It all started like this...
Me (Caroline) – “I’m going to Russia and Finland in October to see the Canes season opener.”
Dad – “I can’t in good conscience let my 25 year old daughter go to Russia alone. I’m going, too.”
It doesn’t take long for anyone to realize I’m a hockey fan. Not just any fan, but a fan who will drop everything she’s doing and fly halfway across the world to Russia to see her team open their season. In the Carolina Hurricane realm we lovingly call ourselves “Caniacs.”
It was on October 1st that my parents (oh yes, they’re Caniacs, too) and I got on Finnair’s flight to St. Petersburg, Russia. We were instantly immersed in Finnish culture as we tried not to stick out like sore thumbs. To everyone who seemed puzzled over a southerner (gasp!) flying internationally to watch hockey, my response was always, “Yes, I say “ya’ll” and love hockey. Strange, eh?”
Our flight was relatively painless (except for trying to fit my 6” frame into a seat I thought was made for a small child). Our excitement in the plane started as we began our decent into Helsinki. To put this into perspective, I’ll describe the plane for a second. Most international planes have TV screens in the seatbacks. Ours was no different... except there was a channel tuned into two cameras on the plane.. one on the nose and one on the belly. These entertained me for half the flight. As we were landing, my parents and I noticed that we couldn’t see anything. I repeat ANYTHING, in the cameras or out the windows. I thought we were in some sort of Finnish Hurricane (no pun intended). As our wheels should have touched the runway, the pilot went full throttle and jetted back up. He spoke for a few minutes in Finnish then in English, “Um, we try this again.” No joke, that’s what his words were. Soon after those brief words, we landed and saw the extraordinarily thick cloud cover that prevented our initial landing.
We were running late for our connection to St. Petersburg and getting somewhat frantic since our bags and persons had to be inspected again upon arriving in the Helsinki airport. We were certain we’d miss our flight. Turns out the flight crew called the second plane and informed them there were 30 passengers needing to connect. What did they do? They held the plane! No kidding, the Russians held the plane. Cox family: 1 Airports: 0.
It was a short, 55 minute trip to St. Petersburg. During the flight, there was a moment of conflict when I thought, “Oh wow, I’ve wanted to go to Russia since 4th grade!” and “Oh wow, what happens if they don’t let me leave because I break some obscure Russian law?” Don’t worry; I didn’t break any laws (that I’m aware of).
We landed at the airport and all I could think was “Whoa.” The terminal we pulled into was a communist-era, bleak and depressing building. That was the moment I realized... I wasn’t in North Carolina anymore. Against all internal warning beeps, I couldn’t help but smile and started jumping in my seat. You have to realize, I’ve wanted to go to Russia since 4th grade! I’ve been infatuated with the country, its people and its government since 1995.
My first interaction in the airport was asking a security guard for directions. She looked at me, frowned (or maybe it was an upside down smile) and pointed. I graciously thanked her and followed her pointed directions. We met our driver, Sergei, in the relative direction she pointed and he smiled like a kid on Christmas Day! Sergei was such a breath of fresh air and we felt comfortable with him behind the wheel. I even asked him about Alexander Ovechkin (Russian hockey star) and he willingly blew into a conversation about him.
Sergei pulled up to our hotel, the Renaissance Baltic Marriott, unloaded our bags and walked us to the reception desk. We booked him on the spot for our return trip to the airport in a few days!
More to follow!