Wednesday, October 14, 2009
This is about a week-long trip I took with Dr. R to Moscow in July 2008 to attend and present the 5th International Conference on Porphyrins and Phthalocyanines (say that five times fast). I'll let you know now that the travel details may be a bit much, but this is basically a copy and paste from a travel forum I blog on, with extra details added in the middle.
Living near Atlanta the most convenient option was Delta. I was excited to try out their 767-400ER having flown the 767-300ER several times.
4 July 2008
I arrived at ATL around 130 for my 330 flight. I checked in and was through security in approximately five minutes. The airport wasn't very busy which surprised me considering it was Friday afternoon, maybe it had something to do with it being July 4th? As usual I walked to my gate. Is it just me or do people need to learn to GET OUT OF THE WAY of other people who are trying to move?? My flight left out of gate E33 so I headed there initially and nabbed an exit row (30A I believe). Since there was nothing going on down at that end of the concourse (and no windows to view the other concourses to boot) I walked the length of the concourse. The KLM A332 to Amsterdam was there waiting at its usual gate E22. The Lufthansa A340 was sitting pretty a few doors down, though I was thrilled NOT to be on it after my trek from Charlotte to Munich in December '07. I saw all the various DL flights on the FID, though I think the only one other than mine that was actually boarding was DL to Dakar and then on to one of the South African Destinations. Eventually it came time to board. I looked around and noticed there were A LOT of children on this flight, all under the age of ten. Oh goody.
Once on board I was lucky to have the seat next to me empty. Don't take row 30 on the 764, the armrests don't move due to the personal tvs being stowed in them. We sat at the gate for at least another half hour due to a malfunction with the AVOD system. It never got fixed so we left the gate with no distraction for the next 11 hours! A FA sat in the jumpseat across from me and we struck up a brief conversation as we lifted into the hot skies over a rain-deprived Georgia.
A meal service followed about two hours after takeoff. As usual I took the pasta over the chicken offering with the granite-for-bread substitute and the complimentary wine. I definitely don't consider myself a wine connoisseur but I'm not a huge fan of DL's wine offering. After dinner I tried to settle down and catch a little bit of sleep but I could not get comfortable. I have difficulty sleeping upright. Being on the exit row I curled up in the floor and was about to fall asleep when the FA told me that I couldn't do that...........
After I got settled back into my seat all of the kids on the plane decided they'd had enough sitting, and seemingly all at once started sprinting up and down the aisles, which would have been fine except for the thumping those little feet made on the floor! I managed to get two hours or so before the plane woke up.
The FAs on this leg were mostly good. There were three or four Russians, and they all wore the red dress uniform. The one who had my aisle was dutiful, but a little to brusque, though compared to some of the people we encountered later she was downright friendly. I had the usual DL breakfast of a banana, granola bar, and tea. We landed smoothly in Moscow a few minutes behind schedule. I had been talking with the FA for a few minutes again before landing and she gave me a few tips. Another Delta flight from JFK flight had beat us as we were late.
I had heard immigration at Moscow's Sheremetyevo (yup, that's the name, say it without spitting and I'll give you a cookie) could be rough, however I had no problems. While we were in line a Russian and an American who had apparently exchanged words and bad feelings let everyone else in line see their little display. It was rather humorous, as the Russian carried on for at least five minutes before the immigration officials escorted him to the front of the line just to shut him up. I was through in less than ten minutes, where I waited on a ride.
The ride took a while. Thankfully the ICPP people organized buses/taxis from the airport to the various conference-sponsored hotels, otherwise it probably would've been an astronomical cab fare. NO WAY was I braving the transportation system in a country that a) I didn't speak the language, b) said language has a totally different alphabet, and c) there was absolutely no indication of where my hotel was in relation to the city and how to get there on the second busiest metro system on the planet. As it turns out that was probably the wisest decision, as, come to find, it would've involved a bus, a train ride that involved at least TWO transfers and then ANOTHER bus. Sheisse! The thought of all that with two bags does not sound appealing at all! As it was it took almost two hours to get to the hotel. Moscow traffic is horrendous, and was the entire time we were there. I wondered for a minute if I was in LA by mistake.
