From Russia With Love

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Seaboard92

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Day 14: More Baikal

The Next Morning i woke up and no one wanted to do anything so I set out on my own. I had seen some Soviet art work on a building I wanted to see nearby so I walked over to that before following the line one tram to the end. Then I took the same bridge I had the day prior. And you would think when you want to railfan and see trains then none come by at all. Eventually Виктория decided she wanted to join me so we agreed to meet up at the Lenin statue. So I took the children’s railway right of way back to the Ferris wheel and over the causeway. By the time I got there she had gotten off at the wrong stop. So we were trying to rendezvous.

And it took a minute because we were both moving in the same direction but I eventually caught up to her at the city hall. Then we decided we wanted to walk down streets we hadn’t seen before so we could see something new. Eventually we reached the circus again and this time she noticed the statue to one of her favorite directors I took her photo with it. And she recorded a message to her father about that. Then we decided we were hungry so we went navigated back to the same restaurant we were at the night before because there was something else Виктория wanted to try there.

This time I remember I had the steak and the way I like it rare and it was oh so good. It was absolutely amazing. Then after that Виктория and I went to a grocery store so I could buy some ingredients for Mac and Cheese to my families award winning recipe. Now we’re walking around the city without a key to the apartment with dairy products and a pineapple. So we figured they were still over there. We had no response so we went to the end of line one on the old KTM-5. The conductor tried to have me sit because foreigners should be treated as gifts from god.

But I gave up my seat to an old woman right after that. We finally reached them and they were eating downtown so we started heading back. At the stop before downtown they told us Just go to where we will do karaoke. So we went there instead. We had to get on the line one and go to the end again. So we went in there and waited for them forever. The other Виктория was mad at me and Виктория didn’t think it was going to end well. She was surprised when I said she would cool down and things would go normal.

Well they did in about five minutes. A full year of arguing and bickering occasionally I’ve gotten a good read for it. I know when I’m in real trouble and when I’m not. Then they eventually showed up and we had a good jam session for two hours that felt more like ten minutes. Ксения didn’t really sing much if at all. But oh my god does Виктория have an amazing voice. She might just be the female Freddie Mercury. Like one thing she sung literally gave me goosebumps it was that good. I actually recorded a video of it and sent it to a friend who does music publishing in the Bay Area.

Her voice is beyond amazing. She’s amazing. Then we took a taxi cab back to the apartment for our last night and I started making dinner while everyone showered and packed. I didn’t have a grater so I had to manually cut the cheese and break it apart which took some time. Then once that was done I had to boil some water for the pasta. Well that took forever because the burner was slow. Виктория and u were making jokes the whole time. Discussing life and making jokes because of the disaster cooking was.

It seriously took thirty minutes to get the water to a boil. And I only had one pot that could work for the oven and for the boiling. So I was having to transfer items between the two constantly. Making it a really tough kitchen experience. She was laughing her rear end off the entire time because I’m funny when I cook. I don’t take a lot of things seriously I believe in having fun and being spontaneous.

Eventually after like two hours of cooking for what normally takes thirty minutes I had a bit of South Carolina soul food for my friends. And I quickly washed the pot and diced the pineapple. Ксения and Alexander are shocked I sing and dance while holding a knife. But it’s really quite simple I hold my knife like I would on the train which stabilizes the blade. I have 100 percent control over it. Then I made my cinnamon pineapple treat for dessert.

Honestly I think this was my worst Mac and cheese but I think it was mostly a kitchen issue. After that we still spent a lot of time together just hanging out till she finally was like my flight is in five hours I need to sleep.
 

Willbridge

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If that Stalin Gothic building is on or close to the walking path from Red Square via old Arabatskaya to Kievsky Voxal (station) then surely it is the Ukraina Hotel (it is now a Radisson Collection Hotel) on Kutusovski Prospekt and not the Moscow University, which is quite far from there outside the Third Ring Road. The two building look deceptively similar. Here is a photo of that building:

View attachment 25926
It would be visible very close by if one crosses the river on the Ultista Borodonskiy Most (most likely if one walks down old Arabatskaya) and even closer if crossed on the Arabatskaya bridge.

