Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How I got to Ukraine

Yes, I'm in Ukraine!

But how did I get here?

Saturday, in the wee hours, Stefan drove me and my three pieces of luggage (one bag to check, two bags to carry on - that's it) to PDX, something he rarely gets to do anymore (my flights to anywhere are usually on work days). Our goodbye was super short - PDX has reduced the drop off drive to just TWO lanes, and 5 a.m. is always a madhouse at departures even when all lanes are available. Had we known, we would have cheated and gone to arrivals. As it was, it was a very quick goodbye that didn't at all reflect that we were saying goodbye for TWO MONTHS.

In the security line, I got chosen for some kinda special rapid screening - I didn't have to take off my shoes, to unpack liquids or my computer... I asked, loudly, "Really, I don't have to unpack my computer?!" The woman looked kind of angry and said, "Just enjoy it!". I couldn't. I was too flummoxed. Checked a bag for the first time in more than 2 years. Hope I see it in Kiev tomorrow...

Near my departure gate, I found Rose's Restaurant and Bakery, across from Starbuck's. The line at Starbuck's was outrageous. I just needed some breakfast before the plane - I was eschewing coffee for the next few days in my effort to fight jet lag. And Rose's had BISCUITS AND GRAVY. I avoid pork, but can't say no to b & g. It wasn't really that great, but the psychological effect of having my favorite breakfast was amazing.

Once I boarded the plane, I slept about 2 hours - a decent sleep, in fact, because the seats next to me were empty. Once I couldn't sleep anymore, I listened to Thrilling Stories of the Railway, by Victor Whitechurch, narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch - it's just under 2 hours total. They are detective stories, and BC reads all the dialogue in different character voices - and he's SOOOOO damn good I forgot at times it was just one guy reading. I enjoyed them so much, I might listen to them again.

I got to JFK C terminal and it was like a freakin' developing country. I have not seen that amount of confusion, chaos, crowding and cultural diversity at an airport since the old terminal in Dubai, the one for the flights to Afghanistan, Iraq and China. I could not believe how horrible it was. There were just two bathrooms in all of C terminal, and the woman working in the one I was using had given up - she was just sitting on the counter, watching people line up for the stalls, and when one would clog up, she'd put an "out of order" sign. After working my way through the sea of anxious, angry people waiting for flights in tiny, crapped waiting areas, I finally found a seat over by some pilot's lounge and sat there for two hours trying to use the Boingo Internet system - which is CRAP - frequent dropped signals, SLOW Internet, and I had to use different browsers to get different sites to work.

I had gotten a notice at the checkin machine at PDX that I would have to get my seat for the Prague flight at JFK. About 90 minutes before my flight, I waded again through the sea of people to the gate where my flight would depart. And my experience was basically this:

1st Delta gate agent: "You don't have a seat assignment for this flight because there are none. You just get on when it's time to board."

Me: "Really? On an INTERNATIONAL Delta flight?"

Her: (smug) Yes.

2nd Delta gate agent that showed up 20 minutes later. "Of course there are seat assignments. I have no idea why you don't have one. Here is your seat assignment."

I tweeted madly about the experience, but Delta ignored me, just as they had done regarding this reservation stupidity.

I ended up with a good seat, in most ways: in the aisle of a two seat exit row. That means I had PLENTY of leg room. But the downsides: I couldn't put the seat back. I never put the seat back all the way, or even half way - I'm not that cruel to fellow passengers. But just a little would have helped with sleep on that oh-so-long flight. And I wasn't at the window, so I couldn't lean on anything - and that makes sleep really difficult, if not impossible.

I watched "Saving Mr. Banks", and ended up weeping through the last half so much I think I scared the guy next to me. I would love to have watched more movies, but I knew the most important thing was sleep. I had a couple of glasses of red wine, lots and lots of water, and then did my best to sleep. I slept off and on, quite fitfully, for 4 hours. It wasn't at all a restful sleep. When someone bumped my arm and I raised my eye thingy up, all the lights were on and breakfast was being served. And it was HORRIBLE. First really horrific meal I've had on a plane in years. Just SO bad - there were these sugar-coated croutons and a little bread thing with some kind of horrific cheese product baked into it. There was no coffee - the plane didn't have hot water for some reason. But, as I mentioned, I was abstaining from coffee. I just keep slamming down water as much as possible.

I arrived in Prague on a gorgeous Sunday. I so love this city, even the airport. It took my breath away from the plane window, remembering a long weekend with Stefan here ages ago. At Prague Airport, I saw staff on Segways & line skating through the terminal. The airport was clean, full of services and plenty of room for seating. Unlike JFK. It also was heavy on the luxury product ads and stores. I had forgotten how obsessed Eastern Europeans are with luxury brand names.

I hadn't had to go through security again at JFK, but I did at Prague. I set the alarm off, something I NEVER do - the security guard never did find out what it was that did so. Then we boarded the plane. I was so glad the horrible men in the row across from me weren't behind me - one kept putting his feet up on the seat in front of him, jostling the woman in that seat, and she'd turn around and let him have it, and he'd offer up some lame excuse as to why it was okay - all of this was in Czech or Russian or Ukrainian, I'm not sure which, but it was intense. And then the woman in front of our row asked us to turn off the air, because it was bothering her. As a row, we all refused - it was hot, and the air was blowing directly on us, not her. I found out later that this is very typical for Ukrainians - they don't like any air blowing on them. They will sit in sauna-like conditions rather than turn on a fan or air conditioner, both of which they think lead to widespread illness. Ugh.

Okay, I've just put two stereotypes about Eastern Europeans in this blog. Let the hate mail begin.

As I deplaned, after more than 20 hours on planes and in airports, all I could think was: I have to do all of this again on Oct. 3, in reverse, back to the USA, then turn around and fly BACK to Europe 48 hours later, all because Delta Airlines is being RIDICULOUS. I hope I've at least cost Delta some customers. And as I mentioned here, if I die because of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) as a result of the unnecessary flying Delta is forcing me to do, I hope Stefan becomes a multi-millionaire suing them.

And so, it was late afternoon local time when I arrived in Kyiv (or Kiev), Ukraine. It was SO HOT. The only breeze was me going through security. I was at least happy over security being easy, and my checked bag showing up. I had trouble finding my driver, and almost made a huge mistake and walked out of the airport to look for him - you can't get back in if you do that, and we might never have found each other. But he found me, because he saw the company logo on a paper I was holding in my hand. Hurrah! He was very nice. And I made it to my friend Ann's just fine.

And… I'll give you my impressions of Kiev in my next blog!

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