Saturday, August 06, 2011

My Siberian Adventure - Day 3 - June 29, 2011

Begin: Flying toward Moscow
Land in: Moscow, Russia (Domodedovo Airport)
Fly to: Novosibirsk, Russia (Tolmachevo Airport)
Drive to: Novosibirsk, Russia (The Lutheran Center)

At this point in space and time, the time zones blur along with the thin line that separates night and day.  I managed to steal a few brief naps contorted in a seat barely big enough to contain my frame.  It is morning as we approach Moscow - but my system has no clue what time it is.  The light is shining through the windows, however, and we are served a breakfast consisting of non-fat blueberry yogurt and a small cherry croissant.  I enjoy my little cup of coffee.

Elena has offered to look after me in Moscow.  I dug out Dan's instructions and went over them with her.  She confirmed that this is indeed the basic protocol, and assured me that she will make sure I get where I need to be.  We landed and began to deplane at Domodedovo.  I'm amazed to be in Moscow.  There is enough English signage not to be totally lost, but it is disorienting to be surrounded by the Russian language, written and spoken, almost exclusively.  Domodedovo is a formidable, busy, bustling, cosmopolitan place.  We were funneled into Passport Control, and we were separated there.  Elena motioned to me that she would wait for me and meet me after my interview.

I was called into the booth.  Unlike my many trips through Canadian and American Customs, I was not asked any questions.  I handed over my passport (with the visa attached).  I was handed a paper.  A green light on the gate lit up, the gate opened, and I went through.  The gate opened into the baggage area.  As promised, Elena was waiting for me.  She was happy and very encouraging.  She was excited to be back in Russia and looking forward to visiting her family.

It was strange that I did not know anyone here - except for Elena whom I had met only a few hours ago.  My traveling companion, Dan, was 1,750 miles away - and I have never actually met him.  Other than Dan (and Elena) I have never spoken with anyone in Russia - not counting the S7 agents I talked to.  I'm not worried, but it is a great feeling of loneliness to be so far from friends, culturally isolated, and unable to communicate.  Life as I knew it was thousands of miles and an ocean away.  I was really grateful to have Elena there!

We waited at the carousel, and she was very happy to see her bag.  She patiently waited with me as I waited for mine.  I waited so long I began to really believe it was lost.  But at last, there it was!  Elena led the way through a doorway.  I went to pass my bags through the x-ray machine, but Elena waved me through.  Nobody said anything.

Now my challenge was to find out if I had a ticket to Novosibirsk.  I headed to an S7 cashier, who in turn sent me to check-in.  The clerks have a habit of looking busy and ignoring you.  You have to basically walk up to them and engage them, or else they will ignore you and other people will walk past you to speak to the clerks.

I went to check-in, and the clerk was on the phone several times.  She spoke little English.  She sent me to the ticket counter.  Elena - still watching over me - assured me that they speak English at the ticket counter, and she headed off to currency exchange.

It turns out that the clerk did not speak English, nor did her colleague.  I managed to convey what I needed with gestures and paperwork.  I paid to change the itinerary - about $27,500 rubles - about $100.  I paid using my new Visa card, which did not seem to work.  After trying to scan the card two or three times, she left.  That is a sick feeling.  But after a while, she returned with a ticket.

I went back to the S7 check-in area, and Elena has returned, still watching over me.  She has already checked in.  This time, having a ticket in hand, I check my bag and am all set to go to Novosibirsk!

Elena wanted to eat, and insisted on paying.  I would have insisted on paying  (the very least I could do!), but only cash is accepted and I have no rubles.  The only restaurant in the area is Sbarro (spelled Сбарро).  Elena is ordering pizza, but is highly annoyed that the clerk is trying to do a "bait and switch."  She spoke angrily to the clerk, and then explained to me that this is common in Russia.  It seems to be a pet peeve of hers.  Food is already extraordinarily expensive in Moscow - as I was to learn three weeks later.  Meanwhile, we found a kiosk that sold chips and soft drinks.  Again, I offered to exchange some currency and pay - but Elena discouraged me from exchanging currency at the airport - especially on the first floor, as the exchange rate was not good.  She insisted on paying.  I had something that we should have in New Orleans, but don't: Lay's crab potato chips (spelled: краб) and a diet Pepsi.  We sat and ate.  I got more of my crash-course in Russian culture.

We went for a stroll.  You can tell that there is a transition going on with things becoming more westernized.  Technology is changing, but the attitudes of the people are slower to change.  Being a Russian who lives in the States, Elena's perspective is very interesting - especially considering that she was too young at the time of the Soviet implosion to remember Communism.  She is part of the post-Communist generation of Russians.

