As I was checking my email on my yahoo account on Monday, a news headline popped up, like this one, that said there had been a bombing Moscow’s Domodedevo airport. Of course, all bombings have a chilling effect, but for me this one was more personal. I have been fortunate enough to have never been near a bombing, but this particular one caught my attention as I had flown through Moscow twice last year. What were the chances that I had been there?
Our second quarterfinal game for the LEN cup was being played in Khanty-Mansiysk. The first round was at home, so for the second game we travelled to the home of our competition: Siberia, Russia. This is crazy enough in itself. How many people go to Siberia willingly? And more importantly, how many Americans go to Siberia? Not only was I getting the chance to travel to a such a foreign and inhospitable place, one that few American ever have the chance to experience, it was going to be in the dead of winter. To play water polo. In a pool.
This arduous trek started out with an early morning flight from Barcelona to one of Europe’s biggest hubs, Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. The next leg was to fly to Moscow. Now, for my teammates, getting a visa to Russia wasn’t an easy matter, but the Russians wanted more proof from me. So, the US has continued to have contentions with Russia even though the cold war is over, but it still seemed a bit laughable. What spy would join a water polo team in Spain with the hopes that they might get to play a Russian team, which would then allow him or her entry into the country?
No matter, I received my visa after showing that I had a cell phone here. I did a little bit of research before the trip because of the tensions between our two countries. Western Europe feels almost like the US, but Russia is a different beast. Ninety days are allowed in every 180 day period in the Schengen countries (a majority of Europe) and if one stays over that limit, most of the time it goes unnoticed. The rules in Russia stated that if anyone overstayed his or her visa, this person would not be allowed out of the country. And not only would they not be allowed out of the country, they would be unable to get accommodations, as hotels require a valid visa to stay!
Thank god, entering and exiting Russia went off without a hitch. Our hotel was more than adequate with all the usual amenities and the food was surprisingly delicious. Unfortunately, we lost our game and were therefore knocked out of the tournament. On our last night we were taken on a tour around the town. The specialty of winter was multiple lighted ice sculptures that were a wonder to look at, however, as the temperature was about 30 degrees below zero, we could not stay outside very long, no matter how well we were dressed.
Our entertainment for the evening was an ice show. It wasn’t much warmer inside the rink, so no one took off any layers. On the way in, I couldn’t believe my eyes as there was a woman wearing a skirt! With tights, mind you, but a SKIRT nonetheless! It was impossible for me to stay out more than 10 minutes, even with all the layers I had on! Many of the other fashions were pretty stereotypical: big fur coats and those furry hats you always see in movies. We didn’t stay long at the ice show, as we were all too tired and cold. The flight out the next morning was early, once again, and required the same four-leg trip. Flight from Khanty-Mansiysk to Moscow. A five-hour layover in Moscow in which we changed airports. Then a flight from Moscow to Amsterdam. And one last one from Amsterdam back to Barcelona. I arrived at home at 11pm, just in time to shower and go watch the Super Bowl, of all things. Siberia to the biggest American Sunday event of the year. What a change!
Well, after that long detour, back to the bombing. Were either of the airports that we used the one where the bombings took place? It was only two weeks difference in time between this year and last. What were the odds that the airport was the same also? During my research, I discovered that there are three main airports in Moscow: Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo, and Vnukovo. So a two in three chance. After wracking my brains for clues as to the airports’ identities, they were matched to their names. The team flew through Sheremetyevo and Vnukovo. Not Domodedovo. It feels lucky, somehow, that I was never in that airport. It would have just been too strange of a coincidence. And too strange of an ending to such a surreal trip.