The hotel itself, called Hotel Youzhny, was not fancy by any imagination. I would barely call it comfortable! It was in an old Soviet block, and there basically clusters of four rooms sharing one bathroom. Dr. R actually had an apartment just down the hall as they had Br. and By. with them, made sense.
The first day I guess I got to the hotel around noon, and then crashed for a few hours before heading out into the city to learn my way around. Let me say the metro at first is not foreigner friendly. Whereas in most places the metro merely has multiple lines running through one station, in Moscow, oh no, they have to be special. Each line has its own name for the station. The way the maps are laid it it initially looked like they could actually not be near each other. Anyway, after one time of getting it wrong it clicked, and basically you learned to follow colors first, then as my proficiency with the Cyrillic alphabet developed follow colors and then look for our station. We didn't get lost again! The metro rides are very long in between stops, but it's not as though there is a shortage of stops. And the Metro itself, wow. The Soviets did a lot of terrible things and my opinion is that their ideas of economics were flawed (I guess history supports my ideas, haha) but they did a fantastic job designing many of their metro stations in Moscow, especially those closer in. Aside from the initial difficulties transferring lines it's a very easy system to use. Note: if you're going to be using the Moscow Metro alone...LEARN THE CYRILLIC ALPHABET. Are there English maps available...yes, but not in the stations or on the trains themselves, so they're really kinda pointless. Something that is useful is an English/Russian map, but unless you get it in size 72 font it's not much help because the words are so freakin' long. The system is for the Muscovites and their Russian-speaking brethren. Others are more than welcome to use it, but get out of the way because they couldn't care less if you get it or not!
The little blue circle at the bottom left is the station we had to get off on, and THEN take a twenty minute bus ride!
Buying tickets could also be very interesting! Bus tickets had to be bought on the bus, I wasn't made aware (not like I could read about it or anything...) of any other option. I had my numbers down pretty good actually, and would usually buy tickets in packs of four. Once or twice I didn't have a bill small enough and wasn't sure that's what the driver was trying to tell me. After one round of that she got a little testy. That also happened at the train station once. I was trying to buy tickets and the ticket agent was an old woman. Probably miserable in her old existence having to schlep train tickets to pay her rent. Anyway, the simple "dva" and holding up two fingers didn't do the trick this time. She asked me a question and when I hesitated she screamed the question at me. If I had been able to I would've said "Lady, I'm not retarded, but I do not speak your inexplicably convoluted and unnecessarily complicated language. I want two tickets, and I'm in the metro station...how difficult is that...give me any tickets that will let me get on the train..." She screamed again. I looked at the guy behind me with a look that was half "help me, please, I'm desperate" and half "If-you-have-any-prayer-of-getting-out-of-this-line-get-your-ass-to-the-window". Thankfully he (very nicely) handled the situation, asked me what I needed, and I gave him my money and profusely thanked him in Russian and English. Note: if you're traveling to Moscow and need help, ask the young folks. They are almost always willing to help even if their English and your Russian isn't great. Older people are hit or miss, though frankly I ran into more misses. I guess it's not too upsetting considering the whole tourism thing and contact with Westerners is still a relatively new thing to them, but yeesh it can be frustrating!
I explored Red Square a little, and just randomly walked around hoping that I wouldn't find myself in a precarious situation! The hotel was not near a metro station, so getting there involved either a long walk on Leninski Prospekt or a (just as long sometimes!) bus ride. I headed back to the hotel and got some well needed sleep.
Dr. R and company arrived the next day, and I happened to be returning to the hotel (where I had gone I don't remember now) as they were checking in. By. and Br. were conked out and the adults were looking zonked as well. They settled down and I helped watch By. so the adults could sleep. Br. as usual was a ball of energy. and By. a mess, lol. Br. and Mrs. R and I grabbed some food at a Georgian restaurant. We had absolutely no idea what we were ordering, but it turns out I ordered dolmades and they got some sort of chicken. It was pretty good.
