Continued from here:
The flight to Moscow was uneventful, but because we had left later than I expected it was quite dark when we landed. Sheremetyevo Airport is a strange combination of 60’s mod geometry and Soviet-era industrialism. I distinctly remember a ceiling covered with concrete cylinders with matching, if rather dim, light fixtures, all wrapped in a blue-grey cigarette smoky haze. It’s amazing how assaulting cigarette smoke can be once you have become accustomed to the smoke-free environments of the States. Yet, stepping off that plane and encountering my first signs in Cyrillic, I started to smile. I had wanted to travel to Russia since High School, and here I had finally made it. Fortunately most of the signs were also in English with those international symbols for things like baggage claim and we made our way down to the bottleneck that is passport control.
There are forms to fill out, one for customs claims (actually you fill out two copies of this for entry and exit), and a second for registration, so they can theoretically track your travels across the country. Passport control takes the top of the form and the bottom half remains in your passport until you leave.
I bring this up because as excited as I was to finally be in Russia, I was a bit intimidated as well. I didn’t know the language anywhere near as well as I had hoped and there were all those years of history filling my head. What if I got something wrong? I must have looked nervous, because the woman in the booth gave me a quick grin after seriously frowning at my passport. Relax, she seemed to say. A couple of stamps, and I was through. Once my husband had been through the same process, we headed off to find our luggage.
Since much is being made of the “anniversary” in the media, I will mention the other reason I was a bit nervous about this trip. The United States had invaded Iraq two days earlier. Most vocal in their opposition to the war were France, Germany, and Russia, all countries we would be travelling through for this adoption. How would we be treated? Canadian flag patches, anyone?
We found the baggage claim area, but after what seemed like a half and hour, it was clear that our luggage had not made the change of flight with us. More paperwork, more frowning Russians, and then suddenly we didn’t have much time before we needed to make our connection to St. Petersburg. Back upstairs to study the board. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t find the flight number so I asked someone at a counter. She wrote down a number and pointed us up to the next floor. The man behind the counter there wrote down a new office number and sent us back downstairs. I think this happened two or three times, and everytime we returned to the main floor, we were accosted by a swarm of Russian taxi drivers all looking for a fare. At one point a crowd of travellers dashed for the exit, and a woman behind the counter motioned for us to follow, but since I had no idea where they were going we stayed put.
I began to feel as if we were never going to escape that dark, smoky, seemingly airless, windowless, airport. We were never going to get away from these predatory taxi drivers. I was panicked, I couldn’t breathe, we were losing time, and ultimately we missed that flight too.
It turns out that there are two Sheremetyevo airports, one for international flights and one for domestic flights. In order to meet our flight to St. Petersburg, we would have had get on the shuttle bus (following the frantic crowd) and ride to a completely different airport. Resigned, we changed our flight to the following morning, booked at room at the nearby Novotel, called our facilitator, and had dinner in the otherwise empty Mexican-themed restaurant off the lobby. We hadn’t made it to St. Petersburg, but at least we were out of that building. By that time I needed a margarita.
Oh yes, there’s more, but I will end here for now with the note that last night’s * Amazing Race started with the tail end of the teams’ Moscow leg. Out of 10 remaining teams, two got evening flights out to Frankfurt, and the rest had to sleep overnight in Sheremetyevo (shudder).