Russia 2002

Russia 2002

Russia 2002

The epic flight half-way across Russia is over and I have arrived in Yekaterinburg.  It was fortunate that we had a big dinner at the Russian restaurant last night in Khabarovsk, because we had to leave the hotel half an hour before breakfast began to be served, and any eating that we managed to do today came quite late in the schedule.

The morning weather in Khabarovsk was superb - absolutely clear air and sunny conditions, which showed the autumn colours of the trees to perfection.  When we arrived at the airport, we were not taken to the check-in terminal but to a 1940’s temple-like structure that looked like a cross between a soaring classical Greek temple and a Southern Baptist church - this was the VIP check-in area, in the old airport building, with ornate walls covered in stars, hammers and sickles and socialist decor, and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.  Even more startling was the check-in girl who smiled, made an effort to help us, didn’t shout at or abuse anyone, didn’t worry about charging excess baggage, and even showed us to the VIP lounge, a cavernous room as high as it was wide, with a few soldiers having a pre-flight drink.  We were given our own bus out to the plane, and allowed to board first.  This was a very different experience from the last check-in process in Novosibirsk that seemed like a cross between being in the crowd at a rock concert and being in the middle of a wrestling match where the rules were kept secret from the participants.

The plane for the flight was another Dalavia Tupolev-154B-2 (registration RA-85341), even older (23 years old) than the last one but with a calmer interior colour scheme, a mix of mushroom-pink-brown and white.  Actually, it was a pleasant flight in every way, with good meals, smooth conditions and some great views.  We had a one-hour stopover in Irkutsk, which allowed us to stretch our legs, although the ladies’ shocked description of the lavatories in Irkutsk Airport could best be described as ‘revealing’.

The approach to Yekaterinburg showed us that conditions would be cold, as there was a thick cover of snow on the ground and snow ploughs on the runway.  The temperature was announced as -4°C - welcome to the Urals in autumn!

The trip from the hotel to the hotel, about 15 km, was handled by hiring several Volga taxis, a great experience.  The countryside looked beautiful under the freshly fallen, and still falling, snow.  Our hotel is quite new, a stark contrast to the very basic Soviet-era hotels where we stayed in Novosibirsk and Khabarovsk.  This one, the Premier Hotel at 23 Krasnoarmeyskaya Street, has large rooms that are tastefully decorated, but sadly still not very efficient international phone connections for e-mail!

The time difference from Khabarovsk was five hours, and the plane was an hour late (no explanation or apology, just a plane load of passengers sitting in a plane on the tarmac for an hour and a half before the engines started up).  Therefore, it was almost 4:00pm by the time we checked in to the hotel, which is 9:00pm in the city where we began our journey.

After checking into the hotel, like several of the other Australian visitors, I went for a walk to get some exercise and explore Yekaterinburg in the snow.  It was very cold (still -4°C according to some digital indicators around the city), and with quite a strong wind adding a significant wind chill factor.  I really felt cold without a hat and overcoat.  I decided to terminate my walk when it started snowing heavily and one strong gust of wind blew me over onto the icy, slippery footpath.  Still, the one-hour walk provided a good introduction to the city and did get some chilly air into my lungs.

The program for the next two days has been changed from the earlier draft, and we now have two days of expo instead of one day of visits and one day of expo.  Arrangements have been made for me to meet the Head of the Methodist Church in the Urals, Siberia and the Far East tomorrow as part of the program.

Because of the time difference I am ready for sleep even though it is only 6pm (11pm where I started this morning), as I didn’t get to bed until about 11:30pm last night because there were so many e-mails that needed answering.  Still, today has been a much-needed break in the hectic routine, as there was the chance to get some rest on the long flight.  The next two days will be a reversion to the hectic pace of the past week or so.  I am now in a place that is three and a half hours behind Adelaide.


Day 12


Sunday 13 October 2002