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Map – Trans Siberian Train Route

25 Sep

For those who want to check out the Trans Siberian train route.

More detailed map of the Trans-Siberian Rail below…

Overnight Train…to Moscow

20 Sep

On the train to Moscow from St. Petersburg.

It’s an overnight train. Cramped.

No doors.

Six people per compartment area.

Two Russian women slept last night in the corridor area. I just woke. No coffee. My brain feels fuzzy. I do not want to talk, so I powered up my lap top. Going to try and write.

We are about 30 mins outside of Moscow. The air in the train is thick. Smells like humans. Smells like socks. It’s cold outside. We try and pry open the window. We no longer care about the cold. We need circulation. I give it 4 mins, and we will be freezing.

The St. Petersburg to Moscow train ride. Brilliant. Loved it. No, I did not sleep at all – but that was not the purpose. I woke every 20 minutes or hour – it was all the same thing to me. The beds are stacked to six a compartment. But, let me describe compartment. No doors. Four bunks on one side of the train and two on other. The hall way or walk way or the place where people bang your feet in the middle night divides the bunks. The train people give you 2 sheets and pillow. I’m impressed for this is third class. Scored a pillow.

I can tell the Russian women want to talk again…start being chatty but I’m keeping my head down. I talked last night. There’s a young, friendly Russian woman who shared space with us last night. She slept in the hallway bunk. Her name is Marget. Lives in Moscow. She is in her third year at University, studying marketing. She has taken, from what I can gather, two years of English at university. She wanted to practice her English. But, just as importantly, she is very interested in us – us foreigners. I mean sleeping only two feet away from her is a South African, a Brit, Canadian living in Saudi and a chick from Florida. Sounds fascinating. Well, hell, it is. I’m fascinated by it.

Last night, Margret and I talked for a few hours. She tried very, very hard to talk about her life in Moscow. But, she was at lost for words. She talked about her friend’s wedding in St. Petersburg. She the special friend for she wore a sash. Her dress was pink and white. The brides dress was gray. I can only assume she wanted to say “off white” because I can’t imagine a brides dress being gray. There was 30 people at the ceremony and afterward, they drove all around St. Petersburg taking pictures at historical sites. This is traditional – for the bride and groom to go to parks, museums, historical areas to take pictures.

It’s hysterical. Yesterday in St. Petersburg, we saw no more than 12 wedding couples posing at random places. Regardless, the Russians LOVE taking pictures. Especially the women. The pose like mail order brides or for some lower grade Maximum mag. I went to Swan Lake ballet and before it began, a group of young Russian women were striking sexy poses in front of the orchestra, balconies, aisle, stage… I wanted to take a picture of them taking pictures. Generally speaking, American woman loath having their picture taken in front of strangers…

Back to Russian Margret and the train… She talked about the wedding party – drinking wine, dancing, eating a bread cake and ending it with drinking vodka. Money is given as a gift. I think it goes tot he “baby” fund. I truly did not understand. She said something about mother of the bride is not invited to the ceremony, only the party. I hope that is not right…

OK… Some dude with dreads just walked up to me and said in broken English. “You charge my phone with your computer. It needs work.” I just stared at him and grunted. I’ve channeled “bad ass” Russian or “bad attitude” back packer girl. I just stared at him. He hands me his phone and walks off. I’m sorry, but who are you? I found out later he was in St. Petersburg for a techno-break dancing competition.

OK. People are moving. Air is thickening. People are in line for the restroom. My roomie, Maria, bought sparkling water. I hate water with bubbles. Who drinks this stuff, let alone early in the morning. I’m surprised it does not smell around here.

Getting on the bus last night was a mini event for our group of 16. They arrived loaded with backpacks on their back. Leaning over. Looking haggard. Some, even sporting backs on their chest. I’ve opted for a roller backpack. Seriously, trying to stay away from the back thing as long as possible. Pat and I – who is 75 – have the two roll aways. Majority of people are a few years out of college or just shy of 28 – before or after. They are the Young Bucks. That’s cool.

The day before, Emily and Hannaha from Sweden and Maria from Canada walked St. Petersburg from 10 am to 8 pm – so my legs had those tired cramps as did my feet. The Hermitage art gallery was first on our list. It was the former Winter Palace of Peter the Great and, I believe, Catherine the Great did some architectural upgrades to the place. Catherine needed it bigger and better. The art was amazing but the rooms were magnificent. I just imagined living here in the 1700’s – tooling around a palace the size of – well two or five blocks.

