Our guide, Dima
Outside of St. Basil's
I want to remember as much as possible about this trip, so bear with me as I may be a little wordy (not unusual for me anyway). I guess the best way to document our trip to meet Kirill is to divide it up into parts. Otherwise, this post could take longer to read that the trip itself. So this post is dedicated to the first leg of our trip.
We left Tuscaloosa around three o'clock on Friday afternoon headed for Atlanta, where we flew out of on Saturday morning. We had planned to leave around noon but it just seemed like all the last minute details were taking forever and we had to get some paperwork together for our adoption agency that they were wanting for our second trip. It wasn't necessary that we get the paperwork done before we left, but "preferable" so we wanted to go ahead and take care of it. So anyway, I was a stressball (of course) and when we finally got into the vehicle I couldn't stop worrying that we had forgotten something very important. We hadn't, but I couldn't shake the feeling.
When we got to Atlanta, we decided to go eat for our anniversary since we would be on an overnight train the night of our actual anniversary (the 12th). We ate at the Atlanta Fish Market and then headed to the hotel to try to get some sleep. We both tossed and turned a good bit; Greg didn't sleep at all.
Next morning, we headed to the airport bright and early. Our flight didn't leave till 10, but we left the hotel at 8 to give ourselves plenty of time. Glad we did because we got all the way to the airport and I remembered that I left my insulin in the fridge in the hotel room. Fantastic. We had to go all the way back to the hotel, but still had time to spare after we checked in at the airport. Emergency diverted.
Our flight to D.C. and to Eastern Europe were both uneventful. One thing we learned; it pays to make friends with the stewards on long flights. Our steward was a huge African American guy who looked like he could play football at Bama. Greg was convinced he was an air marshall. Regardless, we shared our story with him and talked to him a lot about his family and he totally hooked us up the rest of the flight with whatever we needed including things we should have had to pay for like drinks and snacks.
I popped some Xanex and was out for the entire flight. Gracious, I love that stuff when I'm flying. I didn't feel a single air pocket. We arrived in Eastern Europe at 11:30 a.m. and we were greeted at the airport by smoke and heat. It was 90 degrees and the fires around the city had filled the city with smoke. It was inside the buildings and hard to get away from; especially in buildings with no a/c. We headed to customs and learned the system very quickly there; elbow your way to the front, no need for lines, just look out for number one and don't worry about the other guy. We made it through and headed to baggage where we would meet our guide, Dima.
Dima introduced us to driving in Eastern Europe. Basically, they drive as fast as they can and like absolute maniacs. If you have been to NYC or European countries, you may think they drive crazy there. Well, it's NOTHING compared to EE. We were told to expect this before we left, but I was all, "yeah, yeah...I've traveled a lot....seen crazy traffic...it's probably no worse than Europe." Well it is worse...about ten thousand times worse and the drivers would just as soon run over you as to look at you.
We made it to our hotel, where Dima gave us a quick city tutorial and dropped us off. Our hotel was exquisite. I don't think I have ever stayed anywhere so fancy! It was so nice to be able to relax in an American-style hotel when we first arrived. I don't like to be a spoiled American traveler and I feel like I have a pretty adventurous attitude about travel, but with all the nerves and emotions tied into this trip, it was comforting to have a place that felt a little like home. Well, not really like home because we don't live in a palace, but the room was like American hotel rooms...very, very nice American hotel rooms.
We tried to fight sleep but ended up taking a short nap at the hotel before venturing out for the evening. After our rest, we went to Red Square. There we saw St. Basil's Cathedral, which is just as amazing as the pictures. It was breathtaking to see Red Square and all of the beautiful architecture. Check that off the bucket list.
We also visited GUM (pronounced "goom"), which is a ginormous mall. There we went to a really fancy grocery store...similar to the one in Harold's if you have ever been to NYC...and bought some groceries because we were starving but didn't really know where to eat for dinner.
The next morning we headed to Arbat Street, which is full of touristy shops and restaurants. I was dying for coffee so we stopped at Dunkin Donuts, and totally broke our "no American chain restaurants in foreign countries" rule. Oh well, I had to have some coffee or my head would be splitting by lunch...and an eclair just for good measure. We ate lunch at a place Dima suggested called MyMy (pronounced "moo moo"). The food was traditional food and everything we ordered was quite good.
We spent the rest of the day at Christ Cathedral and Red Square. It was so surreal to see these places in person. It was also surreal to see all the booties hanging out of girls shorts. Wow, the girls in the city are scantily clad to say the least. It didn't help that they were having a heat wave so girls were walking around in less than bathing suits. Another thing I couldn't help but notice was underwear is optional. In fact, it is preferred to NOT wear it, I believe. And make sure that if you don't wear it, your over shirt is some sort of see-though material. Mesh shirts for men are very en vogue; best not let the ladies have all the fun!
After a day of walking miles and wearing ourselves completely out, it was time to go to Kirill's region via overnight train. Dima picked us up at our hotel around 6:45 a.m. and that started the second part of our journey to meet Kirill.