Welcome to Siberia

(Sunday 11th written up in the afternoon)
I arrived at Novosibirsk-Tolemechevo airport at 5:40 local time. It was dark and wet. Once again there was a part of the airport where there were old aircraft (often with empty engine housings) awaiting dismantling. And also once again disembarkation was by bus. Of course, now there was no customs or immigration. As usual, I worried a little about whether my bag was going to emerge on the conveyor, especially when the conveyor stopped and it still hadn’t appeared. The reassuring thing at that moment was the number of other people who were also waiting for their bags. The Russians have introduced one innovation that I hadn’t come across before; as you leave the baggage reclaim room, there are security guards who check that you have the counterfoil for the bag you have claimed attached to your bourding card. If you do, they take it from you and let you pass. I don’t know what they do, if you have a bag and no matching sticker.
Once I had emerged from baggage reclaim I had to find my taxi driver. He was standing behind the crowd of “touting for business” drivers and had a clear sign with my name (in Roman characters). We confirmed identities and he handed me a “welcome pack” from the school (probably more of that later). He was rather older than me, had a walking stick and obviously had “a gammy leg”. Naturally, I pulled my own case. It’s on wheels, and my cabin baggage is a small rucksac, so it was no trouble really, but I didn’t expect him to have parked a few hundred metres from the airport building to avoid paying parking charges. It’s a reasonable thing for him to have done, but with limited language in common, it was only when he got to the car that I understood what was happening. The drive to my new home was through the “Leninsky Rayon” which is an industrial area with a number of large factories. “Rayon” translates directly as “Region”, but the usage in English implies a rather large area. For the Russian application, thinking “district” might be more appropriate.
We crossed the River Ob (which is really impressive) and turned into a residential district. After a couple of missed turns we found the group of buildings which contained my flat. Russian street addresses can be a little confusing because although the buildings are numbered, the buildings can be arranged around a square containing parking and other shared amenities, so on occassions you can see one number (and know you are in roughly the right place) but not see the number of the individual building you actually want. The main roads seem to be easier.
The driver spoke with my host on the phone, got me to the door of the building, got the host to open the door and then left me to climb the stairs to the flat (I don’t blame him, even though it’s only on the 2nd floor).
My host has left the front door open, and I came in to be greated by a friendly alsation, a black cat, and my host Alyona. Alyona lives with her son “Gleb”, dog “Boosa” and cat “Moosa” in a flat about a mile from the centre of Novosibirsk. And that means, at least traditionally, the centre of Russia! I don’t know if the flat is typical. It’s small, but comfortable. You might find the layout strange (it is to my way of thinking). The rooms are multipurpose. For example, the washing machine is in the bathroom. I think my presence is responsible for some rearrangement of who sleeps where, but I’m not sure.

Alyona prepared me some breakfast; bread, tea, cheese and little salami sausages. After a little conversation I had a shower and went to bed. Alyona went back to bed too. I didn’t see Gleb at this time but after all, it was 7am on Sunday! I didn’t get up again until after 11:00 local time.
Once both Gleb and I were “up”, Alyona made breakfast for us all: blini (pancakes), smetana (sour cream), tvorak (another semi-solid milk product, hard to describe, but good) and, of course, tea. Just like the hobbits, I had a second breakfast. I sorted out my clothes and things and then went for a walk “around the block”. I really did stick to “round the block” too. I didn’t want to get lost, especially before my orientation excursion later in the afternoon.

