I was reading Alison and Don’s fabulous blog, Adventures in Wonderland, and Alison made a comment about crying on a flight they were taking. It made me reflect on my recent flight to Russia. It was a flight that saw me fall apart, just a little, and sit sobbing and feeling very sorry for myself, for a little while.
I have wanted to visit Russia since I was about eight years old and the BBC introduced me to War and Peace. Over the intervening years I had read many books about Russia, taken a couple of course at university on Russian authors and literature, and my interest had deepened. So I was very excited about going to Russia, and about being able to work there, and to stay for a while. The day of departure finally arrived and I got to the airport very early as I had to see quarantine so that Missy could travel too. All went really well until it was time to check in, then the nightmare began. It seems that the ground staff – all Thai – were determined to make some money that day and they were double charging, and it seems just plucking figures from the air, anyone that had even a kilo of excess baggage. I won’t go into detail as I have already covered this wee drama in another post, the upshot was that I did not board the flight that day. The following week saw me arrive at the airport once more, my heart beating wildly as I once again attempted to get to Russia. This time I paid the bribe (fortunately considerably less than the amount demanded the week prior) in order to get on the flight.
I heaved a huge sigh of relief when I finally boarded and took my seat, I was on my way. I was a little disappointed as the seat I had been allocated was the only seat on the flight that had no window. Here I was, on the adventure I had been dreaming of for more than forty years, on a daylight flight across Russia and I was going to see nothing. In my well concealed, but none the less, seething fury at the appalling treatment I had received I also conspiratorially suspected that the ground staff had allocated me the worst seat on the plane as revenge for failing to pay the outlandish bribe demanded a week earlier. But I was onboard, almost on my way, and that was all that really mattered.
I settled myself and Missy, and tried to keep cool both emotionally and physically. It was very hot onboard as the air-con had not been switched on and I was a little worried about Missy overheating. I kept her water topped up and was relieved when they came around with refreshments after take-off. I asked if I might have a little ice as I thought this might help keep Missy cool until the air-con kicked in. The flight staff were lovely and promptly bought me two cups full. All was progressing well.
I really have no idea what started me off but I suddenly began to cry. I sat there quietly sobbing and, to be honest, feeling like a bit of a fool. Fortunately I had the whole row to myself, and so thought I could get myself together before anyone noticed this slightly insane woman sobbing quietly in the back corner. No such luck, a passing flight attendant saw me and was so kind and solicitous that it just made me cry even more.
I think it was just the relief of finally being on my way, of having overcome a few obstacles, and having had just one too many less than pleasant encounters with people that were just not nice people. I was so happy to finally have put Thailand behind me and to be starting a new adventure. I guess it was just all a little overwhelming and my relief valve was a few tears.
The flight staff were just adorable and went out of their way to cheer me up and I did finally manage to gather myself back together and plaster a smile on my face. ‘Fake it till you make it’ became my mantra for a few hours until I got myself back together. The remainder of the flight passed uneventfully, and a new face applied, lipstick on, I landed in Siberia.
My misery was quickly overcome when I landed. I had made it, I was in Russia. Yes, I was still hours from my destination, but I was on Russian soil. I really wanted to let out a loud whoop of joy. I restrained myself of course, but I was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat and I suspect the Immigration fellow thought I might be slightly insane but he stamped my passport and waved me on. What a wonderful welcome to Russia I received. I was treated like a princess. Clearing Immigration was a breeze. Quarantine was even easier. I approached the Red Lane, the naughty person lane is how I usually refer to it, you know the one, the place that people that have something to declare must go. Missy needed her clearance. As I approached a very tall fellow, looking very official and guarding the Red Lane entry point, held up his hand, the universal sign of STOP. I did and then pointed to the dog, not sure if he spoke English. He smiled at me and just said ‘wait,’ as he pointed to a small seating area. Less than two minutes later another of the Immigration Officers approached and spoke in beautiful English. He said the Quarantine officer would just be five minutes and that I needed to wait. I was very happy to comply, I was inside, it was warm, and I had a seat. The Quarantine fellow arrived, all smiles, and asked for the paperwork for Missy, this was duly handed over and he said he would be back shortly. The Immigration Officer, with beautiful English, explained that I needed a Boarding Pass for the dog for the next leg of my trip. He then stayed and chatted with me. He wanted to know where I was from (he hadn’t been the one to processed my passport) why I was going to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. I told him about my new job and answered all his questions. The Quarantine Officer returned with my papers and my ‘Doggie Boarding Pass’, I was ready to go. As I stared to gather my belongings the three Russia officials were furiously chatting. I started to reach for my suitcase and the Immigration fellow said, ‘No, no, no, we will take your bags. They are too heavy for you and it’s a long walk. We will take you so you don’t get lost.’
I exited the International terminal with an escort of two Russian Officials, they carrying everything except Missy. We wandered over to the domestic terminal, which was actually very close, and they did have trolleys, but I wasn’t complaining. They took me through the security check point, they organized for my bags to go to a left luggage area so that I could wander around unhindered, and then asked me what I was going to do for the next four hours. I promptly told them the first order of the day was a coffee, and then a cigarette! For some reason they thought this was hilarious, and they took me to what they said was the best of the coffee shops and bought me a coffee. I actually also really needed to visit the bathroom, but felt that I had to delay this as they were being so kind. Eventually I had to admit I needed the loo and they said they would take care of my things, and Missy, so I could visit the ladies. Given that they were the officials I felt pretty safe leaving Missy with them and off I went. When I got back there was a second coffee waiting for me in a take-out container. Wreathed with smiles they escorted me to a reasonably sheltered spot so that I could have a cigarette with my second coffee. Turns out they were all smoking pariahs too, and so we stood there puffing away together.
Only the Immigration Officer spoke English, so he was acting as a translator, and they were really quite interested in an Australian being in Russia. They were truly delightful, so kind, and between them kept me very entertained for my brief sojourn in Novosibirsk. I was duly deposited onto the domestic leg of my final flight. What a wonderful welcome to Russia I had received. If only these fellows knew just how much their kindness meant to a dopey old lady convinced she can travel the world alone. Sometimes a little show of friendship can mean so much, and these gentlemen went out of their way to be friendly to a stranger in a strange land – THANK YOU.