Nauru Travel Diary

From Houston to Sydney 2013

From Houston

to Sydney



During the Cold War, the journey we completed today could have been described as an escape through the Iron Curtain from Soviet oppression to the freedom of neutral Sweden.  Today, the journey is less exotic and more commonly undertaken, and certainly far less dangerous and not subject to the same random fits of bureaucracy that were de rigeur in earlier decades.

I woke to the alarm at 6:30 am this morning.  Di was already awake as she had been uncomfortable and had thus found sleep difficult.  She was therefore able to report very accurately on details of the bright skies that had continued throughout the night, including the intense sunlight that shone on our curtains as the sun rose at about 3:30 am.

We enjoyed our breakfast at the hotel, which for some unknown reason was relocated to the club bar this morning.  This was an interesting experience given the décor of the bar, which was reminiscent of the interior of an ice breaker (ship), although upon reflection, I guess most ice breakers don’t feature silver poles, glitter or mirrored balls.

We decided to take the bus (which we have now learnt is route 106) for the 30 kilometre journey from the city centre to Murmansk Airport.  We were fortunate that a bus arrived just a few minutes after we had reached the bus stop, so we arrived at the airport quite some time before check-in began.

Murmansk Airport is quite basic (understatement!), but we were able to find some chairs to wait for our aircraft to arrive, our departure to St Petersburg being the only flight scheduled from Murmansk Airport during a four hour block of time around the middle of the day.

The first of our two flights for the day was on Rossiya Airlines.  When I booked the flight about four months ago, the airline had scheduled a new type of aircraft (to me) for the flight, one of the new Ukrainian made Antonov An-148s.  You can probably therefore imagine my disappointment when I saw our plane arrive; Rossiya had substituted one of their larger (and considerably more common) Airbus A319s for our trip.

Unlike most airlines, Rossiya had really packed in the rows of seats in their Airbus, and the lack of space made for quite an uncomfortable flight (though not as bad as the Nordavia flight a few days earlier).

Shortly after taking off from Murmansk we looked down on seemingly endless tracts of coniferous forests, punctuated by many lakes.  From time to time, small hills could be seen whose extra elevation was sufficient to prevent the growth of trees on them in this cold, fragile environment.  As we approached St Petersburg, however, we lost sight of the ground because of the thick layer of low-lying clouds.  By the time we landed at St Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport, we found ourselves in steady rain with grey, overcast skies.

Before we could transfer to the international terminal (known as Pulkovo-2) from the domestic terminal (known as Pulkovo-1), we had to collect our bags.  The baggage collection room was so full of people that I felt I was meeting half the population of St Petersburg, a fair proportion of whom were struggling to avoid intimate contact (I hope!) given the way everyone was squashed together around the baggage carousels.

Eventually we were reunited with our bags, and we proceeded to the transfer desk and reserved our seats on the shuttle bus.  The bus came about 30 minutes later, by which time we realized that we had been standing for over an hour and a half after our plane had landed.  The journey from Pulkovo-1 to Pulkovo-2 involved a drive of several kilometres along public roads outside the airport perimeter, and we therefore had an opportunity to experience some local traffic congestion.

We eventually reached Pulkovo-2 and found the check-in line for Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), the airline that would take us from St Petersburg to Stockholm.  Unlike the domestic terminal, which is undergoing major renovation, the international terminal has not changed very much since my one previous visit there in 1987, back when the city was called Leningrad and I was catching an Aeroflot Ilyushin Il-86 for a flight to London.  However, unlike that previous experience, when the “no photographs” rule was explained to everyone in detail and rigidly enforced, the atmosphere today was very relaxed; Russia is definitely a very different place to the USSR in 1987.

Our plane to Stockholm had many vacant seats so both Di and I were able to have window seats with two spare seats beside each of us.  On the approach to Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport, we passed over the city centre of Stockholm.  It looked magnificent but I could not get any decent photographs as my seat was situated over the wing and a rainstorm was obscuring parts of the view below.

Stockholm Airport provided a very different introduction to Sweden than Moscow Airport had provided for us into Russia some days earlier.  In contrast with our observations in Moscow, Stockholm’s Airport was pristine clean, light and airy, uncrowded, friendly, welcoming and efficient.  One might say it was clinical and soulless, but after the Russian airports, Di and I were probably ready for a bit of clinical, soulless efficiency and cleanliness.

It was immediately apparent that Sweden is a much more expensive place than Russia.  We took the cheapest option for transport from the airport, which is 40 kilometres from the city centre.  Even so, the trip on the bus cost 99 kroner each (about US$35 each), which was a third of the price of the train and a fifth the cost of a taxi.

I normally choose hotels because of their location, but the cost of centrally located hotels is so high in Stockholm that I have deviated from my own rule and we are staying at a hotel that is in a suburban area about three kilometres from the main railway station.  After being in Russia, Stockholm seems so quiet and clean that it seems like a different world – which I suppose it is in many ways.

Day 27 - Murmansk to Stockholm


1 August 2013