Note: This was written last night. Today we had our first full day. I'll try to write and catch up to today later.
Welcome to Yaroslavl, Russia! Finally. After a 4 hour flight to Atlanta, a 2 hour layover, a 10 hour flight to Moscow, a 7 hour wait in the airport and a 5 hour drive from the airport to the hotel, we are here.
Jaime is asleep next to me in our quaint hotel room, complete with a fridge, tv and phone. It just stopped raining outside, which we could hear as a little pounding on the metal ledge outside our window. It is also below freezing in our room. Jaime is sleeping in a full heavy jacket and my pajama pants, and I plan on toughing it out in shorts, shirt, sweater and socks. We are sharing a little suite with another new volunteer, Liz from Kentucky. We’re sharing a bathroom and a shower. And we are not allowed to drink the tap water, which means mouth closed in the shower and bottled water to brush our teeth.
But let me back it up a little bit. Let’s start in Atlanta where we met the first of the two friendly South Africans. Jaime and I missed an announcement about a slight delay in our flight so we asked a middle-aged woman sitting near us what the announcement was. Through conversation we found out that she was headed back to S Africa, and once she found out we would be there in a few months she really opened up. We talked about her job as the conductor for a youth orchestra and she gave us her card and insisted we e-mail or call when we get to Cape Town. She lives in a beach town a little ways away near an elephant game preserve.
Next came the uneventful long flight. Jaime and I were stuck in the back left of the plane in seats that didn’t really recline all the way, but other than that it was fine. We went to pick up our bags from baggage claim, Jaime, Liz and I, and lo and behold Jaime’s was nowhere to be found. Jaime as always kept upbeat and filed a claim, so it should be delivered to our hotel once it’s found. Supposedly lost baggage is pretty common in the Moscow airport (SVO). Unfortunately the last new volunteer, Christine from the UK, also lost a bag.
Then we waited in line and I wished aloud that I knew how to read Russian. Then our second friendly South African piped in behind us, explaining it wasn’t all that hard and he began to give an impromptu reading lesson. In truth it really isn’t all that hard to read Russian. I’m sure I’m butchering the pronunciations and I have no idea what I’m saying, but I am definitely getting better. It’s easier when you realize, as our South African friend instructed us, that half the letters are English, and a quarter are Greek. However a handful of English letters are pronounced differently than we are used to. For example, B is pronounced V, P is pronounced R and H is pronounced N. I spent a lot of our wait in the airport using my Russian phrasebook to read and practice.
Finally the wait ended after Christine arrived and we left the airport for Yaroslavl. Katya, one of our three translators and a Yaro native, met us at the café in the airport and led us to our car and driver. The driver’s name is Vladimir, which apparently is commonly mispronounced in the West. (It should be more Vla-DEE-meer, rather than VLA-di-meer with the capitalizations where it should be stressed).
Halfway into our trip in the beat-up Volvo minivan, we stopped for what was either lunch or dinner. We went to a small café that they always take new volunteers to and Katya recommended we order the chicken noodle soup and pancakes. The pancakes came in either cottage cheese or meat variety, and unsure what the meat would be and not feeling too daring, I went with the cottage cheese. Soup was good and the pancakes more resembled fatter cheese blintzes.
We slept for pretty much the rest of the car ride as we did during the first half, and Katya woke us up by announcing we had arrived in Yaroslavl. It is a small city of 600,000 located in Russia’s Golden Ring, a circle of cities that are all almost 1000 years old. Yaroslavl will celebrate its 10000th anniversary in 2010. We didn’t get to see much of the actual city because it was night and we drove straight to our hotel. Now I’m going to get some rest because it is already after midnight and we’re waking up at 8.