The four of us are good museum-ers because we continued to move. We stopped at the bits where other tour guides stopped and pretended like we are learning something. We stopped at a Peacock golden statute made into a clock. The English translation said the clock worked. It said the Peacock did something special at the top of the hour. We waited. People gathered. Russians peered over my shoulder. I was standing up front. Some woman tapped me on the shoulder to move. I turned side ways. Not moving sister. And, the Peacock clock is not moving either – nothing happened.

After the Hermitage, we trotted over to a church, the St. Isaacs. We screwed up because we bought tickets to the museum instead of to the colonnade. The colonnade takes you to the top of the church for an amazing view of St. Petersburg. We tried to return our tickets for we just wrapped up the Hermitage – THE museum of all times. The bitter ticket lady, said “no return.” We paid an extra $3 to climb to the top of St. Isaac’s. I will post some of the photos. It gives you a very good, bird-eye view of the city. We have the museum tickets, so we went inside. It was a beautiful Orthodox church. I believe someone important was murdered here. Impressive. No chairs. The Russian Orthodox did not believe in chairs. They believed in suffering. Some services lasted 5 to 8 hours. Talk about back problems.

From St Isaacs, we trotted over to another church. We called it the onion church. The architecture is Russian in that when I think of Russian buildings, I think of this. As we walked around the church, we saw four to five brides and wedding parties taking pouty pictures. We joined in on the fun. I took pictures to.

From there, we walked over to Peter and Paul’s fortress on the river. St. Petersburg is built on canals – or swamp land. It’s am amazing fortress. We took pictures and froze. By this point, we are hungry. I mean starving. My new Russian friend, Nicoli, told me about the fast food Russian restaurant – serves pancakes. He said the food is good. Inexpensive. And, all I have to remember is the name is in red and starts with the letter “T.” We found one! They even have an English menu. I ordered pancake with cheese, pork, cream and green leaves. It was heavenly. We inhaled.

After lunch/snack, we sauntered back through the city. Meaning, we walked for another 4 miles or so. We met the group and then loaded ourselves up on the train… This blog just came full circle.

I’ll let you know how it goes…

Download in St. Petersburg, Russia

20 Sep

My second day in St. Petersburg, Russia. I woke early to another typical breakfast. Choice of cheap yogurts, fake coco-puffs, corn flakes, salami, crusty breads, old cheeses, instant coffee and heavy cream. After filling up, I head down the street in search of the International Hostel. There, I’m to meet a Russian tour guide to take me on a walk through St. Petersburg. A Canadian named Kat joins me and together with Nicoli we set off to see the city. Nicoli asks if there is anything in particular we wanted to see or do. Kat wanted to see graffiti. Bizarre. I told him, I wanted his brain. That’s it.

Nicoli is born and raised in St. Petersburg. He’s around 37 and very well traveled. He’s driven across the US and through South America. So, when he gives the US a hard time – well, he can. He’s probably seen more of it than many US citizens.

We go in search of graffiti. The purpose of the tour is to see things that aren’t truly historical. Meaning, we stay out of museums and churches – that is the trendy churches. We did happen upon a church built by Peter the Great – only four churches stayed standing under Stalin – and this was was adorned on the outside by Turkish cannons and guns. Nice. It was a gift.

As we walked, I asked him about Russia’s history. We started with the civil war and revolution. They used these words interchangeable. He began with WWI and said that Russia really did not want to get involved in the Ottoman break up and Balkan mess. The Germans “made them” for the Hungarian – Austrian empire was going to divide up the Balkans and the Germans wanted a large share, so the Russians had to get their share too. WWI, technically never ended, which gave way to WWII. Russia did not want to go to war with Hitler because they had their own civil of war of sorts going on at home. Stalin was purging Russia…

Back to WWI. This was the time when the Tsars of Russia were loosing control over Russia. They were internally imploding and the working class were demanding rights. Lenin was in Germany waiting for the perfect time to come in under the umbrella of the party of the working class – Soviets – to brand his government idealism. Germany saw Lenin as their puppet and saw him as weak and controllable. Little did they know. The story goes is that Lenin and his men knocked on the Tsar’s door in St. Petersburg, they left, no bloodshed. Nicoli said that Lenin and his crew rewrote history and said that there was a revolution because people needed a huge revolutionary event to rally behind. Nicoli went on to say that all of Russian and Soviet history has been rewritten and it is only in the past years that they are seeing the horrors and lies of their past. When you walk down the street, a seething sense of injustice is written on their faces. These people don’t smile. I mean – never. Not even the couples that are “in love” and holding hands. No expressions. Stone.