I stayed in that hotel and took walks to both Kievsky station and to the Red Square along Arabtskaya. I even almost got mugged on one of my walks to the station in a pedestrian tunnel under Kutusovski Prospekt. Incidentally where the McDonalds across from Kievsky station is located there used to be an Ulki-Palki where I ate several times. Pretty good Russian fare for a reasonable price back then.

As you could surmise I spent a week in Moscow and walked around a lot. I stayed at what then was the Ukraina Hotel in that Stalin Gothic structure on the river overlooking the old White House, and a short walk from a lot of very interesting places.
I looked at both buildings and you're right. I didn't get into the Arbat in my brief time there. I should have remembered that when a dictator thinks he's an architecture critic there are going to be a lot of buildings with towers on them.

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I refuse to call Baltimore-Washington International BWI it’s Friendship Airport.

So, I haven't quite gotten into the whole trip log yet--but the pictures look amazing.

I just got stuck on this bit. I'm a little disappointed and curious as to why you take this stand. It's technically Thurgood Marshall International Airport, so renamed to honor a great American Supreme Court Justice. Also, airport codes are perfectly acceptable in certain circles.

I had no idea what you meant by Friendship airport and unless you're trying to be exclusionary in how you address things, I'm not sure what you stand to gain by dying on that hill.
 
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So, I haven't quite gotten into the whole trip log yet--but the pictures look amazing.

I just got stuck on this bit. I'm a little disappointed and curious as to why you take this stand. It's technically Thurgood Marshall International Airport, so renamed to honor a great American Supreme Court Justice. Also, airport codes are perfectly acceptable in certain circles.

I had no idea what you meant by Friendship airport and unless you're trying to be exclusionary in how you address things, I'm not sure what you stand to gain by dying on that hill.
It wouldn’t be the first time someone on this forum had a deeply guarded, albeit someone indefensible opinion, about something rather trivial (myself included). 😬
 

Seaboard92

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Irkutsk Modern Tram

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Soviet Art Work on an university building

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A KTM-5 Tram

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The Children's Railway from high up above it.

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Irkutsk in the rain

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Downtown Irkutsk

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Victoria and the statue to one of her favorite movies.

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Downtown Irkutsk

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A revenue service KTM-5
 

Seaboard92

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Day 15: The Last Leg of the Trans Siberian

I woke up at 0400 to see my friends off on their way to the airport. It was really kinda sad leaving them but all good things must come to an end. Then I slept for another hour so I could be ready to leave at 0700 to catch my train. I had to return the key to the landlord who also agreed to take me to the train station. I’ll be honest it was really surreal sitting at our dining table without the flurry of activity that had been there in days gone by. I was worried the landlord wasn’t going to come but he and about 710 and took me to the station.

I then went into the station and went right back out the other side to see my train No. 62M arriving. I then went to the baggage wagon to try and buy a bag and she sent me into the station. The security guard and the station agent said no need. And I went to my car which was car 2 on our train. My attendant then helped me load my bags and took me to my room. Then she made up both bunks in my room. Unlike the other trains I was not in the compartment closest to the vestibule.

It took her a few minutes but she got it made and set up. We pulled out exactly on time for points East and I rode in the hallway for a minute in the area where Виктория and I walked. I always find it special to look at the places you walk around from the train. I then relaxed in my room as we went into the mountains. The circum Baikal railway was abandoned between Port Baikal and Irkutsk for the construction of a dam hence the new less scenic route across the mountains.

Even though it is amazing to watch as trains go up the mountains as whatever you pass chances are you will see it on the other side of The Valley a few minutes later. My room was on the wrong side for lake Baikal. So the entire section alongside lake Baikal I rode in the hallway. The train manager and attendant were surprised by that.

But in all honesty Baikal is probably the biggest scenic highlight of the entire trip. I have never seen water as clear as there is in Baikal. Along the way we passed a complete mail train that was making local stops that’s something you’ll never see in the USA. Around 12 the attendant from the diner brought me the one meal that is included in my ticket. It wasn’t ich to write home about but the grapes that came with it were the biggest grapes I’ve ever seen in my life. The scenery was good but then we had to eventually turn away from Baikal to head towards Ulan Ude. And even that to a degree is beautiful scenery of some rugged landscapes.

Ulan Ude was a 21 minute stretch stop and another stop that RZD arranged delivery for. So again I ordered some delivery to be picked up. But first I went up to the locomotive and photographed it before coming back to get my delivery and taking a selfie with the I Love Ulan Ude sign.

