St. Petersburg to Vladivostok
We're on the road! David Hillegas arrived in St. Petersburg on Wednesday evening, and as I write this on Thursday evening, we're on a flight to Vladivostok. After all the months of planning and anticipation, it's a relief to finally be launching the trip.
We spent the morning trying to re-pack our bags, as David's big duffel weighed more than 70 pounds -- enough to get slapped with an extra baggage fee at the airport, unless we could figure out a way to divide the weight among all our bags. When we unpacked everything to figure out how to do that, it looked like we were taking inventory at a computer superstore: we have enough wires, plugs, cables, cameras, computers and other equipment to power a small city.
And we have even less stuff now than we would have had, thanks to a thief who broke into my St. Petersburg apartment three days ago and made off with most of my backup equipment. Fortunately, all the really vital things -- my laptop, passport, satellite communications equipment -- are safe. The thief apparently grabbed my duffel bag and ran, making off with such treasures as my old winter boots, telephone cords, backup software and antibiotics. Why he stole all that and left the cell phone and satellite communications equipment is a mystery that will endure forever.
The theft cast a slight pall over our excitement at launching the project -- but even harder to take was the news from Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. I grew up in Pensacola, Florida, a 3 1/2- hour drive from New Orleans, so it's been surreal and upsetting to see the accounts of the devastation. In the wake of such a catastrophe, it's hard not to feel like our trip is frivolous in comparison. Yet I hope that over the next 2 1/2 months, we'll be able offer a kind of counterpoint to the breaking-news headlines, as we try to provide a deeper look at this fascinating place.
When we got to Pulkovo I airport in St. Petersburg this afternoon, David decided to take a few photos of the planes sitting on the tarmac before we checked in. This, I informed him grandly, was hazardous. Ever since my first trip to Russia in 1988, I'd been told repeatedly not to take photos in airports, as they're considered militarily sensitive areas. I thought it would set a bad precedent for David to get arrested on our very first day, so at my urging he put his camera away. Then, I got my first glimpse at how some things have apparently changed over the last 10 years.
After we checked in, we were bused to the tarmac, where we stood with other passengers waiting to board the plane. A man standing in front of us whipped out his camera and took a couple of photos of his female companion, who posed happily in front of the plane. To my great surprise, the airline personnel standing nearby didn't even look twice at them. So David took out his camera and snapped a few photos of his own, and continued shooting pictures after we boarded the plane. Have the restrictions been loosened, or did we just encounter serendipitously indifferent airline employees? Another mystery.
At any rate, we're happy to be on the road. This weekend in Vladivostok, we'll try to track down the subjects of our first Road Story from 1995: The couple that took care of the lighthouse at the tip of Egershelde Peninsula. We'll post again on Tuesday morning, with news on what we've found.
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