At one point, we were walking down this street. Nicoli said, this was a street devoted to Lenin and his history. Stalin wanted to erase all of Lenin and the past, so he torched the street. Burnt all the relics, papers, guns – anything – attributed to Lenin. He said, “today, we have a museum – over there – it’s a joke. It’s all made up. There’s nothing of substance in there. We know that. The tourists, don’t. I advise you to stay away. Waste of money.”

As we walked through the blighted and wealthy areas of St. Petersburg, he talked of days under Stalin, Gorby, Yeltsin and Putin. He said that Stalin killed more than 50 million Russians. He did not use the world kill. He said purge. He would purged even his own men. He would hire them – keep them around for a year or so – then kill them and their families. He wanted no trace of their existence or linkage to him.

The civil war was against the White Army and Soviets – Red Army was really Stalin against against anyone who did not support him. Talk about bully complex. If you were at a bar and told a Stalin joke you could be considered an enemy and killed. Your family killed too. Fear was everywhere. Even in the middle of no-where-ville, Siberia. That still confuses me…

Another point. We were walking through an apartment complex and he was pointing out a WWII bunker. He said, these bunkers in St. Petersburg saved an estimated 20,000 lives. The famine killed over 2 million during the same time period. Hmmmmmmmmm…

Oh, there was so much. I loved Nicoli’s brain. I think Kat was frightened by my questions. We talked about the end of the Cold War. He said the break up of communism had to do with money. The US and West paid Russia a lot of money to stop making nuclear warheads. A lot. Soviets’ economy was not working. They did not want to loose face. They needed money. They could no longer support its communist defacto states like East Germany, Poland, Czech, Cuba, etc. There was a lot back dead agreements and, in the end, we paid off the government to stop the cold war. This is according to Nicoli. Who knows. It all seems plausible. Because during the 80s, those economies were going into the shiter. East Germans, Poles, Russians were all fleeing because of economic and social uncertainty. More Russians were escaping. Their lives were bleak. They no longer trusted their government. It was time – They’ve been watching the US for years. Gorby came and it talked about another way to run the government. He allowed for smaller Providences to hold elections. He allowed for Estonia, Latvia and other Providences to become independent. Soviet Union was thawing…

Oh, I could go on and on and on and on… A few funny things was capitalism was branded by Yeltsin. And, Yeltsin represented vodka and hugs. So, they thought that was capitalism – a lot of drinking and hugging. Funny.

The day was amazing. I learned a lot. It gave me a keener look at Russia. And, I will say that these people need to laugh. Smile. It’s a nation that needs some Protaz… or uppers… or a Starbucks on every corner. Something. They need to smile… I want them to smile.

First Day in St. Petersburg, Russia

13 Sep

St. Petersburg, Russia

I touched down in St. Petersburg. My word. Am I really in Russia? The Russia – where violence, hunger, romance and clandestine operations are the norm? This place introduced their version to sharing, openness and capitalism less than twenty-five years ago. That’s it. That’s nothing. You just can chuck a history of reminiscent government control and expect people to trust each other – let alone their government – and walk with smiles on their faces. It’s going to take decades, if not centuries.

I was traveling in the Middle East with a friend from East Germany. Their “wall” per se was physically knocked down in late eighties. She said that a private research group recently polled both East and West Germans about life now – in comparison to the Berlin Wall days. The majority of both East and West Germans said they wanted the wall back. Life – perceived life – was better then than now. Yes, business news just reported that Berlin – German economy – had one of this best growth quarters ever. My friend said that under communism, there was 100% full employment and health care. Though, trying to get proper health care of any sort could take weeks and months – but not matter – it was free. What’s free when the government is your employer, takes your $ and repackages as “Free Services.”