We did the whole conference thing, which was exciting and interesting. At the same time it was difficult because a lot of the presenters were Russian, shock right? Some of their English could've been better, and the jetlag made you very sleepy. Once or twice I fell asleep in the middle of a talk. Dr. R did as well, several times (and I must say, she snored). Nothin' but love Doc! We met two girls from Ireland one day at lunch. One was a researcher, and the other an accompanying friend. We ran into each other several times over the course of the conference, and enjoyed chatting and exchanging out stories of getting lost on the Metro. Presenting at the conference honestly wasn't a big deal. It was just like any other two hour poster session I'd done several times at the ACS, except now these were porphyrin specialists. I must say, I was thrilled to have the chance, but if they didn't like it, oh well. Honestly, if they thought I was unqualified or shouldn't have been there, well, maybe they're right, haha! The way I looked at it was it was a learning experience and more than likely I wasn't going into research (a year later that's confirmed) then no harm no foul, I got to present my work (which I worked very hard for I might add, whatever that's worth).
The conference had also organized a tour of the city, which was a lot of fun. We went all around the city, and I must say, I'd already experienced it, but I was reminded of just how BIG Moscow is. Unsurprising I guess as Moscow is the center of the Russophile world, but still, it's just so MASSIVE. That night Dr. R, her husband, and I went to a grocery store just down the street from our hotel. On the way we passed a group of kids that had gotten into an ugly fight. I would say they were in their early/mid teens. Several of them were bloodied up and the cops had been called. We went on our way and found our way into the grocery store. We were there, frankly, to buy vodka. I mean really, you can't go to Russia and not come home without some Russian vodka! Incidentally I also had a bottle of cognac from the banquet. I don't think it's been opened but it's there nonetheless, lol. Anyway, it didn't take long to find the vodka because the vodka section was an entire freakin' wall! The hard part came in choosing which kind to buy! The only one I recognized was Smirnoff, and I sure wasn't going to buy being that when I could get it at home! Anyway, after about ten minutes of walking up and down the WALL trying to figure out what kind of vodka we wanted to buy, a local observed our difficulty, and started talking to us, in Russian of course but his intent was rather clear. We bantered by pointing for a minute, and I pointed to one bottle and his shook his head vigorously and pointed to his head indicating that choosing said brand would result in an unpleasant morning. He then pointed to a brand (which was quite well stocked incidentally. We promptly between the three of us bought forty bottles! It was absolutely hilarious when we got up to the check out counter and the cashier saw us with a buggy full of mostly vodka. Her eyes got so big, and I couldn't help but laugh. She spoke no English and I tried to convey that these were not just for us!
The conference banquet was cool as well. It was held in a palace on the outskirts (by outskirts I mean like Atlanta halfway to Athens) that was built by Catherine the Great. It was apparently a small palace, but it was definitely opulent. The food was pretty good. I definitely took advantage of the free wine, haha.
One afternoon Dr. R and I just went walking through the city. I honestly have no idea where we were as we just started walking "that way". Somehow we ended up near a train station after like two hours of just wandering (Beloruskaya Station IIRC this far removed from it). We walked through a part of Moscow that was very old and compact. It was very pretty. We had hoped to stumble across a church or two that we had seen on our tour, but alas, the city proved just too big! I like walks like that because you see the most interesting and unexpected things. Honestly, I don't think I would've seen the statue of Catherine the Great cut into six or seven pieces or a group of teenagers carrying an "Apteka" sign in front of the Polish embassy had we not done that walk. I do remember Doc saying "Oh Jay, we've gotta get you married!" Um, thanks for the interest Doc, but I'm perfectly happy being single right now!
12 July 2008.
After a week in Moscow it was time to head home. I had arrived alone but we were traveling back together so that made the cab fare much cheaper, though it was still approximately RUB4000 (or about US$200). We arrived for our 1040 flight at 800, just as the check-in counters were opening. I believed we used counter 1-3. We were lucky to arrive when we did because we were among the first ten people in line and soon after the line got very long. I was sent to the BizElite counter to check in. Both of my bags had been well under weight when I left ATL, however 10L of Russian souvenirs had weighed one of them down a little The check-in agent must have been in a good mood since it was still early because she let me through. Incidentally the baggage searcher winked at me as she came across my souvenirs! After clearing immigration we mosied through SVO airside which is an unimpressive string of duty free shops. I found a spot upstairs to watch the array of Aeroflot jets come and go, and watch the KLM 744F land. We weren't initially permitted into the waiting area, but once we were we were all exhausted after the week so we just relaxed. Again there were going to be a large number of young children on this flight. Both the ATL and JFK flights were waiting in this lounge.
