THE FINAL REVIEW (Jan. 11 - Jan. 24):

My flight back to Moscow was, unfortunately, pretty eventful. A large part of this has to do with a certain man named Mike. I have never in my life met anyone like Mike, and I hope to never be seated on a plane next to someone like him again.

To clarify: I wasn't even directly next to him.

Here's how it starts: I'm happy that I made my flight out of Chicago, I'm investigating the cool cupholder thing built into the tray, and I'm trying to use my fancy American cell phone as much as possible in the last few minutes before takeoff. I'm seated in the middle row of one of the big international airliners (one with the 4 seats in the middle that have 2 aisle seats and no windows). I have the aisle seat on the left, which I'm pleased about because I'm starting to like aisles more than windows. As the plane fills, I note with glee that the seat to my right might remain empty. I'm already making plans for how I'll use it to stash my coat and book and anything else that I'd like to have at hand and not underfoot. In the seat adjacent to the empty one I note that there's a rather hefty man with unkempt long black hair and abrasive features, who is very pointedly attempting to make conversation with the young lady next to him.

"Whew," I think, "I'm so glad she's there to keep him occupied. I hate small talk, and I will totally fight him if he thinks he can have any of my empty chair space."

I ignore them for a while longer while I fiddle with my phone. Curiously enough, after a few minutes the young lady then says that she's feeling claustrophobic and is going to move to another seat.

"Odd," I say to myself, "I don't see how the back of the plane is any more claustrophobic than the front."

Yeah. She totally ditched me to fight off Mike myself. That !@#$*.

Then my hefty neighbor lethargically turns to me and says (in what I can only describe as a stoned voice): "Hey. I'm Mike."
I was having none of that. I put on my mean face that said "Oh, I'm sorry, were you talking to me? 'Cause I was definitely just sending the most important text of my life, which meant that there was absolutely no way that I heard you." He didn't seem to pick up on that. We then had the following conversation:

Mike: What's your name?
Me: ---
Mike: What's your name?
Me: *busy texting*...Amasdadmsafa
Mike: You American?
Me: ................................Yeah.
Mike: You got a boyfriend?
Me: Yes!
Mike: He American like you?
Me: mmmhmmm

At this point he gets up and moves into the empty seat next to me, taking over half of my seat with his bulk, and making me very angry. Remember that at this time there are now TWO empty seats in this row and he decides to sit right next to me!
Mike: You want some company? *holds out hand as if he intends for me to hold it*
Me: No.
Mike: Just a lil' bit?
Me: NO!.....could you SCOOT OVER?

He lumbers over one seat, but decides to drape his hand over the empty seat so that he can grasp my armrest. This irritates me to no end, and so I take my blanket and put it over his hand and continue to use my armrest. I do not give up armrests, ESPECIALLY if someone is reaching over an empty chair to take it from me!

Now the plane starts moving and I have to put my phone away. I then take the airline's magazine and read the letter from the president in English, French, and German. I can't read French or German, but I can certainly pretend and pretend that it's the most fascinating thing that I've ever read. All of this was done while looking severely to my left to avoid Mike's gaze. After an eternity the movies finally start, and I choose something that looks completely cheesy and try to shut out the world.

Mike, as it turns out, is an extremely lonely and needy man who has no sense of personal space or propriety. About 5 minutes in he pokes my arm. I don't deign to acknowledge it. He pokes it again and says: "Hello."........"Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello, hello." I don't even look at him because "Going The Distance" is clearly the most magical film ever produced. Then Mike creepily waves his fingers in front of my face. Outraged, I turn to him and say "What you you want?!?!?!" which he replies "Why are you so quiet?" In extreme annoyance, I answer: "Because. I. Am. Watching. A. MOVIE!!!"

I guess some hint that I'm not into small talk finally makes it through his skull, so he heaves a sigh and decides to thrust his head through the space in the seats in front of him. Perhaps he pokes them too, because a little while later a stewardess comes by and very sternly tells him not to bother the other passengers, and then tells me and the people in front of him to let her know immediately if he does anything that makes them uncomfortable. He was not happy about this, and looked around and sighed a lot out of extreme boredom, but he didn't try to talk to me again, and I, for my part, made sure not to look to my right for 8 hours and 40 minutes.

Eventually I made it to Moscow, only to find that my bag was lost. It was lost for 4 days, which was extremely annoying, but luckily I was staying with Kendra for a week and her shirts fit me. We had a good time catching up, and stayed up way too late way too many times. I also learned that her daily commute is terrible and puts my 15 minute marshrutka ride to shame. It was also her birthday, and we got to celebrate (although a few days late) with a cake mix (and root beer) that I had smuggled back from America.

