Sunday, September 29, 2013

Escape From Moscow - Arrival in Novosibirsk

Long story short: Orientation was a fun experience, except when I got food poisoning and slept for 18 or 24 hours and missed a day of training. But it was rest well needed! While in Moscow I visited ВДНХ (The exhibition to the accomplishments of the Soviet yada yada), drank dirt cheap beer at a bar chain called Крошка (I think), saw Red Square, ate dinner at a factory turned café (which after midnight turns into a dance club until 6am) called “Propaganda”, and met some incredible fellow Fulbright ETAs. I also saw the US embassy in Moscow, learned some basics to follow while teaching and found out that, supposedly, 80% of Russians walk around with a pocket knife (I'm still waiting for a reliable citation)

That being said, I was happy to be leaving Moscow on Thursday night. Moscow is an overwhelming place, and I almost didn’t make my escape. I made the mistake of never buying a sim card for my phone, and got stonewalled when I tried. I made 2 trips to the store to buy one. The first time it was randomly closed for “technical difficulties” (Russia, smh). The second time I forgot my passport, which foreigners need to purchase a sim card. (Speaking of which, I am definitely a foreigner here. More on that later).

So I was left without a phone with which to order a taxi to the airport. Luckily, you can order online and put in someone else’s phone number. However, this actually is a really, really, really, bad idea. With no way of confirming your address or receiving word that your taxi has arrived, it’s a disaster in the making.

And a disaster it was. My flight was at 10:30pm, half way around a city with constant grid lock on the highways, and I was already cutting it close by getting picked up at 7pm. So I was nervous that my taxi wouldn’t come. When it didn’t come after 25 minutes, I figured I had to call the taxi company. Suffice to say it’s hard to communicate with a Russian taxi company as an American tourist who registered for a cab with someone else’s phone number, but eventually it was established that I had no reservation and I had to make a new one.

At this point I made another mistake. They told me to wait by the receptionist, whom they would call when the taxi arrived. But the receptionist inside was besieged by a literal busload of Asian tourists, and there are two receptionist desks in this hotel anyway (two different buildings… Russia… smh). So I decided I would just wait outside and guard the one entrance into the parking lot of which I was aware and approach every taxi I saw and see if it were going to Vnykovo airport.

This also turned out to be a bad idea, as a taxi pulled up and I approached, telling him I was Alex. He was from the same taxi company, but said he was going to Sheremetyevo airport (There are three airports in Moscow, just to make sure no one can share a taxi). After a phone call, he told me to get in and load my stuff. At this very moment, the OTHER ALEX in the Fulbright group came outside and said that it must be his taxi, as he was going to Sheremetyevo. The driver was pissed and I was pissed and embarrassed, and I trudged back to my sentry post and continued scanning for drivers, knowing that at this point I was in danger of missing my flight.

Eventually I checked the other side of the building, and found a taxi driver who had been waiting for me for some time. Apparently I missed him coming in or there is another entrance. Of course he went to the other building, with the other reception desk, just because I was bound to lose a 50-50 shot at this point. By this time it was 8:00pm and I expressed that we needed to floor it, which Russian taxi drivers love to do anyway.

The standard Russian taxi driver drives in a way that would earn you reckless driving in the United States, but I doubt Russia has an enforced reckless driving law. As another aside, I would hate to be a trucker on the highway in Moscow, as you have 5 or 6 lanes of pesky, overly aggressive drivers passing you on all sides and constantly changing lanes. It’s pure chaos.

When we got slowed down by traffic caused by an accident, I chatted with my Georgian taxi driver in Russian. It was pleasant. But then we would do stuff like try to pass a truck in the breakdown lane and have to abandon the effort when the truck pushed us within millimeters of the guard rail. Somehow… Someway, we made it to Vnykovo unharmed, except for mental trauma, about an hour before my flight.

Which would have been PLENTY of time, except when I approached the check in counter, I was informed that I did not have 25 kilograms of baggage allowance, but 20, and my bag weighed 28 kilograms. The charge was something like 1800 rubles a kilogram, which is roughly 50 dollars. I was going to have to pay $400 dollars of baggage fees. It was impossible.  

