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Plane, Trains, and Automobile to Get to the TSR

And we Almost Missed It!

overcast 13 °C

Travel Lesson #356 (and yes, we should have known this!): allow at least twice as much time as you think you could need to travel and check in to unfamiliar airport terminals. We had allowed about two and half hours to get from the center of Petersburg to the airport and to check in for our domestic flight. Unfortunately, our taxi was almost a half hour late, and the “fifteen minute” journey to the airport turned out to be more like an hour. When we finally arrived at the airport, it was about thirty minutes prior to scheduled departure, and our hearts just sank when we saw the long lines to even get into the terminal.

Hey, we’re all for good security, but the Russians have made it a little bit too much of a gauntlet, especially when you’re running late! We arrive at Pulkovo 1 – the domestic terminal – and you can’t actually drive up to the second level where departures are. We lug our bags 100 meters (the closest the cab could get after driving like a mouse in a maze through the parking lot) to the entrance on the arrivals level, and find a line out the door – they have x-ray and metal detectors to get into the airport!

Then – once inside, you have to walk upstairs to departures, only to get into one of 6 or 7 lines to go – again – through the same security setup (x-ray bags, metal detector, pat-down) only feet away! Luckily, as we were pressed for time, I left Jacquie in line, did a quick recon and found an entrance upstairs with no line! Typical Russian fashion – they could have easily let people know there was an alternative but did not – the staff just sat and read and looked official doing nothing until we showed up. In any case, I ran downstairs again (nearly sprawling face forward down the smooth stairs twice and learning another lesson- always wear lace up shoes when checking in at a new airport esp. when running late!) and grabbed Jacquie and the bags to head upstairs to the shortcut I’d found.

Once through that entrance, we walk 3 meters to the next metal detector line (a line of 10 -15 people) and join the shortest line we can find, which is being manned by a Russian blonde, with no interpersonal skills and who was more concerned with her nails than with checking in passengers. With only a few minutes before the line closed, we cut in front of a group of Asian tourists boarding our flight . As her ticket printer was broken, she simply gave us the “too bad” frown and pointed us back to ‘blondinka’ who finally checked us in, but only after her printer had been repaired by 3 – count ‘em 3 – IT personnel. That’s right – one to open the printer, one to change the ribbon, and one to supervise. In true Russian fashion.

Once we checked in, we walked toward the gate and were surprised to find that there were just three gates at this domestic terminal! Given the chaos to get in, and the fact that half of Moscow and two thirds of Tokyo seems to be fighting to get in, we expected something at least the size of Heathrow Terminal 3! Anyway, a prize was in store for Jacquie with the discovery of REAL IRN BRU, which she enjoyed just as the loudspeaker crackled that our flight was now closed for check-in. We had only just made it.

In any normal circumstance, missing a flight would not have been too bad, but this was a connection to our Tran-Siberian train (TSR) departure, for which we had date specific tickets, non-refundable at $1800 for the two of us. We counted our lucky stars! All three of them . . . .

Our Aeroflot flight (in a TU154M!) passes without incident and Lloyd scores the bargain of the trip with transportation across the city to our train for a little over $2 each. First, we catch bus 851 across Moscow, which delivers us to the metro where, about one hour and one change later, we arrive at Yaroslavsky Station with more than an hour to spare!

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By far the least enjoyable experience of the trip so far was being propositioned in Yaroslavsky station by a greasy Russian who offered me (this is Jacquie talking now) $100 for – well – thank heavens I can’t understand Russian. It’s quite funny really, given how scantily and provocatively clad so many young Russian ladies are. And there I am in my travel trousers, fleece and baseball cap! Lloyd would have killed him, but he had left me sitting close to a couple of Russian women as he went off to try sort out some additional train tickets. The most distressing part of the experience was the lack of assistance from these two female observers who were sitting no more than one and a half metre directly opposite me, and witnessed the entire exchange.

Happily, our excitement on finally boarding the TSR (indeed, on even making it to the station in time!), was building and the unpleasantness was quickly forgotten. We found what seemed as precious as the secret of the universe on platform 1 at Yaroslavsky. A whole, freshly roasted chicken! To carry out, it was wrapped in very large tortilla-type thing. We were so excited that we practically tore it open and ripped at it with our fingers until – after about five minutes – we realized we were gorging ourselves on the chicken, from the ass-end up! Damn it was good . . . !

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Jacquie unknowingly starting from the bottom . . .

Finally – we boarded the TSR, finding carriage number 7, which was about a third of the way from the front of the train, and a convenient two carriages from the restaurant car. We checked out our cabin, and met our provodnista (carriage attendant) who looked amused at her first-class back-packers. With about twenty minutes before departure, we walked up to the front of the train to check out the engine (a little disappointing!), and to admire ‘Rossiya’ (which means ‘Russia’): all decked out in blue and red – everything proudly customized with her name (curtains, sheets, plates etc).

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As she pulled out of the station, majestic music played from the loudspeakers, and we felt quite grand as the train picked up speed, our heads sticking out from Rossiya’s windows and waving Queen-style at passers-by.

Posted by lloydthyen 10:59 Archived in Russia Tagged round_the_world

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