Today, West Germans are paying a fee or tax to support the East Germans. When the wall came down millions of East Germans were added into the social and economic fabric of Germany. How do you absorb them? Educate them? Provide a a stronger foundation? West is pissed at East. East is pissed at West. She says the same thing – it’s going to take decades and decades for Germans to be unified and the government to put into place an operating system that is fair, equitable and where people can contribute. That was one thing interesting about Poland. Polish have zero concept of volunteerism. Zero. They thought it was highly strange that we would travel around the world to help them build houses – volunteer. Poland is the same as East Germany in terms of history. They don’t have a concept of volunteerism for their government either did it or it never got done. The later was the norm.

Back to Russia.

Airport security was uneventful. That’s right. No friggin’ big deal. I expected to be detained and questioned about my itinerary and forced to live here forever and ever and ever. Nope. We landed. TGIF Fridays welcomed me at the gate.

look at the lungs

Look at the Lungs

People were smoking. They are smoking now. They will be smoking later. I need to show them the marketing propaganda in Jordan and Israel. It may make them stop. Marlboro is forced to put a picture of some sick lungs on their package. Nothing but a set of black lungs to remind you that death is knocking with each puff.

Anyway, I walked down the airport corridor and some young kid was passed out and friends were trying to revive him. Too much Vodka? People were trotting towards their gate. Others were smoking. Kids were screaming. All in all, a normal airport. I grabbed my bag – which DID arrive without any security trouble – and headed to passport stamp central. Another blond with steely eyes was hidden behind a wooden box with a glass window. She did not say a word. I handed her my passport. A young kid was in the box with her – training possibly – and they giggled over something. Probably my pictures. Ugly with a capital U. She stamped the paper and off I went.

I walked out “into the light” and Michael greeted me. I had the trans-Siberian travel group have a driver meet me at the airport for $20. Was not going to try and figure out the Russian subway system on this day. Michael and I walked outside. He left me the curb. The woman who sat the airplane aisle with her mini-football lap dog, was standing next to me. She’s Russian. Her dog is too. The air was clean. It was warm – like 65 degrees – and St. Petersburg welcomed me with a smile. I’m here. The RUSSIA.

Micheal and I drove off in this Toyota mini-SUV. The area around the airport is your typical commercial area. Large buildings. Soviet looking – gray and and grayer. It took around 45 mins to get to the historical, downtown area. Michael chatted about St. Petersburg. He’s lived there all his life. He is not in the tourism business. He’s just picking me up for a friend. His friend is busy. Michael works for a Greek bank in “relationship management.” He just passed all of is CPA, series 7 and financial analyst tests in English. There is 6 million living in St. Petersburg and only 5,000 have passed all of these tests in English. I told him, “I better not read about you going to prison one day because you are too rich for Russia.” He laughed. I believed him about the numbers. I later found out the Russians still track you. Most have a great computer data storage system.

He said that the Greek banks are more solid, healthy than the Russian banks. I responded, “Surprised. Because I would assume since the Greek financial crisis, the banks would be in deep trouble like the government.” He said, “Yes, as an outsider you would think that. But, the Greek banks did not get into trouble. The government is the one in trouble. The Greeks did not feel like paying taxes and the government did not feel like collecting taxes. Then, they had no money. Greek people got mad…” Huh…

He went on to say, “Russia banks. You walk in and never know if the bank will be there. You do not if you will still have a job. Russia bank here for a few years or months, then disappears. Greek banks are all over Europe. They follow European labor laws and pay on time and give you a vacation. Russia banks, no. I’m happy to be working for a Greek bank.”

OK. That conversation has may layers to peel back. I tried. Talks to trust in their government. In business. I later had a long conversation – like 5 hours – with a Russian man. He said that their government is in the business of “changing.” He said, “like Obama, change, no? I mean where did this Obama come from? We are the same about Russian government. No one knows background. They come to talk about better life. Better change. Better opportunities.” He went on “But, the government – politicians – want to keep the people always guessing. Always surprised. Always changing. No one becomes too rich, too powerful, too complacent. Businesses don’t know, so they leave, pay cash or barter. No one can plan – anything. We get ready for the next change.”

