From Russia With Love, I Fly to You

Posted: June 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

Yes, I do have to make as many references to the 1963 James Bond film “From Russia With Love” as possible.

My last few days in Ulyanvosk were eventful and bittersweet. On Friday, I said goodbye to a group of people from the university who were leaving on a business trip. Then, in the afternoon, there was a miniature celebration with my department about the successful defense of the fifth year students’ theses. We had some food and joked around. It was a relaxing end to the semester.

On Saturday, I went to one of the museums in the city with my Russian teacher and her friend who works in one of the museums. The museum has two floors. The first floor is a cross between a general history museum and a natural history museum. There were fossils and displays on which animals live in the region. There were also exhibits on the area over the centuries. There was a really cool exhibit on the Second World War, which had a nice collection of guns, both Russian and German. The second floor of the museum is art. There are many nice works by both famous Russian and European artists. I think I like the icons the best. They have only a few on display, which were from the Novgorod, Pskov, and Yaroslavl schools. Later, on Saturday, I packed up my things and then went over to my old dormitory to say goodbye to my former neighbors. Although they were noisy and messy, I will really miss them.

My awesome neighbors.

Sunday was an adventure. In the afternoon, I went off to a sort of paradise with a few friends. We went to go swimming in a lake and have grilled meat. To get there, we had to walk through a forest for about 15 minutes. On the way back in the evening, we were attacked by mosquitoes, but it was worth it. The water was wonderful.

Paradise in the forest.

After swimming, we enjoyed yummy meat and salads. A special treat were the wild strawberries that we found growing next to where we decided to put our things. We also played Frisbee and badminton for a while. The most amusing part was when the shuttlecock got stuck in a tree. They tried to get it out by throwing a racket, which also got stuck. Then, the second racket got stuck as well. Roman solved the problem by finding a very large branch and having Liza sit on his shoulders to reach the various things stuck in the tree.

Solving problems with teamwork.

On Monday, I got up and spent my last day at the university. I said goodbye to a number of teachers in my department. I basically enjoyed hanging out with everyone for the last bit. George showed up a little bit before I had to go to the train station with a present for me – ushanki. I had wanted to buy an ushanka, but I was never able to find the perfect one (I had very high, and perhaps unreal, standards). George gave me two very cool ushanki, which belonged to his brother. They are from the aviation university in the city and have special emblems on them for the students learning to become pilots. Although they are not fur, they are very warm. It’s a bad idea to wear winter hats in the June heat.

Toasty.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. I had to go to the train station. I was lucky in that a large people came to say goodbye to me. When the conductor yelled at everyone to get on the train, she was nice enough to take a picture of the whole group. Then, she was also nice enough to let me hug everyone one last time before getting on the train. Thankfully, my cabin mates were good. They were three men of about 45/50. One read the whole time, the other slept, and the third one kept watching children’s cartoons. The first one he watched was a German movie that was poorly dubbed into Russian. I am very happy that no one drank in my cabin and that no one threw up on me this time.

Super sad goodbye at the train station.

In Moscow, I met up with my friend Anas again. We wandered around the city and had fun. I also went to see my relative Tatiana again. She was glad to see me. We talked for a while. She seems interested in staying in contact with me and invited me to come back whenever I can. While leaving her apartment, I was greeted with the fun sight of a stolen Mercedes taxi, probably from Germany. I know it was a taxi because of two reasons. Firstly, it was a diesel E-Class, which is a very common car for taxis in Germany. Secondly, it was German taxicab yellow, or ivory. Mercedes stopped making this color available to the public after 1996. I’m assuming it was stolen because it was too new to have been sold after having served as a taxi.

I love seeing stolen taxis in Russia. This was not the first time.

I returned home very late last night, well actually this morning. My trip went very well, but was long as usual. It started with a taxi ride to the airport. For years I have wanted to go on the BMW ring taxi of the Nordschleife at the Nürburgring in Germany. It turns out that you can get a similar experience with Moscow taxi drivers. I have the feeling that it is slightly more enjoyable in a BMW M5 than a Chevy Lacetti, but hey, it was a fraction of the price. Calling the driver insane would be an understatement. He was driving at breakneck speeds and weaving around various cars and trucks. There were a few times that I thought my adventure to Russia would end right then and there. Thankfully, though, we avoided colliding into anything and I made my way through Domodedovo Airport.

