The speeding minivan braked to a dramatic halt at the end of the alleyway, sliding over wet leaves and away from the whimpering dog. I fell out from behind the sliding door, desperately gulping in the chilly, refreshing mountain air. I had been holding my breath in a combination of dread, anticipation and jetlagged fatigue for the whole duration of ‘door-to-door transit’ from the airport. If one can call being stuffed onto the backseat of a minivan and careened through what seemed like cities, towns, villages, squats and finally an immense residential estate for hours, in the black night which offered no mercy from the numerous potholes and sharp road turns, ‘door-to-door transit’. Our journey from the airport had started at 2 AM and ended an indefinite time later in front of a gigantic Soviet Mausoleum.
Or so it seemed at least. It was a colossal building with monumental columns and imposing front steps, but no porter to help with our suitcases. When our non-English speaking chauffeur shepherded us inside, we were greeted with more darkness and cold grandeur. At the end of a vast hall, a buzzing little desk lamp was attempting to shine, and the
harpy sullen front desk assistant sitting by it acknowledged our measly existence greeted us by barking out “Passports!” in Russian. I grabbed desperately for mine, handed it to her, all the while desperately hoping she wouldn’t lose the little piece of paper inside with the stamp that I needed to leave the country, and received it back with a room key the size of my hand, and a piece of paper that would enable me to partake of the aquapark, mineral water baths, and clay massages.
The two-person elevator creaked upwards. It deposited us onto a dark landing and once again I fought through the darkness towards the light. Once again, the sole point of light in a kilometers- long hallway was the desk lamp manned by a harpy. I smiled tentatively at her; she stared at me disapprovingly over thick glasses and pointed to the right. I dared not protest. I trudged the half-kilometer down to my room, lighting my way with my cell phone. With my gigantic key I opened the door to what seemed like a normal hotel room. I sank down gratefully onto the bed, and didn’t realize I had dozed off in the rut in the mattress until I woke up, panicked.
Someone was banging on doors in the hallway.
Someone was banging on my door.
I cautiously crept up to the door and confirmed my suspicions. The banging continued unabated. I could also discern something being authoritatively yelled which sounded like “dyzurna” in Polish (“hall monitor”). I opened the door to find the Hall Matron standing there. Her face sported not only the thick glasses, but also a concerned look. With sign language and an exchange of Russian and Polish we ascertained she was not there to rob me, nor take away my precious passport piece of paper. Displaying remarkable maternal instincts, she had merely wanted to show me how to properly lock the door.
I did her bidding (in spite of the maternalness, I did not dare do otherwise), listened to her footsteps echoing down the hallway as she marched to regain her vantage point.
I sank into the rut again, closed my eyes, and thought not for the first time that this would prove to be the most interesting business trip of my life.