We pull up to our hotel. It is a brown building. No sign. No nothing. I ask, “are you sure?” Michael says, “Yes. Go press that button on the wall. They let you in.” Damn. Where am I? It looks like a deteriorated Red Light District of Russia. I ring the bell. Greeted by two young girls who speak little English. They take my passport. Hand me a key and show me to the room. We walk down the long sidewalk. Press a code and then insert a card into a door. Major security. Where am I?

No elevator. We take the stairs of 1940, three flights. I’m now sweating. She slides the card and inserts another code into another door. Down along hallway with lightening. Good lightening. The hallway looks clean. We open my door and two beds and a shower waits me. It’s nice. I even have a mini-couch. I like it. It will work. I have NO idea where I am. But, my rooms seems safe. I flush the toilet and smile. They even have a real blow dryer. Honey, it’s time to party.

I drop the bags. Its around 4:00 pm. I have NO idea where I am – meaning – know little about St. Petersburg. I’ve been reading about my Tsars, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Ivan the Terrible, WWI, Lenin Revolution, Civil War, Stalin crimes, WWII – but still have no idea where I am. I found my way back tot he front desk. The girls handed me a map. Circled our street and drew a line to the historical center. And, I grab my mini-back pack and start walking. I will find whatever I want to find and tomorrow I’ll do the “real deal” and tour like an American. Today, I’m touring like a clueless nomad. Where will the day and night take me.

I wander into grocery stories — they are some of my favorite places because it tells you about the country. Plus, I wonder if I can locate a fresca, diet 7-up or diet sprite. If they have anything diet, it tells me a little something about the people. No diet nothing. A lot of chocolate. Pasta. Tea. Fish. Bread. Rotten fruit. Cheese. And, Vodka. The mini-grocery stores have their food behind glass. You have to point and the lady screams and hands you food.

I find my way down Nesky street. That’s what I’m calling it. Everything is in Russian. Duh. I noticed a few words from my sorority days – gamma, pie, beta, alpha – but can’t tell you anything. I figured out the restaurant is the letter P with the Greek symbol, Pie. Coffee shops are KA(Insert Greek sign)E. And, signs in pink usually tells toilet paper. Got this place covered.

Nesky street is the “it” street of St. Petersburg. All the stores you want – H&M, ZARA, ECCO, MANGO, BENETTON and more and more expensive stores. They are littered in with fur shops and second hand electronics. I walk.

There are so many people on the street. The women are beautiful. No joke. They all wear the “I hate you. Fuck you. Die” expressions. I think Angelina Joelie must have sisters here – all skinny, pouty lips, ice eyes and looks like they need to be fed. Did I say they are skinny? I mean, super skinny regardless of age. They are trying their hand at the fashion thing. Some, you can tell, have $ and their clothes tell you this. How? Well, their heals have rubber on them, not nails. That is one noise you hear over and over again – Nails scratching the sidewalks. Girls out there know what I’m talking about. Click. Click. Click. Their shoes are a minimum of three inches and they look like they have been around the block many, many miles. Their clothes are every shade of black. No autumn, spring or summer colors here. They like boots. Heels. Big purses. And, tight clothes. But, not in a vulgar, slutty way. In a sexy, I want a husband with $$ way. Am I making sense?

They only smile if they are talking to a friend. But, no one smiles. No one. It’s seriously, “eat shit and die” look. My new BFFer, Nicoli, said that “Russian people don’t smile. But, they are laughing inside. American people smile. But, they are sad said inside. American people take pills to smile. Russians can’t afford the happy, prescription pills, no?” So, to make me feel better, I imagined all of them drug-free and laughing inside. Hey, maybe this is what an anti-prozac society looks like…

I made my way down to the Hermitage museum – Peter the Great’s Winter Palace. When Catherine the Great came on to the scene, she added some architectural enhancements. I walked upon this green monstrosities and thought, “OK, this is big. This is something. Looks like I’ll be back here tomorrow.” I then trotted over a bridge and ran into the onion church. That’s what Russians call it – onions. The Germans or Stalin did not destroy it during war’s heydays. It’s amazing. Again, no clue what I was looking at – but knew it was a bid deal. I find all of this stuff out the next day.

