Vilnius

I am in Vilnius first time after 33 years. I visited it several times before when I was still in school (the Baltic countries were “affordable West”), and 33 years ago, it was our first romantic getaway with Boris. After that, he visited Vilnius several times for many conferences, but not me.

I was looking forward to DevDays Europe in Vilnius, but then as I mentioned, they moved online.
I could cancel the hotel, but as for the plane tickets, I could only move them to a different date. I thought: we talked about going to Vilnius before, so why not now?

I moved a hotel reservation to the end of the week, cut one day off our stay, and moved the plane tickets, so here we are now! The hotel location is perfect; the room is super cozy, the weather is sunny, and the food is great and half-price of what you have in Finland.

The Lithuanian cuisine highlight – the zeppelin
Fied (“second-day”) zeppelin
Lithuanian kvass – to die for!!!

Last Days In Helsinki

My EDB hoodie arrived after both events were over, but it still looks great!

Initially, we planned a short trip to Tallinn on Saturday, mostly for the sake of the COVID certificate for my flight back on Sunday. But it turned out that after most COVID restrictions were lifted, only a small number of cruises provided testing on board, and there was no testing on Saturdays. Fortunately, one of my new colleagues told us about another budget option, “9Lives”, and I used it on Saturday.

They have multiple locations, including the one in Kamppi, and they open every day from 7 AM to 9 PM. I was very happy that I had this option, especially because the weather on Saturday was horrific, with exceptionally strong winds and some flurries. I didn’t want to go for a walk in this weather, but I also didn’t want to sit inside all day long. To have a purpose for getting out of the house, Boris suggested we go to IKEA – since I moved to the city, I lost easy access to the Schaumburg store and had to switch to online shopping. I can order almost everything online, but it’s nice when you can see how things look in real life :). So we went and had lunch there, and then walked from IKEA back to the train station.

This time, I had checked luggage because Boris wanted me to take home a bottle of cognac gifted to him a couple of years ago by somebody who didn’t know (or didn’t believe) he does not drink alcohol. And since I already knew I would have checked luggage, I bought a lot of dairy products to take home.

***

On Friday, one of the Nordic Day participants informed us that he tested positive for COVID. I was in very close contact with him, so I became nervous. Since I expected that something like that might happen while attending public events, I brought four at-home tests with me. Noth Boris and I were negative, and I took the test to enter the US; everything was negative. The organizers encouraged us to keep testing, and I took another at-home test on Monday when I came back home. At that time, I used a test from a different vendor, and I forgot that the colors in this test were reversed. Also, I had to orient the test differently. So at first, I thought that I was positive. I even speculated for a couple of minutes how it could possibly be if I had zero symptoms, and then I realized that there was only one stripe :).

Then, a day later, another participant, this time from PG Day Paris, informed us that she tested positive, and once again, I was in very close contact with her! And again, nothing wrong with me. To be honest, I think there were plenty of other opportunities in Paris to get COVID!
At least now, I think that it will be from some other place if I get it.

***

At the airport, I stopped at the kiosk to get my last cup of Finnish coffee with the last cinnamon bun. The cashier asked me whether I would like to round my total to aid Ukraine. I said – sure, why not, and thought that’s a good idea. The posters about helping Ukraine were everywhere in the city, and I felt that people were taking it seriously.

I am sure I didn’t buy a seat for my flight back, but somehow I ended up being in a preferred seat, which was nice. I sat very close to the aircraft door, and I had extra legroom, and very nice seat, and a kit with toothpaste, face moisturizer, and other nice extras.

However, the ORD was crowded, not even “as before the pandemic” but as ” I can’t remember when I last saw anything like this.” The passport machines were closed again, and there were lines to the border control. I was first sent to one line, where I had to wait a lot because there was a family of six, and then two other people, and then they said that they are closing that line/ And guess what – in the line where they sent me, another family of six just started their process!!! There was even a long line for agricultural control and a traffic jam outside the terminal.

On the positive side, despite the sky-rocketing gas prices, Uber’s cost was a record low.

Last Days In Helsinki

The remaining week in Helsinki was all work. I stayed on my US projects, so I had some free time in the morning and then worked from after lunch until bedtime. I did some clothes shopping on Wednesday morning, and I met with my friend Natasha on Thursday, and Friday morning was all spent trying to get a COVID test.

Although my flight back was not super-early, we both did not feel comfortable relying on the test at the airport and tried to get something in the city the day before. One of the clinics, which is relatively close to Boris’ place, was presumably doing tests for travel for everybody. When we came in, they told us that yes, please go to the lab and take the number. We did and waited in line, and then the nurse said – no, they can’t take me if I am not registered with their system. It was very annoying because we had already spent all this time, and now had to look for another place.

Long story short, I got the test, but I have to pay over 200 euros for it! Indeed, the ferry to Tallinn is the cheapest way to get the test, even with the fare and breakfast! I was tired and upset, but I had to buy some chocolate to take home, so we went to Stockmann, and I barely made it to the start of my workday.

One funny picture from the center of Helsinki – this is granite which is going to be used to mark the bike paths – love these giant “shopping bags” 🙂

Both flights on my way back were half-empty, and the food was surprisingly good. It looks like SAS either didn’t reduce their menu during COVID, or they already returned to the pre-COVID times. It is hard to believe, but I had to take additional layers with me because it was way colder in Chicago than in Helsinki!