I actually ordered a lot more food than I realized to qualify for the minimum order. I had a hamburger, 4 Cheburek with Meat, 1 pig in a blanket, and 5 cinnamon buns. This food actually lasted me for the entire duration of this leg of the trip actually. Splitting it up over several meals as well as some of the bread from Lake Baikal. The scenery is different. Irkutsk looks more European and Ulan Ude looks more like a boom town with the characteristic ugly buildings. Pretty soon after we left it in the dust for the wilderness and it got dark pretty soon after that as well.

I went out for our fresh air stop at Khilok which is a 21 minute stop in the middle of nowhere. There were however absolutely beautiful stars on display there. And Shiite I was there some words came to me for a song. So I quickly jotted them down when I got back on the train. I was a bit down from potentially ruining my good friendship with Ксения which put me in an artistic mood. After that I decided to pray that the friendship would survive and sure enough halfway into that she texted me telling me everything would be alright. So that was unique.
 

Seaboard92

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Day 16: More Trans Siberian

I woke up expecting the morning fresh air stop at Chernysh and I was disappointed to learn that overnight we lost three hours and were now majorly behind schedule. Now unlike Amtrak that can make up time but usually doesn’t because the freight railroads don’t let it. The Russians actually try which means they cut the stretch stops. This was just a long day of riding the train. I honestly don’t even know what I could write about.

We had one stretch stop and it was because it was the station where they drop the trash off the train. I complimented my attendant for vacuuming and she brought me a hard back book for some reason. And at our stretch stop in Mogocha she Eve offered to buy me dinner which was unique. At that stretch stop i did. my usual day for the locomotive our train had three express cars, two second class, a first class, a diner, and a third class car.

By trains on the Trans Siberian it was very very short. I went to the diner for dinner and it wasn’t nearly as nice as the initial Trans Siberian secondary train. The chef made a schnitzel and potatoes but it wasn’t nearly as good. It was still light years ahead of anything you can get on Amtrak however. I had no trouble going to sleep because it was a fairly boring day. This is probably the least I’ve written about a day in any trip report.

Day 17:A beautiful sunset.

I woke up again early figuring we would get a decently long fresh air stop at Beogorsk as it was time tabled for fifty minutes. We were in and out with an engine change in seven minutes. My attendant didn’t even open the vestibule. I did manage to book my hotel for St Petersburg and my flight there however from Vladivostok. Then I just relaxed and enjoyed the scenery.

Today was mostly mountains just north of China. And it was actually quite scenic. My window opened a bit but today is the first day I attempted sticking my phone out of it to get some photos of the train rounding bends. Again I mostly ate my smorgasbord I had delivered in Ulan Ude but I did do dinner in the diner because I’m still a believer in supporting that. I did get some amazing photos in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. That was basically the Soviet response to Israel but now a days less then 1 percent of it is Jewish at all.

The next stretch stop was at Khabarovsk which was a 35 minute one but on the outskirts I saw the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. And the smoke from a wildfire helped increase the radiance of the sunset as well. At Khabarovsk I watched them working on unloading express and mail out of our three express cars while they changed the locomotive. They also have a mechanical inspector who is hitting bits of the under carriage to inspect which is pretty amazing to watch. Then after a bit we were off and I settled in to bed.
 

Seaboard92

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Day 18: The End of the Line and a 9 hour domestic flight

My train was scheduled to arrive at 0707 into Vladivostok and we left Khabarovsk only about an hour late because they were really working on making up time so I set my alarm for six. And low and behold we made up the remaining hour overnight. My phone said welcome to China so I must have pinged off a Chinese tower for a brief moment. Then I got dressed. Today I was wearing my uniform as it is the heaviest item in my suitcase plus I figured it would make for some cool photo moments with the Aeroflot crew.

I had two hours to make it on my Elektrichka which is the only train that uses the small commuter station next to the main one. So when we arrived I got my head end take my photos. Then I take a photo with the sign honoring the completion of the Trans Siberian. After that I photograph the steam engine on display in the station before working my way over to the airport station. You have to go up two flights to get to the exit to the street which takes me about ten minutes with my two bags. Then walk across the street to go back down.

