Saturday, July 01, 2006

From Russia to America

My last full day in Russia was, in many ways, a normal day. I went to the AH, spent some quality time on the internet, and hung out with B, Y, K, M, L and Asya. We ate leftovers from the previous day’s party and (for the most part) just sat around listening to music, talking and enjoying each other's company. At the end of the day (after K and L had gone home) the rest of us took one final walk together down Bolshaya Moscovskaya to Pushkin Park, around the cathedrals and then back to the AH, at which point it was time to say goodbye. The others were going off in a different direction from me, so I waved them goodbye from the sidewalk as their marshrutka drove away. While I know that I *will* see these people again, it is so unfathomably strange to think about not seeing them on a daily basis and no knowing when I will actually see them again in the flesh.

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M, me, Y, B

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B, Y, M me

My last evening at home with Nina M was no different than normal – other than the fact that all of my possessions were packed into two giant suitcases and one large carry-on. And I set my alarm for 3:00am instead of my usual 10:00am. Luckily for me, Nina M. set her alarm as well, as I managed to turn mine off in my sleep without waking up. I was awakened at 4:00am by Nina M. The AH had arranged for my ride to the airport to pick me up at 4:30am. I was already feeling stressed about my lack of time to make my final preparations when my ride arrived at 4:10! Ahh well – I made it out of there alright, and I don’t *think* I forgot anything. K rode with me to the airport, as her sister was flying into Sheremetyevo about an hour after I took off. Unlike my last trip to the airport (which took something like six hours and had me checking in while my plane was boarding...) this trip was uneventful and we made it to the airport in record time. Of course, this meant that I got to stand around for two and a half hours before they let me check in, but better early than late!

I flew from Moscow to Paris on an Air France flight operated by Aeroflot. I was a little leery of traveling with them again after the last time, but what could I do? It turned out that the plane from Moscow to Paris was a much nicer plane than the one I flew in from Poland to Moscow back in August. Definitely newer, cleaner and classier. The French influence, perhaps? Anyhow, I’d heard some horror stories about transfers in the Charles du Galle airport in Paris, and I was glad that I had a three hour layover. While I do admit that the airport was confusing to navigate (I’m sure it’s impossible to do so quickly, although supposedly they’re installing a new transit-train which should improve things) I actually enjoyed my time in the airport. All of the staff were incredibly friendly. It wasn’t just that I’d come from eleven months in surly Russia. These people were far more outgoing, friendly and helpful than pretty much anyone I’ve ever encountered in a service industry. And it didn’t hurt that a lot of these friendly and outgoing people were also hot, flirty French fellows with sexy French accents.

By the time I got on the plane I was feeling pretty exhausted, and as soon as we boarded I passed out. As such, I didn’t realize until we were approaching Atlanta that we had taken off from Paris an hour late (which is kind of odd, considering that we boarded on time). Every one around me seemed to be feeling frantic, worrying about whether or not they’d be able to make their connecting flights in Atlanta. Meanwhile, I felt calm and relaxed, and took a bunch of pictures of clouds. (I would just like to mention that the food on Air France was DELICIOUS. I usually tolerate airplane food just fine, but I’ve never in my life considered any of it to be delicious. Well, this stuff certainly was a tasty treat – two incredibly yummy meals.)

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This was my view.
The splotchy discolorations are from ice crystals on the window.

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Again, my view.

When the plane landed in Atlanta, before they let us off, there was an announcement. “Passenger Annie Nimity, please see a Delta Ground Staff representative for a message.” Great. (Delta is partners with Air France, BTW) As soon as I stepped off the plane, there was a man waiting at the gate with a sign bearing my name and my message: “Your mother is going to be late. Please wait for her.” Um, okay. Where would I go, anyway? I went through passport control and then to baggage claim. My big ass green suitcase arrived promptly... and then I stood and waited and waited and waited for my black one. You know, the one that didn’t make it to Moscow on my way *to* Russia. Just as I was getting ready to go look for someone for some assistance, there was another announcement. “Annie Nimity, please see a Delta Ground Staff representative for a message.” Of course, my thought was yes, yes, I know; my mother is going to be late. But it turned out that this message was, “You black suitcase is still in Paris.” WTF?! I had a three hour layover! How did the bag not make it on the plane? But, they told me exactly where to go and what to do in order to get the bag tracked down and shipped to me. (Yes, unlike LOT Polish / Aeroflot, Air France / Delta delivers.) Anyway, I emerged from the pit of the airport and found my mother, who had actually arrived before me anyway due to the delay of my flight. Then we stood in an interminably long line at the lost luggage counter so I could file my claim. Supposedly my suitcase will be delivered tomorrow. I hope!

At that point it was after 9:30pm Atlanta time (5:00am Vladimir time!) and both my mom and I were feeling pretty wiped out, although we began our trek home nonetheless. We drove for about an hour and a half, and stopped to eat at the one thing in south Georgia that’s open at 11:00pm: Waffle House! Our first attempt to eat at a Waffle House was thwarted by the fact that the first one we stopped at was closed. WTF? Waffle Houses never close! But apparently something was being done to the floor, and it was closed for the next two hours. But never fear, there was a Waffle House at the next exit. Thus, my first meal upon returning to the States was an incredibly greasy grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of grits with cheese. No wonder so many Americans are obese. Even though it was pretty late, the restaurant was packed, probably due to the fact that the other one was closed. As a result we were in there for an hour. So, two cups of coffee and way too much grease later, we got back on the road and drove for something like three more hours; it was shortly after 3:00am when we pulled into my mom’s driveway. I dragged myself inside and promptly collapsed into bed. That’s 31 hours after I was awakened in Vladimir by Nina Mikhailovna, folks. And with that, my Russian adventure ends.