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Sharapova and the Albatros
In September 2009 I was watching the US Open tennis tournament with friends and one said, "I can't believe Sharapova is from Russia". Another replied, "You'd be surprised, there are many beautiful women in Russia". After they left I fired up my computer and searched Russian Women. There were quite a number of dating sites featuring Russian Women but I eventually landed on GlobalLadies.com because it had a lot of photos and it posted that it was American owned and operated. I uploaded my photo and biodata and sent out emails to 20 ladies. After four months I had narrowed my correspondence down to four ladies and made the decision to travel to Russia. My best hope was Marina, followed by Svetlana, Elena, and lastly, Olga. Olga was my last choice because she lived in Ukraine, far away from the three Russian women, but I would take her telephone number just in case. I booked eight nights at the Radisson Royal, formally known as the Ukraina Hotel. I couldn't believe it, I was actually going to Russia. About a month later I flew to New York and caught a direct flight to Moscow.

On the Moscow flight I sat next to a man close to my age and who was also alone. I couldn't help but wonder, was he on a similar journey. I introduced myself and we began an on-going conversation across the Atlantic. His name was Fred. Finally, I asked, "Why are you going to Moscow? I'm going to meet some ladies I met online." He smiled and said he had heard about Russian dating, but that he was on a different journey, a journey to fulfill a childhood dream, a dream to fly a jet fighter. We talked on for hours but eventually I gave in to exhaustion and closed my eyes. From a deep sleep Fred woke me up. "Hey, we are landing now." Still half asleep I looked out the window and saw rows and rows of tall dirty apartment buildings. One looked just like the other. When the wheels touched down the Russians on board applauded. Probably because they were used to flying on Tupolev aircraft and were just happy to survive. We sat on the tarmac for 45 minutes before a dilapidated bus arrived to take us to the arrival hall. The problem was there was only one bus but multiple busloads of people. So, we waited another 20-25 minutes before getting on a bus.

Once at the hall people started running to passport control. We soon learned why. The lines were so long it took an hour and a half to get to baggage claim. While waiting in line we discovered that we both had reservations at the same hotel. Fred said, "Great, now where do we find a taxi?" That became an ongoing joke, because as soon as we cleared customs we were besieged by taxi drivers all shouting "Taxi! Taxi! Taxi!". Finally, I grabbed one guy and yelled, "Fred, let's follow him". You would have thought that the other drivers would have gotten the point, but they continued to follow us shouting "Taxi! Taxi! Taxi!", only giving up 20 yards outside of the terminal. We didn't realize that Moscow's international airport was normally a good hour away from the city center. Our driver drove off at a break neck pace and I grabbed the safety handle for dear life. Nobody said a word for the 45 minute ride. I paid for the taxi and when we entered the hotel a kind looking man approached and said in a thick Russian accent, "Welcome, Fred, we have been expecting you". Igor represented the service that booked Fred's jet flight. He asked us to sit and took both our hotel reservation documents to the front desk. Soon he returned with our room keys. "These rooms are next to each other and are renovated". Apparently he had pull at this hotel.

The rooms were Stalinesque but spacious and had great views of the White House across the Moscow River. It was already 3 PM and I had my first meeting with Marina at 6PM in the lobby. I told Fred that I would look for him after this meeting. Around 5:30 I made my way down to the lobby and saw Fred sitting at the bar. As I approached he saw me in the mirror and said, "Hey, let me buy you a beer." We toasted our arrival. Marina arrived at 6PM sharp and found me with Fred. Fred whispered, "Wow, it looks like I won't see you tonight". She was a beauty alright. She walked up, grabbed my hands, kissed me on my cheek and without letting go asked, "Shall we go on a walk?" After the long flight I would have preferred to do anything but walk. But how do you say no to such a beauty as she holds your hands gazing into your eyes? So, we set out for Novy Arbat. We walked around aimlessly for about two hours before stopping to have dinner at, believe it or not, a Mexican restaurant. After dinner I persuaded (or begged) Marina to hire a taxi to take me to the hotel and then take her home. I was really dragging. Over time I might have been able to connect with Marina but I only had a week. So, I made the difficult decision to leave our next meeting open and move on to a meeting with Svetlana.

When I entered the hotel lobby I saw Fred sitting in the same bar, but at a different seat. He let me know that he might be in Moscow for as little as three days or up to two weeks depending on the weather. I guess they don't like to fly in thunderstorms. His first flight was scheduled in two days, so I suggested that I ask Svetlana if she had a friend with whom we could double date the next day. At first he declined but I persuaded that he would be doing me a favor. I called Svetlana and everything was set. We would all tour Red Square. At breakfast Fred surprised me. "Why don't you come with me tomorrow and fly an L-39 Albatros? An Albatros flight costs only $300. I'm going to pay quite a bit more for the MiG-29 Fulcrum flight." It was intriguing but I didn't know if I would have enough time. "We'll see." Svetlana and her friend Alona were a little late but they made a grand entrance. Svetlana was blonde and wore a white dress and white high heels. Alona was her polar opposite with black hair, wearing a black dress and black high heels. Svetlana recognized me immediately and gave me a hug while Alona hugged Fred. I knew instantly that I had made the correct decision to meet Svetlana today and not Marina. There was chemistry, at least for me. And then Alona gave me a hug and Svetlana gave Fred a hug. Svetlana suggested, "It's a nice day, let's walk". But this time I was prepared. "Sorry, I have already hired a car."

