Saturday, May 23, 2009

I've lost count of the day, but still in Russia

I'm not sure how many days we were in Russia at this point, but I knew it was May 1. Why you ask? It was a holiday, May Day. To celebrate, we would travel back to Moscow.

Our flight left at 7:40, so to ensure that we were able to make the flight, we were up and moving about 4:30am, to leave the hotel at 5:30am. After yet another exciting ride, that this time included almost hitting a few pedestrians as they crossed the street, we arrived back at the airport. This time we were smart...we dressed in layers. It was kind of chilly, I would say upper 40's outside, but we knew it would be hot on the plane.

We arrived at the airport, went through the 3 levels of security checks, and waited to be herded like cattle out to the plane. Russians have no real sense of "forming a line" and always seemed to be in a hurry, so we sort of waited at the back until everyone else boarded. We found our seats and immediately took off as many layers as possible. We know what was coming. Most others on the plane remained in coats.

We were very fortunate that at least one flight attendant on each flight spoke some English. We were at least able to communicate food options and the type of drink we wanted. I think we both fell asleep sometime after the meal, maybe midway through the flight. This flight would be almost 5 hours, on an Airbus A319 (a bit smaller than a 737), with no video entertainment. And I think my 4 hour flights a painful.

We woke up from our nap and started shedding clothes. The ride seemed to be hotter than the first flight. Steve opened his portable alarm clock to check the time, and remembered there was a thermometer on it...85 degrees Fahrenheit. YOWSAH! He kept it open for a few minutes. 87...89...91! 91 degree on an airplane! We started noticing that the flight crew had also removed some of the layers they had been wearing. The folks sitting around us seemed unfazed though. Many had on long sleeve shirts, blazers, and coats. We could see the sweat running off faces, but all clothing remained on. Fascinating.

We finally landed in Moscow just before 9:00am Moscow time. Again, the Russians on the flight proceeded to bundle up before heading outside. We didn't put another piece of clothing on all day. We walked off the plane and into the baggage claim area. The airline we traveled on had a strict baggage claim policy. No claim tag, no luggage. Each tag was checked against the luggage tag to ensure the proper bag was leaving with it's rightful owner.

The ride to the hotel was uneventful. Even though it was rush hour on a Friday, it was a holiday, so the ride was only about a half hour. A friend from work recommended we stay in a part of town called Arbat. It's basically known for one street that is all shops and restaurants, theaters, and artists selling paintings, books, crafts, knick knacks, etc. We spent the night there with the other couple traveling with us.

The first thing we did was take a nap, and a long one at that, and them shower. All we, both couple included, really wanted to do was be with our children, and since we couldn't do that, we wanted to go home. About 5:00pm we decided it was time for food. The other couple mentioned there was a Hard Rock Cafe just around the corner, that featured an English menu and staff that spoke English - SOLD! All I really wanted was some American food. I didn't care if it was from a restaurant that I wouldn't consider in the States because every time I've gone the food has been horrible. I wanted a burger, and I wanted someone to speak English to me! The waitress laughed as we all ordered burgers and fries. Best meal I had in Russia.

After dinner we walked along Arbat Street. Since it was a holiday, there were several impromptu parades, live music, and dancers. We stopped in some of the souvenir stores. Steve hadn't gotten anything for himself yet. He ended up with a t-shirt that was totally marketed towards American tourists. It said "I've been to Russia. There are no bears." Both true statements, both funny, both touristy. As we walked back, we found some humorous things. There was a lady with a monkey in a coat. For a small fee anyone could get a photo with the monkey. I think it was the fact that the monkey was wearing a coat that made us laugh. Also, port-a-potties can only be used for a fee. In all instances, there will be one stall with an attendant, and she must be paid before you can enter. The fee totalled about 50 cents, but it was still humorous.

After we got back to the hotel, we talked with the other couple for a while, exchanging photos, stories and experiences. About 10:00pm, we called it quites. At 9:00am the next morning, we would be headed home.