When you travel… Family and Friends Letter #2

June 12, 2018

St. Petersburg, Russia

Letter #2

Dear Family and Friends,

     “When you travel, things go wrong.”  These are the sage words of experienced  travel writer Dave Fox.  I kept thinking of this reality yesterday as we encountered unexpected, frustrating problems on our trips from Laguna Niguel, California, to St. Petersburg, Russia.

     All the things that went wrong had to do with our luggage.  For many years I have used the same carry-on designed by travel guru Rick Steves.  I have never had a problem with it.  But at the Los Angeles International Airport I discovered that  Aeroflot Russian Airlines has become more restrictive about the size of carry-ons and mine was about an inch longer than they now allow.  So we had to take out my laptop and gifts and use a packed backpack to redistribute our things which increased our hand carried items to six.

    We made the best use of the 11 hour plus flight over the Arctic to Moscow by watching movies on our individual screens.  I saw three films I hadn’t seen before: Ladybird, The Post, and The Greatest Entertainer.  I liked all three, but was especially impressed with The Post for its portrayal of the courage to print the truth about the war in Vietnam even if it meant the possible demise of the newspaper. 

       In Moscow we had to change planes for the flight to St. Petersburg. When we went to go through security again, the agent said that our hand held items were one too many.  After considerable discussion (argument) in Russian and English, we had to check one item for which we had to pay 2500 roubles – nearly $40.  

      We kept falling asleep on the pleasant one hour flight to St. Petersburg. As we waited for our checked luggage to arrive, I thought of the more than 25 times I had been anxious about luggage arriving. I had never had a problem.  Now I felt calm as one by one our checked luggage was spewed out of the chute and onto the carousel in front of us.  But when the luggage delivery was complete, we were still missing one large suitcase.  It was Tanya’s in which she had packed most of her clothes as well as some gifts.  We went to a counter and reported the missing suitcase and filled out a form with the address and phone number of Tanya’s son, Svyatoslav, where we will be staying.  We can only hope it will be delivered.

     Svyatoslav warmly greeted us when we emerged into the reception area.  He is a tall, good looking young man who is completing work on financial management at a university. He recently took final exams in which he got the highest marks.  He also speaks English better than I speak Russian.  (In the large reception area I noticed a big, new Starbucks with its signs only in English.)  

    Outside of the terminal the sky was overcast, but the temperature was comfortable.  Shirt-sleeve weather.  We waited for our driver in a big Land Rover to take us about 45 minutes into the city.  Since Tanya’s brother Sasha is with their mother in Belarus now, he asked a friend to pick us up..     The driver  turned out to be a jovial man named Yuri (not Zhivago) who told us that the big deal this month is football (soccer).  World Cup games (which they call matches)  will be played in a beautiful new stadium in the city. Yuri bought his tickets for the games many months ago.

    I’m always impressed at how green the vegetation is here.  We live in a semi-arid climate in southern California where the hillsides are brown at this time of year.  I also noticed many new high-rise apartments which have sprung up like mushrooms on the outskirts of the city since my last visit here two years ago.

    It turned out that Yuri was born in Kiev, Ukraine, and he told us that weather is much better there than in St. Petersburg.  Using my best Russian, I remarked that Peter the Great was not thinking about the weather when he founded St. Petersburg.  That drew an appreciative laugh from Yuri.

    Soon we arrived at Svyatoslav’s apartment and he carried most of our heavy bags up the four flights of stairs to his apartment.  Shortly after we had everything inside, we looked out the window and saw a downpour of rain.  

    After a shower and a snack we went to bed while the skies were still light since the sun doesn’t set until about 10:15 p.m. here at this time of year.  We had not slept in a bed for over thirty hours.

    In spite of our luggage troubles we are very happy to be here. I have been to this beautiful city so many times that it now seems like a second home. I know that many of my readers do not have the opportunity or means to travel as we did.  So in spite of our luggage troubles, I am grateful that we could make this trip.  I look forward to our next adventures.  We will not be surprised that our adventures will include some more unexpected challenges.  Because when you travel, things go wrong.

Grace and Peace,

Bill Goff

Preparing and Packing F & F Letter #1

May 28, 2018

Dear Family and Friends,

      Once again I am planning a summer filled with adventures which I want to share with you.  I want to inform and enlighten you with my observations of the world outside of my cozy home in southern California.  My less lofty goal is to make you a little envious of my travel adventures.  If, by chance, you would prefer not to receive these wonderful letters, just drop me a note and I will remove you from my huge mailing list.  Of course this will hurt my feelings, but I will probably recover – eventually.

      My wife, Tatyana, and I plan to fly to St. Petersburg, Russia, on June 10 and return home on August 19.  We will stay with Tanya’s son, Svyatoslav, in his apartment in St. Petersburg.  Tanya’s mother, Anastasia, will join us from her home in Belarus.  Alexander (whom we call Sasha) also lives in St. Petersburg with his wife; so we will spend time with him as well.  

     I am also planning to fly to Israel in July to take a two week intensive course in Palestinian Arabic in the beautiful, old seaside city of Akko.

     Part of the fun of travel for me is planning and preparation.  I’m in the process of deciding what to pack in one suitcase (to weigh no more than 50 pounds [23 kg]) and a carry-on.   The challenge is to pack clothing for the cool and capricious weather of St. Petersburg as well as the consistently hot and dry weather of Akko.  

    I may try to attach an occasional photo to my letters, but more likely I will post photos on my Facebook page and perhaps Instagram.  If you are not yet a Facebook friend, just ask me to befriend you and I will.

    As usual I welcome your feedback, questions, comments and rebuttals.  

    My next letter will probably arrive during the week of June 10, 2018,  If you don’t hear from me that week, it will mean that we didn’t make it or that I am suffering so much from ten hours worth of time change (aka jet lag) that I forgot to write.

Grace and Peace,

Bill Goff