I had wanted to see Red Square for a long time, and now on that beautiful day I was finally there. The girls ignored the Square but I think Fred also felt the historical significance of the place. We did the tour and then went to Gum department store, right on the Square across from the Kremlin, to have lunch. It was a fun time. That evening with all of us piled into the back of a taxi Fred asked if we would all accompany him to the airbase the next day for his flight. Alona quickly jumped on the idea, "Yes, I would love to". Svetlana quickly agreed. So, I was going to spend my second day with Svetlana at a Russian military base, how exciting. At the hotel, Fred thanked me for not letting him sit around the hotel all day moping about his ex-girlfriend. "I had one of the best days of my life."

The following morning we all met Igor in the lobby and he drove us to the airbase. It took about an hour. Two soldiers holding machine guns greeted us at the gate. While waiting for the soldiers to inspect our documents, Igor turned around and said in Russian, "You are going to enjoy your flights." Alona leaned forward and said "Sto?" "What?" Igor said a few more words in Russian and then the girls' eyes became huge and they started protesting, "Nyet, nyet, nyet". I asked Svetlana what was going on and she explained that Igor had said that Fred had paid for each of us to fly the Albatros. Fred reassured them it was safe and besides, "It's already paid for." I was stunned but offered to pay him back but he blew that off. Alona was first to commit. Svetlana was much more circumspect, but Alona was able to talk her into it by the time we arrived at the base office. There were four pilots and an officer who was obviously in charge by the tone of his voice. One of the pilots explained in English that we had to complete a few steps before flying. First we had to get a physical from the base doctor to determine if we were healthy enough to fly. Then we would discuss the flight maneuvers that we would be performing with our pilots. Next, we would practice how to launch an ejection seat on a simulation machine. Lastly we would suit up in anti-gravity suits.

The clinic had a WWI look. We took turns getting our blood pressure checked by a lady in a white uniform. That was the total extent of our physical. From there we went to a small classroom where we each sat down with our particular pilot. My pilot did not speak English but he did demonstrate flips and rolls with a toy airplane. Next, we entered a room that contained the ejection simulator, parachute harnesses and various other equipment. The ejection simulator made weird noises as it lifted you up into the air. Svetlana kept asking when was the last time someone needed to eject. She was nervous but when it came time to suit up she was onboard. After a group of ladies helped us all with our G suits, we all got into Igor's mini-van and drove out to a huge hanger. There must have been thirty fighter jets out there. The Albatros looked like something out of "Top Gun". I thought we were going to take turns flying but soon realized that all four of us would go up simultaneously in separate jets.

Once we had all boarded our aircraft the pilots brought us into a diamond formation on the runway. Now I was starting to feel it. Fred was at the front in the Mig-29 with the ladies on the sides and me in the back. Suddenly we started moving. Then, we started to accelerate at a much faster pace and then in a very quick move we all lifted off the ground. We stayed in formation for about thirty seconds and then Svetlana and Alona's jets veered left and right while Fred's shot upward. From there we did everything that my pilot showed me with that toy plane. We did flips, rolls, and a move that took us straight up in the air until we decelerated to zero speed. The plane then flipped over like a dart and started to plummet at an incredible speed. At the bottom of the dive I could barely move my arms and I don't know how the pilot could control the stick. Hooray for G suits! The pilot even let me take the stick for short periods of time. The entire flight lasted 30 minutes, but it felt like 5 minutes. After we exited our aircraft Svetlana ran to me and gave me a hug and a kiss, our first kiss by the way. Alona also gave me a hug and then we group hugged. Fred walked over with a huge smile on his face. But before he could say anything Alona ran over and gave him a big hug. We were now comrades in arms.

The ride back was like a dream, but as we approached the hotel it dawned on me that I had a scheduled meeting with Elena the next day. I asked Svetlana what she thought I should do. She said that it would be difficult for her but a promise is a promise and I should keep my date. "I will be waiting," she said. I really admired her for that. I did meet with Elena and like Marina, Svetlana and Alona, she was very attractive. But I could not get my mind off of Svetlana. So, after a polite goodbye I returned to my room and immediately called Svetlana. I didn't know at that moment she was with Alona in Fred's room, so I didn't associate my call with the ringing I could hear coming from Fred's room. There was no answer, but in a few seconds there was a knock on my door. The rest is history.

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