Back in the (former) U.S.S.R.

After a long holiday hiatus, I am now back to blogging, and pledge to share with you as many beautiful, interesting, and vexing things about life in St. Petersburg in 2013 as I can.

First off, then, is my return to this frosty Eurasian land. I’ll leave you to decide which of the above categories it falls into.

I chose to fly Aeroflot for my trip to the States and back, because I have no money and Aeroflot flights are significantly cheaper than on airlines like Lufthansa and British Airways, which offer posh services like in-flight entertainment. Please, who needs a TV screen on a 10 and a half hour flight?

moscow end of the line

This man flew Aeroflot. (Note how he doesn’t have his bag.)

I arrived in St. Petersburg delirious with exhaustion but in one piece. Alas, my bag did not. After talking to five different people at five different desks at Pulkovo ariport, it was surmised that my bag was in Moscow, as I was supposed to have gotten it and then re-checked it in there for the last leg to St. Pete, which I was unfortunately too stupid to figure out. So they gave me a file reference number and a number to call and sent me “packing,” so the speak.

I called the next day. Nothing. And the next day. Nothing. And the next. Stilllll nothing… but probably tomorrow! Apparently it takes a really long time to get a bag from Moscow to St. Petersburg, as that’s a particularly ill-travelled route that would leave next to no opportunity to stick a bag on a Petersburg-bound plane.

In the meantime, I was spending the last days of my vacation, which I had anticipated using for museum-going, coffee-drinking, and other activities that actually make St. Petersburg seem like a good place to be, bedridden with an admirably forceful stomach bug.

Probably picked up on that luxurious Aeroflot Airbus.

And sleeping little, and at odd hours, somehow unable to overcome the intense jetlag that results from hopping nine hours head.

Since I had nothing else to do in the wee hours of the morning yesterday, I called the baggage lost and found number over and over again, sometimes hearing a voice when the phone was picked up and gently placed back down again. Finally at 9 AM, which is when the lost and found is officially open for business!!, someone picked up, and reported that my bag was in their custody.

So I got on the marshrutka, went to the airport, and after some wandering around the terminal was told to wait with a small group of other hapless bag-stragglers. Eventually we were ushered in to the abandoned customs area.

“Do you see your bag?” the woman at the lost and found asked.

I looked around and soon spotted it.

“Leave it, please,” she said as I went to release it from its captors, comfort it, hear its stories of violation and mistreatment, and promise it would never be abandoned again. “You have to fill out some forms first.”

As much as everyone loves a filling-out-forms-and-dealing-with-foreign-customs story, I’ll shorten this one for you. After yet more confusion about what exactly I was supposed to do, I filled out this customs declaration form, being as vague as possible about the contents of my bag (still unsure if everything was even still in it), and then submitted it to a small, ugly customs officer who requested my passport (in Russia, people are always asking you for your passport) and then stole away for 15 minutes, coming back and slapping a sticky note in my hand requesting the sum of 3,000 rubles, or $100.

russian book cover

You really thought this would be easy?

What followed was a sparkling conversation, in English, with another charming Russian customs officer, who, with his disarming, stone-cold blue eyes, looked just as you would imagine a Russian customs officer. Dreamy. He explained to me that because I had not filled out a customs declaration form, I would have to pay $100 to retrieve my bag. When I asked him how I could have filled out the form when I didn’t have my bag, or how I would have known to ask for this form when it was never given it to me, neither customs nor the airline ever mentioned in, and I didn’t fill it out the other times I entered Russia, he kindly enlightened me to the stupidity of these questions, countering with his own question,”Is customs supposed to ask every single person if they want a customs declaration form?”

I have to say I think we really had a connection.

As I was unlocking the door to my apartment, I got a call on my phone. Hey, good news! Your bag’s arrived!

Really, paying a sadly significant portion of one’s monthly salary to get your own stuff back is a good experience. I would recommend everyone do it at least once in their life.

Apparently five days have actually elapsed since I got back, which means tomorrow is Monday, which means…hello, children! I’ve really missed their precious little faces. I had ample time to contemplate it on those long flights and at 3 AM when my body decided that was the right time to wake up.

2013 is off to a promising start.


One thought on “Back in the (former) U.S.S.R.

  1. That sounds so stressful! Glad you kept your sense of humor through it, and glad that you (and your belongings) are back in one piece! You’re really funny. I love that you admire the tenacity of your stomach bug!

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