None the less I make the trip over to the suburban station and wait for my train for about thirty minutes before boarding. It’s a quick ride that retraces the Trans Siberian route along the Bay of the Second River. Nothing to really report however about the train. Eventually we get in the branch to the airport and that’s where the real fun starts. Get off the train go thru security to enter the train station attached to the airport. Walk about five hundred feet inside a building with no exits go thru security to enter the airport lobby.

Then I check my bag at the counter for my flight and get my boarding pass. Then it’s time for airport security round 3 which is much more through than the previous two. I then take some photos of some of the planes in the Far East before settling into a sit down restaurant to eat a hamburger. It wasn’t the greatest but it was only 7 dollars. Compared to my home airport I can’t even get the fast food in the airport for that. My flight to Moskva was on board a Boeing 777-300. There isn’t much you can say about a long domestic flight like this.

It was long and I had time to watch Jersey Boys, When Harry Met Sally, and something else I forgot. The food was edible but tasted really bland. The most interesting part was when we got to Moskva we deplaned from a hard stand onto a bus. Never have I ever had that happen on a wide body aircraft. It really allows you to see just how big those engines are. I honestly enjoy hard stands as it gives a great view of the planes on the airfield. Then I was surprised to find in a domestic connection security again.

You arrive into a lower level and then have to clear the most disorganized security in the world to get to your connecting gate. So what I thought would be an easy connection turned out not to be so easy. I still made my connection. I had to repack my carry on to fit the gate agents bag size. Once passed her I put my offending item which was my uniform winter coat back in. Then I settled in for a quick flight on an A321 to St Petersburg. I was really surprised we didn’t do a go around landing as we came in very hot.

Then was the joyous fun of trying to leave the airport. So this is one of the few airports I’ve been to outside of the USA with no rail connection. Виктория ordered me a cab so I just had to find him which was difficult but pretty soon we were fighting the worst rush hour traffic I’ve seen and I’ve been to LAX. Pretty soon I was at my hotel which is just down the street from her apartment. So I went to the metro station bought flowers and then proceeded to her apartment.

She then gave me another really long hug with a lot of emotions. Then took the flowers inside to put in a vase before coming out so we could go get dinner. We went to Hanse Bier which is just down the street another German restaurant. She wasn’t too pleased with it but it wasn’t bad. We had a lovely table next to the window and good service. So I wasn’t complaining I was just enjoying the company. We were out till ten and that’s only because I started dosing off on her shoulder.

So I walked her back to her apartment then I walked down to my hotel.
 

Seaboard92

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Train No. 62 at Vladivostok

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The Trans Siberian Plaque

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A steam engine on display in the station area

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Vladivostok

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Vladivostok Airport Station

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Vladivostok airport. Already better than Charlotte

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My Boeing 777-300ER

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S& Airbus

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Azur Air Airbus A330

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Economy Meal on Aeroflot
 

Seaboard92

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Day 19: More St Petersburg

Виктория and I decided we would rendezvous in the morning so I can get a haircut. She decided that I needed a haircut that fit her desired style for me. To a degree I was afraid of this. We were supposed to meet at ten so I was up and ready but just before then she texted me if I could handle a delay and entertain myself.

Here is my actual text back to her.

“You live by a massive twenty plus track hump yard, a massive flat yard, a mainline with over 200 trains a day, and an active steam locomotive repair shop with not one, not two, but there steam engines under fire. You can take all day I’ll be entertained”

It’s true I could be entertained there easily I’m very basic. Eventually she was ready so I walked back off the overpass because I wanted to get it done. She brought me lunch and then we went looking for a haircut place and it took us about six attempts but eventually we found a women who could do it. Виктория then told the women what to do and then left to go back to work. When I get my haircut I usually keep my eyes shut due to some trauma from childhood haircuts.

After that my mission was to get reservations for a Spanish restaurant that has live music she wanted to go to for a romantic evening. So I took the metro to Nevesky Prospekt and then started walking in the direction that my phone told me to go. So I went to Las Torres and made our reservation. They were a bit surprised to have someone wanting to make a reservation. None the less she was happy with me when I told her I got reservations.

Then I walked down the Fontanka River embankment looking for a place to eat the lunch that she made for me. I honestly didn’t like it so I hope she didn’t see me discretely throw it out along my walk. I then walked over to Vitebsky Station which is a place every railfan is supposed to visit here. I honestly didn’t see what was so special about it to be honest. I did have lunch at a Burger King near it though. Again I love those wedges.

