Friday, March 17, 2006

The Amazing Race!

Yesterday we drove to Ukraine and back! This photo is from when we were there in September. But if you notice the ramp in the photo that is what I wanted to talk about. As the ferry reached the port people came down and filled up this area to be the first ones off the ferry. People were running so fast they were tripping, dropping things and leaving family members behind. All in an effort to be the first one in line at Passport control. There is barely a comprehension of forming a line here. So even the late comers found ways to go under the barries and push to the front. It was amazing to watch.

The water was filled with ice floes. Not clear and clean like in this photo. We were not sure where the ice came from. Tom thought that was where they dumped the ice and snow that they cleared of the city streets and trucked out of town.

Spencer looked at me before we disembarked on the Russian side to return home and said "we are gonna have to run soon!" I said "nope, Vova is going to wait for us no matter how long it takes, I'm not running!".

Sure enough Vova was there with a great big smile eager to know how the crossing went and if we thought Ukraine was beautiful. He is from Ukraine!

When Spencer was being looked at by the Passport control ladies on our return to Russia they were giggling over his passport photo. They told him how cute he was when that photo was taken. He has lost 40 pounds since we have been here and in his original photo he has chubby little cheeks. That baby fat is all gone now.

Nathan and Spencer both did a great job of filling out their own paperwork this time. So now they each know how to do it for when they have to travel without us. They can read the forms now so that helps! That seemed to me to be a benefit of traveling with teenagers. I didn't worry about where they were or what was going on when they were out of our sight. I knew they knew the routine and they did great. Nathan told me he was asked to take his hat off and look at the woman straight on. They were able to answer whatever questions they were asked and move on to the next station. The guy in front of me was yelled at for filling out his paperwork incorrectly so she was very sweet with us since ours were perfect!

We did see one of the guys who was keeping watch over the lines being very rude to an Asian woman. I have heard about how poorly they treat Asian women here but had never witnessed it before. He yelled at her and she didn't seem to understand what he wanted her to do. She was just standing in the line like everyone else. I am very grateful to have no incidences of prejudice to recount.

We had to pay a "FEE" for Vova's car having tinted windows. The policeman who stopped us wanted to see everyone's face and match it up to their passport. Tom was out of the car with Vova and the rest of us just sat in the backseat. Tom was telling the guy "this is my wife" and the guy's response was "customs does not care that brought your wife". Nathan heard him say it. So when he started laughing I asked him what the guy said. He told us and that became our favorite phrase of the day! We were expecting to have to pay for whatever they thought was wrong but this was 1000 rubles. (about 35$). Usually they will ask for 200 rubles or so. On the return trip that same policeman just smiled and waved us through. Vova called him a "bandit". The police here only make 4500 rubles a month so they look for ways to boost their income.

My biggest trauma of the day was over the bathrooms just as I thought it would be. Instead of the normal cost of 5 rubles for using the bathroom it was 10. The bathrooms were squatty potties. Just holes in the ground. There were stalls there, thank goodness, and the floor was tiled around the holes so this was a NICE public bathroom. My fear when I was in there was holding up my purse so it didn't touch the floor and not getting my shoes wet while I was using the facilities. Needless to say the balancing act was not fun and I apologise if my little tale grosses you out.

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