This post has been a long time coming. Sorry to all who have been waiting for news from the great beyond (or at least want to know what happened to Frog). As soon as I stepped foot back in Texas, I was swept back into the current of my busy life. But I guess I should better start at the beginning, as that's always the best place to start a long story...
The last many of you heard from me, I was stranded in great city Moscow. But how did I manage to escape? It's a long, complicated mess of a tale, but I'll try to recap it for you. Though they may say something different to other students there, the ladies working in the international office at IGLU completely screwed me over. Though I repeatedly asked if I had everything I needed and all my paperwork was in order, they managed to put me on a plane to Moscow without giving me my new visa. If they had given it to me when I originally asked for it (in October), not only would I have gotten home for Christmas, but I would have been able to visit my buddies in China as well. GRRRRRRRRRRR. Anyway, the resulting trauma occurred when Natasha called me an hour and a half before my flight to Frankfurt to tell me that they had my visa. WTF. These people are so inept. The only cheapest solution for them was to give my visa (and money for a hotel, since it was most definitely their fault) to Adam - my fellow American who was going through Moscow on his way home on Saturday (Dec. 23). Okay - no big deal. I'll just meet him at the airport on Saturday afternoon. That's what I thought at least. But you see, just getting to the airport in Moscow (one of many) takes some doing. It was a two and a half hour one-way trip. I was 15 minutes late getting there and Adam's flight arrived 30 minutes early (go figure - that NEVER happens in Russia). So here I was, standing in driving snow, searching for Adam, who had decided that maybe I forgot and hopped in a cab for his hotel. WHAT?! That's right. Adam, who had no cell phone, LEFT the airport when I did not know when he was flying out of the city, where he was staying, or even where to begin looking for him.
I definitely took some skill to get out of this mess. I called Josh (my Moscow contact for SRAS), who called the university in Irkutsk, who called Adam's host, who called Josh, who called me back. Apparently Adam was staying at the Hotel Ukraine - one of the poshest hotels in Moscow. It's in one of those stereotypical Stalinist wedding cake buildings, not far from my cheap little hostel on Old Arbat street. So an hour after arriving, I left the airport for the 2.5 hour return trip back to the center of the city (this time in rush hour traffic). I went back to my hostel, looked at the map, and walked the 45 minutes to the Hotel Ukraine, praying with all my heart that Adam was there (still hadn't heard from him at this point - pick up a goddamn pay phone!). I walked into the lobby, still in awe at his lodgings, and walked up to the main desk. As I was waiting in line to try to page him or something, I see him walking about in a gift shop across the lobby!
"Adam - where the hell have you been!?"
"Oh, I was just about to call you."
Calm down. Calm down. Calm down.
I had to keep myself to not do anything rash.
I had my visa.
I had some money.
I was alright.
I was finally legally allowed to leave.
That's all I wanted.
To sleep in my own bed. To spend Christmas with my family and friends. To eat some Mexican food. To... you get the picture.
I ate dinner with Adam, who made up for my stressful evening with a meal.
Then I grabbed a beer and walked back to Old Arbat.
I kept on remembering this poem we had to read in class a few weeks before, the last few lines of which are...
"Ah, Arbat, My Arbat. You are my fatherland.
Never, even at the end, will I let you go."
I love Old Arbat street. I was tired, pissed, depressed, and happy to be legal again. The only thing I wanted to do was wander up and down the famed walking street, saying goodbye once again to the city. I love Moscow. If I had to be stuck somewhere, I guess it was a pretty good place to be.
Of course, we haven't gotten to Christmas Eve yet.
When I moved my flight reservation, I had a bit of a problem. You see, I had my visa by the 23rd. I could have flown the next morning (Christmas Eve) - except Lufthansa cancelled their one daily flight to Dallas from Frankfurt for Christmas Eve. So I was stuck waiting until Christmas DAY to fly away. Which meant spending Christmas Eve by myself in a foreign land.
Okay. I can handle this. I woke up in the morning, not feeling too bad. I moved kind of slow - had a nice breakfast, took a shower, and wandered about a bit. Then I bundled up and walked down to Red Square. Then it hit me how much I wanted to be home. It was snowing and the square was so beautiful but all I could think about was getting back to Texas. All my plans had been for Christmas Eve and were now lying in ruins. And my New Years trip to Big Bend was in danger of falling through as well. Sigh. I wandered around a bit, called my friends in Irkutsk (who were having celebrations of their own), then went back to the hostel. I figured I might as well treat myself to a nice dinner or night on the town. So I looked for a nice place. I saw an add for this place down the street called Uncle Sam's American Cafe. Sounds cool, I thought. So I bundled up again and headed that way. The first thing the hostess said to me when I walked in the door was "NO!" I can't decide if she meant there are no tables, you won't fit in here, or what, but I was so surprised and turned off by her incredible rudeness, that I turned and walked back out the door. Where to now, I thought. I went back to the hostel (again) and did another search. This time I came up with an Irish pub downtown that had pretty high ratings. I little place called Silver's. Sounds good to me. So off I went, into the snowy night, by myself, to celebrate the nativity. Sort of. I found the place, walked in, ordered a beer, and sat down at a random table. As I waited for the waitress to bring me a menu, I looked up above me and what should I see - A TEXAS FLAG HANGING ON THE WALL. Cue the emotions. I started crying. Here I was, lost little American girl, spending Christmas Eve by myself in an Irish Pub in Moscow when I by all rights should be home putting up with the drama of another "family" Christmas. Christmas isn't that great in my family but at least it's home.
I had a good time though - I guess. Frankly I don't really remember most of that evening. I had four pints and a plate of bangers and mash for my Christmas dinner, and somehow managed to find my way back to the hostel at around 2 in the morning.
All of a sudden it was 4.30 am. One of the other people in the hostel is poking me - "Hannah, wake up. I thought your cab was coming at 4." HOLY SHIT! Throw everything in a bag. Run. Run as fast as you can. Thank God the cab driver waited. For a few extra rubles, he drove as fast as he could through the driving snow (had to stop once to take snow from the side of the road and wash the windshield) to the airport.
Check in. Through customs. On the plane. Take off.
And the tears start again.
As hellish as the last few days were, I was really pretty sad to say goodbye to the country. Russia has a vibe that's all its own and I hope that I can make it back one day. Legally this time.
I arrived in Dallas at about 2 pm Christmas Day. I had a five hour layover before my flight to Austin. Originally, the plan was for Iris and Renee to meet me at DFW and go get something to eat or have a drink before my flight to Austin. That was when I was coming in on Friday. The new flight times and stuff didn't really get sent out, so there was no one to meet me. :-(. But luckily, terminal D has some good food offerings. So I sat down in the Blue Mesa Taco Bar, gave the bartender the distinct honor of serving me my first LEGAL beer in the US, and stuffed myself with tacos while I watched the Cowboys lose. I must have told my story a thousand times that afternoon. I have to admit, it's a good one. How I was screwed over. How I managed to find a bumbling idiot in a city of 15 million people without a cell phone or a clue where to start. How I managed to spend Christmas Eve and get to the airport.
I'm out of breath.
After a six hour wait (hour longer than it was supposed to be), I hopped on the 30 minute flight to Austin, where Daddy and Uncle Todd were waiting for me.
10 pm Christmas Day, and I was finally home.
Definitely the most exciting and logistically complicated Christmas of my life.
Thus ends the tales of Hannah's Adventures in Wandering. For now anyway. This was only the first of many adventures. You'll see me and Frog again someday, where ever the road takes us next...