On the flight from JFK to Moscow, we were delayed a bit on the ground, but I wasn’t worried. Then we had to divert to Edinburgh, Scotland (for reasons I’ll explain later and the reason for the title) but I still wasn’t worried because I had a 10 hour layover in Moscow. So we finally arrived and I get through immigration and customs with no problems. I take the free Aeroflot shuttle bus over to Terminal 1, which has been the terminal that all my other flights to Syktyvkar have left from because it is the domestic terminal. And of course when I get there, my flight isn’t shown on the board yet because it’s not for another 6 hours
. So I sit down occupy myself with Sudoku and crossword puzzles and reading the newspapers I had gotten in JFK airport. Then at 18:00, I get up to see if I can check in yet. Lo and behold, my flight is moved to the newly built terminal, Terminal D. Now for those that don’t know, there is no easy way to get from Terminal 1 to Terminal D. You can take a taxi but they charge an exorbitant amount for such a short trip. And you can take the bus, but they don’t run directly between 1 and D, you have to make a stop at Terminal 2 first. So I went outside to wait for the bus, thinking that I’ve got an hour and half to get there, I should be fine. But since you have to take the road near Terminal 2, the travel time is dependent on traffic. And the entry drive to Terminal 2 was packed… All in all, it took me almost two hours to get to from Terminal 1 to Terminal D, and I missed checking into my flight on time. So then I had to go and try to rebook the flight, which took another hour almost. By this time I was frustrated and tired and I was thinking I was going to need to sleep in the Moscow airport and stay there until 20:00 the NEXT day. This was all even more frustrating because there was a taxi driver at Terminal 1 who kept trying to get me to ride with him by saying that I’ll not be able to make the flight. And I wouldn’t give in and pay his fee because it has never taken me that long before…and then he did end up being right. My missing the flight set a whole new string of problems into motion too. I was scheduled to start night shift as soon as I got into Syktyvkar, so then one of the other guys had to work a day shift and a night shift to cover for me. And then I had to cover his day shift and my night shift so that he could catch up on his rest.
Back to the JFK-SVO flight, I was lucky enough to get to use my upgrade vouchers to sit myself in business class for the flight
. And the flight was going really smoothly other than the late take off. So after dinner and drinks and watching a movie, I curled up in my seat to go to sleep. Then some time later I was woken up by someone’s butt hitting me in the head repeatedly. I took off the eye mask and looked up and two of the flight stewards were fighting with some random guy who was pushing his way up to the flight deck. I immediately hopped up and stiff-armed the guy in the throat and pushed him against the cabin wall near some empty seats. I held him there for a minute while one of the stewards went to get the plastic handcuffs. Then we needed to turn him around to get his hands behind his back…so I told the other two guys to step back for a moment, I dropped my arms and picked him up to hit his head into the ceiling, then flipped him so his back was facing me as he came down. Pushed his face down between two of the business class backrests so he couldn’t move his upper body and we pulled his arms behind his back. Apparently the flight stewards had never used the plastic handcuffs before because they struggled with it for a few minutes while I was restraining the guy. And even then it wasn’t done correctly because the guy worked the handcuffs loose after a few minutes of being strapped into a seat. So then we had to pin him again and put the cuffs on the right way and tighten them a bit more. The entire time this guy was babbling incoherently, so I don’t know if he was drunk, high, crazy, or a little bit of all mixed together. But I’m fairly certain he wasn’t a terrorist. So then we had to make a detour to Edinburgh to drop the guy off with the police. The pilots were originally going to set down in Reykjavík, but they changed their minds for some reason. Then one of the stewardesses and I had to watch the guy the rest of the flight to Edinburgh in case he got himself free again.
Truthfully, after it was all over, I felt pretty proud to have been able to help. And it was a bit of an ego booster when the guy who had been sitting next to me all night (who I hadn’t really talked with before) asked if I was one of the air marshals…and I had to tell him no, but that would be a fun job. So then he asked me where I learned to handle a person like that. I just replied, "I grew up with 2 brothers and my dad taught me how to fight and wrestle." So anyways, after arriving in Moscow, I was presented with a bottle of champagne, which was really nice of them to do.
