(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.