I was surprised to find nobody around when I got out of the shower. Olga came in as I was getting ready to go downstairs and find out what was keeping them. It seems Mitya has a clock-radio and the station was off the air that early in the morning.
I tried to take in the city for the last time as best I could while we drove to the airport. At 5 in the morning it was deserted, quiet, and mostly dark, except the Kremlin and a couple of churches, which were lit up beautifully. It all looked familiar, and I was looking out the window in an entirely different way than I had when we'd taken the same route into the city two weeks earlier. To some extent, I felt like I was leaving home and going off to a new place.
We said our farewells at the airport. Olga helped me fill out a declaration form. It turned out I checked through the wrong customs counter, but the woman at the correct counter was very nice and waved me through without an inspection. I waited for the plane among a bunch of American tourists, who for some reason irritated me even though they weren't being particularly obnoxious. The plane left a couple minutes late, delayed for wing deicing, and I headed back to Frankfurt.
In Frankfurt I looked in vain for a drinking fountain, finally filling my water bottle from a restroom faucet. Then I left the bottle in the departure lounge, neatly (if unintentionally) sidestepping the question of whether such water would be safe to drink.
I arrived back at San Francisco International to find my boss waiting for me, not my housemate as I'd expected. When I saw him, I knew there wasn't any chance I'd be able to claim jetlag and stay home from work the next day.
So there you have it. My second trip abroad, and, I hope, the first of many visits to Russia. I count the visit a smashing success, despite some of the dumb things I did. I met interesting people, cemented some great friendships, and saw all sorts of strange and interesting places. I'm convinced that the way I went, staying with a family instead of going on a professional tour, was the right choice. Though it was at times inconvenient, I felt like I got a good picture of what life is like over there.
My next vacation will probably be to Japan and China. One of my best friends from college is living outside Tokyo right now, so I hope to visit her and tour the country for a week or so. And China seems like as potentially fascinating a place as Russia was. It remains to be seen whether I'll have the energy to try to go it on my own in China -- it's unlikely I'll be able to find a Chinese family to host me and act as guides, though I'll try -- or whether I'll end up taking a packaged tour. I'd welcome your thoughts if you've gone there.
At some point after that, it'll be back to Russia for a visit to Siberia, in particular Irkutsk and Lake Baikal, with Olga. I had originally wanted to go there on the trip you've just read about, but given the time of year and the length of my visit, it wasn't really a workable idea. I'd also like to see Kiev, perhaps on the same trip, perhaps not.
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