So Webshots and I have finally come to an agreement that I will arrange my pictures any way I like and now we may proceed with the adventures of two Americans in Russia. Warning, it is probably very rambly and was also way more funny at times to our sleep-deprived brains than it might be for you-
Day 1- Travel
I apologize for the lack of pictures from this day but to be honest we were both kind of nervous and I was definitely crabby due to lack of sleep and a few other things which doesn't make for pretty photos so I didn't take any.
The flight out of South Bend was due to leave at 12:55 pm. We were up at the crack of dawn Saturday morning, not realizing this would probably be the best sleep we'd get all week. We obsessed about whether we'd remembered everything and realized that I was missing headphones for our handy Playaway books which we planned to listen to on the plane. I know they're expensive but fear not, we didn't actually pay full retail for these- they came from the Bargain bookstore for about $12 apiece and were well worth it for people like us who don't have ipods. I spent the trip listening to Dan Brown's Angels and Demons which I'm definitely planning to see when it hits theaters in about a week or so. I'd read it a few years ago but forogotten most of the details so it was like a whole new book.
Anyway, a quick trip to Wallyworld and a trip back home later (forgot a minor item) and we were on the road for real to Bob Evans and a last breakfast with both sets of parents before going to the airport. We got to the airport just about the time a thunderstorm hit and spent a few anxious moments watching it pass. Thankfully the weather cleared well before takeoff and we were able to board our plane without getting wet. The flight to Atlanta was pretty uneventful and we had a pretty easy time navigating our way to our next gate and the plane that would take us to Moscow.
I'll admit I've never been on a plane quite as large as the one that took us from Atlanta to Moscow. It was an interesting experience and next time I think I won't be quite as worried about sleeping and will just try to enjoy the experience as much as possible. Our flight was an overnight one that would get us to Moscow at 11am Sunday morning, Moscow time of course. The plan was to stay up for a few hours, have dinner and sleep through until Moscow morning time. Didn't work out so well as neither of us could actually settle down and fall asleep. We spent plenty of time trying but mostly just succeeded in either listening to our books or watching the people pass by (we happened to be located almost right next to the bathrooms). So we were less than refreshed when we finally hit Russian air space. That was the state we spent most of the trip in and finally gave up about halfway through and just slept when we could sleep and stayed up when we couldn't.
Day 2- There's no place like home
We actually made it to Moscow a little early. Unfortunately we picked the wrong line at passport control and ended up being just about last through so that made us just about on time. The up side to this was that our luggage was already spinning round the carousel when we made it through. A quick trip through customs later (as in they glanced at us and waved us on) and we were among a sea of people in the Sheremetyevo airport, searching for our driver/translator. It made us smile to see him standing there with his sign in a Indianapolis Colts ball cap. He had another couple with him, also on their first trip to meet their sons. We would ride together all the way to the region and back as our boys were all in the same orphanage.
I will stop here for a moment and say that at some time in my preparation for this trip I had read that driving in Russia is a special adventure all on it's own. I thought it must be like any other big city. I was wrong. The Russians are a special breed of driver and I was very glad I was not at the wheel at any time on this trip. There were u-turns at unexpected places, lots of pot hole dodging, fast speeds, and lots of narrow roads especially near Arbat St, which was where we stayed. The Arbat Hotel was our home for a few days in Moscow and it was the perfect place for us.
The room was a pretty standard hotel room with a few unusual features, one being the towel-warming/laundry-drying pipe in the bathroom which unfortunately didn't make it into a picture but was very handy when we decided to do some laundry in the sink. The other was this...
...which we can only assume is the access to the safe from the Soviet era as this is an old Soviet building. We had a modern safe in the entranceway to our room but came across this little piece of history while trying to make our room's air conditioner work. It took us 2 days to realize that the big tube in the back of the unit should plug into the hole in the window. Works much better that way. In our defense I saw the hole in the window and Erich saw the tube but neither of us saw both. And we were tired, very tired. Let me pause here again to clear up any misconceptions about the weather in Russia- it's not always cold and it definitely doesn't have year round snow. We experienced weather in Moscow that was in the 50-70 degree F range and in the region it was 40-60. Not steamy by any means but warm enough for us especially since the Russians apparently still believe in having the furnaces going at these temps. I can't wait to go back in the middle of summer.
At this point it was probably early afternoon in Russia and we decided we'd had enough so we napped a few hours and hit the street, old Arbat Street that is.
And yes, we did take a picture of a port-a-potty, but not just any old Joy's John, this one had an attendant (that would be the lady in red) who collected 15 rubles or about 50 cents before you could use it.
It was nice to walk around and see touristy people doing touristy things as well as locals but very crowded on a Sunday. We saw everything we could want and realized one small flaw in our trip preparation- while we had learned quite a few basic phrases in Russian to help us get along, we had neglected to learn the Cyrillic spellings of many words so we were not sure what a lot of shops were selling until we peeked in. We were able to find an ATM easily enough and somehow manage to withdraw a reasonable amount of rubles to get us through until the bank opened the next day. But food was going to be a slight problem as neither of us had the brain power left to find a restaurant with a Russian menu and painstakingly translate it so we didn't mistakenly order pig feet with a side of chocolate sauce or some other ridiculous combination. That was of course until we saw this...
We had of course envisioned ourselves going local and eating traditional Russian food the whole trip (before we left of course) but after walking for around 2 hours on about as much sleep we welcomed good old American food in a familiar atmosphere. And that was exactly what we got- 2 cheeseburgers and fries, bottled soft drinks, bad 80's music, and about an hour of feeling not so out of place all for around $30. That was probably the best cheeseburger I've ever had either in Russia or the USA.
Our bellies full, we wandered about in search of water, still water being preferable. We had quickly learned earlier that the Russians have both sparkling (think club soda) and still water readily available. There had been a complimentary bottle of water in our hotel room which we tried to use to brush our teeth with. It turned out to be sparkling. Have you ever tried to brush your teeth with sparkling water? It comes out tasting like minty soda, not an experience I'd like to repeat.
Anyway, back to the story- we found a reasonable looking stand at the side of the street and got in line behind a slightly noisy group of young Russian men who were buying beer and cigarettes. At this point in the evening a lot of folks were a little rowdy but harmless looking so it was tough to avoid. As we were waiting, another group of rowdier guys came up, cut in front of us, and started speaking in loud Russian to the guys already in line. I could catch a random word here or there but not enough to really get the gist of things at the time. I did catch the equivalent of "Americans" a few times and about the time I was going to tug on Erich's sleeve and walk away before trouble started the first group of Russians pointed at us and the second group got behind us in line and said nothing more to anyone for the remainder of the time we were there. Apparently the exchange had been that the second group was being rude by cutting in line and the first group was not allowing it. We said thank you as the first group left and bought our water using my best broken Russian. Water in hand, we headed back to the hotel for a night of broken sleep. The next day was to be spent sightseeing and relaxing.