So I went back to the chairs and tried to shift more stuff into my carry on, but there was no way I was going to get down to 20 kilos. I prepared myself for a the baggage fee as I got back in line. But the line was hardly moving, and now my flight was about to board and I hadn’t checked in yet.

All of a sudden, 3 obviously irritated Check-in desk workers begin shouting for passengers to Novosibirsk. Yes! I get to cut the line. I hurry over and present my information. Everything is fine until I throw my now 25 kilogram bag onto the scale. I swear her face went white. They talked for a second. “We can’t do this,” one of them said. The other said that they could, so they checked me in and I prayed that my luggage would make it as well. Before they gave me back my passport they yelled at me “Почему вы опаздали?!?!?” I understood about as much of that sentence at the time as you, dear reader, do. My obvious bewilderment earned me an equal scolding in English. “Why were you late!!??!?!” It was said in a tone that implied I was irresponsible, ruining their day, and impossibly disrespectful. I stammered in Russian that I didn’t want to be late… and then they gave me my passport and told me to run, which I did.

There is a silver lining to this highly stressful encounter. In their hurry they decided to not charge me a baggage fee. Ironically, showing up late for my flight saved me anywhere from $250-400. There was no line at security and I made it to my flight in plenty of time.

The flight itself was pleasant, and I was asked by one woman to tutor her son in English upon arrival. She sat on my right, the seat to my left was empty and the two seats to the left were occupied by девушки, with whom I was eager to have a conversation. In the end, they offered to show me around the city and mentioned the possibility of going skiing/snowboarding in the winter!

Together we navigated the overcrowded baggage claim (my baggage was there) and exited the airport, where this time I saw my driver immediately. Things were starting to look up! The man who met me at the airport, Валеры, is a 60 year old army-doctor-turned-professor-of-English who loves telling dirty jokes and flirting with every girl he comes across. He is a character, for sure, as he now fancies himself as my Russian “Papa” and treats me as his own son.

He took me to my new abode in Dormitory No. 4 of the University, where he showed me that I had this nice big apartment to myself (I knew it was too good to be true…). He left me to take a nap, but I was quickly awakened by the voices of a bunch of Flemish Belgians in “my” kitchen. It’s a communal kitchen, and my room is right next to it, but at least the Belgians are nice! Valery returned around this time to register me at the University, which is a bureaucratic mess, but having Valery translate the official Russian for me made it painless.

I have spent the time since settling in to my new surroundings, getting to know the Flemish-Belgian students (somehow I have found myself doing exactly what I was doing when the trip began in Amsterdam – listening to people speak Dutch), some minor exploring of the city (it’s been rainy and/or cold and cloudy every day so far) and trying to figure out what I am actually capable of cooking for myself. Today I broke down and managed to track down some mystery cheese, tomato paste, and spaghetti. We’ll have to see what the Russian version of my favorite home cooked meal ends up tasting like tomorrow.   

In any case, through all the adventures and misadventures thus far, I have finally arrived at my new home. Here’s a toast of cheap Russian vodka to more misadventures to come.

Across the Ravine

They have very wholesome grafitti here. "Angel, I want to see happiness in your eyes"

Not quite sure what "tourist club" might entail, but I should probably check it out.

Sasha, I love you! - Your Kolya. Nastia in red

The courtyard of the university

"Novosibirsk Federal Pedagogical University"

"Don't smoke, don't drink!" As I said, very wholesome.

Sports are the health of our nation! The cross country ski team anticipates the arrival of snow.

But of course, this is a Russian stadium, and there needs to be a "place for smoking"

Well from this angle it looks like a track...

"In a healthy body is a healthy soul"... I think

Apparently that is NOT a nuclear power station...

1 comment:

  1. Alex, Glad you made it safely. Just remember that we camped through the USSR in 1970 and be thankful that things have improved. Randy & Shelby