Imagine this scenario: you are flying home from a foreign where you not only don't speak the language, you can’t even read the alphabet. To make your flight connection you have to take a bus from one airport terminal to another. The last time you made this trip, there were other people with you, and they helped you get on the right bus, but this time, you're flying solo. The bus comes and you have enough mastery of the language to know that it says it's the bus you want, so you hop on, pay your fare, and find a seat. The bus departs. You sit back and congratulate yourself on making it through the tricky transfer okay.
Except that after about 15 minutes, you start thinking that it didn’t take this long to get to the other terminal the last time you took this bus.
And after 20 minutes, you suspect that you have really messed up.
And after 25 minutes, you see a sign that lets you know that you might indeed have got on the right bus, but you caught it at the wrong end of the run. It's not going to the other terminal. It's going away from the airport, back into the city. Into Moscow. And if you can't get back to the airport in an hour, you’re going to miss your flight home.
You can bet I was pretty terrified when this happened to me. It was six years ago, on the second trip that Hubs and I had to take to Russia for our Tsarina's adoption. On the first trip, we had managed the transfers okay (though I still don't know how we managed one of them – we ended up in a part of Sheremetyevo airport where we weren't supposed to be). On our second trip, we had to stay in Moscow a couple of days before going on to the region where our future daughter waited. That Moscow stay turned out to be my salvation, for on the trip into the city I noticed a most familiar sight – a huge blue and yellow Ikea store just off the highway.
When it was time to come home, my husband had to leave a few days before I could, so I was all alone for the return trip. Realizing that I had messed up royally and was heading away from the airport – and my connecting flight home – was one of those "holy crap" moments that really bring home what it means to feel your stomach sink.
Lucky for me, I was sitting on the side of the bus that enabled me to see the Ikea store. Not only did this confirm my mistake – meaning I now knew beyond a doubt that I had to get off that bus NOW – but I was pretty sure that somewhere in an Ikea store, I could find someone who spoke enough English or French to help me find my way back to the airport.
I got even luckier when – after getting off the bus and walking across a field to the store – I spotted a sign for a beloved word that is spelled the same in English and Russian: TAXI. And in proof that lucky strikes come in threes, the word for AIRPORT is also similar enough that my taxi driver could understand my request. He named the two airports, I sputtered out a mangled "Sheremetyevo," and he had me back to the proper terminal in plenty of time to make my connection. I tipped him heavily. I really really wanted to hug him, but I figured the poor guy didn’t need the crazy North American crying all over him.
The best news is that on our third and final trip to Russia, Hubs was with me to navigate the connection on the way to our daughter's birthplace. On the way home, it was just me and her, but we had to stay in Moscow to complete our Embassy paperwork - so instead of getting from one terminal to another, we were met by an agency worker who drove us into the city in her car.
You can bet I blew a kiss at that Ikea store when we zipped past.
Now tell me, readers - when have you been lost, and how did you get yourself out of it?