PrologueWe have always wanted to go to Russia. My mother gave me my first Russian matryoshka nesting doll for Christmas when I was 5 years old. It was a 5 piece Semenov maiden, made in the U.S.S.R. From then on, my mom would buy me one whenever she found them for sale at a reasonable price. Craig and I bought a hula dancer nesting doll on our honeymoon in Hawaii, and we also bought a traditional Russian matryoshka when we were in Alaska. We couldn't resist buying some pop culture dolls as well It is a collection that I treasure.
In addition to the lure of the dolls, we grew up during the Cold War. The Soviet Union was shrouded in a mystique of intrigue that penetrated all levels of pop culture. Craig remembers school books from his youth with alluring photos of Moscow and Leningrad (the name St. Petersburg was given during Soviet times), and he has always bee interested in the space race.
The travel companies that we frequently use do not offer Russia as a destination. It is a huge country, and we didn't know where to begin. However, in November we received a Black Friday e-mail from Abercrombie & Kent, a high end travel company. They were offering off-season specials to a variety of destinations, for a set itinerary on set dates. One of the destinations was Russia: Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Craig always keeps up with the variuos offerings of travel companies, and had been aware of this trip through A&K. However, it had always been priced out of our range. When we saw that this same trip was now available as a private trip for a reasonable, discounted price, we decided to go for it.
Cody at A&K was quite helpful with planning our trip. Though the itinerary was set, it was possible to add extra days at the beginning or end for additional cost. After doing a little bit of research, I saw that the birthplace of the Russian matryoshka craft was very close to Moscow, and could be visited on a day trip. Cody helped us to add an extra day to the itinerary, and to arrange a visit to a matryoshka factory and toy museum.
A friend and colleague of mine named Maria grew up in Moscow, before moving to the USA. She was very excited that we would be visiting her country and city, and she arranged for some of her friends in Moscow to meet us at a Russian art museum. She also gave us tips on things to do and food to try.
Traveling on a shoulder season is great for us. The destinations are less crowded, and the weather (though winter in this case) is comfortable for Craig. Heat aggravates his Multiple Sclerosis, so cool weather is definitely best.
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 - DepartureWe woke up at 3:45 a.m., and Craig's mother drove us to Logan Express in time to catch the 5:15 a.m. bus to the airport. (Thank you, Mom!) After checking in and going through security, we got breakfast: iced lemon pound cake for me, and yogurt and granola for Craig. We took off on time at 8:10 a.m. on a British Airways 787 Dreamliner.
The crew was incredibly courteous. Flying in coach is never comfortable, and the positive attitude of a crew can really make all the difference. They served us a breakfast of sausage and scrambled eggs. The flight was 5 hours and 40 minutes long. I worked on typing up our Guatemala/Ecuador trip from last summer.
We landed at Heathrow at 7 p.m. local time. Craig had requested a wheelchair, and we were both driven around in an adorable little cart on the -4th floor in the bowels of the airport. The little vehicle could drive right in and out of elevators. They dropped us off at a courtesy stop, and a nice Algerian man wheeled Craig to the gate.
We went through security, and everyone was very polite and unhurried. The airport was absolutely dead. We sat at the gate and I posted to Facebook.
My legs were hurting (my compression socks are very tight), so Craig suggested that I stretch my legs and go for a walk. I walked the length of the terminal, and when I came back, Craig was nowhere to be found. I thought I must be crazy - neither he nor our luggage were where I had left him.
I wandered around with a confused look on my face, until I heard someone call my name. It was one of the people at the desk. "He's just nipped off to the gents'!" (I love how Brits speak!) It turns out that they had been ready to board people who need special assistance and had called Craig's name. However, I had both boarding passes with me. He told them that I would be right back, and asked if he had time to use the rest room before boarding. They kindly offered to keep our bags and coats behind the desk while he went to the restroom. I had come back before he did, which is why I couldn't find him. They checked our passports and boarding passes, and let us board as soon as he got back. In U.S. airports, they would never have been so laid back about the whole thing.
When we got onto the plane, they told us all to kep our seatbelts UNfastened while the plane refueled. This was the first time that we had ever heard this request, but it made total sense.
There weren't many passengers, and we had nobody in the seat between us, so we were able to spread out comfortably.
Receiving my first matryoshka, Christmas 1980
Matryoshkas from my collection
Riding around in style at Heathrow
Riding around in style at Heathrow