Monday, November 1, 2010

Traveling With Twins Part III: The Gulag

As the plane approached Moscow and began it's descent, a wave of relief came over my tense and tired body like a massage. A round of clapping joined the screeching sounds of the landing gear as it met the tarmac and I felt inclined to join in. People clapped to thank the pilot for the safe arrival; fearful travelers clapped to thank God that they did not die in a fireball speeding to the earth; and I clapped because my hellish 10 hours of air travel had come to a close. Before long, I would be in the comfort of my Novotel hotel room in Moscow; and I was looking forward to a hot shower, a fresh change of clothes, and a place to unwind before our final trek to Nice the next day.

We exited the plane and gathered our two car seats, one rather mammoth baby carriage, four carry-on bags and our two children; and entered the airport corridor hoping to find signs that pointed the way to our "airport" hotel. Instead, we found ourselves in the midst of a rather confused looking crowd of fellow passengers being guided by a stout and stern looking woman who seemed to hold the key to all knowledge about all things related to air travel in Moscow. Clearly, we were not meant for this group of bewildered looking people- we just needed to get our luggage and get to our hotel. As things unfolded, it became very clear that we did in fact belong to this group- and it wouldn't be long before we would be looking equally bewildered as we were being ushered about by another stern looking woman of importance. 

Our "simple" layover in Moscow became quite a complicated mess. As we were merely flying through for connection purposes, we did not get the needed visa's to travel within the country. After all, we were within the 24 hour time limit to be without a visa, so we thought it wise to avoid the $1000 price tag. Little did we know that this seemingly simple connection/ overnight stay in Moscow would become quite an adventure.

After 3 hours of sitting and waiting while people made phone calls, looked at our passports, talked to us, and took us to different sections of the airport- we were finally boarding a secured (aka police escorted) bus and on our way to the hotel (sadly without our luggage and strangely not on the airport grounds). As we drove up to the front of the hotel, I didn't know what to expect. Despite the cold reception from both person and climate in Russia, I was pleased to see that our hotel appeared to be warm and cozy- even a bit posh. After 10 minutes of waiting in the bus, we were released and being ushered into the hotel by what I later realized was another police escort.

As we entered the hotel lobby I was relieved to see a variety of restaurants and even noticed that one of our favorite beers was on tap at the German themed pub. We may not have had our luggage, but there was some consolation in the fact that we could relax and unwind in this comfortable hotel and perhaps even enjoy a beer.

Any fantasy that I had about relaxing in the hotel and sampling the menu of this quaint little restaurant was squashed as the reality of our stay revealed itself. After checking in, we were taken up to our room in a "special elevator". As we arrived at our floor, the elevator doors opened to a rather dingy looking corridor filled with surveillance cameras and a guard sitting at a desk. We were told that we would not be able to leave our room and if we wanted food, we would have to order room service. Looking to further console myself, I thought " well, this is a Novotel, so at lest the rooms will be nice." I soon learned that Moscow didn't just take the nice out of people, but the hotel rooms as well.

I have little doubt that the rest of the hotel rooms were quite lovely, but we were unfortunate enough to be part of the "secured wing" (Gulag). Whoever made decisions for this wing figured we didn't need towels, extra amenities like tooth brushes or combs, or shampoo and soap. After a quick glance around our less than favorable surroundings- I was almost shocked to see that they provided toilet paper.

As I quietly ruminated and mumbled things under my breath about communists and the fact that I would never want to visit Russia, my adventure loving husband looked more and more amused. He urged me to set aside my grumblings and sense of injustice and just enjoy the humor in all of it. The adventure seeking boy inside of him loved the fact that we were essentially being held (mostly of our own will) in a hotel room in Russia until the time that we could board our plane for France.

I conceded that he was probably right and took comfort in the fact that we were no longer on a 10 hour flight with my screaming children. We were halfway through the journey to France and only had to survive the night in a secured Russian hotel before we were on our flight to Nice. And after the flight that got us to this point- I thought no problem! So we bathed the kiddos, put them to sleep and tucked into our room service dinner (which was actually quite tasty) before heading off to bed ourselves.

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