From Russia, With Love – Prague – Day 1.1

When I booked my spring break trip back at the beginning of December, I wondered how long it was going to take to get here. I had it booked even before my Chinese New Year holiday to the Philippines.

Well, it came, and it came with a vengeance.

On Friday, late in the evening, Julie and I left the warmth of our flats in a taxi on the way to the Maglev station on Longyang Lu. I tested my Mandarin mettle by giving the name of the station in Mandarin instead of handing over my iPhone with the taxi card on it. I was rather happy when we arrived there.

Since we were way ahead of our check-in time of 11:00 PM, Julie and I had coffees and smoothies at a restaurant while waiting for the counter to open. Finally, after several hours of simply wandering around the pre-security part of Pudong airport, we were able to check-in and get to our gate.

No climbing. Caution: Drop Down. Attention: Security.
Sign from the second floor balcony of the restaurants
at the airport.

It was so incredibly quiet in the airport that it was somewhat difficult to stay awake for our 12:45 boarding call. When we were seated on our Aeroflot flight to Moscow (the length of this leg being 10 hours), I got myself as cozy as I could on a Russian airliner – all while listening to the thick Russian accents around me – and tried to fall asleep. I recommend at some point spending time in an airport at night, if anything, just to people watch and test your traveler mettle.

I was woken up by the interestingly thick smell of our dinner, which turned out to be a beef and macaroni noodle dish with a heavy brown sauce, cold meat and salad, and bread. Once that was cleared, I tried once more to go to sleep.

After about two hours of restlessness, I blinked in the darkness of the cabin and pushed up the blinds. It was dark outside the plane, with the nearly full moon presiding over the velvety expanse of sky. Draco was rising up from the horizon, and let me tell you, there was little more beautiful right then than seeing the Big Dipper clear and brilliant from a plane. It was pretty fantastic. I recommend a night flight at some point when you can see the gorgeous stars clearly.

There were several more hours of tossing and turning – well, as much as one could toss and turn in economy seats – until about the last two hours of the flight. I woke once more when the second meal came around – this time chicken with some form of chow mein noodles and that same salty, thick brown sauce. Well, Aeroflot turned out not to be as awful as some people had told me, but I don’t think I’ll give them away awards for airline food.

Morning sunrise, with full moon.

Watching the barren, snow-capped land of Russia whiz by below me was not the greatest of entertainment for about two hours, but it was more of the idea that I was about to land in Russia (Moscow) really that was the most fascinating. Who would have thought that I would be flying to Russia and Prague? Never did it even cross my mind. I hadn’t been to Europe in seven years, Never once did I sit back last March and April and think, “Oh, next spring break I’m going to Prague. And, I may wander about Moscow’s airport for five hours. I may be buying Russian nesting dolls in Russia and contemplating Russian vodka in the duty free shop.” Really? Not even close.

Moscow sort of comes out of nowhere when you’ve been watching nothing but uninhabited tundra pass by for the last two hours. Suddenly, homes appear, and before you know it, you’re dropping like a Midway Airport landing (for those of you who have flown into Chicago’s Midway Airport know what I mean!) from the sky. We hit the tarmac like a bug hitting the windshield of a car – hard and with sudden ferocity. Ouch.

After being ushered through the non-visa wielding/transfer flight line, we were free to move about the airport. We had roughly five hours to kill in Moscow, so I decided to pick out some pairs of Russian nesting dolls to bring home. I picked up a pretty scarf and a magnet or two, just for maximum tourist effect.

As I listened to the accents and voices, I thought it was very much like being on the set of a James Bond film. It made me think of all the Russian lit I’d read over the years – or, more accurately, tried to read – and where those stories came from.

I picked up a chocolate-pretzel pastry and a caffeine-heavy macchiato shot (Julie: “That is a small coffee. Did you know it was going to be that small? Me: Guurrrlll, of course! I know my coffee!) and got cozy by our departure gate for Prague. But, it doesn’t take long to get too cozy and start to fall asleep when you’ve been traveling for several hours across several times zones.

Before I dozed off, I wandered around in search of a non-Russian ATM to get out some Euros (many places accepted Euros or rubles), but there was no such luck. The airport wasn’t very Western friendly, not like Pudong. For bewildered Westerners newly arriving in China, Pudong is pretty friendly in terms of English signage and announcements (though now I strain to understand every fourth word in Mandarin). Moscow, not so much. I would have loved a coffee – if I could read Russian.

However, I managed to find one really nice cafe by our gate, so Julie and I stopped there for some breakfast. I ordered one caramel latte and a diet Pepsi. Yes, that was my breakfast. However, when it arrived, I started drinking the one latte (with a diet Pepsi chaser) and another one arrived for me. Confused, I merely accepted it, trying to think where the translation of “this one” whilst pointing at the menu went so wrong. Well, I now had two lattes and a diet Pepsi to chug down before getting on the plane, and you better bet that I did it!

When we went back to the gate to wait the final hour until departure, I suddenly became aware of EVERYTHING. All that caffeine (don’t forget – I’d already had a macchiato espresso shot just an hour before the soda and two lattes) had turned me into some insane person with spidey-powers. I could hear things that only dogs could before. I could see everything with crazy clarity. I was sensitive to everything in Terminal E. Wayyy too sensitive.

Finally, our flight to Prague was called, so we hopped on the next plane and settled in. Luckily, we had the fortune of not having the third person in our row show up. so we had an empty seat to fill with our junk.

Enter the mega-caffeine crash.

I don’t remember much of my 2 hour 45 minute flight to Prague. I was too busy being gone out of my wits.

But then, we slowly descended through the clouds toward the countryside airport of Prague, little knowing just how amazing the next leg of our journey was going to be.

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