Russia 2002

Russia 2002

Russia 2002

I am now back in a similar time zone as Adelaide; actually I’m now an hour and a half ahead of Adelaide time – and I have my luggage again so I can change my clothes at last.  I have finally arrived in Vladivostok, and I can connect to the internet again (through my dial-up Compuserve service via Tokyo).  But the journey was a long one, longer than expected, and the time it took from leaving the hotel in London to arriving at the hotel in Vladivostok was 22 hours - quite an epic trip.

This time, everything in London went smoothly, and I was allowed to board the plane without any hitches.  The flight from London was fine, in a British Airways Boeing 767-300 (registration G-BNWT), and immigration at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport was also smooth and without any hitches.  Genardy, the driver from AusTrade was waiting, as promised, right at the immigration desk.  He helped me with collecting luggage and then he drove me to the domestic terminal, about 5 kilometres away, with a Russian staff member from AusTrade, Anya, who was booked on the same flight to Vladivostok.

However (there HAD to be a ‘however’, didn’t there!), when we arrived at the domestic terminal, there was a sign announcing that our flight had been delayed from the scheduled 6:30pm to 9:00pm.  The system at the domestic terminal is that passengers must wait outside in a cavernous, dimly-lit, Soviet-era concrete waiting hall until check-in for a flight is called, and there is almost no seating there.  So we stood with our luggage from 4:00pm until 7:30pm when we were allowed to check-in.  Having checked in, the waiting area for the 200 passengers had about 25 seats, so it was fairly crowded with standing passengers - not that this mattered for a wait of only an hour or so.

However (there’s THAT word again), the plane didn’t board as scheduled at 8:40pm.  9:00pm passed, 9:30pm passed, and 10:00pm arrived with still no announcements.  At about 10:00pm, a large khaki-uniformed Aeroflot lady who looked like a retired wrestler (and was not all that lady-like) came and stood in the waiting hall and shouted out that flight would be delayed until midnight.  I was glad to be travelling with a speaker of Russian as otherwise I would have had no idea what was happening.

This time, the announcement had a ring of truth, as boarding began at about 11:15pm.  The plane was parked away from the terminal, so we were bussed out to the plane, a fairly neglected nine-year old (but Western) Aeroflot Airbus A310 (registration F-OGYV).  The plane finally took off at about 20 minutes after midnight.

Unfortunately, my seat on the flight didn’t recline very much and so sleep was difficult, but the food was edible and the room available was fine.  The flight landed in Vladivostok at 3:30pm (scheduled arrival was 10:05am).  I know why Russian airliners are built with strong landing gear to handle dirt runways - although sealed, the surface of the runway was unbelievably rough and potholed, and I thought at one stage that it might actually snap the Airbus’ undercarriage.

After on board checking of passports, we were allowed to disembark to the bus, and were driven to the gate at the edge of the airport.  I was grateful for the bus trip because it was raining; I was less grateful that there was nowhere to collect the luggage.  The other passengers just stood around in the rain, and Anya came across to say that the luggage would arrive in half an hour, at which time the hall with the conveyor belt would be opened.  I had looked through the window of what looked like an abandoned building and had seen what I thought was an old disused, decrepit, rusting and broken luggage conveyor – that was it.  True to their word, after half an hour of waiting in the rain, the building was opened and we were allowed inside to retrieve luggage.

We finally left the airport at 4:30pm and began the 42-kilometre trip into Vladivostok.  AusTrade had arranged with their local agent to have a minibus, so this made the trip very simple and easy.  My initial impression of the countryside around Vladivostok is that it is generally a bit run down and economically stagnant, although I guess nowhere looks its most vibrant on a grey, wet Sunday afternoon.  The only hint that I am in the Far East is the large number of Japanese cars on the roads (in contrast with Moscow where most cars are Russian or from other parts of Europe, especially Germany).  Most of the Japanese cars seem to be second hand because they have their steering wheels on the right-hand side (the same as Australia - and Japan) even though the Russians drive on the opposite side of the road to us.

The day finished at our hotel (the Hotel Hyundai at 29 Semenovskaya Street) with a briefing meeting with the other participants on the program for the next two days and the expectations that AusTrade has of us.  This was my first opportunity to meet the representatives of the other Australian educational institutions, which are a mix of schools, colleges and universities.  Mine was the only school represented from Adelaide; the other high schools were all from East Coast locations, mainly Sydney and Melbourne.

I am certainly ready for a REALLY good sleep tonight - three hours of disturbed sleep in the previous 24 hours definitely isn’t enough for me.


Day 5


Sunday 6 October 2002