Maybe It’s Just Me, But..

On one of the last year’s trips, I had to check in my carry-on red Samsonite (yes, I had two, both gifts from Boris, both weight virtually nothing, and both cost a fortune). It came back with the broken zipper lock. It broke because I didn’t secure the ends of that zipper. And I didn’t secure the ends because I had trouble unlocking them a couple of times. Boris always insisted that I should lock them in because that’s what they are for, and I was always afraid I wouldn’t be able to unlock them. That time last year, I didn’t plan to check in this luggage, so I didn’t bother, and as a result, the entire lock was gone. I was still able to close the zipper with my fingers all the way, but I lost the flexibility of being able to do it from the middle. So, everything still worked but was inconvenient, and I started to think that I needed a new carry-on. 

The Samsonite holiday sale was on, and this exact model, which was not sold in the US before, showed up. After joining EDB, I decided I could give myself a gift and purchased it.

When the luggage arrived, I kept it in the closet and didn’t even look at it – I knew exactly how it looked inside and out. And then, before my trip to Milwaukee, I pulled it out and realized that it was locked! The lock was slightly different from the previous luggage, and I had no idea how to open it! Finally, I managed to open it by trial and error, and guess what I found?! The instructions on how to open were inside!

November 8

I finally read the new guidelines for entering the USA for foreign tourists, which are going into effect the following Monday. I like that there are no more per country considerations, and the requirements are uniform across the globe. That is a huge plus. I am slightly upset that we still have to take a COVD test before returning to the US, but once again, that applies to both citizens and visitors, so I can’t complain. Besides, I completely understand the rationale behind this requirement.

The thing which I was upset about was the exclusion of Sputnik from the list of approved vaccines. Formally speaking, it is not targeted vaccine discrimination; it’s just that Sputnik is not approved by WHO yet. But the thing is that people in Russia who are doing the right thing and getting vaccinated still won’t be able to travel to the US.

And I am not talking about tourists. I am talking about people such as my mom’s friend whose daughter was working on her green card, and her interview in the embassy was scheduled for March 20, 2020… And I am not even talking about people from many other countries, including Mexico, that purchased Sputnik.

Mom Went To Saint Petersburg

Mom went to Saint-Petersburg. Her flight was on Thursday evening. I did not want her to go, but there were some things which she had to do in person, and I found too late that there were ways to avoid the trip. I think that I won’t be able to stop her in any case, and if she decided she needed to go, she would still insist on going there.

I already told all my friends why I worried so much about this trip. In Russia, the vaccination rate is very low (twenty-something percent), and we do not know how many vaccinations are fake. The transmission rate is high; people do not wear masks unless they are forced to do so. For example, they would put the mask on when they enter the subway but take it off immediately after they are in. Or they would be without a mask in the store and pull it on during checkout.


Mom does not wear a mask properly. When I am together with her, I fix it all the time. It is not so important here: she is vaccinated; our vaccination rate is close to 70%; the transmission rate is less than one, and the overwhelming majority of people wear masks and wear them properly. If she goes to Morse Market, I am not overly concerned with her not wearing the mask properly, but it is a different story in Russia.


In addition, there is a lot of paperwork associated with the trips to and from Russia these days. I had to sign her up for two COVID tests, on entrance and on exist, register her at the government website to fill in the form for returning citizens, and fill in several other paper forms, some in Russian, some in English.
I requested a wheelchair for her for the whole trip, but I only managed to get her in it in O’Hare. As she reported, she “didn’t find” it in Helsinki. Having that they wait right on exit from the plane, I agree with Boris that you have to try very hard not to find them… but what can I do?


My friend met her at the airport in Saint -Petersburg, and they went home. For three weeks prior to the trip, I tried to explain to mom that it is dangerous to take public transportation in Saint-Petersburg and that I wanted her to take a cab all the time. Boris gave us a number of a very reliable cab company and asked her to use their services. She resisted for a very long time. I asked my friends in Saint-Petersburg to make sure that she called the cab (she has been doing it for a day and a half now :))


When they came home, they found out that the heating in her apartment was still not turned on. Also, one of the water pipes was leaking (the plumber will only come on Monday), and she could not turn on her electric stove.


And she refused to stay with my friend for the next couple of days… Also, although she is supposed to wait for the test result in Saint -Petersburg, she is going everywhere because nobody is checking.
I want these two weeks to be over (and actually, there are only twelve days left)

***

Boris flew in on Friday, and it took him almost two hours to get through the immigration. He said there were just two agents for several hundred people. Then, we made a mistake. Or rather, I let this mistake happen.

Since we moved to the city, Boris said that now we do not need to take Uber to the airport because we can take L. I told him it would be a very long trip because you need to get into the city and get out again. Last time, I called Uber because we were fixing things until the last minute.

Now he mentioned it again, and I said – let’s.

Because the inner airport train is still not operating, it took us 30 minutes to get Terminal 5 to Terminal 2. And then – another two hours with all the waits! I told him – at least, it was on the way from the airport, not the other way 🙂

I hope that one experiment was enough 🙂