Traveling As Finnair Gold

My two weeks of travel had begun. There are no direct flights to from Chicago to Helsinki this time of the year, so I had a connection in London. It was the first time I used a Oneworld lounge in O’Hare, and it was a great decision because I could have a way better dinner than on the plane. Also, I could go to sleep immediately after the boarding was complete and have close to normal sleep time. No need to wake up for food :).

Same with breakfast – they gave us just a half-cup of yogurt on the plane, but I went to the Oneworld lounge in Heathrow and had an English breakfast there.

I loved that they had small teapots with a cup and a milk pitcher (same as when you have plates and cups at the buffet). You can take one, choose your tea bag(s) and pore whatever milk you prefer, and then take this set back to where you sit.

After I arrived in Helsinki, I tried to put a contact lens in my right eye for the first time since this weird thing happened, and it felt OK. Today, I wore both lenses for about six hours, and it was all good, but I am not sure for how long I will wear them tomorrow. Tomorrow will be a very long day!

Still Catching Up

Several things took way longer than they should have, including waiting for the eye doctor for 45 minutes (!) (and she didn’t even apologize). Also, on Friday, I was pulled into a couple of meetings where my presence was not needed, and lastly, I spent over an hour in attempts to check in only to figure out I couldn’t and will have to do it in the airport.

Packing took longer than I planned (and I am not done yet, and I am afraid to look at the clock, especially having that we are switching to Daylight saving time)!

The good part is that my eye is pretty much healed, and I will resume wearing contacts in a week, maybe even earlier.

Going to have four hours of sleep now and will go back to packing!

Lady Inertia

I could not decide whether I should take a larger suitcase on my upcoming trip or a cabin size. Now that I have Finnair Gold, my luggage is free, but I didn’t want to wait for it. Besides, I am going to Berlin from Helsinki, and if I took a larger one, I would have to check it on my way to Berlin. I always take a folding duffle bag with me so I can check it in on the way back if needed, and I told Boris that if this folded bag weren’t taking extra space in my luggage, I would be okay with it being the carry-on only. Then he said – why won’t you check it in on the way to Helsinki as well? It is free, and then your carry-on won’t be so overpacked, and your backpack won’t be so heavy. And you can go to Berlin with a carry-on only. And I thought- why was I not thinking?! Why I didn’t consider doing this in the first place?! I know perfectly well why – because of the mind inertia! Because I always had to pay for an extra luggage piece, and I forgot that I did not need to pay anymore. Also, I forgot that my luggage travels with the “priority” label, so it is always the first to be unloaded.

That’s what your mind’s inertia does!

About Mom

Now that several things related to mom are finally resolved, I can talk about what happened last week. I already mentioned several times that last Friday was a disaster and several things that didn’t go right. But there were more.

Mom had a passport appointment at the Russian consulate in NYC, and even before I knew that I would be starting a new job, I knew I could not go with her because it was just a couple of days before my conferences would start.

From the very beginning, we planned on Igor coming with her, although she complained quite a bit that it was not me who would accompany her.

We submitted all the paperwork in advance, and I told mom I would double-check that nothing had changed two weeks before the appointment.

So I did, and we put all her paperwork together. The appointment was on Wednesday, and Igor and mom were going to NYC on Tuesday. On Friday afternoon, mom received an e-mail from the Russian consulate saying that they are no longer accepting applications for biometric passports, so everybody who has appointments scheduled should apply for a 5-year passport.
Everything about the non-biometric passport is different, including that you have to bring the photos with you and you need a return envelope. I had not extra time at all, so I called Igor and asked him whether he could take mom to the passport pictures and whether he could buy an envelope. These items were critical given the upcoming Labor Day and the Post Office closing. (And right after that, I had to ask him to wait for the exterminator in my apartment!)

Since I would be in Milwaukee on Saturday, I told mom that I would come on Sunday to redo the paperwork. As it turned out, her knee started to hurt really badly on Thursday (and she didn’t tell me anything). Then on Friday, she leaned on her right wrist when she was standing up, and after that, she was unable to do anything with her right hand. So when I came on Sunday, I observed the situation and said that we were going to the emergency room.
Four hours later, we were back at her place, her right arm immobilized, and we had to do a follow-up visit. And she had to go to New York.

That was not the best couple of days for me, but everything got resolved. Mom’s new passport application was accepted, Igor survived traveling with her, I could find an appointment for her, and the doctor reassured us that nothing was broken and she didn’t need to wear a splinter anymore.

