Back in Ulyanovsk

Posted: January 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

It is a new year and I have returned to Russia. The trip to Russia started well, but continued to go downhill. My brother was nice enough to buy me a pizza at 10AM (right when the place opens) to have my last pizza binge for 6 months. Then I had to set off for the dreaded airport. The ride to JFK was fun as always – there’s nothing like driving on the worst roads in America to prepare oneself for the crazy drivers in Russia. One extra fun part of the trip is that at one point, the highway going to JFK is under the landing path for LaGuardia airport, which is only moderately frightening.

Dear plane, please do not confuse the road with a runway.

My return flight was just another lesson in why no one should travel on an American carrier. Delta makes no sense at JFK. It has locations in three different terminals, and it’s somewhat confusing to figure out the correct one. Then there is a document check for flights to Russia, which was terrible. I handed the woman my multi-entry student visa and she looked baffled. Apparently, she’s never seen that type of visa before. The people at the gate were also confused by it, but they let me on the plane anyway.

Getting on the plane was another fun exercise in dealing with Russians. Russians hate to wait in orderly lines, instead they just crowd and mob. They also do not react well to instructions about which lines they should be in. Thanks to my caring mother and her frequent flier miles, I got an upgrade from regular economy to economy plus seating. This meant that I got a few inches extra of leg-room and the ability to board with business class passengers. While attempting to board, I had trouble getting through the masses of Russians who had formed a mob outside of the gate. Eventually, the people at the gate started to yell quite loudly and angrily that non-business/economy plus/disabled passengers had to wait for those groups of passengers to board first.

The flight only went more and more downhill. Apparently, I was doomed to fly like it was the year 1999 or earlier as there were no in-seat entertainment systems. I admit, I am spoiled and enjoy the ability to start and stop a selection of films and shows in my own screen in the seat-front. While it’s not as nice, I can live with the older form of this system (still used on the Newark-Heathrow route of British Airways) in which each seat has a screen, but there is only a choice of 10 or so films, which cannot be started or stopped at will. We were clearly on an old plane that was being phased out of service. The in-flight magazine listed all of the types of planes in use by Delta, but the plane I was on did not make that list. Thus, I had to watch the movie on a screen a few feet in front of me. Thankfully, I was seated at the window and the monitor for our row was working, which could not be said for the middle row.

The footprints all over the marking "No Step" summarizes my whole flight.

Aside from the American man next to me, the majority of the passengers were quite annoying and somewhat nasty people. For example, there was a coupled behind me. The man and his half- his- age wife were Russian. The wife kept putting her feet on my arm rest and poking me in the arm with her feet. She also kept kicking my seat throughout the flight. At one point, the man was in the aisle and manhandling my bag in the overhead bin. He got angry and told me that it was too large for the overhead bin and that next time it should be placed with the check luggage. This was strange as my backpack fits the carry-on size regulation. Furthermore, the man complaining had a carry-on bag larger than mine and about four duty-free bags. He also got upset when he found out that he could not drink his duty free purchases during the flight.

The flight was very strange in that the announcements were made poorly, or not at all, in English and the quality and audible announcements were made in Russian. One of the fun moments was when we touched down. Immediately, people tried to get up at get there things. The response was a continuous and angry yell from the flight attendants in Russian, and only Russian, for the people to stay seated.

Going through Sheremetyevo Airport was a fun adventure. Domodedovo is nice in the sense that the migration cards are filled out on a computer and printed out at the migration control. This service is not available at Sheremetyevo, so I had to fill out my migration card by hand on the plane. Let’s just hope that I did everything correctly. Upon walking into the migration control area, it’s a free for all. The lines are labeled “Russian Citizens Only” and “Former-Soviet Republic Citizens Only.” I pretended that I was a Russian citizen and went into the shortest one of those lines and got through without any issues.

Then I got to wait for my bag, for almost an hour. Upon getting my bag, I noticed immediately that it had been inspected by TSA. I was worried the whole way to my hotel, which was another adventure. The Moscow Metro isn’t very friendly for people with luggage. It’s all stairs. Then, I had to wait an hour to check-in at the hotel, again because of the line/mob issue. After finally stepping into my room, I opened my bag to make sure that everything was there. I was afraid that TSA might have confiscated my potato peeler as it is vaguely knife-like. I also feared that some of the chocolate that I brought as presents would have been nabbed. I was especially mad at first because I didn’t see my luggage lock, which was the clue that tipped me off to TSA. The reason why I was angry is that it is a TSA compliant lock, and not a very cheap one at that. It turns out that they had just tossed the lock into my bag, under all of my stuff, which they poorly replaced. My bag of York Peppermint Patties wound up squished. Thankfully, the boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese remained intact. TSA was probably confused by the contents of my bag, which was books, literally 15 lbs of chocolate for gifts, vanilla extract, baking soda, and a small bag with a few pieces of clothing in it.

On the night of the 4thI met up with the Lafayette interim trip. It was nice to see a few of my friends. There were two Russian students, one of whom I had classes with last year, and a friend who I lived with for two years in Ramer. It was also nice to see my former professors again. I gave a short talk to the students on the trip. Unfortunately, it seemed they thought that I was little unhappy with Russia. I’m practically as happy as I can be here (so long as there’s water), but I guess it’s not best to talk to me after a flight from hell and three hours of sleep. Then, I had dinner with three students and my professors. After dinner, the professors retired and I caught up more with my friends.

Nic using his charm on the Russian ladies.

The next day, I made plans to meet up and wander around Moscow with another Fulbright ETA who was also passing through Moscow that day. She had to pick up tickets for her trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. I am very jealous of her trip. It was nice to spend the day in the company of another ETA to discuss our teaching experiences and to just share jokes about being Americans in smaller Russian cities (well, I’m in the 20th largest city but Syktyvkar is much smaller).

I had a nice train ride back to my city. My compartment mate was a 25-ish year old guy who played with his iphone the entire ride. He only said two things to me, one being “hello” and the other was an offer to try his marshmallow/chocolate/patty/cake things at breakfast time. The nicest part of the train ride was getting off at the station and seeing two of my friends there to meet me and help me carry my bag. It was nice to get back into my dormitory and see all of my neighbors again. Currently, they are in good spirits because of the holidays, but they’ll be miserable soon once exams begin after the break.

After a nice 15 hour sleep (I don’t think I have ever slept that much except when I was sick), I finally coaxed myself out of my warm bed to venture to the center to meet George for food and caffeine. We then headed to Lenin Square to look at the New Year’s decorations. George insisted that I go down the sledding hill, but I refused to careen down a slope on sheet ice. I value my limbs a little too much.

I wonder if we have as many trees as we have monuments to Lenin.

Now I have to act like the government employee that I am and fill out reports on various aspects of my grant.


  1. Hemendra Bhola says:

    Very interesting post. I can completely relate to the Delta experience of figuring out the terminals at JFK. Not to mention the Delta agent had no idea where to find my passport expiry date even after searching for ten minutes. Luckily the plane had the individual screens. All the best with your reports and work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s