Then I had orientation, which was somewhat odd since I really hadn't thought about work for what seemed like months. It's good to meet with other people and exchange stories, but I can't say that I was at my social high point. Mostly I just really wanted to sleep. Most evenings I made the hour-long commute out to where Kendra lives to eat supper and hang out (since it will be a while before I see her again), and a couple of times I saw another friend who also happens to be in Moscow.

Now I'm back in my apartment, and it's odd. Although I've only been gone for 3 weeks, it feels like much longer. I don't have any kind of a schedule yet, and it might be a little while before I do since I think that regular classes don't start again until February. I've been hanging out almost exclusively with Americans for so long now that I think it's going to be a bit of a shock when I realize that I'm in Russia again.

Oh, also my 23rd birthday is coming up in less than a week. I have no idea how I'll celebrate, or if I will. I already had a birthday dinner with my parents, so I mostly feel like I already have celebrated. In Russia apparently the birthday person is supposed to cook a big meal for all of their guests. I can tell you now that that's definitely not happening..but perhaps I'll invite a couple of people to go out to eat and see a movie or something. I dunno, I haven't really thought it out yet.

Now, friends, you know all about what's been going on in my life!

REVIEW PART III (Dec. 30-Jan. 10):

Under the Fulbright program I'm only allowed to be out of the country for 14 days. I really think that I should have been allowed a month after the awful time I had trying to leave Russia. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, but I did have a pretty fantastic time.
I was too busy to take many pictures, and most of the things that I did (while extremely fun for me) would not be very interesting to most of you, so I'm not going to write much about them.

Essentially, while I only had a few days, I did as much traveling as possible. First I stopped in Chicago for a couple of days, which is conveniently where Brian was for the holidays. I got some much needed food, rest, and company, and then I went on to Arizona to have late Christmas, actual New Year's, and early birthday celebrations with my parents. Unfortunately, Arizona was COLD, but that's ok because I really didn't go outside very often. Mostly I just enjoyed sleeping, watching movies, and eating lots of American food that I had missed. I was sad to leave when the time came, but not too bad since my vacation wasn't over yet.

From there I went to Minnesota to see Brian at his school for some much-needed catching up time. Unfortunately I spend most of my time these days in Russia, which is much too far away. Aside from the excellent company, it was nice to just be on a college campus again. Last year I mostly just wanted out, but colleges really do have a special atmosphere that you come to really miss when you leave. Plus Carleton has goldfish crackers in the cafeteria, which is awesome.

Sadly, my real departure date came much too quickly. Due to some vehicle snafus we had to scramble to get me to the airport on time, which didn't leave much time for thinking about the gravity of the situation. That was probably best, since no one likes long, drawn out, sniffly goodbyes. Once we got to the airport I only had 20 minutes, which is definitely the closest that I've ever gotten to the airport. The irony is that after pleading and begging my way in front of nearly everyone in the check-in and security lines, I got to my gate and found out that my flight was delayed by an hour and 40 minutes. I then awkwardly waited and hoped that no one that I had cut in front of saw me.

Vacation was wonderful...but much much too short!

REVIEW PART II (Dec. 27-Dec. 29):

Do you think that you've ever had a bad traveling experience? Yeah, I thought I had too -- Dec. 22, 2008 (I don't actually remember the date, but it was around there): stuck in the Seattle Airport for a day due to heavy snow and not enough de-icing fluid. I waited in line for about 3 hours, got put on a new flight and on standby for an earlier one, and then was trapped in the airport overnight. I got out, but the icing on the cake was having my bags get lost for a day.

Whatever. That story is so outdated now it's not even worth mentioning. A mere trifle.

So here's how the trip from hell starts out: I'm super excited because I'm going home and I'm going to get to see my family and Brian and have a superfantasticamazing time. I'm also happy because my tutor offered to give me a ride to the airport, which means that I can save some money and trouble. I'd been up really late packing and cleaning my apartment, but I was ready when they arrived. They got here early because we were afraid that the roads would be icy. They said that there had been some problems with Moscow airports, but I blew them off because that was silly and I was sure that nothing was going to interfere with my holiday travel plans. It wasn't even a peak time! Who travels on December 27th? Lots of people it turns out.

The roads were perfectly fine, so we got to the Samara Airport 3 hours early. No big deal, I was too excited to have waited any longer at home anyway. There seem to be some delays, but my flight (a measly 1.5 hour commuter flight to Moscow) appeared fine. My tutor, being the amazing person that she is, decided that she would wait until it was time for me to board just to make sure that everything went alright. It didn't. Fog came, the flights didn't leave Moscow, and I started to get agitated. After my flight had been delayed 2 hours, and I had been waiting for 5, I was angry, but not distressed yet. I had purposely planned a night in Moscow so that I could get some sleep in a hotel room and start out fresh the next morning for my international flight.