Then I walked down the river more till I saw the Sobor Svyatoy Zhivonachalnoy Church then I navigated myself over to the Hard Rock Cafe to buy a shirt because that’s important to me. Then I walked around the Nikolo-Bogoyalenskiy Morskoy Sobor and the park next to it. After that Виктория told me I should go to New Holland Island. This is actually one of the few places that Rick Steves has visited here. It is a nice island and very nice to see people relaxing and cutting loose. Now my Russian teacher told me I should see St Issacs Cathedral so I walked over there. Me personally I love climbing to the top of every tower in Europe so I had to do this.

I was surprised that there was no security to climb the tower and there was a lovely view of the downtown. People taking selfies make it a bit hard to move around up there however. After that I walked over to the Winter Palace to listen to some of the live music outside. It was getting close to Виктория getting off work so I walked over to the metro stop she told me to wait for her at. I had to charge my phone so I went to an ice cream parlor to charge my phone.

Then I met up with Виктория and we had 45 minutes till our reservation so we then went shopping looking for gifts for my family. We tried a bookstore with things other than books and couldn’t find anything. We watched a really entertaining street performer who was half musician and half stand up comic. Then it was time to go to our dinner and it was a lovely dinner. They had a nice singer and Spanish guitar player in addition to a very talented dancer. Виктория finds my style of quietly clapping strange but that’s how I do it. We had a lovely evening together with a great atmosphere. The food was spicy.

After that we strolled back up to the Moscow Station before getting on the metro back to our neighborhood. I dropped her off after a long hug then went back to my hotel.
 

Seaboard92

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Day 20: Meeting the Parents Officially

Today I texted her to ask what the plan was and it was meet at ten. Again she was running late so I watched trains again. I wasn’t mad at all. Then I went to pick her up and she decided she wanted to visit my hotel with me. So we strolled along a pond in the park behind the apartments on her street. I’ll leave off what happened next in an attempt not to get censored on AU.

We then left my hotel and she was angry at me for something I didn’t understand and she threatened to make me go to the theater by myself. So I went over to get my Covid test and then over to the flower shop to get flowers. Of course on the way to do that I enjoyed the swingest behind an apartment. I’m a big believer in enjoying all of these green spaces. It’s funny that I’ve gotten so good at navigating myself between these old Soviet apartment blocks.

I brought the flowers over and then I was allowed to take the cab with her mother and her to the theater. The taxi cab ride was long but it took us to her favorite restaurant Baklazhan. At the Restaurant we met her aunt whom is like a second mother to her. Her mother and aunt spent most of the time talking to each other so I didn’t really interact much with her which was ok by me. The meal was very good and the restaurant had a lovely atmosphere with very few televisions.

I ended up paying for everyone which was on with me because I realized I was auditioning to be the boyfriend and needed mother’s approval. Then we walked next door to the theater and it was so warm in there I was uncomfortable. Eventually her aunt offered me some water because I was sweating profusely. Then I fell asleep for a minute between Jetlag and the heat. I felt like a heathen. We took a group picture after the show.

After that we took the metro back to her apartment and I walked back to my hotel. Not a bad day but not a great day.

Day 21: Being the Caregiver

Well to some this day would be a waste but to me it really wasn’t. Виктория was feeling sick not Covid but she refused to go outside to help her recover. She sent me to the pharmacy to get her some antibiotics, and the grocery store to get her water. Again I had no issue finding my way around our neighborhood like I had lived there my whole life. The pharmacy is different everything is behind the counter. But it was inexpensive. The grocery store wasn’t bad much more bare than the one in Novosibirsk. Then I waited out in the cold for her to be put together enough to let me in.

Once I came in I then cooked her and I lunch. She wanted sandwiches which was easy enough to make. I also brought the grapes she requested and pineapples. Then we sat in the living room she showed me her yearbook and her stamp collection. Her class was also very small, and her coin collection is massive. I’ve actually contributed to some of them by just clearing my wallet of American coins.

She was a bit mad I wouldn’t let her see my phone but I’m not a fan of letting people near my phone. It’s just a thing. We then peacefully argued for awhile trying to find a movie to watch and a place to order food from. Again we did Steak and Steak from Ginza. We then watched Raya and the Last Dragon. I actually found the movie really cute. But what was perfect was the fact she was leaned against my shoulder and her hand in mine.