Back to Syktyvkar, I didn’t get to see much of Sykty the first few days because I was working nights and wanted to sleep as much as possible. Of the few days I stayed up late to walk around, I bought a pretty painting which embodies the scenery of Syktyvkar (see the pic of the painting), I bought one of the nesting dolls (called a Madrushka), and I walked around the center of town looking at all the ice sculptures (you really get your money’s worth out of an ice sculpture here!). And one day there was a festival to celebrate the start of the end of winter. Of course, they celebrate this beginning of the end of winter on Sunday, and then this weekend it’s supposed to get to -44C.
After I got back onto day shift, I finally got to go out at night with the guys
. I hadn’t known before but Syktyvkar has WAY more women than men (so for any guys who are striking out in the states, take a vacation to Syktyvkar). And because of this disproportion, the women are very bold. Unfortunately the first night that we went out for dinner and dancing, two much larger women (larger than me) decided that they liked me and my Finnish coworker Harri. So they laid “claim” to us for the dancing for the night. One of the other guys from the mill tried to help us out and found a table of pretty girls and arranged for us to dance with them, but this only made the original women angry. I thought a brawl was gonna break out! Finally I had to have my other coworker that speaks Russian talk to the woman who had latched on to and tell her that I’m married and I AM going home alone. Then I made my break for it when she wasn’t paying attention!
The next time I went out to dinner and there was a dance club it was much more sedate for a while. Then one of the guys at the bar figured out we were foreigners and bought a bottle of vodka for us all to share. Then this guy decided he wanted to have some contests between me and one of his big friends. So then I had to arm wrestle this other drunk Russian guy until I beat him a few times and they realized it was a game I wasn’t going to lose. Then they wanted to try another game involving linking the middle fingers and trying to pull the other person’s arm towards you. I didn’t really understand the rules of the game though so that didn’t last long. I did end up having to call a cab for my one coworker who was falling asleep on the bar by that point…guess the Austrian’s aren’t that great at drinking vodka??
At this point, I’ve got really mixed feelings about Russia
. Some of the people I’ve met have been awesome to talk to and nice and helpful…. Cases in point: Several of the translators and especially Valeria, who is also a Couchsurfing hostess in Syktyvkar, were excellent to get tips on things to do; when I went to buy the painting, the owner’s daughter-in-law left her house to come and translate for me; the ground crew at SCW airport who stayed late so that our plane could have late departure as opposed to canceling the flight.
But there is also a cloud that hangs over my experience in Russia. There is a general sense of distrust that I feel, which is difficult to explain. I think Valeria sum edit up well when she told me she hasn’t been able to host anyone here in Russia yet, partly because Syktyvkar is not on the tourist circuit, and partly because the idea of sharing your home with a stranger is completely foreign to them. Also, you have to pay for your hotel room in advance because they worry about people skipping out on the bill. And a fair amount of people will try to screw you if they find out you are a foreigner…taxi drivers expecially. If you don’t speak Russian, the fare goes up by 200 or 300%. Like the night I got in to the SCW airport and got out of baggage claim by 01:30am, there was only one taxi driver parked out there and he wanted 300 Rubles for the fare to the Avalon hotel. Normal price is 80 Rubles. I finally talked him down to 200 Rubles, which is still outrageous. And it was the same thing in Moscow. That’s always a big turnoff when your first experience when entering a country is to have people try to take advantage of you.
Right now I’m sitting in the Moscow airport on my way back to Utica. We should be having closing on our house in Glens Falls sometime while I’m in the air. (FINALLY!) So now we’re basing out of Jacqui’s parents house until we move down south….which is probably gonna happen during this summer. The plan is to work as much as possible and save as much as possible (minus a few little vacations, more later) since we won’t have a mortgage or property taxes or utilities to pay.
Well, well….where do I even begin. I've been working a lot of hours and had difficulty with internet connections during this stay in Russia, so I haven’t made any updates in a while. I apologize for that. A lot has happened though in the last few weeks so this is gonna be a long entry.