I'm not going to go into detail about the next few hours because it's still a touchy subject. In short, my flight was delayed 15 hours. I became extremely sullen and angsty and mentally pictured all of my grand vacation plans going up in smoke. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to simply be out of Russia. The airline ordered a hotel for us, but I was too nervous to stay there the whole time. At about 6 am I couldn't stand it anymore and went back to the airport, because I thought that there was some hope of still getting to Moscow on time. The information boards teased me a good deal, but at about 9 am I finally did get on a plane. We took our sweet time getting off the runway, and for the entire trip I just stared at my watch and hoped that there was still time. In short, there wasn't. We landed right as my plane was supposed to be taking off. Although, who's to say if it even took off at all?

An entirely new kind of hell awaited me at Sheremetevo. When I got my bag and left the isolation of the baggage claim I was assaulted by a vision of pure chaos. In that moment my heart fell. Before me were 2 day's worth of displaced travelers all crammed into the check-in area with no apparent sign of anything being done to help them. No one was around to advise travelers where to go, so I found a sign that seemed to be indicating that it was where you should go to alter your travel plans, and I waited in a mob for 6 hours. This was in no way a line; it was a shoving contest. After about 4 hours I started to get genuinely depressed. I hadn't really eaten or slept in a day, and I had looked forward to going home for so long that I was pretty much on the verge of tears. I had already sent a few international/long-distance text messages to pretty much anyone whose number I had and who I figured would be sympathetic, but at this point I sent my mom a message telling her to just get me a completely new ticket out of Domodedovo. Cost was not really a consideration at this point, because I was pretty sure that I would either shrivel up and die on the airport floor or have a nervous breakdown if I had to stay in Russia any longer.

Before you go and call me a wuss when it comes to traveling, let me remind you that I've done a lot of air time in my years. This was actually a disaster though...and I was dealing with a whole lot of crushed hopes on top of that.

After finally making my way to the counter only to be told that they couldn't help me, waiting in another line to be told that I could be sent to Copenhagen (but not necessarily Chicago), and coming to the conclusion that I was never going to be able to leave Russia, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I remembered my neighbor on the plane to Russia complaining about how the internet wasn't free in *wherever I was leaving from* because "In Russia, all airports have free wi-fi." These words often come back to me, and in most cases they seem to be true. I took my trusty purple netbook to an abandoned corner, put 500 rubles (a little under $20) on my phone so that I could send as many international texts as necessary, and decided to bust myself out of Russia. After finding and attempting to buy a plane ticket (only to have my credit card bounce), I finally heard back that my parents hadn't actually abandoned me, and that a ticket in my name was reserved and ready to be bought as soon as I gave the word. Relief!

The depression lifted and determination once again filled me. Now it was simply a matter of taking care of simple things like finding a hotel and getting to the airport. I took care of this in a matter of minutes, and then lugged my bags all across the metro system. By the time that I actually made it to the airport (Ekaterina Park -- excellent hotel, by the way. Free wi-fi and mini bar!) I only actually had about 4 hours before I needed to leave again. No matter. The important part was just that I was leaving! I took every item from the mini bar and put it in my bag, got on the internet to let Brian know about my plans and get some moral support, took a shower to wash the grime of Sheremetevo off of me, and then took a 1.5 hour nap to refresh myself. At 3:45 am I was downstairs ready for my breakfast (they asked if I wanted complimentary breakfast...I asked if I could get it at 4 am, they said I could, and so I did).

By 5 am I was at Domodedovo and ready to go, but just waiting for something else to go wrong. I was surprised once I could check in, more surprised when I made it through security, and astonished when there was actually a plane waiting at the gate. Things were slow to get started, and then the snow began to fall, and that was when I just knew the flight was going to get canceled. I watched the neighboring flight get delayed an hour...and then I watched my gate open..and people start to board. Then I myself boarded and I couldn't believe it. When we taxied around for another hour I was convinced that now the joke was up...we were just going to go back to the airport and unload. However....we didn't. 2 hours in we were de-iced. 2.5 hours in and we were taking off...I was still skeptical. I would not be happy until I was sure that we were out of Russia!

When we got to Frankfurt I was relieved. There were still problems though -- the security was the slowest that I had ever seen in my life. With the delays and slow security my 4 hour layover completely disappeared, and I only had time to make it to my gate 2 minutes before boarding. I was still horribly anxious, but starting to feel some hope again. When I was finally in my seat (a middle, but who cares?) and in the air I could at last relax. That was the shortest trans-Atlantic flight of my life and the happiest that I can ever be to get a middle seat.

I finally made it to Chicago 24 hours late (although it felt like years), exhausted, not attractive at all (as I'd hoped to be after not seeing Brian in 4 months), but completely happy. I escaped Russia, I did not die in Sheremetevo like I'd been convinced that I would, and I was now free to start my vacation.