All I can say is it could be worse, especially given my upcoming travels! I hope that the crisis is averted for some time!


We didn’t plan to go to Suomenlinna on Wednesday, it happened spontaneously. I too an unplanned day off, and then a couple other unplanned things happened, and we desperately needed something positive, so we went there for just an hour and a half at the end of the day.

It was amazing, as always, and we saw a couple of newly restored buildings, and had a fancy dinner at a restaurant that we didn’t check out for a while.


While I have some breathing room, here are more California pictures. When we finally arrived in Monterey, it was an afternoon already, and not even an early afternoon :). Did I say it already, how I completely forgot about traveling by car and traffic jams? Saying it again!

We had a late lunch/early dinner, and then we took a long walk along the ocean coast. The ocean is beautiful! So beautiful, it does not seem real! Not like I would trade living by lake Michigan for living by the Pacific :).

Can you see the seals?
Continue reading “Monterey”

Visa Again

Today was a day of unplanned activities. Yesterday, Boris told me that his US visa is about to expire (I vaguely remembered that it’s the case, but I thought it’s good till mid-March). For some reason, he thought that renewal in Helsinki would be as easy as it was three years ago, and he could just apply online and get a visa in a week, but it turned out not at all easy.

First, the whole application process, including paying the visa fee, is as nightmare-ish as it was. Forget about visually impaired people; even for me, it took almost three hours! (out of my workday).

And when we finally got the interview waiver confirmation, it turned out that the mail-in application processing time was six to eight weeks.

That means that Boris won’t be able to come to Chicago until at least May (and he still has to figure out the two-month interval when he is less likely to have to go to Russia because he will have to mail his passport, which still has non-stamped pages, and he will be left with the all-stamped one). I will still be coming to Helsinki, but this is not like when he comes to Chicago!

The First Trip I Remember: September 1968

In the Soviet Union, virtually everybody had a month of vacation time a year, no matter how long you worked in a particular place. Taking vacations in parts was rarely an option. Under these circumstances, everybody wanted to take vacations during summer, but if everybody took a month of vacation in summer, it would not be easy to keep operations running. Most workplaces had a vacation schedule for a year, and there was a lot of drama around who should have a preference for summer months vacations. Priority was always given to parents because if you recall, a good parent had to do everything possible and impossible to provide an opportunity for a child to spend summer in the countryside or resort.

Granted, childless people would get summer vacation time, too, and sometimes even parents of small children had to compromise. Thus, in 1968, mom had her vacation in September. After spending summer at the dacha with my detskiy sad, I got one more month of summer – we were going to the South. That’s how people used to say these days: not to Georgia, not to Crimea, not to Krasnodarskiy region – just to the South. I recently asked mom why she chose Loo – a suburb of Sochi in the Krasnodarskiy region as our final destination. Did she know somebody there? Did somebody give her the address of our future landlords? She says she does not remember. It was not uncommon that people would come to small resort places that lived off the tourists and rent a room or just a bed on the spot.

I have more pictures from our second trip t the same place a year later and just a few from September 1968, so I will try to write down what I remember.

The train from Leningrad took three nights and two full days to reach the destination, and most of the time, we were going through Ukraine. At five, I was fascinated with a country that looked different from what I had ever seen in my life. Mom told me that the white-walled houses I saw along the railroad were called haty. Sunflowers were growing by each of these cheerful houses – I never have seen them before, and the combination of white and bright yellow instantly made me happy. I stood by the window and couldn’t have enough of the sunny sights.
We shared a sleeper compartment with another family heading South: mother, father, and daughter of approximately my age. Strangely, but I remember how this girl looked, and I remember that we were playing with dolls, and I even remember how her mom was explaining the bandaid on the girl’s chin ” That’s not us who put it in such an odd way, its a medical worker.”

We never went to the dining car, the conductor always had tea with sugar cubes, and we ate whatever rations we took from home, mostly boiled eggs and cold potatoes. The locals would come to the train at some stops and offer some homemade meals and produce, and I remember us buying hot, freshly boiled potatoes, buttery and mixed with dill, and sour cherries.

And then, on the third day, we arrived at Loo and disembarked, and the first thing I remember seeing was a giant cypress tree. I never saw anything like this before, and for the rest of my life, cypress meant warmth, resort, vacation – it meant South.