Peter the Great’s goal in the 1740s+ was to move Russia out of backwardness to forwardness – as he saw it. He built a city based on Amsterdam and with a European, intellectual curiosity. St. Petersburg – before Peter – was a big mound of swamp land. Nothing. Given I from Florida, it reminds me of Mr. Walt Disney. I guess Walt was inspired by Peter and thought – if Peter can build St. Pete in swamp land, then he could build a theme park devoted to mice on the same golden sludge.

“It took over 100,000 men with their balls up to muck to build this city,” according to Nicoli. I like the visual. Canals bleed through the city. Back then, the Russians hated St. Petersburg. Peter the Great moved the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg and forced the aristocrats to move to his city. They did. But, they believed the city was beneath them. I guess living with muck and mosquitoes will do that for you.

After walking for 4 hours or so, I headed back to my hotel. It’s night. Well, it’s 8:00 pm and it’s still light. But, my body clock is off and I’m tired. I find my way back to hotel. I buy water with greek letters. Did not have the right amount. The cashier did “not” have change. So, she kept my money. That is the norm around here. Rip you off. I did not care. She can keep the $.50 as a tip. I just wanted my water.

Came back. Showered with water pressure. Crawled into bed. Next day – I was signing up for the 6 hour walking tour with a “real live” Russian. I’m going to see this city. But, not only that, I’m going to talk politics, religion, sex and drugs – all the things that are damned. I can’t wait!

Yes, I’m in Russia. I’m tired. So, I can’t give it a two thumbs up or down. I can tell you that I’m clean. Safe. And, happy.

From Poland to Russia. That’s a domestic flight.

9 Sep

And, lift off! LOT – Polish Airlines – is in the air in route to Warsaw with final destination — land of Peter the Great – St. Petersburg, Russia.

Excitement. Apprehension. Wonderment. Those are the feelings right about now. I’m just relieved I made my flight because we’re off to a rocky start. I hate typing those words since my travel day has just begun. It’s 6:28 AM my time or 12:28 AM (EST).

My head hit the pillow around 1 AM and I woke around 3:30 AM. Taxi – Audi station wagon – wisked me to Krakow airport around 4:30 am. My taxi drivers is the same dude I bribed to drive me to DHL only weeks ago. It was nice to see his face. Safe hands… At least for the next 29 minutes or so.

Ok. So, my final destination is St. Petersburg, Russia so one would safely assume that I would be departing at Krakow’s international terminal. Makes sense. Right? I need to learn whenever I “assume,” I’ll wind up lost or screwed.

Taxi man drops me off. We wish each other “good life” and my feet briskly carry me to the international terminal It’s cool out. I have 2 t-shirts, jacket and scarf. Try to wear as much clothes as possible so they won’t charge me extra for baggage weight. Every ounce counts here.

It’s 5:05 am and the the place is DEAD. My flight is to take off in an hour. The only airline operating is Lufthansa – those folks are going to Munich. Hmmm… I don’t understand. I don’t even see a LOT kiosk or LOT gate. There’s no LOT.

I stand in the mini-airport and just look around. I inhale. OK. What am I missing here. I’m tired. Unlike Beirut, signs are in English. No LOT. There are a few stragglers hanging around – think homeless or old men up all night – and a few stragglers in line for Munich. I walk outside. Does LOT have their own terminal and in my haste of wishing Taxi man “good life” I walked in the wrong door?

Nope. No LOT terminal. I walk back in. This time my breathing starts to get heavier. I look at the time. My flight leaves in 50 mins. I spy some security dudes, lazily strolling around, heads down, in deep conversation. I walk behind them. The rollers on my bag echo off the walls.  They take no notice of the frantic hysteria on their tails…

“Oh, excuse me… English… do you speak English?”  They keep walking. I say it again, “only louder with a higher pitched tone.” They turn. “English?”

The taller, darker one says, “Yes.” I show him my flight itinerary.  He just stares and smiles at me. It dawns me he can’t read.  “Can you tell me where I check in for LOT? It’s going to Warsaw at 6 am. My final destination is Russia. Can you help me?”

He pointed to an office door with a LOT sign. I smiled. Good. Can’t imagine checking in at an office, but at least I know LOT exists. The sign said it does not open until 5:30 am. It’s 5:11 am. I’m clearly in the wrong place. I get in line at Lufthansa.  Airport people know each other. They know the system. Security – another story. Plus, they have to speak basic English.

