Good morning from Moscow!
Let me just say first off that I don't think I can ever fly coach again. The first class flight from Chicago to Moscow was a-mazing! The seats were adjustable in about 9 ways and layed about as fully flat as you can get on a plane. They gave you a quilted blanket, socks, sleep mask and your own personal entertainment system I was given champagne as soon as I was seated and for dinner it was marinated cheese and olives and shrimp and lox for appetizers, a very nice salad and for my entree I chose the lamb medallions with marionberry sauce, cilantro mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus tips. This was of course accompanied by all the complimentary wine, beer or cocktails you desired. For dessert they actually brought around an ice cream sundae cart! Talk about heaven!
Okay, so enough about the flight. Upon arriving in Moscow we had to wait on the plane until the Russian health officials came aboard and checked everyone for H1N1. They came on and pointed a temperature gun at each person and then we were allowed to de-plane. I didn't find it that odd until I met a guy where I'm staying who flew in from Singapore and he said they didn't do this check on his flight. Since Asia has had more outbreaks of flu recently I do find that odd.
Immigration, customs and finding the express train to Moscow were all very easy and uneventful. Finding the place I am staying at however, was more of an ordeal. First, I took the wrong exit out of the metro and walked a good 1/2 mile in the wrong direction before accosting a
nice looking Russian woman with 'govnor angliski?' She did speak English and told me I was going in the wrong direction. When I finally found the landmark my host had mentioned in his email (a giant statue of Lenin) I felt better. But then, as I wandered around the big concrete building not finding his next landmarks, I was becoming more frustrated. Not to mention that I had had to use the 'toilet' since before I had gotten off the train - now about an hour ago - and I was carrying 71 lbs, 22 of which was resting right on my bladder!
I accosted another friendly looking Russian woman and she turned out to be my life saver! She couldn't figure out from my map the builing I was supposed to be going to, although we were sure it was very near where we were standing. I asked her if she knew where I could buy a
phone card or even a cheap cellular phone. She proceeded to walk me over to the cell phone kiosk, translate for me and stay for over 20 mins while they activated it, put my SIM card in, etc. She was SO sweet! The phone cost about $40 and I have no idea how many mins I have, but at least now I am connected in Russia! But, I did have to sign some contract that was, of course, all in Russian. I might have promised to name my first-born son Vladimer or to pay Mother Russia 50,000 rubles a month until I die - I have no idea. But I was sure to pay in cash and not by credit card!
Finally, my new Russian friend put the phone into English and bid me good luck and farewell. I pulled out the number to where I was staying and dialed, but got a 'you have dialed a wrong number' twice. Ugh! (Turns out I had forgotten to put the + in front of the number.) So, I
wandered a bit more and finally found the flat where I am staying, I found this through Couch Surfing and it is really nice. There are 6 other guests here in a 2 bedroom flat so it is coy, but not much more so than a hostel. And the price is right - free! There is a couple from France, a guy from Australia, a girl from Brussels and two from Russia. We all made a trip to a Russian grocery store and the Russian girls translated and helped us find very traditional Russian food. I ate some ravioli-like pasta filled with 'little piglets' and was told I had to have it the Russian way - with sour cream. I did have sour cream but also added tomato sauce and the combination was very good.
We all sat around the kitchen talking until 1:00am when I could no longer keep my eyes open because I had been up for god knows how many hours and had very little sleep the last 3 nights. Now this morning I have woken up refreshed and feel I have already completely adjusted to
the time zone. The only problem with staying in the flat versus a hostel though, is that there is only one spare key so we have to arrange for someone to be here all the time. That's why it's 11am and I still have seen nothing of Moscow but the supermarket. But, at 11:30 we are off to do some exploring and I will update again later.