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From: Sandy Lubkin
Date: Tue, 10 Jun 1997 20:15:23 +0000
Subject: Adventures

Have we had any adventures yet? It'd be easier to list what *hasn't* been an adventure. Crossing the street is an adventure. I may write about that. In fact, I'm sure I will, when I talk about Moscow drivers *hoo boy*!

I suppose I should start at the beginning...


We left Santa Cruz, California, about 11am on Monday, May 19, 1997. We'd managed to get about 3 hours sleep that night (after many similar nights) because we were busy moving most of the stuff from Bela's room at the Armory (which is being rented out now) to my room in a shared apartment which we're keeping for the duration. I think we managed to finish the move (those last few days really have the feel of dreams - very foggy and insubstantial). At least, I sincerely hope we managed to finish - there's not too much we can do from here now. We also were simultaneously packing for our trip. I'm surprised that all we forgot was an umbrella.

We used one of the airporter services to get ourselves from Santa Cruz to the San Francisco Airport. Our driver was a real charactor. He normally drove limosines, but also did airport runs. I wish I remembered more about him - I just have the impression of him being a charactor.

We arrived at the airport about 2 hours before our flight, and checked in for our Lufthansa flight. Bela and I were assigned seats 9 rows apart, as close as they could get us on a full 747. One of my seat mates was on her way to Berlin for the second time. We talked for a while about travel in general, places we'd like to visit and concerns about knowing too little of the language. She still didn't speak any German, but managed to get by with the help of her friends. That gave me a bit of courage, since I had studied Russian briefly. I was also encouraged that I could understand bits of the overhead announcements in German (also repeated in English).

The flight headed north from San Francisco, over eastern Washington (Hi, Mom!), over central and northern Canada including Baffin Island, over Greenland, north of Iceland, over part of Norway, circling around to land at Frankfurt, Germany. We were so far up in the Arctic Circle that we saw no darkness at all during our flight. Parts of the flight were very cloudy, but when we were over Greenland, the frozen lakes and hills (mountains? It was hard to gain perspective.) were spectacular, and near Iceland, there were some amazing ice flows, as far as the eye could see. Those were only glancing views, because of the brightness of the sunlight reflected on the sculpted sheets of ice.

At Frankfurt, we easily found our gate, and waited for our flight. After our passports and visas had been checked (when we checked in in San Francisco, no one checked our visas, though they did check our passports and insist on seeing Bela's laptop computer, which was in his carry-on baggage), the passengers for the Frankfurt-Moscow flight were put on busses and driven to the tarmac. As we climbed the stairs to the plane, some black clouds were moving towards our area. Soon after we'd settled in to our seats, heavy rain was sheeting on the windows. The people on the second bus got caught in the downpour. On this leg, announcements were made in German, English and French - but not Russian. This struck me as a bit odd, considering the number of people speaking Russian in the waiting area. Eventually, a tape of the safety directions was played in Russian.

The flight was uneventful, and we landed in Moscow's Shermetevo II Airport a bit ahead of schedule. The signs in the airport were in both English and Russian (possibly in other languages, too, but at that point I was so tired that I didn't actually notice). We had no trouble getting through the passport check point and collecting our baggage.

Then we began to have a few problems. We needed a cart - or a third person - to manage our bags. At the cart rental stand, I was told a price in roubles, and told I could change money at the bank on the other side of the baggage collection area. I went to the bank, which was closed due to technical problems (so said the sign) and would reopen in about half an hour. About 45 minutes later, Bela and I decided to attempt moving our luggage through Customs without a cart.

We had nothing to declare, and so carried our luggage (except for a box which we pushed ahead of us) to the "Green" corridor. The official there decided that we needed to go through the "Red" corridor because of the box. The lines at the "red" corridors were huge, so we decided again to attempt to get a cart. I stayed with the baggage while Bela stood in lines, changed US dollars to roubles and got a cart from the ladies at the cart stand.

While all that was going on, some kind of a ruckus broke out in the mass of people waiting at the "red" corridor. I heard screaming (Bela and I couldn't agree on what language afterwards. He thought it was English, and I thought it Russian) and saw a young blonde woman carrying a baby break away from the Customs desk area and fight her way back into the crowd. I guess Bela was right because I have an impression of her screaming, "It's my sister's!" The next thing I saw was her (still clutching the baby) falling in the middle of the crowd. I couldn't tell if the officials (uniformed men) were attempting to help her up (and she was fighting them) or if they were trying to keep her from getting up again. Finally she was upright again, still hysterical, and was bundled away. At that point I wasn't sure our trip was such a good idea.

Bela brought a cart back, we loaded it, and joined the crowd at the "red" corridors. It took a while to get to the front because there were so many people, but after that things went well. Our luggage all went through the x-ray machines, and at the end they had us open the cardboard box. Once they glanced at it, they cleared us and we went out to the main area to try to find our e-mail friends, Shura and Irene, who were meeting us. We found each other quickly (they had a sign), loaded everything and everyone into their car, and headed out to find a hotel.

(And that's when we had our first experiences with Moscow traffic, but that's *definitely* another story.)

Sandy (Cannady) Lubkin

All text and pictures copyright 1997 Sandy and Bela Lubkin, all rights reserved.