Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Day 1 (Still. Sort of.)

in which our brains are squishy, and no one knows what time it is.

We have been travelling for some hours. I would call it a bunch, or perhaps a gaggle. Possible even a flight. (Haha, see what I did there?)

It is almost 1100 in St. Petersburg, and 1000 in Stockholm, where we are. Unfortunately our internal clocks are reminding us that it is almost 0300 at home, and what on earth is wrong with us?

The first flight was uneventful, aside from screaming children and the apparent likelihood of a Scandinavian Air attendant assuming you speak Swedish if you are blonde (rough estimates are at 101%).

I watched Calendar Girls, before the epic fail of attempting to contort into a comfortable sleep position that did not include lying in the aisle. Jon laughed at me, quite rightly, when I crammed myself entirely into the seat, sideways sitting in the fetal position. I just can’t seem to sleep sitting up. It may be my fear of public drooling.

Newark airport was in fine form when we left it – signs charmingly lead you astray trying to get there, and when the fire alarm goes off for nearly twenty minutes they offer no instruction or explanation during or after the unbearable noise. Clearly, nothing serious was wrong, with our plane at least.

The Stockholm airport is a little like being in Ikea, but with tragically fewer beds. The floors are hardwood or stone, the architecture clean and industrious, ad the sandwiches neatly arranged and difficult to identify.

Sweden’s policy on liquids in carry-ons is the first sensible one I have yet encountered. “You have bottles?” Says the one man at the uncluttered, uncrowded x-ray machine. “Yes, two water bottles,” Alexandra says. “Can you taste them for me?” He asks. We all looked at each other as if to say finally, finally someone will allow us to keep our beverages as long as we prove they are not poisonous or explosive.

My brain is like a pot of under-cooled jello, and I must muster the energy to find Hannah some Swedish gum.

Gum found, plane boarded. Somewhere in the Stockholm Arlanda airport, a Sperry Sails sweatshirt is having a great adventure. Free advertising! The only cost is my body heat, which is rapidly diminishing.

St. Petersburg...looks like any other city with funny signs, aside from the fancy famous landmarks. Silent driver brings us flying through the streets in the kind of van one tends to see on crime shows. Babushka at the front desk says “Go to floor two,” in Russian and is very concerned that we understand the number two. We understood the number, but not so much about the cryptic directions. Floor two is a hallway with two doors, one unlocked. We go through the unlocked door and wait, expecting someone to be on their way to us, which may be a little presumptuous, but sensible considering how brief our instructions were. We wait for fifteen minutes, and the boys go ask. The dorm is much like a warehouse, with creaking elevators and less than clean hallways. We find the magic door, where a surly lady is in her office and gives us our room keys after filling out paperwork. We also take some papers that we must have with us at all times. I’m beginning to think I should have brought a briefcase, for all the things I must carry with me, or else.

Alexandra and I, and Charlie and Jon are rooming together. Not all together, but two and two. We interrupt our new Korean roommate’s year long single room. We all speak a little Russian, but no other common language. Conversations are brief and silences slightly awkward, but silly. It’s apparent that she wasn’t expecting roommates, and while she’s very friendly, one of her friends asks us (almost subtly) when we’re going back to America. When we say in a month, she gives our roommate a look as if to say “It’s not that bad, then.”

The facilities are less than stellar. There is a closet with a toilet (that moves. Literally tips, and is only tenuously attached to the floor), and a closet with a sink and shower that share a faucet. Neither has a working light. The bathroom has no toilet paper. The shower is...special.

Fear not, the details of my showering experience will not be alluring or romantic. There is no hot water at first. Or second, or third, but halfway to a million it warms up. The showerhead can only be activated by diverting the stream from the sink faucet by pressing a button. The shower curtain is unstable, to put it mildly, with violent tendencies. It doesn’t play well with others. It falls on me when I try to hang my towel on it (it’s difficult to see by the light of my flashlight that it isn’t attached, just pinned between the two walls), and then again while I am struggling with the shower. The most efficient way I found to bathe is to swivel the sink faucet over the tub and contort whatever part of your body you want to get wet until it is under the tiny stream of water.

This is lunacy, and I am going to be here for a month.

And the boys, by the way, have their own room, hot water, water pressure, working lights, and a tropical view of the gulf of Finland.

It’s nearly ten at night, 2200, and it looks to be about four in the afternoon. I could go tanning.

But instead, I am going to bed.

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