February 5, 2014, was a day I had been anticipating for quite awhile.
My suitcase had been open on the floor for days, and various pieces of clothing had been sorted into piles long before. Even though living several hours from my family has made me pretty adept at packing at the last minute, here I was, carefully plotting out outfits weeks in advance. That’s a pretty clear indicator that I’m excited about a trip.
Granted, this trip was different. This trip was to somewhere that was likely going to feel more foreign than anywhere else I’d ever been. I was going somewhere where I couldn’t even read the signs! For some of my coworkers, the foreignness of Russia was terrifying. For me, it was exhilarating.
In an attempt to stave off months of obsessive researching, I had poured myself into Rosetta Stone’s Russian program and had a pretty good grasp on my basic phrases. When people walked by my desk at work as I attempted to pronounce some complex phrase, they would tease me. “It’s the Olympics!” everyone said, “Everyone will speak English!” Still, it was an excuse to dabble in a foreign language, and I wasn’t going to pass that up.
That February morning started out simply enough. My friend Katie woke up bright and early to drive me to the airport in Salt Lake City. Despite my carefully planned packing, I still had quite a bit of luggage. When I had proudly announced in the office that I was down to one suitcase, word spread quickly. My remaining bag allowance was quickly swooped up by coworkers who had already made the hop around the world. So, I wanted to make sure I arrived to the airport early to avoid any problems — and this is coming from the person who generally thinks 30 minutes before your flight is the perfect time to arrive at the airport.
Everything went beyond smoothly at the Delta counter. My bags were slightly overweight, but an excited conversation with the gate agent about my destination — “I’m going to the Olympics!” “Oh my goodness! Are you an athlete?” “Nope, just working. But still! I’m going to the Olympics!” — prompted a smile and a wave of the hand at the slightly-higher-than-50-pounds number on the scale.
Elated and feeling much lighter after ridding myself of the massive bags, I collected my passport, ticket and backpack and made my way to the gate. As I walked, I passed a few coworkers who seemed more weary than excited about the early morning and prospect of 24 hours of travel (yes, I was excited about traveling for 24 hours. I had researched the movie offerings in advance).
Flight #1 was a typical domestic flight — SLC to JFK. I was fortunate enough to be sitting near the front of the cabin, so upon arriving, I was able to make a quick exit. According to my ticket, I had a little over an hour to kill before the long haul to Moscow. I quickly realized, though, that this was not the case.
After settling down for a final American meal of Shake Shack with two coworkers, they made an announcement at our gate. They were boarding the plane. We slammed down our burgers and I threw a lid on my ice cream to carry onto the plane. After settling into my seat, a coworker walked over to me. He had spoken with the flight attendants and the plane had already boarded everyone — even though half of the economy mini-cabin we were in was empty. I beelined for an empty middle row, planting myself firmly in the middle seat and claiming a full row of three seats for the next 11 hours.
I shot off a few last minute texts to my family and friends, promising to call or email or Facebook or whatever I was able to do once I was in Russia. The door to the plane shut and I settled into my luxurious three-seats for the 11ish hour flight to Moscow. Turns out, my movie research was flawed and there weren’t many good ones, after all, but the three seats to myself more than made up for it and I was able to sleep most of the way there.
In Moscow, I made my way through customs and felt pretty special when I was able to walk through the credentialed line (even though it wasn’t any shorter than the regular line). I spent a few hours enjoying some free wifi in the Sheremetyevo domestic terminal, catching up on all of the news that had happened during my lengthy flight.
Finally, it was boarding time for flight #3. Moscow to Sochi. My first flight on Aeroflot Russian Airlines.
The plane was brand new. Every piece of Aeroflot-branded material on the flight was emblazoned with the Sochi 2014 logo, and each seat had a small Olympic-themed gift on it. Most of the plane was speaking American-accented English and I quickly learned from overheard conversations that a large contingent of NBC Olympics staff were flying with me.
The flight was only a little over two hours, which was fortunate since Aeroflot isn’t exactly generous in the leg room department (and I’m 5'4"…poor tall people!). I had to put my backpack in the overhead bin because it was too wide to fit between the front of my seat and the back of the seat in front of me.
It was also fortunate because the in-flight meal was some sort of raw fish and mayonnaise concoction that made the whole plane smell like a fish market. I wasn’t even sure how exactly the food was supposed to be eaten until I watched the Russian lady next to me put hers together. My stomach was a little weak after eating airplane food for about 15 hours, so I gifted her my raw fish plate, which she was very happy about.
Finally, touchdown in Sochi. The flight in was gorgeous. We saw the whole Black Sea coastline and could make out Olympic Park.
After all the months working like crazy, I was finally there. Finally in Sochi.
I collected my bags and, after speaking with a handful of brightly-outfitted volunteers, found my bus to the mountains. A little over an hour later, I was happily ensconced in my hotel room (which was absolutely gorgeous, by the way), waiting on my roommate to arrive so we could explore.
I successfully staved off jet lag for a few hours to enjoy a dinner with my colleagues already on the ground. They quickly got me up to speed on everything going on so far. We all raised our glasses and said our cheers to being in Russia. We talked for hours. The excitement in the air was palpable. It was impossible not to get caught up in it.
Finally, it was bedtime. I sank into my bed and couldn’t help but smile at the prospect of the 17 days ahead of me. Yes, I knew it was going to be insane. Yes, I knew I was going to be pulling all nighters and dealing with all kinds of unforeseen issues. But I was prepared.
Let the Games begin.