Friday, February 26, 2010

Day 1 -- v puti...

(This entry was started in Frankfurt on Feb 26 but not posted because we ran out of minutes at the airport. With no access to the internet for 4 days, it gets to be posted retroactively only today, March 2, 2010).

Guten Tag (almost) aus Deutschland,

Just when I thought I could kick back and enjoy the fruits of my 6-month long program preparation period, I got the full red carpet treatment at Detroit Metro. After paying overweight fees on my carry-on luggage (sic!) (this was the first time anyone ever wanted to weigh my carry-on in my life and I was caught completely unprepared), I also got a full body search, apparently because those scanning gates didn't like a metal fastener on my pants... And those TSA officers definitely try to do their best to treat you like cattle. I have gone through security in a few countries but American TSA ranks at the top of my book for the rudest, meanest and the grumpiest employees. No wonder they are the lowest paid government workers out there!

After a bumpy start, we had a very uneventful and comfortable flight on a brand new airbus, with decent food and service. What a shame I can never sleep on those long transatlantic flights, always arriving completely exhausted. I was amazed and envious to see that Danielle, who sat next to me, could finish her polisci paper during the flight and even post it from Frankfurt, while Jill just slept like a baby.

Everyone in the group seems excited already, despite us being forced to sit and even nap on the floor -- there are few chairs outside of gate lounges here and gate lounges open only 1.5 hours before the flight! I keep wondering what the reason behind that brilliant idea is -- perhaps trying to force travellers spend money in duty free shops and overpriced coffee bars (3 euros for a small cup of tea!)?.

*** after about 4 hours ****

Although our flight to Pulkovo 2 is delayed by an hour, we still manage to get to Russia dead on the origianally scheduled time which means that the Germans are just being very generous with their flight durations. I am very impressed at how empty and easy the passport control is this time, not a single line anywhere and our luggage is waiting for us. The airport is absolutely empty by 7 p.m. on a Thursday night - this is what global financial crisis does to travel industry, I guess. We don't have any problems with anything and are on the way to the hotel in a nice large minivan shortly afterwards.

All my friends told me how much snow they had this winter in SPb and that it was the largest recorded snowfall since 1893 but I am not prepared for how much snow there is on the sidewalks and roads. Still it's nice to see a wintery sight of the Russian Northern Capital at night(I've been to St. Petersburg only in the summer, spring or fall before). When we get to our hotel/hostel at the Centr Sporta, however, the bus driver cannot get through all the snow and close enough to the entrance we need. Actually he can, be he is afraid that he won't be able to turn around or back out once he is there. So, we have to struggle with our luggage through immense snow banks (compacted and slippery by now) and drag our suitcases for about 100 meters and up four flights of stairs.

Everyone is exhausted, and after eating our dinner half-heartedly at the Shtolletka cafe and figuring out cell phone use for everyone (except for me), everyone settles down in their rooms for the night. Very busy day sightseeing tomorrow but I still have lots of things to do tonight (calls and payments to make, as well as trying to figure out why my phone is still not working).

One great thing is that we are in Russia, the trip, amazingly, has started and it seems that we have a great group of students -- fun, upbeat, curious, enthusiastic and prepared. My biggest fear is to disappoint them somewhere. So, keep your fingers crossed for us!

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