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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

The Russian Princess and the Pea

Alrighty, I’m on my fourth hotel room of the day and it’s only 10:00 am. Sweaty Starii Krai is living up to its name: I am sweaty and this hotel is starii (old).

My normal abode, Room 601, delightful in the fact that I had a few centimeters of floor space around three sides of the bed, an unheard-of commodity in many budget hotels of the region where at least I could walk if I shuffled sideways, sprang a leak overnight. The torrential downpours not only wiped out much of the ceiling in the prohzdoor’ (corridor), they moved to the ceiling of my bathroom: drip-drip-drip. You could sit on the toilet and take your shower at the same time. But judging from the color of my once-white towels, the water was a rusty, dirty mix, one that could be bothersome if dripping on your head. In essence, the princess could not take a pee.

Up at the crack of dawn, my hair was half dry when everything broke loose. Workmen in the hallway recoiled when I peeked out to report that the deluge had come knocking at my door, too. Here was this vision of beauty: no makeup, and wild, frizzed hair that had yet to be tamed for the day. I was cheered in the fact that these laborers had no idea what to do, so what should I care what they thought about me: they were cutting out ceiling tiles, placing plastic sheets on the floor, then painters’ drop-cloths, and finally, strategically positioning buckets.

“Oo menyah’ yest stah’ree dom,” (I have an old house) I explained to them. “You need to attack the problem from the outside.”

No joke. But just like we had a bucket up in our old house’s attic, these things cost money. And most of us had no other choice for the time being than to take the easy and cheap way out of it. A $2.59 bucket, or $6,000 roof patch which may need to be expanded next year?

And thus began my quest for a new hotel room. The dehzhoor’nayah (floor lady) recommended “Reception”, so down I went to the front desk. It was all of 8:00 am. The girls there were always helpful, but even those who spoke a modicum of English really overestimated my Russian abilities, rattling off rapid-fire post-graduate phrases that I would then have to boil down to kindergarten level.

“It is raining,” I begin.

“Yes, it is raining,” they nod, ever helpful. “Do you need an umbrella?”

“It is raining in my room,” I continue.

“In your room-?!” one picks up the phone, ready to get the workmen who seemed infinitely more concerned about the hallway than my bathroom.

“They already know upstairs,” I assure them. “Now, about a new room….”

The rain looks like it will never stop. Much as I hate the idea of gathering up all of my stuff and shlepping it to my third room, the ceiling drip was growing stronger, coming out here, and then there, splatting on the floor and richocheting up to the wall. Soon, the Volga River would be winding through. It’s at a time like this that I remember a song from my childhood, “Song of the Volga Boatmen”: “Ay-ay-OOX-nyem, ay-ay-OOX-nyem, li, li, li-li-li-li, ay-ay-OOX-nyem!”

The girls give me a new key and tell me to eat breakfast. The next room will then be ready.

I enjoy my sausages and hot mustard, confident that I will have a new room that’s dry and suitable. The first time I changed rooms was when my husband left to come home. They made it easy on me by allowing me to stay on the sixth floor. In a few days, I will need to change again when the girls arrive and we will be three. Now I see the new number is Room 502.

I try to make the move as painless as possible, throwing any odds and ends into big tote bags, so I don’t have to actually pack so much. It doesn’t help. I have so many little items, that it requires several bags, back and forth between floors and between rooms, figuring out which key card is which, and trying not to leave anything in the bathroom, the closet, the refrigerator, or by the side of the bed.

My heart sinks when I see Room 502, rather small, but I can do this. I put things in the closet, in the refrigerator, removing my jacket as perspiration drips from me. I look for the air conditioner. There is none. Hot and humid summer air pours through the window.


Back to Reception I go to consult my desk clerks.

“There is no air conditioning,” I begin.

“No air conditioning,” they nod again.

“Its hot. I need air conditioning.”

“Oh.”  These are not my usual girls, it’s Monday morning and the new shift looks due to arrive at 9:00 am. They issue me a third card key. Just trying to keep the card keys and the room numbers straight is an effort without my reading glasses, while holding onto my monumental, brick-like purse and camera bag. I did not sleep for the last half of the night because of the loud dripping noises in the hallway buckets. I’m not feeling 100%, but I need to concentrate and negotiate.

Once again, I remove myself, presently to Room 515, another postage-stamp room, but with air conditioning. At least now I’ll get a discount. However, my stuff barely fits. I glance inside the bathroom: a space capsule of a shower, with revolving door suitable for a cosmonaut to stand upright and suction dirt off of his body. An overweight person would never make it. So I go from room to room, reliving my very own “The Princess and the Pea” story, only I never try any of the beds. The bed is the least of my worries.

Exhausted from the multiple trips yet again, I take the card keys to the front desk, laying out all three of them, and keeping one. I’m ready to settle on the diminutive Room 515.

“So I would imagine that this new room is a less expensive room?” I start, wanting to know what to expect when the bill comes due at the end of my stay. I do not like surprises.

The girl looks up the price.

“No, the same.”

“How could it be the same, it’s smaller, much smaller,” I shake my head.

“It’s the same category room as your first one,” she insists.

“No, but it’s small…. Maybe I need to go back to the rain room.”   I’m feeling at a slight negotiating disadvantage. When the workmen were in my bathroom, I had to do my hair and makeup in the bedroom where there was not a lot of light. My eyebrows have not been pencilled in properly and I’m not sure whether they’re projecting a straight-across angry type of look, an arched and startled type of look, or a too-heavy “Mommie Dearest” Joan Crawford type of look. I did have some questions about whether or not to move the clothes hangers between closets.

Just then, my regular desk attendants come on duty. They flip through the reservations, checking what’s available. One says she will show me a different place and see if it’s any better, Room 505.

Apparently, my sixth floor wing has been declared a disaster area. There’s no going back, much as I want the rains to stop, and for life to return to what I once knew in relatively big and beigey Room 601. Heavy fog is currently rolling into the city, thick as pea soup, just like when I came to Starii Krai for the first time in February and my plane had to divert three hours away.

The new room is much better, still not on par with my original Room 601, but entirely workable. The walls, draperies, and bedspread are… pea green soup. One of my clerks offers to help me move my stuff.

“Davai,” she urges, telling me that the two of us can do it quickly together.

I thank her for her kindness, but tell her that I have so many little items, it will be easier for me to do it myself. She knows that I will have yet another move when the girls come to stay with me, and says she’s sorry for all of the problems.

“It’s not that I have a lot of stuff,” I confide in her, as though she’s going to believe me, a person with oddly unbelievable eyebrows at this point. “These are all the things we have for the girls….”

And thus begins my last move of the morning: back and forth, back and forth, I close Room 515’s door, arrive at Room 505 and suddenly realize that I’ve left my water bottles and piroshki in the refrigerator. The dezhurnaya comes to my rescue and unlocks the door, since that I no longer have the key.

I am breathing heavily in my new room, everything hung up, toiletry bags in the bathroom that has a little more space this time, when there is a knock at the door. A maid holds out my toothbrush and toothpaste, obviously left behind in the bathroom of 515.

“Spaseebah, spaseebah,” I thank her as we both chuckle. “And that’s IT!” I call as she shuts the door behind her.

I get out my computer and settle in to do some work. And that’s when I find out, there is no internet signal on this floor.


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