After going through security we sat down at our terminal and waited for our plane. We still had a little time before we began to board so I found some North Carolina souvenirs for my hosts in Russia.
Finally, we were able to board our plane and finally get our trip started. It wasn't until the plane was pulling out of the gate that it finally hit me that I am leaving the country for six weeks! This was an exhilarating feeling and a little sad all at the same time. I was excited to finally be leaving but now the fact that I was leaving my comfort zone was very real. I was okay with feeling this way because it meant that I was about to try something new, so I was more excited than anything else. I think traveling is a great experience and I think that everyone should take at least one trip to somewhere far away at least once in their lives. I think traveling to a foreign country is a fantastic adventure.
My first layover was in Toronto, Canada. This would be the longest layover between home and Russia. On the way to our gate we had to go through the customs checkpoint. This was a lot easier than I thought it would be, the customs officer was very nice. He asked me where I was headed and when I told him Russia he asked if I knew any Russian and I had to confess that I didn't know very much at all. He said do you know this word and he said a word in Russian. I thought I had heard the word before but it wasn't coming to mind. Then he told my that it was the Russian word for “friend.” I realized that I had heard it before in an email for one of the other people who was coming to Russia with me. This is when I realized that I really needed to practice my Russian language skills.
We stopped for a bite to eat at Casey's Restaurant. I ordered a burger and Putin. Putin is one of Canada's signature dishes. It was SOOO delicious. It is made with fries, brown gravy and melted cheese curds. It doesn't look very appetizing but it is so delicious! If you ever go to Canada I highly recommend it. Becky wanted to make sure that she was able to get some while we were in Toronto.
During our long layover I noticed something curious. I saw a group of children playing together. They were having a blast. There were two Asian children and one little American girl the oldest Asian girl was only about six or seven and the other two children were much younger. The two younger children could hardly speak any language at all and it would seem the older girl could only speak her own language, but that did not stop them from playing together. They just laughed and played and had a great time! As I watched them play I thought to myself, “At what age do our cultural differences begin to matter?” When do people decide that different is not as good? I try to have a very open mind when dealing with new and different cultures, and, for the most part, I am successful. However, I still have my prejudices and bias. Even with in our our cultures, we declare the popular kids and the outcasts. Why is it that when we grow up, we also grow apart?
As I sat and ponder this the time seemed to go by just a little little quicker and it was finally time to get on the plane to Germany. This flight would be the longest, lasting seven hours. I wished the seats had been a little bit bigger. It was so cramped in the plane. There were eight seats to a row, we definitely got pretty cozy with our neighbors. The lady sitting to my left was very friendly and she was on her way to Budapest, for a church trip. We had a good conversation for the first little bit of the flight. Then we both turned to our TV monitors, every seat had its own which was very convenient. I watched the last Twilight movie, because I had to at least finish the series. I was unimpressed by the movie, it was a little anti-climactic, especially having already read the books. I did like the soundtrack and the scene where Alice shows Aro his demise was pretty clever. I don't remember it working out that way in the book. After Twilight I watched Cloud Atlas, it was a really great movie! It was very beautiful but also very confusing. I am going to have to read the book next! So after those two movies I still had a few hours left on the flight. I got very antsy, I just wanted to get up and run around, but I couldn't. I love flying but this was challenging because I had to figure out something to do while the time past. Time is a funny thing, it never seems to pass at the speed that you hope it will. It goes fast when you wish it would go by slower and slow when you wish it were going faster. In this case it was the latter. I tried to sleep but that almost seemed impossible. I was trying to say in my little area and when I sleep I like to spread out. You just want to let all your muscles relax, but you also don't want to be that person, the person who encroaches on their neighbors space on an mass-transit vehicle.
I was so relieved when we finally got to Germany. I stretched out and did it ever feel good! We had about three hours in Germany before our flight to St. Petersburg. While the others slept I took the opportunity to contact my parents and Jon to tell them that I had made it across the Atlantic alive. I couldn't talk to anyone though, because the time differences was six hours a head of North Carolina and eight hours a head of where my mom lives.
By the time the last flight came around we were all so tired I slept the entire trip to Russia. They brought us food and drinks but I woke up to eat and then I fell back a sleep. The airplane food was actually not that bad, in my opinion. The flight to Germany I had chicken and rice, and on the way to Russia I had cheese tortellini. I thought they were both every delicious.
Finally we arrived in St. Petersburg and we had to go through the dreaded, evil customs gate. Turns out that not all customs officials are mean and scary. The man that I talked to was very polite and he wished for me to get some rest now that I had arrived at my much anticipated destination. The show was not over quite yet however we still had to get to our hotel. We had a hard time finding the person picking us up, Irena. Our flight had come in nearly an hour late and she was lost in the crowd to us. Finally, we found her but we had already missed our bus. So, we split into two groups and took two taxis. It would take a lot of confidence, a little bit of practice and more than a bit of luck for me to drive in St. Petersburg. Traffic was crazy and lanes were not drawn on the road and seemed to be more of a suggestion. Never-the-less, he got us to the hotel safe and sound and I spent my first 450 Rubles ($15) on the taxi ride.
We went to the room and put our stuff down and it was a tough call whether to sleep or eat at that point. Irena had told us about a really good restaurant just next door to the hotel, called the Soviet Cafe. She wasn't wrong, the food we had there was delicious!! We all had something different and we all tried each others food. I ordered potato cakes filled with sour cream and mushrooms and Russian Dumplings called Pelmeni. SOOO delicious! Becky and I took the suggestion of our waitress and ordered a really great drink called Compote. But it tastes a lot like honey and fruit juice. We decided that when we were together we all going to have “family style dinning”so that we could try as much new delicious food as we could.
At last, we returned to the hotel and our 26 hour day was over! Today, I felt all the emotions one could feel, I felt happy, sad, excited, frustrated, relieved and many others, but now it was time for the sweet relief of sleep and how glorious it will be to sleep!