I think it was the four hours I spent lounging around the airport in Paris that put did me in I got all of about four hours sleep before I left St. Petersburg for Florida. I tried to get a full eight but I woke up at about 2:30 a.m. and rested fitfully until 4:15 a.m. when I got up and showered. I then enjoyed my first Skype session with the Czarina since the previous Sunday and headed downstairs and to my awaiting taxi.
The streets of St. Petersburg where deserted at that hour. I arrived at the airport at 5:30 a.m. and faced the prospect of a two hour wait in an airport with all the charm of a gulag. A group of Americans fresh off two weeks of cruising through Russia were there waiting for the Air France flight that would take us to Paris. They were all in the 70 plus crowd and were thrilled with what they had experienced.
7:30 came and we flew out of St. Petersburg and began our trip to France when "it" happened. "It" was the single worse piece of turbulence I have ever experienced. I really thought it was over. About 20 minutes into our flight the plane took a sudden jolt. I opened my eyes and felt the Airbus beginning to sharply rise and then suddenly the jet shuddered again and began a quick roll to the right and a sudden descent. I was seated in an exit row and glance out the window. The wing was pointed straight down to the ground and it felt as the the aircraft was going to do a complete flip.
I sensed at that point the pilots finally wrested control of the jet and gently stopped the roll and slowly brought the plane level as we still veered down toward the earth. The woman who was sitting in my row on the aisle seat looked at me in horror. I started saying my prayers and then realized the plane had stopped descending. I've experienced plenty of roller coaster rides through big storms but never have experienced anything like this. The pilots never said a word. The crew only asked us to make sure our seat belts were fastened after the incident ended. It lasted all of about 15 to 20 seconds.
My seat mate who has probably flown more miles than I can imagine said she had never experienced anything like it. We were both pretty shaken as were the other passengers, mostly Russians. When we landed two and a half hours later in Paris there was scattered applause among the passengers.
Paris was a nightmare. The line through security was monstrous. It took forever to get through but then I had four hours plus to wait for my flight. Had it gone quicker I might have been able to catch an earlier flight back through Atlanta but alas it wasn't in the cards. I went up to the waiting area for our flight and finally fell to sleep for about half an hour until a baby started wailing. That's when I realized they had changed our gate. I went there looking forward to 90 more minutes of wait and asked the Delta employee if I could get my seat moved up closer to the front of the plane. I was seated near the rear and much to my delight she moved me out of the middle row to a window seat closer to the front.
I then discovered at the front of the terminal an area where reclining couches were situated in the sun and cursed myself for not checking this spot sooner. I went and laid down and waited for my 1:35 departure. Much to my displeasure I couldn't fall back to sleep.
The rest of the journey home was much less exciting. The plane was packed. A young couple was flying with a howling newborn and they were seated near the rear of the plane right where my earlier seat assignment had been. Where I was sitting I could barely hear the constant crying. I don't know why people insist on taking babies on flights like this. I could only imagine the torture for those sitting back there.
I managed to watch 3 movies during the 9 hour excursion. My seatmate was a young woman just getting out of the Navy. She was traveling to Georgia and we enjoyed some good conversation but neither one of us got much if any sleep. Once on the ground in Atlanta I hustled through customs and arrived at my gate where a massive crowd was hoping to get aboard my flight. Delta even switched to a larger aircraft because they had overbooked. I landed in Fort Myers at 9:35 p.m. which technically would be 5:35 a.m. St. Petersburg time. I was thus on the back end of 25 hours with less than two hours of sleep.
I'm fried, but the bags are unpacked and we've gone through all of the goodies, photos and videos I shot. I don't know when or if I will ever return to St. Petersburg but if I ever do I know it won't be without the Czarina. And I know I'm not doing it on such a compressed schedule. It's going to take another 12 hours of sleep to get somewhere back to normal.