In transit: Heathrow, Moscow and Novosibirsk

(Saturday 10th Sept – Written up Sunday 11th September 2011)
10:50 Settled at last! All right so far.
I had a poor night’s sleep last night. I was plagued by the cat flea bites. I fear that I may take some of them with me to Russia. I wonder if they will count as illegal immigrants?
I got up earlier than I had planned to, but was itching so much that it seemed better to move around and do something to distract myself. That at least allowed me to do some surfing and send “I’m moving” eMails to Noreen and Exlinguo.
I was at the bus stop in Ashford in good time. Dave carried my rucksac out for me and waited until the 555 arrived. There was one other passenger who was going to Heathrow Central. She was on her way to the West Country. At Terminal 4 we “met” and Australian couple who unfortunately had missed their flight (back to Australia). They left us at the Ariel Hotel and seemed cheerful enough.
I had to look quite hard for the check-in desk. There are some new areas in Terminal 1 and Transaero is in “K”, which is one of the new areas. The queue was full of Russian schoolchildren going home from an English course at “Harrow House” in Swanage. I exchanged a few words with the (english) representative. He said that this was him finishing for the year. These were all departures and that typically he had 200 to deal with! I guess that must be “inbound” plus “outbound”, but I’m not sure.
Checkin went OK. There was no problem with the weight of my bag. Transaero seem to have a code-share with BMI (British Midland) (UN444 = BD2901). I think that the check-in staff are BMI (or BMI outsourced) as well. Security was the usual irritation, but no problems and I was through by 10:30. One minor annoyance is that I will have to retrieve my bag and clear customs in Moscow. Still, maybe that will make Novosibirsk easier.
Since passing security; I’ve bought whisky, water, and sent a confirmation text to Dave. I’m waiting for the Gate number to come up. There seem to be a number of British wheelchair athletes in the lounge. I don’t know if this is anything to do with the (para) olympics or not.
My flight departed from gate 5(d?). It was delayed by 30 minutes due to a delay to the inbound flight. The aircraft is a very new 737 _800_. I noted that it has very large upswept winglets. The flight is pretty full. I heard one Irish voice nearby but did not speak to him. Service from the cabin crew is very good. Certainly not the old Aeroflot stereotype. We were offered sweets for take-off and landing. Drink and the choice of two meals (Fish and rice or chicken and pasta), with a glass (plastic beaker) of wine if you wanted it. I chose the chicken. It came with a pickle starter and a carrot and something spiced side dish. It was all quite decent, if a bit on the small side. Aircraft made up time and landed on at the orignal scheduled arrival time.
The flight was uneventful. Arrived in Domodedovo through low cloud. There was steady rain and the temperature was rather warm.
Taxiing would have been a planespotter’s dream! There is an area of apron where superannuated aircraft are waiting to be scrapped. There were lots of models I recognised (even if I can’t name them) and plenty more I didn’t. Ages ranged from Soviet era, to much more recent and included at least one 747. The airport stands were the same with airlines and aircraft I did not recognise.
Disembarkation is via a bus. I’ve been warned that I have to clear emigration, collect my bag, clear customs, check in again and clear security to go airside again (I hope everyone was following that). It makes sense, because Russia has many regional airports which are never going to justify having immigration and customs.
Immigration was a long queue. When eventually I got to the head of the queue, I didn’t like the way the officer seemed to be picking at the visa with her nail. She referred it, and me to her supervisor, but it was all right in the end.
Baggage collection was the usual cause for mild concern as I wondered whether my bag was going to imerge, but the bag was there in the end.
Customs was straight through the green channel.
I had to be careful not to go outside the terminal building and had to fend off the taxi drivers who were gathered touting for trade. Once I was back at a check-in area, I had to find the appropriate check-in desk. Signage was good and I had no problems. There was a reasonable queue at check-in, and I was fortunate that the young man at the one I chose spoke English. He gave me clear instructions where to go. I had no problem identifying the gate I needed using the screens which alternate between English and Russian (or at least Roman and Russian). The signage is mostly bi-lingual. Security was ok. With the immigration etc, I had forgotten that I had put my duty free whisky into my rucksac. Security detected this as liquid, but once identified as duty-free (in a still sealed duty free bag) this wasn’t a problem. I expect they get absent minded people like me all the time. One good thing regarding security (at least at Domodedovo) is that the Russians have seats before and after security, bins for you to dump bottles of water in and supply little plastic booties to wear after you have taken your shoes off!
Gate change. Board via bus.
This time time the aircraft is a much older 737-500 with no winglets. The furnishing of the aircraft is the same (except for the signage) as the 737s on the LHR ORK route. This is hardly surprising.
The trip was uneventful. Once again the food was surprisingly good. Choice of beef goulash or chicken something. I had the beef.
During the trip I spent some time looking out of the window. I noticed from time to time there would be what seemed to be a bright flash on the ground which slowly subsided. It took me a time to realise that this was in fact the full moon being reflected in water (not sure if it was lakes or rivers) on the ground, and then being obscured by the clouds. It was a strange and rather beautiful sight.