2+ months of not blogging? Well, I'm sure that's not actually a record for me. If you're wondering what happened, my only guess is that life happened. This is actually a good sign! Usually I quit blogging because I get caught up in what I'm doing locally and either don't have the energy to write or I no longer think that anything is interesting enough to write about. Or I just don't feel like it, which is the most likely.

Anyway, I know that some of you out there have been wondering what I've been up to lately, so I'll tell you.

REVIEW PART I (Nov. 9 - Dec. 26th):

First of all, the "master" came and fixed my shower, so it doesn't leak any more. Actually, the truth is that he fixed it, it didn't leak for a month, and now it's starting to again. I had bigger issues for a while though -- primarily that the water was not leaving the tub in a satisfactory manner. Now, I already knew that it was perfectly skilled at leaving the shower via small gaps in the grout along the wall, but I was more concerned with its exit through the drain. When I first moved in everything worked fine, but then slowly but surely the water started to drain slower and slower. At first I didn't notice, and then I ignored it once it got to be toe-depth. Once it reached my ankles I attacked it with toxic bathroom chemicals (which eased the problem for about 2 weeks). After 2 months in my apartment the water was several inches above my ankles, and I had determined to just take fast showers and have my landlady call the plumber while I was out of the country (because it's awkward when other people are here when I am). I took a shower today, and it seems to be working at the moment, so I appreciated that.

A lot of people asked me about Thanksgiving, and I think that I mostly avoided the topic because I didn't feel like answering a lot of questions. Here is a breakdown of how I spent my first Russian Thanksgiving:

The People: Me, Nichole (another American. Works as a teacher, but not with me. Does not live close to me. Already knew her from studying abroad in St. Petersburg 4 years ago), Sasha and Misha (friends from the dorm), Julia (student), and Anna (Nichole's friend/co-worker).

The Location: Nichole's apartment. It's exponentially larger than mine and has more dishes.

The Food (basically everything that Nichole and I could make): Chicken cooked in some spice mix that we found at the store, leafy salad with RANCH DRESSING, fruit salad, garlic bread, olives, juice, tea, alcohol (for those inclined), and APPLE PIE! No there was not turkey, because it's hard to find in Russia and seemed scary to make. Our Russian friends seemed skeptical of the salads and apple pie, but enjoyed the ranch dressing and chicken quite a bit. They didn't seem to touch the fruit salad very much, but that's ok because I ate half of it and then took it home and ate the rest.

The Entertainment: preliminary mood music, dinner conversation, toasts, everyone saying what they were thankful for, a sing-along lead by Misha (although there wasn't much singing from Nichole or I because they were Russian songs that we didn't know), and several rounds of "Crocodile," which is the Russian version of charades. The only difference from the American version is that we didn't have spiffy cards, so the last person to go just thought up a word for the person who guessed. We also didn't seem to keep score, but that could have been because it was getting late and some of the guests might have been doing too much toasting.H

Problems: We didn't have enough silverware and the pie crust was too small.
Solutions: Have really thin pie crust and send Sasha and Misha to beg silverware from the neighbors.

Overall it was a success.

Other than that nothing really happened for a month. Honest. At least, nothing that I can really remember. I went to work, I came home, I ate stuff, I went ice skating sometimes. I started getting really excited about going home and bought Christmas presents and avoided packing because I hate packing.

Christmas day turned out to be really enjoyable. A couple of weeks before I had started to befriend a pretty awesome girl from one of my classes, and she and her family adopted me for a day and made sure that I both had a good time and got rid of a vicious cold that had decided to overpower me.

To start the day off I stayed up pretty late talking to people from home and feeling pretty weird about the fact that it was Christmas. Then I felt sorry for myself because I was probably going to be sick while I was home, which was a completely sucky idea. Then I slept until about noon (luckily this family isn't very into the whole "morning" idea either). The major event of the day was going sledding. While there was only one hill and the majority of the sledders hadn't reached double digits yet, it was still an enjoyable afternoon. The temperature was hovering right around freezing, so we managed to stay pretty comfortable. After that we headed to the grocery store so that we could stock up on food and medicine. I wasn't really sure what the plan was for the day outside of sledding, but I decided to just stay in the car until we either reached my apartment or did something else. The "something else" evolved into a Christmas feast at their house which lasted until well into the night. Being sick and a guest, I of course had to start out with a bowl of soup and a shot of vodka. I was forced to eat way too much as usual, but the company was very cheerful, and I was told that a certain Santa Claus had even stopped by for me (New Year's is the major holiday in Russia. December 25th usually isn't really celebrated).

After that we watched a movie, talked, I took every medicine offered to me (I really wanted to get rid of that cold!), and had a good time. This family is seriously one of the nicest I've ever met. I even got a backrub!

While Christmas wasn't the same being away from my real family, it was still so much better than what I had anticipated or hoped for.

About this blog

Good news: no more required disclaimer!
Bad news: I'm really lazy about posting when I'm not in Russia