Time to leave! I was really getting nervous by the time we left. What would I forget, crazy dreams about international travel, and my endless to-do list were weighing on my mind, but I was so excited to finally go to Russia. I've studied the language and learned about the culture--time to put it to good use.
Shirin and I met in Greenwood around 10 am and she drove us to Dulles. We made great time, getting there in a little over 2 hours. We were WAY early for the flight, which is better than being late (as everyone told us), so we had plenty of time to explore the airport. It was actually a really nice airport, and I could see myself flying out of there again. The concourse was very wide and open, with skylights and plenty of shopping. We had lunch at a place called Potbelly, where I got an absolutely heavenly sub and an Oreo milkshake. They even put little cookies around the straw! I always eat a lot before I get on a plane because they starve you on domestic flights. Turns out that isn't the case on Air France international flights. Who knew? Anyway, I called Susan and my Dad while we waited, then we visited the airport chapel (spaces for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim worshippers), then went back to the seats to read for a while before boarding.
When we finally boarded, they fed us pretty quickly and then tried to make it nighttime. The plane left at 4:40 pm though, so I wasn't having any of that. Instead, I got no sleep at all and watched Frost/Nixon, Milk, and Gran Torino (good/bad choice on a plane/good until the flight ended with 15 min left). They fed us 3 meals on the plane, all of which were actually pretty good. There was a really nice European guy next to us and we chatted with him for a while about Air France and the world in general. I also got a blurry picture of the Eiffel Tower when we arrived in Paris. Welcome to France!
The Paris airport was pretty cool, which is good because we had to go through a really slow security line. We had "slow line" radar, always picking the worst possible place to be. They let the people right behind us into another (faster section), opened 2 new lines right after we walked by the partition, and searched just about everyone there. I was distracted by the guy in front us though, so it wasn't so bad. He was like 17 or 18 and wearing a completely neon outfit, complete with yellow, green, and orange, in a hoodie and board short ensemble. No American guy would be caught dead in it, but he sort of pulled it off. He also looked like Heath Ledger, which was freaking me out a little. I'm pretty sure he thought I was checking him out. Shirin said I should take a picture with him, but I really wasn't going for it. I almost wish I had though. The whole outfit was seriously cool.
So we made it to the next plane in plenty of time. I was exhausted by then and it was like 2 am our time, so you'd think I could sleep. Wrong! This plane was lit up like high noon in the desert, and the captain would not shut up. He was speaking in whole paragraphs about...something...but he had to say it French, and then Russian, and then English. It was like 20 minutes every time he said something. I dozed fitfully for about 30 minutes, but I just couldn't really get to sleep. They also kept trying to feed us and give us drinks, so it was tough to stay asleep. In any case, we were soon getting ready to land and filling out the immigration forms that they handed out while we were mostly asleep. They collected the forms and then we stayed on board for a while as some security people came through with this weird camera thing. We were a little freaked out until someone said it was a heat scanner for swine flu. At least I won't get any sicker while I'm there (thanks for the cold, Jon!).
We finally escaped to customs for the next portion of our adventure. Now, the airport people gave us forms to fill out and then collected them, but there was apparently some other form that we didn't get. We waited in the passport control line for like 20 minutes and then the woman asked me for the immigration form. What form? Back of the line!She seriously just pointed to the table at the back of the room. Shirin and I went over to fill out the form, which were in pairs. So we tore one in half and each filled it out. While we were frantically writing, about 5 flights came in. An hour later, we finally got back to the front of the line. We were seriously freaking out by now, because our whole flight had gone through and claimed bags. What would happen to ours? Would they keep rolling around on the conveyor belt, get stolen, or be taken back to the plane or airport "unclaimed" section? The woman looked at me when I finally made it back and said, "Where's the other form?" What??? I almost fainted when she said there were 2 forms attached to each other because we were supposed to fill out both. Luckily, she let us both stand there and fill out the second form. She stamped my passport (finally!!!) and I ran over to the 2 lonely suitcases that someone had helpfully set next to the conveyor belts while Shirin finished up. We turned toward the exit and there was Anton (Natalia's son), our ride to the university. He had just called in to see if we had missed our flight or something since he had waited there for over an hour. We were so grateful to see him.
It was quite a ride back to the university. I was exhausted, but I read Cyrillic, so I was trying to sound out the words on road signs and billboards as we passed. Unfortunately, it takes me a while, so I would finally spit out the word like a mile after I first saw the sign. It was pretty comical, with me spitting out random words in Russian in between our regular conversation and poor Anton trying to figure out what I was talking about. He spoke perfect English though. When we made it to the university, the first thing we saw was a group of people walking across the path and Kiki saying "Delaware people?" We dropped off our luggage at the dorm and went to the university to have lunch with Natalia and Anton.
The dining hall where we ate was really nice. I'm not sure if it was a faculty dining room (I think not), but that would be the best way to describe it. It had nice chairs, tablecloths, and good food. I don't know where you went to college, but my dining hall usually had just one of the three (it varied). We followed up lunch with a short speech by a tourism instructor, telling us all about what students in that major study at their university. We met the Hampton College people (for real) there, and then we all did a walking tour of the campus. The whole area is beautiful. There is a little stream and a chapel and a huge lawn. We crossed a sketchy bridge and then walked toward a burned out building. Some of the students were on hand to act as guides, so I asked Pavel about the building. He told me his grandparent used to work in the chemistry building before it burned down--what are the odds?
We continued down the path to another university building, where we saw some classrooms and a science lab. The group had noticed a pretty church sticking up over the trees in the distance, so our intrepid guides took us there next. That was a nice surprise for us, as we thought we would just walk around the college and see that from far away for the rest of the week. The walk took us across the road, up a hill, through a narrow alley, and then around a stream that had people swimming ad fishing in it. We were walking along the edge of a small bluff and the view was wonderful (remember, I'm a flat-lander). The church finally appeared again and we took tons of pictures, of both the group and the church.
We then trooped back to the university for an authentic Russian dinner. Everyone got to know each other over dinner and we also found out some of the activities that were planned for the week. By the time we finished dinner, everyone was drooping a little (especially me). We settled in at the dorms, taking showers and unpacking some. I've never used a coed shower or bathroom, so that was an adventure. But that was all for our first day. We went to bed early....