June 20 to June 21, 2008
The flight from Atlanta left at 3:45 pm On June 20th and got into Moscow a little after 10:30 am on June 21st although it lasted only 10 ½ hours. Our next set of miracles involved the Passport Control and Migration paperwork. Being one of the last to disembark, when we finally arrived at the platform above the Passport area we looked down at the 200+ people, wall to wall to staircase, and trying to get through 4 checkpoints one at a time. To get into this mob I had to carry my 44 lb carry-on, my 40+ lb backpack (remember the two computers and accompanying power-cords & connector), and Cindy’s 30 lb carry-on and 15 lb travel bag down a long staircase (about 40 steps) to the bottom where we could join our fellow passengers. It took three trips down and two trips up the stairs and I was about exhausted, but as it turned out, I had plenty of time to rest up.
I scooted the 4 carry-ons along the floor to the closest line and we waited for new developments. After about 15 minutes we switched to the next line to the left and found ourselves behind an English-speaking man with a diplomatic passport who worked at the US Embassy in Moscow and was coming for another tour there. He helped us to know what to expect and we relaxed a little.
Their immigration system (they call it “migration”) is similar to Mexico in that you fill out a half-sheet form that has two identical halves. When you get your passport and visa stamped, they keep the “A” half and you have to retain the “B” half with your passport and visa.
In Russia they have many policemen stationed along the streets, each one standing at the curb with a white baton. They are supposed to be controlling traffic, but when things are slow, they pick an approaching car, wave them to the curb with the baton, and check the “papers” of the car’s occupants. If their papers are not “in order” they are given a citation that has a fine associated with it, but you can pay a smaller amount to the policeman and he will let you go free.
Any one of these policemen can stop you on the street at any time and demand to see your “papers”. Visitors can be deported if they do not have this migration coupon and visa with their passport. According to their laws, you do not have to show them the original of these documents, but you must carry the originals on your person. If they are not satisfied with the copy you give them, you take out your originals and hold them tightly in your hands, not allowing the policeman to actually take them from you. An American passport is worth hundreds of American dollars on the street and these men don’t get paid much.
After getting through that checkpoint we broke into a room jammed with people waiting for their luggage and we arrived just in time to get our bags. I found two carts and as each of us pushed a cart we were able to get our luggage out into the public general waiting area. Cindy was ahead of me and was the first to meet our next miracle; a tall English-speaking man in a Utah State University golf shirt. He was waiting for his daughter who was on our plane. After some conversation we discovered that he knew my uncle Don and aunt Louise Simmons who live in Providence, south of Logan. He spoke Russian and helped us connect with our driver and get him to reluctantly, agree to take us to the hotel in one trip. He was upset about the size and amount of our luggage and wanted to make several trips(I suspect that he gets paid by the trip), but after calling our contact at the Area office he finally decided we could make it and we loaded two big ones in the trunk and four in the back seat with Cindy.
The Church had arranged for a day room at a nearby hotel that was a three-star Motel 6 with a rack rate of $300 per night; Clean, but very spartan. We had a lunch included in our room and after eating slept for about 5 hours. We had to transport our own luggage up to and down from our 5th floor room and that was a bit of a challenge but we worked it out. Three men stood behind the desk most of the time, but none offered to help these two old Americans with their bags. Customer service was not included in the room, even for a tip.