Ready for the off?

(9th September 2011)
I hope I am. The bag is repacked and reweighed. I am close to the limit but not over it, and there are a few heavy items which can be moved to hand luggage if that is necessary. I’m just off now to get something to put in sandwichs for tomorrow.
Sandwich material has been purchased, as has a tube of ointment for insect bites. I’ve been eaten by cat fleas!

The Welshman, the guitarist and the ambulance driver

(Wednesday 7th Sept, written up Friday 9th Sept)
Gosh, that was a laugh! Impromptu jam session at “The Shoes”. Guitar courtesy of Jason was good (maybe even great), my part of the singing was poor (though I did contribute to the lyrics), the other singing was ok. Good humour and good craic! Not at all what I expected.
The evening started predicatably enough with me calling on friends who now live in a house where I used to live. Once again, nice to just chatter. Again, predictably, Colin and I wandered down to The Shoes. The place was almost empty, but eventually we became embroiled in the music. Silly and fun!

Arrivals and Departures, visiting and teeth

(Written on 9th September 2011)
I’ve had a pleasant week in Ashford. Most of the time has been spent relaxing and meeting friends. I’ve seen some people in their homes and others I’ve met in the Pub, or at Church.
Starting from the beginning:
I arrived early morning on Saturday (3rd Sept). I did very little during the day, except doze. The bus may be an effective and economical means of transport, but sleep on the bus does not seem to satisfy the body. I’m not sure if it is because the sleep is constantly being disturbed, or because the body is cramped, although I usually sleep at least some of the time, I always feel tired afterwards.
On Saturday evening I arranged to meet some of my friends at The George in Staines. A good time was had by all!
On Sunday (4th Sept) morning, I took the bus from Ashford to Feltham. I had breakfast in Jenny’s. I probably shouldn’t have had the “English Breakfast” but I used the excuse that I was on holiday and I certainly enjoyed it. After that, it was time for Church.
At Christ Church it was a Worship-group service. I enjoyed that, and I enjoyed meeting the other members of the congregation. I made a point of introducing myself as a visitor! I wonder if I will manage to go to church when I am in Siberia? So far, I have identified one church (cathedral) in the centre of the city.
Caz arrived from Belfast today, en-route to Slovakia. She leaves on Wednesday, so I’ve let her have the spare bed and, for the days she is here, I get the sofa.
Monday (5th Sept), I set of early for the Dentist! The detached crown had been preying on my mind and I wanted to get it fixed if at all possible.The dentistry proved to be a very simple undertaking. The Dentist still had my records, fitted me into the schedule and cemented the crown back. I left after three-quarters of an hour with a replaced crown, a strange taste in my mouth and a slightly lighter wallet.
I phoned my old next door neighbour to see that he was in. I called on him. He is okay I suppose, but the years are obviously taking their toll. I was surprised and pleased to find that my old tenants had cleared his front garden for him. It’s only a small thing, but certainly to their credit.
In the evening I went to visit friends in Brentford. I had a really nice time. It is good to meet up like that. I wish there were more opportunities to do it.
Tuesday (6th Sept), the “task of the day”, was to go into town and meet up with Dick near Waterloo. Another pleasant afternoon. In the afternoon I went to the quiz at The Shoes. I’m not sure how much of a contribution I made to my team.