It was time to head toward our gates and go through security - which was very efficient.  Little blue plastic baggies are provided to place over your feet so that you don't have to walk around in your socks.  There is a "naked scanner," and there is no "opt out."  Elena went through the line a few people before me, and waited patiently for me as I gathered all of my stuff.  I was trying to hurry, but she told me to take my time.  She is set to leave about an hour before I am, so we head to her gate.  She let me use her cell phone to call the bishop.  I let him know that I was in Moscow, and, God willing, will soon be en route to Novosibirsk.  He assures me that he will be at the airport to pick me up just after midnight.

Elena is returning to Dulles Airport by the same flight on July 19.  I am returning on July 20.  We sat and chatted for a while longer, exchanged e-mail addresses, and took a couple pictures.  She was a real Godsend!  I thanked her for her kindness and asked if I could give her a blessing (she is a practicing Russian Orthodox Christian).  She is happy for me to pray for her.  Against the advice I received to blend in, I stood in a crowded Moscow airport, said a prayer, and traced the sign of the cross on her forehead.  Were this 30 years ago, I might have been arrested.  We said goodbye and she boarded.

I was now entirely on my own, but thanks to Elena, my level of comfort and confidence has increased.  I head to my own gate, and had time to send e-mail and a couple SnapYap messages to Grace and my dad.  My gate changed, and so I had to move.  It was no problem.  The information boards alternate between Latin and Cyrillic letters.  And in this airport, everything is subject to change at the last minute.  You just have to roll with it.  No problem!

At the gate, we were shuttled to the plane, a Globus Boeing 737-800 decked out in the trademarked garish green and red of S7 Airlines.

We took off only a few minutes behind schedule.

So far, this S7 flight was the most pleasant of all.  We are served juice (I seem to have had some kind of apple-grape blend, judging by the picture on the box) followed by a meal in a box.  It included a hot meat dish in a separate tin with a foil top.  I had chicken and pasta.  It was really very good!  The box had an empty little cup, two pieces of bread, some meats, cheeses, real butter, sugar, mustard, and a small dessert tart.  I kind of looked around to figure out how all this worked.  The quality of the food was way better than U.S. airline food.

I found out what the little cup was for.  We were offered a choice of tea (with an optional slice of lemon and/or milk) or coffee.  I had coffee.  It is a very rich blend, strong, and almost chocolaty.  It is "Jacobs."  I later learn that it is instant coffee - but it had so much milk in it, I couldn't really tell.

The staff spoke and understood English - though not with conversational fluency - I don't think so anyway.  They were friendly and professional - which I have been told is not always the case in post-Communist Russia.

Our arrival at Novosibirk's Tolmachevo Airport was delightfully uneventful, about 1:00 am local time (which, by the way, is 1:00 pm New Orleans time).  I got my baggage and waved to the bishop through the glass.  He was dressed in black clericals.  My bag arrived okay - though I noticed that it seemed a little wet on the outside.

I was greeted warmly by the bishop, and a stern-looking tall guy said nothing but took my bags.  We walked to the car.  I asked the other guy his name, and he said, in a strong Russian accent: "Ivan."  I asked the bishop if Dan were at the seminary.  Ivan and the bishop looked at each other.  "Maybe you should tell him about Father Daniel," said the bishop ominously.  Ivan started grinning.  "So you're Dan," I said to "Ivan" and shook his hand.  Dan had done a very convincing Russian accent.  He and the bishop had been conspiring to bribe the bag-check guard into arresting me as a joke, but they changed their minds.  Rascals.

The bishop drives a small Japanese import Toyota with the wheel on the right side - even though Russians drive on the right side of the road as we do.

He and Dan gave me the whirlwind tour between the airport, downtown Novosibirsk, and the seminary (i.e. the Lutheran Center).  It was a rather long drive.  We also talked about plans for sightseeing.  Novosibirsk was a jewel in the Communist crown - lots of monuments, etc.  A theater in the main square used to be a building set up for "political demonstrations" - which meant only pro-government rallies by the Party.  Non-Communists had to stay out in the cold.

I was put up in a cozy office (Father Pavel's study) on a cot.  They bought a new mattress for me (and a writing easel) from IKEA.  Dan is set up in the bishop's study on a futon.  I was given a brief tour of the building and keys to my room and to the shower.

This is the time of year when there is no hot water (which is public).  So the seminary has a little auxiliary water heater that does the job.  I discover, to my dismay, that my camera is missing - but I know that I had it in the bishop's car.  It is likely still there.  Hope so!

I went to bed.  My system is still trying to make sense of the time change.

Here are all my pictures from Day Three.


+ Robert Wurst said...

Love your travelogue, Larry. I found that the Lord sent someone to help just when I thought I would *never* find my way around. I'll give you a call soon . . .

rogue evolent said...

I concur with Father Wurst! This is some of the best travelogue writing I've encountered in quite some time. Your prose is rivetting Fr. H!
Deo Vindice!