That was absolutely perfect and words don’t describe that feeling. It ended when her mother came home from work though. At least her mother didn’t judge me for spending time in Виктория’s bedroom. After the movie I went back to my hotel a happy person and then worked on packing my suitcases.
 

Seaboard92

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Day22: Escaping Russia

I had no trouble waking up and Виктория arranged for me to have a cab that actually passed by her apartment window on the way out. Then I went to the airport. My bag was a bit too heavy so I had to pay 150 dollars to send it thru to NYC. But because my Covid test hadn’t come in they would only send to Moscow. So Виктория enlisted her friend Jura to help me get it. As I was sitting on the tarmac to Moskva he got the results. Keep in mind this was after I bothered like ten people to help me.

The flight in the A321 was uneventful and flew over the Peterhof on the way out. I had to go claim my bag at baggage claim to recheck it once they gave my new boarding pass. But they wouldn’t accept the test unless it was in English because they said the Americans wouldn’t take it. So I spent forty minutes making panicked calls to anyone who could help but eventually I figured it out myself. Then I got a boarding pass and went thru security.

Then i explored the whole international terminal before I sat down for a schnitzel at one of the restaurant. Again far cheaper than anything in my home airport and better quality. Eventually I got on my B777-300 for JFK. It was an uneventful flight over Greenland. Not much to write about. We landed in JFK just before sunset. The foreigners got thru customs faster than the Americans did which was strange. I knew I was home though because none of the moving walkways were working. I literally was at the customs agent for all of thirty seconds.

Then I grabbed my bag took the air train over to the AA terminal. I checked in for my flight and checked my bag. The airport had no food opened which stunk but I can live. My flight was completely oversold though and the last one of the night. I was prepared to take a jumpseat and asked for it. I ended up getting a seat however. Then I attempted to sleep some. I changed flights to another mainline flight to Columbia where my dad picked me up. And in forced him to take me to get food and we talked about the trip. Then I checked AU when I got home before bed.
 

Seaboard92

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I have no idea which airline this is.

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Moskva SVO

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My flight to New York

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Rossiya B747-400

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Pobeda. Victoria (Siberia) was almost a flight attendant for them.

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China Eastern leaving JFK

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The only airline to make the A380-800 actually work

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A Lufthansa A350-900
 

Seaboard92

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Post trip thoughts.

I actually learned a lot on this trip both about myself and about another culture. I had a great time with my friends. I learned about myself exactly what I want for life and what type of person meshes well with that. I learned that friendship is what means the most of everything in the world. I also learned what I need to change in my life to feel better.

Russia is a beautiful country with beautiful people. And an amazing culture. It is definitely worth going to explore. And the best way to do it is to make some friends and just jump right on in. There are no two countries more similar than the USA and Russia. If you get the chance I highly recommend it. I know I’ll be back because I’m writing this post script on my next trip to Russia.
 

Seaboard92

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So, I haven't quite gotten into the whole trip log yet--but the pictures look amazing.

I just got stuck on this bit. I'm a little disappointed and curious as to why you take this stand. It's technically Thurgood Marshall International Airport, so renamed to honor a great American Supreme Court Justice. Also, airport codes are perfectly acceptable in certain circles.

I had no idea what you meant by Friendship airport and unless you're trying to be exclusionary in how you address things, I'm not sure what you stand to gain by dying on that hill.

I honestly just prefer the name Friendship Airport. I really don't know why we throw Washington into the name at all. I think of it more as Baltimore's airport and less of Washington. Granted Washington Dulles is really not any closer to the city either. I also only call DCA National Airport. None of which is really political to me. Just a matter of personal preference.
 

Seaboard92

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What did you see in Irkutsk theater? Or was it just open?

We went to Kholstomer. It was insanely good. By far it is in my top three plays I've ever been to if not in the number one slot. Definitely for non musicals it will take the number one slot. I highly recommend you try and see the version done in Irkutsk as they are the ones who developed this version. All in all there are four different adaptations of it. But by and large the one in Irkutsk is amazing from a technical standpoint. And you won't need to know any Russian to understand it because it has absolutely no words or music. Just noise and dance with the noise. I think you should read the book before, or go with me and Victoria who can provide narration.
 
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