Domodedovo is smaller than Sheremetyevo, and about a million times worse. The airport is physically smaller and not designed to handle high volumes of people well. The hallways themselves are narrow and there are nowhere enough seats near the gates. The check-in area was a mess. There were no signs to direct you to the location of where the check-in desk for a particular airline would be. I found my counter by chance. I got to the airport a few minutes before check-in for my flight began. Thus, I stood around as a giant crowd amassed near the area for British Airways. I noticed the people beginning to set up the check-in area, and attentively looked for some sign, which would direct me to the correct row for my check-in. Thankfully, I noticed someone holding a placard with the euphemism for economy class on it and stood right where they placed it. Thus, I was at the front of the line. This worked well for me, as I was given a seat upgrade on my flight from Moscow to London.

In September, I was sent an email after I had arrived notifying me that my original flight from Moscow to London was changed. I was confused because the new flight information said I would depart 15 minutes later than the original flight and arrive 10 minutes earlier. I did not understand how that was possible until I got on my airplane, which was a Boeing 747. I had expected a crappy, old Airbus like the one that I flew to Moscow in. Instead, I got to enjoy premium economy class for a little over three hours. This was nice, but also a little annoying. The woman next to me got the last steak dinner and I was forced to watch her eat steak au jus while I got to enjoy some chicken in a sauce-thing with mashed potatoes.

Goodbye Russia.

I had enough time in Heathrow to buy a candy bar, the newest issue of “Top Gear” the magazine, and a carton of Ribena. Then, I was ushered into another Boeing 747. I got the luck of having the fourth to last row. The seat was a little depressing after having had the premium economy on the shorter flight, but at least I got home.

After waiting forever to get off of the back of a 747, I then had the fun of waiting for a while at immigration. The next annoying step was waiting for my luggage. I had a short layover at Heathrow of about two hours, so I figured my bags would be some of the first to come off. I was dead wrong. Also, I had arrived at JFK. That meant that two or three bags would come out and then there would be no bags for another five minutes. After waiting for about 15 or 20 minutes, I finally got my luggage. Then I had to pass customs, which was a mess. A Cathay Pacific flight from China had arrived around the same time as my flight. There were tons of Chinese people who didn’t speak any English trying to get through customs without all of the proper forms.

Eventually, I cleared customs without any problems and was greeted by my dad. We walked off to the car expecting a quick ride home, as it was after 11PM. Apparently the majority of the construction on the Whitestone Bridge is done at night. The traffic was closed down to one lane, which never goes well in New York. No one wanted to merge from the three lanes into one and various people kept cutting through the traffic on the shoulder. After sitting for about 40 minutes, I remembered that I have GPS on my phone. We got over to the Throgs Neck Bridge and over it quickly only to be stopped in terrible traffic on 95 after the bridge due to an accident. Lucky, there is a way to cut over from 95 to the Hutchinson Parkway via the rotaries near City Island, but we had to drive about ¾ of a mile in the shoulder before the exit. Being New York, no one was merging properly and people were stopped in the exit only lane. Thankfully we weren’t crushed by various trucks and the rest of the ride was a breeze.

From Moscow traffic to NYC traffic. Apparently no one in the world knows how to merge from two or three lanes into one.

We made it to the Post Road Diner by 1.45AM. I ordered a peanut butter milkshake and a buffalo chicken sandwich. I gluttonous gorged myself on some of the finest American food while regaling my father with stories of Russia. Over our late night snack (well, snack for him, feast for me), we discussed going to Russia. Hopefully, the two of us will venture to Ulyanovsk in September if all goes well.

Buffalo chicken sandwich. Peanut butter milkshake. Daddy’s arms. Almost 2AM. So much happiness.

While my Fulbright is over, my connections with Ulyanovsk are not. As I told the people from the university, they are stuck with me for life. Ulyanovsk is now my new vacation destination.

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