The plane in this picture is the actual plane that we flew from Moscow to Atlanta and was taken THE day we were leaving Moscow. Judging by the angle the plane is flying I must assume it's landing, so unfortunately I cannot say I'm in the picture! I didn't take the picture but was able to track it down at www.airliners.net. Boarding was finally called and I made my way to 27F. I noticed that no headphones had been placed on the seats contrary to custom. I asked the FA if they were going to pass them out because if they weren't I still had mine from the last flight. She said they were running short and that if I could use my own that would really help them out. The only reason I asked at this point is because they were buried in the bottom of my carry-on and I didn't want to disturb my seat-mate once I was situated. This particular FA would serve my section most of the flight, she was fun. Most of the FAs on this flight were very jovial and carried on conversation with all the passengers. We settled in and pushed back only a minute or two late and proceeded straight to the runway and lifted off into the sky. At this point the Captain came on and gave a rather long winded talk. As most of us had already booted up the PTVs this was rather annoying as they not only went on standby when he spoke, then the FAs came on translated what he said, then came on AGAIN. It was a very chatty first hour!
The food service came around and I chose the pasta, I remember this time it had spinach in it! The PTV system on DL is very user friendly and had enough choices to satisfy me, though my seatmate brought his own. He watched what appeared to be old Soviet movies that seemed to take place during the time of Ivan the Terrible? Just a guess. Looked like rather cheesy acting to me but I wasn't following it that closely. I watched on my trendy PTV Charlie Wilson's War, Stop Lossed (good movie!), a few episodes of Bill Engvall and I started Fool's Gold. I didn't finish that one as it was predictable after the first thirty minutes. It reminded me of Sahara and National Treasures 1 and 2 all over again, and I didn't care too much for those movies to begin with. After that much TV I couldn't focus on the TV anymore (I don't watch that much TV at home) and listened to music and read for the rest of the way. The FAs were very attentive and per usual came by with a veggie-cheese pita and ice cream (vanilla Yuck!). Plenty of drinks also followed. Two hours in the kids got tired of sitting. I tried to be less irritated at this point but there were plenty of parents who were keeping their kids from running and screaming down the aisles. I understand its difficult for a child to sit still that long but my grief!
Once over South Carolina and Georgia I had fun picking out some local landmarks. For the local folks I flew over Lakes Hartwell and Lanier, the Mall of Georgia, Stone Mountain, and around the southeast end of Downtown. We landed on the North Side of the airport. I was one of the first ones off and hauled ass down to immigration to avoid the line. I got stuck behind some Lufty FAs who were oblivious to the fact that I was behind them and wanted to go around (in case you haven't noticed that's a big pet peeve of mine, get out of the way of someone behind you!)
The line for American citizens was very short and I was through in no time. The line for non-American citizens was a little longer than the last time I had flown though this may have been because I arrived earlier this time and the LH, KL, and an AF flight had all arrived along with DL flights from AMS. BRU, and MAN, as well as our own SVO. Baggage claim was interesting because a customs beagle named Button was standing at the end of the belt. This was the first time I had seen that so it was interesting to watch. I claimed my bag, then proceeded through customs blah blah blah. Put the bag back through and proceeded back through security. This time I was too tired to walk back and wanted to get home so we took the train back down to baggage check. For the first time ever the bags took FOREVER to arrive on the claim. I had two so I had to wait even longer. Eventually they both came and didn't reek of distilled beverage so all was good!
I would definitely recommend a trip to Moscow. It's a BIG city so plan a head and don't even think about trying to walk very far. The streets aren't exactly laid out in a logical fashion, but the Metro is fantastic and thorough.
Hope you enjoyed!