Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Departure - Arrival, 30 September - 1 October 2009

Departure, Wednesday 30 September - Thursday 1 October 2009
Left Greenville: 12:30 pm
Left Atlanta: 6:05 pm
Arrived Frankfurt: 9:00 am (3:00 am Greenville time)
Left Frankfurt: 1:15 pm (7:15 am Greenville time)
Arrived Astana: 11:00 pm (1:00 pm Greenville time)

Despite last minute packing frenzy (can I carry on my contact solution if it's 5 milliliters over the limit? how can I rearrange my bags so that I will only have to pay the extra weight charge for just one bag?), the day of our departure went smoothly. I was panicking in the morning, but found out through a friend that contact solution is considered medical and thus can go over the limit; with Mom's help and lots of last minute rearranging, I managed to make my 4 check-in bags such that only one bag exceeded the 50 pound weight limit--yet did not exceed the 70 pound limit (which would have made it $400 to check!)

The 2 1/2 drive to the Atlanta airport went smoothly--no traffic jams or accidents, Sophia did not get carsick--and once at the airport, the Lufthansa line was short. The worker at check-in smiled and did not charge me for my 70 pound bag (not at all!) and then Sophia and I hugged Mom good-bye and got into the security line, which also was short.

We ate pizza (last chance for American food!) and then played a bit while waiting to board. Our seats were horrible--in the middle of the middle row. On our right sat a friendly American who was traveling to Kuwait to be a translator; on our left sat a friendly German who had just finished a year as an au pair and was excited to be returning home. She had worked in Boston, Vermont, and Atlanta, and preferred Atlanta over the other places, despite the unbearable heat.

Being in the middle, Sophia was unable to sleep. Luckily her private television occupied her for most the journey. About 2 hours before landing, however, delirium set in, and she amused herself by talking to the German au pair and running up and down the aisle.

At Frankfurt, we had 4 hours, so I set about to find our gate first and then a place to eat and rest. Unfortunately, our gate was beyond security, with no restrooms or food, and so we could not rest there. The airport was under construction, and it took us a considerable amount of time (considering how exhausted we were!) to finally find our way back upstairs and to the McDonald's. Sophia ordered cheesecake; I turned on my computer and discovered that Internet cost 8 Euros for one hour. I wasn't that desperate to be on-line.

Finally, she fell asleep. About an hour later, I woke her and we set off to find a bathroom. This was not easy, and, as it felt like the middle of the night to Sophia, she complained of feeling sick. After freshening up in the bathroom, we went through security at the gate, and she passed out while waiting to board.

Before we could board, we had to take a bus to the airplane. I was rather annoyed when I was told there was room for Sophia and me on the first bus, only to find out that this "room" was a tiny bit of standing space, so close to the door that I had to move every time the bus driver opened or closed it. I was carrying all of our carry-on luggage, plus Sophia, who was complaining that she was going to throw up, yet no one offered their seat.

Luckily, by the time the bus made it to the airplane, Sophia was feeling better--perhaps the little rest she'd had helped, perhaps the excitement of seeing the plane helped. She was able to walk up the stairs to get onto the plane--this was a very exciting way to enter a plane. Our seats were in a 2-row aisle by the window, much better than before. While she turned on "Ice Age" I passed out.

For the first half of the trip, our view was only of clouds. Finally, just around sunset, the clouds disappeared and we could look down onto flat Russian farmlands. Then the sun set, yet Sophia soon discovered that even in the night the view was amazing. Tiny cities glowed brightly before our eyes. The moon shone above. It was almost magical.

We got to fly over Astana, which delighted Sophia. At nighttime Astana is all aglow, very beautiful.

We landed and followed our fellow passengers out. An elderly German couple who had sat in front of us talked to Sophia for a while. Sophia was disappointed when she learned that they do not speak Russian. "But we're in Kazakhstan," she told me. "You said they speak Russian here."

We ended up at passport control, where German tourists struggled to figure out the registration form. Even though it had some English on it, I was completely confused, and finally had to ask for help. We then waited in line, had our passports & visas checked, our picture taken, and then onto the baggage claim! Our luggage was easy to spot, and then I had another form to confuse me--the customs form, only in Kazakh and Russian. By this time, almost everyone else had moved on, and I was still confused. Some men who did not speak English were trying to help with my luggage. Realizing that I could not do it, I let them. We waltzed through customs, nobody even looked at us or said anything, and immediately after we met the principal and another teacher from the school.

They were very pleased to meet us, and talked in Russian to the men with the luggage. We went to the principal's car, and with much difficulty our luggage was put into the trunk and back seat.

Then we drove off. Sophia, who had been very polite and responsive, slowly dozed off, taking in the lights as she did so. It was perhaps a 30 minute drive, the land was very flat, and the city was very beautiful--lights shining, clean streets, amazing buildings. We drove over the river from the "new" part of town to the "old" part of town where we then passed the American embassy. The school was across the street and an empty field from the embassy. Very nice to know.

When we pulled up to the apartment building--a tall structure surrounded by many other tall apartment buildings--the principal remarked, "Either you are very lucky or very unlucky." He then explained that we are neighbors--he lives on the 8th floor and I on the 3rd. I decided that I was very lucky. It is a good sign if your principal has chosen to live in the same building where you will be living.

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