I wait. Wait. And, wait.  People in front of me are going to the States and something is wrong with their VISA. Shit. It’s VISA again… I wait. Stare at the time. My eyes scan for LOT people. LOT badges. LOT anything. It’s 5:16 am. What happens if I miss my flight to Warsaw and then to St. Petersburg. I know what happens – but I’m still have time to fix this.

My hands start to swell. Mouth turning dry. These men line up behind me with 7 or 8 foot tools. Looks like they are carrying canoe paddles. Their loud. Polish. Speaking in constants. I can’t hear them. My eyes pour in the back of the family in front of me. Come on lady, le’ts move it. Do you have a VISA or not?

It’s now 5:20 am and the LOT door is still closed. The women moves. I smile. The Lufthansa kid smiles back. Thank you lord! I tell him my situation. Annoyance emerges. He said, “you are at the wrong terminal. Warsaw is domestic. It’s 500 meters.”

Flashback to High School crew days. Is 500 meters the entire race or the sprint? I asked, “can I walk?” He repeats, “it’s 500 meters.” Looks like I’m sprinting. The clock now says 5:26 am.

I inhale. Clasp by bags. And, haul ass through the vacant terminal. Out the door. Run into another security teen. I ask him, “Domestic?” And point. He nods. Smiles. Nods. Damn, he doesn’t speak English. He has that look.

Down the sidewalk. Keeping my head down, I start to pace my breathing.  I tell myself — no pain in shoulder or hand…there’s no pain… I notice the sidewalk is made out of the same bricks I used to pave the shed floor at Habitat.  I feel comforted by the bricks.

Stay focus. Around the corner, there’s a building. Is it? Nope. Cargo. I trot by. Next building is big. It has to be it. Nope. It’s security. The sidewalk is dark. No lights. No cars. I keep trotting. You have GOOOOT to be kidding me. Am I going to get friggin lost trying to find the domestic terminal in airport the size of Burger King. Prespiration. My stomach growls. Legs are tired. Heart moving to fast. Break it down to the obnoxious fast walk thing where the hips are bouncing back and forth. I’m willing my backpack rollers to turn faster and faster. I round the corner. There’s light. Stairs. And, the red lights “domestic.” Made it! Now, let’s hope the gate is not closed.

I see LOT. LOT exists. There are 2 people left in line to check in. I exhale. My throat is so dry that I begin to cough. Now dry heave. I’m dry heaving. Fab. The nuns look at me.  My eyes are watering.  I’m doing the controlled dry heave.  Where is my gum. I have no liquids for I’m about the go through security. Gum. Grab the gum. I pawn through my backpack, trying to control the urge to  barf. Clearly, I’m not in shape. Gum inserted in mouth and throat goes from sand paper to soft scrub. I step into line acting like everything is “cool.” Of course I didn’t just trot 500 meters to catch a domestic flight to Russia.  Who does such things….

I’m checked in. Gate guy wishes me a “good life.” Second time I heard it this AM, and it’s only 5:48 AM. The line for radiation is 20 feet. (Don’t know meters). I line up behind a nun. I look at the sign of “what not to carry on.”  They’ve listed kayaks,canoes and martial art weapons like brass knuckles,  nun-chucks and bayonets.  I sooo wanted to whip out my camera.  I mean a Kayak?  Did someone try to convince them that it would fit in the overhead space?   What is a nunchuck?  Of course, I read numb-nuts.  I could not stop laughing.  I mean out loud giggling.  I pictured the whole numb-nut and kayak scene.  Thank you God. My anxiety level is slowly resuming normalcy. Throat is secreting moisture on its own.

It’s 5:55 AM and my flight leaves in 5 mins. I’m next through the strip search of security. Two pilots and four flight attendants que in behind me. I make it through the pat down. It’s 5:57 am and I jump on the bus to take me to the LOT plane. I sit. It’s quite. One other late comer is on the bus. The bus does not move. Seriously. Am I on the wrong bus now?

It’s 5:59 am. I’m about to stand up, then the flight crew boards the bus. Please don’t tell me that’s our pilot. The bus lurches forward. We round the corner. I look out the window, searching for a LOT plane. We pass the security building, cargo building – the buildings I just trotted by moments ago. We head to the international terminal. Yep. You guessed it. Bus stops at international terminal only 60 or so feet from my launching pad only 30 minutes ago.   I knew from Poland to Russia was international.  Well, I got a quick jog on the way to the flight.   That’s all I can ask for.

