Sunday, November 23, 2008

Home safe and sound

Just wanted to let everyone know we made it back home safely. It was a looooong journey.

After court Weds morning (11/19), we left Ust early afternoon and arrived in Almaty a couple hours later. The flight was fine; Air Astana is a major improvement over the old Kazakh Air! Nikolay picked us up at the airport and drove us to our hotel. He told us that the Kazhol (where we stayed on our way in) was booked, so he was taking us to the Kazakhstan Hotel. Fred and I just looked at each other and shrugged, cuz' what do we know? He pulled up to this 25 story high-rise and when we walked in we couldn't believe our eyes: soaring ceilings, gleaming marble, sophisticated seating areas throughout the lobby, and a pianist at a grand piano. We had to check ourselves from saying out loud, "we're still in Kazakhstan"?! We were told it was more expensive than the Kazhol, but at this point we didn't care! It just seemed like we were so much closer to home standing there in that lobby. So we checked in, said goodbye to Nikolay, and headed up to our room. But once we opened the door, Kaz reality came crashing back. Let me backtrack just a step. We couldn't simply "open" the door. Fred practically had to do a shoulder slam break-in to get the door to open. The room was barely large enough to hold the two twin beds and a lttle table and TV cabinet. And I use the word 'beds' loosely. There were no towels in the room, so when we were in the lobby later we asked for towels for three people. When they brought them up, Fred counted three in the stack. Wasn't till after they left he opened them up to realize they had brought us a bath towel, a hand towel and a bath mat. Well, I guess that's three, right? We discovered later that a throw rug smelled like cat pee ( in a hotel????), so we pushed it under the bed in order to keep our socks from stinkin', but then Fred discovered there were little shards of glass on the floor where the rug had been. If I close my eyes, I can picture the scene in which the smuggled koshka pees on the rug, followed by much Russian cussin' and a bottle of Vodka being thrown across the room.

For in-house dining, we were able to choose between the hotel restaurant and a pub called, incredibly, The Guns-n-Roses Cafe. We thought that was just too funny to pass up, so we walked in and asked if they were open for dinner, b/c it was completely dark, save a floodlight and a few tealight candles. They said they were open, but their lights were out. We decided to give it a try, so we sat in a booth and shaded our eyes from the floodlight as we looked over the menu. A little while after we ordered (Fred chose the "hen sandwich"), the lights came back on, so we were able to dine sans floodlights. It was actually very good! Who knew.

The next day went pretty well at the embassy and notary. We got a few more souvenirs, had dinner at the Guns-n-Roses again, and tried to grab showers and a few hours sleep in our room. Fred had one twin bed and Natasha and I had the other. Between the crowded sleeping arrangements, the smell of cat pee, the lights outside our window (sheer cutrains, no drapes), and me having to problem-solve such urgent issues as where our two new kids will store their coats and shoes once they're home, I was not able to sleep.

Nikolay picked us up at 1:30am, then another family from an apt, and brought us to the airport. Luggage checks and passport/visa checks went smoothly, and before we knew it, our 4:10am flight was lifting to the air, flying us out of Kazakhstan. Since we were now flying "back in time", our flt, which was about six hours, landed us in Frankfurt at around 6am. We had to kill a lot of time in the airport, as our next flt wasn't scheduled to depart till 1:30. Even after getting a bite, shopping in the airport stores, and walking around for awhile, we still had hours and hours to go. But finally the time came to board and we settled into our seats for the final leg of the journey home. Only to hear there were some technical difficulties that needed to be checked out. About an hour later, the problem was resloved, and we were slotted first for take-off b/c of the delays. However, now we had to wait again b/c of high winds. When we were finally cleared (two hours after scheduled departure time) we were so thankful to be on our way, but our relief soon turned to anxiety. Seems the high winds they were having us wait out had not gone after all. As the plane was accelerating down the runway, it was being buffeted back and forth by the winds. The plane lifted to the air and started its ascent, but we could feel it being knocked around as it climbed. I didn't see how it was going to get past these high winds, it must have taken everything the pilot had to control it. We finally reached cruising altitude and things settled down. The captain came on a bit later and told us that he's been flying planes for 18 years, but he has never had a take-off like that. I know. Comforting.

But the rest of the flight went smoothly and we arrived in Philly around 5:30pm. Our friend John picked us up and drove us out to get our kids. Of course, we had to stop at a Mickey D's on the way for some grease. I think it's some kind of law that you have to do that when you've been out of the US for two weeks or more. When we got to our friend Jen's house, we were all just so excited! So much hugging and tears when we were finally reunited with our sweet chillens! We finally got them packed up and loaded into the car and got home about 9:30pm, over 30 hours since we had left our hotel in Almaty. Needless to say, we had no trouble sleeping that first night. The next night, however, Fred, Bella and I were all up in the middle of the night, suffering the effects of the dreaded jet lag. That's OK. Small price to pay. We're just glad we're home, we're safe, and we're together with our kids again. Now we just have to get two more home and we'll have our complete set: 3 boys, 3 girls. 3 bios, 3 adopted.

Thanks so much to everyone, friends, family, and complete strangers, for all the well-wishes, prayers, and support. It was so nice to feel the presence of all your loving hearts during this journey. God is good.


Lori (and Dart) said...

too me that trip sounds like a slice of heaven. I can not wait to get home. Glad you are all safe! Did you get a date for the kids to come home?

Scott and Paula said...

I've been following your blog for a while now, and we just found out the other day that we will be traveling to Ust ourselves in January! Would love to e-mail you privately to learn more about your experiences and get more insight into what we might expect! Hope to hear from you!

Lori (and Dart) said...

Had to let you at the Shiny River they changed the music!!!

Potato, breakfast hot dog and instant coffee remain.

pearly1979 said...

What a great picture of the kids!! :) You're going to need a wider lense soon to get them all! Can't wait to see that photo!!! So glad you are home safe and sound!

keoghclan said...

Hi .Just found your BLOG. Congrats on your new additions. We brought our son home from Almaty in 2006. I laughed about the Hotel Kazakhstan. We had two sets of friends who stayed there on trip number does look lovely there in the foyer. You know part of the hotel is renovated and part isnt? One set of friends got the small dingy room and another set (for $30 more) got a lovely, large room (much more like north america)

I dont think they advertise the larger nicer rooms unless you know the scoop!!

Kim said...

Oh my goodness, you crack me up. I just found your blog and was dying at the description of the Hotel Kaz. We adopted our son from Almaty in 2007 and stayed about two blocks down from the hotel. Oh the memories! Congratulations!!


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