Moscow to Novosibirsk
June 21, 2008
The driver met us at 8:00 pm and the trip to the domestic Airport #1 was an E ticket ride, not that it was fast, but that it was very revealing about Russian attitudes and coping. First, the road from the international terminal (Airport #2) is a 2-lane expressway that is part of a beltway system around Moscow. The domestic terminal (Airport #1) is located about 5 miles around the arc to the east. On a clear road it would take about 8 minutes going the speed limit. This trip took about 40 minutes in 4-5 lanes of traffic, three of which are off the road on the right shoulder. It is a contest of wills and size. I saw a woman in a small SUV go all the way around the right side of the three lanes of shoulder traffic, cross about 500 feet of weeds and dirt, get onto an on-ramp and enter traffic again ahead of us by about 100 yards. It was a free-for-all battle not for the timid.
The driver dropped us off at the terminal, driving off with my overcoat in his trunk and we were now faced with getting our over-weight, over-sized luggage up the broken 30” wide ramp, through the 30” wide doorway, through the 30”wide initial security screening (the officer just waved us through) and into a mob of 300-400 people trying to get through 4 doors into the second security screening area and the ticket counter. I had found a single luggage cart on the sidewalk, but that only handled 3 of the 8 bags. I was a real picture of strength and coordination.
A word about traffic control, efficiency, and processing. I was at first daunted by the chaos of the crowds and the physicalness of the queue process in these situations. I could see that it was the same process as in the traffic we had just left. There were no stanchions, no ropes, no “Disneyland-type” serpentine line formation and no process established to get the waiting throng out of the line of traffic trying to get to another part of the terminal. You were on your own and may the best man win. This will be a lesson well to be learned for the future.
Forty minutes in this mob found us at the door where a lady checked our passports and ticket receipt (e-ticket), I loaded each bag into an x-ray machine, stripped myself of all metal, went through the metal detector, and wrestled the 8 bags through the crowd to the ticket counter area. A fellow line-waiter finally broke into English and suggested we get into the line labeled “Business Class”. I said we were flying coach, but she said no one seemed to pay any attention to that; Another little miracle. We were the third group in line and in about 30 minutes it was our turn.
After taking our passports & receipt, the ticket agent, a 20-something blond lady with a definite scowl, motioned to put a bag (I thought) on the conveyor belt beside her. I expected that she wanted to weigh the bags one at a time like Delta did. WRONG. She said something in Russian and motioned for more bags so I started stacking them horizontally atop one another on her conveyor belt scale that was at about a 7-degree slant that would not allow them to stand up without holding them, but the stack got too high. She did not like that and said in pretty good English, “Put them on right.” I took that to mean that she wanted them standing up vertically, but I knew that there was not enough room on her belt for them all. Trying to cooperate, I unstacked them and tried to stand them up on this sloping belt. Each time I put a bag on the belt she moved it to accommodate the next one and since it jerked abruptly at the start and stop, the ones I had gotten on the belt would fall down and she glared at me again. Cindy tried to help by holding the last bag on the belt while I tried to lift the next one onto it. With each new bag, starting with the biggest, we repeated the process until the agent ran out of room on the belt and spilled the first bag into the conveyor that would take them to the baggage handling area. Now she had to get up from her stool and lift the 70 lb bag back onto her little belt. Because she insisted that we must check our carry-on bags, increasing our “checked bag” weight (which ended up to be a blessing because there are stairs everywhere), adding them to the four big bags that would not fit on the belt anyway, she finally relented and weighed the six bags in two groups and adding them up; apparently quite a feat for her.
She printed out a paper that instructions said we would take to a cashier and pay for the extra weight. She insisted on keeping our passports, making us very nervous. It cost us 13,434 rubles (about $575) for the extra weight over the allowed 44 lbs & I was just happy to get through the process. I have no idea how much she claimed our luggage weighed.
Returning to the same ticket line, the agent finished with a group ahead of us when her cell phone rang. She got up and left the counter, heading for the entry door we had used and she was gone about 5 minutes. Apparently she could not take personal calls while on duty; maybe. When she returned, she took our receipt, gave us back our passports and boarding passes, and ordered us to go to gate 9.
The rest of the boarding process was pretty routine by now. We carried our personal bags (a 40 lb backpack with two laptops in it and Cindy’s overstuffed, overnight bag) up the thirty or so stairs to the terminal gates, found #9 and tried to locate two seats together in the waiting area. In front of each gate that was preparing to load, a queue was forming directly across the path of traffic instead of parallel to the railing defining each gate entry. There was no indication where the people should stand and no one tried to move the crowd out of the traffic lane, so everyone passing to another gate had to break through the queued people. I guess it works.
As our boarding time approached, we joined the mob gathered at gate 9, waited until called, passed through the check-point, descended another flight of stairs, loaded on a bus, and were driven about ¾ of a mile to a group of planes parked parallel to each other in military fashion, each with a mobile staircase and a crew member waiting to receive passengers.
The flight was pretty uneventful with the exception of the heavy drinking from bottles passed among the passengers and two occasions of loud cheers when the captain came on the intercom and announced something (in Russian of course). Knowing that Russia was playing in the semi-finals of the World Cup, we presumed that the first was the half-time score with Russia ahead and the second being the final score where they must have won.
A third announcement came during a time when 90% of the passengers were in deep sleep (aided by the alcohol), about an hour out of Novosibirsk. The captain’s information caused a deafening roar from those who were awake in the apparently sleeping crowd that startled those not able to directly listen to the communique. That called for another round of bottle-passing. The group around us had finished at least two liter bottles that I saw and that was among about 12 people.
The Novosibirsk arrival at 5:30 am on June 22 went pretty smoothly, meeting the Mickelsens just inside the baggage claim area. They were happy to see us and seemed genuinely interested in our condition. After a 35-minute wait, the luggage belt began to move and, another miracle, all of our checked luggage arrived. After a 40-minute ride through the Siberian Summer, we stopped to drop our luggage at our apartment (a bit of a culture shock). We walked through each room and Cindy asked, "We can move can't we?". President Mikkelsen said "yes, but wait a month before making any decision". That was good advice.
We then went on to the mission home. The mission home is located about ½ mile from the office on the 4th floor of a tall, blue-glassed modern building, Apt12. Starting at the entry, it has a large foyer & bathroom, kitchen, three bedrooms on the right, another bath and utility room on the left, a LARGE living room and master suite on the left. It is very nicely furnished by any standards and plush by Russian standards. We were required to take a rest and would find that we slept about 5 hours. Before going to sleep we sat on our twin beds, looked at one another and both began to cry. This was all real and really bleak. Upon waking up we showered and presented ourselves for dinner at 4:00.
We later had our orientation to the mission and general question/answers about the mission and our duties. The Mickelsens are very business-like but warm and friendly. We will work well with them. We stayed the night and the next day they took us to the office and to a Renik for an experience and some shopping. Finally we landed for the night in our apartment. We were too tired to make a good assessment of our digs, but would do so Monday morning.