I board the plane with 10 windows along with the flight crew. It’s not our pilots, just stewardess.  The ride along pilots butt in front of me and grab all the first class seats. I make my way to the back of the plane tuck my knees in. We lift off – the world is slowly waking up. I think about today – the people that will leave this world. The people that will come into this world. The people getting a promotion or the ones getting  terminated. The people who will go hungry another day and those who will embrace gluttony.  The people who want to be heard and those who are silenced.

Today is a beautiful day. Full of hopes. Full of fears. Full of life. I’m so blessed to be flying thousands of meters, feet and inches above watching God unfold this day to me. I’m gearing up for Peter the Great and Putin.

The cabin is quiet. The flight attendant hands me a 6:39 AM snack. Princess cookies! Love them. Today is going to be a good day.

I landed in Warsaw. We were welcome with another dose of radiation and a pat down.   I found a cafe that served hot sandwiches, across from my gate and started humming “Last Christmas” by George Michael.  I ordered a latte and a sandwich which I prayed was not drenched in mayo. I realized Warsaw muzak is playing an eight-track of GM for the next song is Careless Whispers. I smile.

As I sipped my coffee and stared, I tuned into the sophisticated ladies sitting next to me.  One woman is from Bulgaria woman looks like Olivia Bensen from Law & Order SVU. The other two are older – blonds – and are Lebanese. I believe they live in Beirut. A Bulgarian woman is asking them about Beirut. My ears perk up.

Bulgaria woman asks, “I haven’t been to Beirut. They wear regular western clothes, right?” They respond, “Why of course!” She goes on, “Well, I went to this party in Bulgaria. These Lebanese women were there. They had scarfs. But, then they were dancing on the tables. I was like, WOW!  WOW!  This was a Lebanese woman. When they moved fast the the scarfs came undone.”

Beirut lady, “The West side of Beirut is more progressive. You know in France they are doing a lot of questions about this. They are not letting people cover their face. And, the Muslims are upset.”   Bulgaria woman is silent. She is not going there – not giving her opinion. Conversation changes to weather.  I applaud her.

Bulgaria woman continues on…”They are educated in Lebanon, no? Women are educated. I met women in Kuwait.  They are not educated. They are covered but can’t read. In Lebanon, the woman are safe. They can work. It’s comfortable. They are safe. They have more freedoms than in other countries. Men don’t bother them.  They are safe.”

Bulgaria woman, “I did not like LA. I like San Diego. I like tan. It’s not good for the skin. But, in moderation. It’s good.”

Bulgaria woman, “Your husband is tall? That’s good. It’s nice to be tall. Tall is good.”

Beirut woman, “I was model. They come to my house to ask if I could model. I was tall. They come to my house to ask my father.”

Bulgaria woman, “ I was 16. This man comes to my house. I look Arabic you know.  He was Arabic.  Older.  I have curly hair, dark and the Arab uni-brow.  You know, the Arabic look…. He brings my father rice. He says he wants to marry me. My father got angry. Very angry. He angry with me. 16. Not married at 16. Nooooooooo…  I’m not married now. I’m 38. Yes, I look young. It’s because I’m not married, no?”

Bulgaria woman, “I have a cousin who is married to a rich Lebanese man. Very rich. Yes, she’s still married. Doctor of a very rich woman. My cousin, very beautiful woman. She has no choice. She has to be beautiful or husband gets mad.”

Bulgaria woman, “I want to have kids. But, it’s not so easy. When you’re older. But whatever the God Will. Whatever the God will. I need to find a prince… But, there are no prince. I look, but no prince. Maybe I don’t need a prince.  Maybe I just need a baby.  I’m a nurse.” Lebanese women agree.

Bulgaria woman, “I like different things. I communicate very easy with people. I like travel.”

I like traveling too. Listening. Asking questions. Curious…. So, curious…. Another George Michael song – You’ve Got to Have Faith. They’re about to call for my flight to St. Pete. Need to brush the tooth, apply lip gloss, touch the VISA and “load’em up.” We’re off. Next blog will about landing and getting to the hotel.  Wish me luck!