It takes a while so we show Olga Jupiter's latest picture. It's next to a picture of Sebastian. She exclaims, "Oh my! So big!" which prompts me to say "This is my big dog" in Russian. Olga is very amused. Boris interrupts to put two suitcases in the backseat with Wendy and I. It's all right. We expected it. There are very few large cars and/or SUVs in Russia. At least that we've seen. Boris drives a Volvo sedan, and that's larger than most.

Olga gives us our tickets, one way from Moscow to Ekaterinburg on Aeroflot. We're strangely happy to see the Aeroflot logo as we were concerned we would end up on Ural "Your ass is grass" Airlines. The tickets, plus Boris's driving fee comes to $550, American. Which is approximately half of our round trip Boston to Moscow airfare but who's counting?

Once we reach the other terminal, we haul all the suitcases inside and try to get through the first round of security. After everything gets through, we drag it all over to the scale to determine by how much we have exceeded the weight limit. Turns out we're over by a lot. Almost twice as much as what you're allowed. In our defense, you're not allowed a whole hell of a lot. Wendy changes money into rubles to cover the overweight fee and then Olga makes us drag everything back across the airport to the chairs to wait. There aren't any open chairs so we end up standing anyway and much further away from the departure boards and the departure gate so we're not sure we've made any actual progress just then. We give Olga 450 rubles for her translating fee and then wait.

People stare at us. Probably wondering how two little women are going to move such a large amount of luggage. Truth is, we're wondering that ourselves but since we still have ninety minutes (it's always better to think of time spent in Terminal One in minutes) to wait, we're fairly confident that we'll think of something. Wendy attempts to reduce weight by busting open a bag of Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers. It helps immensely.

When they announce our flight, we're ready. We hook the black suitcases to each other (so we have two each) and each carry one of the sacrificial gift suitcases. We're surprisingly smooth as we go through security. I get held up a little, not for having smurf hands, but for the Easy Mac and Lindt Lindor truffles in my suitcase. They let me go through, giving me a look telling me that they're watching me.

The man at the ticket desk asks (in Russian) how many bags we're checking. I'm pleased that I understand the questions. I'm more pleased to be able to answer him in Russian. I tell him how many bags we're actually checking. He repeats the answer and stands up to look over the sea of luggage. He is rather incredulous but who hasn't been? We just barely fit everything on the scale and the fee is almost 4000 rubles (approximately $160). We pay it and get our boarding passes in return.

When it's time to board, we go outside and get on a bus because there are no jet ways in Terminal One and you take a bus to all your flights. We hang out on the bus for a long time. When we finally do move, the ride lasts about thirty seconds. The bus drives around the bus parked next to it and stops because our plane is right there. We conclude that the bus was possibly a waste of time and move out onto the tarmac. Note: it's much more pleasant standing out on the tarmac now than in November (Another note: For those of you not aware, in the Russian adoption system, you make two trips. The first one lasts about a week. Ours was in November 2004, when it was very cold and very snowy, how you expect a city in Siberia to be.)

The plane itself is more suspect. It's small, two seats on either side of an impossibly narrow aisle and dates back to the Jurassic period. There are no overhead bins but rather has an overhead shelf on which to shove your belongings. Wendy puts her backpack up there and then slides into her seat- once the man sitting behind us returns it to its full and upright position. I shove my backpack under the seat in front of me. There is no place for oxygen masks to drop should there be a sudden loss of cabin pressure and the seat belts are certainly lacking. But we strap on our game faces and hunker down for the last flight of the day.

Take off is loud and the noise doesn't decrease at all. Wendy says something and even though I am sitting right beside her, I have to lean closer to hear her. Turns out she was saying how loud the plan was. Isn't it ironic? Don't you think?

Diagonally from us sits a man, a very jolly man, with a big ass bottle of Bush Mills in his seat pocket. Maybe he knew ahead of time what the plane would be like. Wendy dubs him the "We who are about to die salute you" man and asks if he wants to share the Bush Mills but I don't think he heard her. I can't even hear her without sitting in her lap first.

The Bush Mills man does a shot, grabs the ass of the flight attendant closest to him and then celebrates with another drink. He drink wine at dinner (something resembling salmon...Wendy reports that it is disgusting.) and then finishes the rest of his alcohol with his tea. Then he puts on his headphones and jams out. He serenades everyone, punctuating the beat by pounding on the seat in front of him. The man sitting in that seat is less than thrilled and asks the Bush Mills man's seatmate to make him stop. He does and the BM man stops. For about thirty seconds. Then we start the game again. He needs something to do...the flight attendants don't seem to want to walk by anymore.

Meanwhile, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum behind us can't seem to stop kicking our seats. We can't turn around and tell them to stop because they wouldn't hear us anyway and the plane's so damn cold we've frozen solid. We use our raincoats for warmth. It doesn't help.

When the plane lands (Scariest Planes, Smoothest Landings...it's the Aeroflot way!), Wendy makes a break for the bathroom, figuring it'll be better than the one in the airport. Yep, turns out that's a false assumption. She reports that the bathroom is really a flying outhouse. I mark that in the "Good to know" category and we get the hell off the plane.

Katya (translator) and Sergei (driver) are waiting for us inside. We exchange greetings and hugs and watch Sergei fall over when we tell him how much luggage we have. Sergei crams as much as he can in the trunk and ends up sticking the gift suitcases in on their side so you couldn't possibly close the trunk and calls it good. Wendy and I are nervous about this arrangement. We know they're sacrificial suitcases and all but we didn't think we'd be sacrificing them so soon and on the highway to Ekaterinburg.

We make it to the hotel without sacrificing anything or anyone. Katya recruits a couple of the hotel staff to help carry everything. We leave our passports at the front desk to be registered and collect our key. We're on the 8th floor. Since we're with Katya, we take the elevator. It's small and scary.

The room itself is also small, but far less scary. It's cute. There are two twin beds, a bar-like table with two chairs, a small closet and just enough room for all the luggage. The bathroom comes equipped with a huge spa like tub with which I immediately fall in love.

Since it is Victory Day, there's a huge fireworks display we can see from the hotel window. As soon as it starts, Katya and Sergei break for the door. We watch the fireworks out the window and on the television because we're that cool. We unpack some but mostly crash and are asleep by midnight.

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