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...In the words of Simon and Garfunkel. Having eaten and packed promptly, we vacated the hotel early so the taxi driver could weave his way through the interminable traffic of Vladivostok in good time to reach the airport. This was rather akin to flying a Star Wars Tie fighter through the battlestar defences, to give you an idea. Of course, if you have never seen Star Wars, that icon of Hollywood science fiction films, you'll have no idea of this so another analogy would be running a ball through a team of determined "stoppers", such as you'd find in Rugby, American Football or that old schoolground favourite, British Bulldog. Also, there were periods where we came to a complete stop; just like the M25 there then, no Radio Travel reporter to tell you where not to go, not that we had much choice as there was one road off the penisular to the airport which was some twenty odd miles away. We reached the airport in good time and I was so impressed with our Anatoly Skywalkerov that I gave him $10, which went down rather well and changed his face from a dour scowl to almost a smile.
We found the check-in desk and booked in. We had two hours to kill so we finally managed to find some T-Shirts and other souvenirs, so our minds were relieved at this small victory for tourism. Then we queued up for the security ritual - I was relieved to find Russian airport security as good as ours - everybody was very serious and dour and a very efficient in manner. We were driven to the Aeroflot plane on the airport apron which I was relieved to say was a Boeing 767 wide bodied jet. I didn't fancy the Tupelov 134 next to it as it looked a bit dated and tired. Recently, Russian planes have a bad habit of falling out of the sky due to bad maintenance and I'm not the greatest flyer, depite having been across the pond five times and on a plane countless times. They hadden't the adage "Aeroflop" for nothing but seemed to have smartened up of late. I wasn't looking forward to this flight though as it reminded me of a trip to Yugoslavia made with a good mate of mine, Salty, on JAT airlnes on an old Boeing 727 which was also very tired looking. That was when we flew in row 13 and smoking was seperated from non-smoking by the aisle in the middle. Story for another day there I think.
My fears weren't much assuaged on take-off either, something I quite like on a flight, as the airport used to be an old fighter station up to the 1990's and the runway hadn't been resurfaced since. The plane shook so much that the "EXIT" sign over the door fell off. Also, the plane was so heavy that we seemed to be on the runway for a long time before finally the plane "rotated" and we were in some smooth air lumbering northwards.
Once in the air, the flight was pleasant enough. The staff were smartly dressed and were curtly couteous enough, even though I suffered a nose bleed just after take off and had to request medical aid to stop it.
The flight was about seven hours and we did the usual aeroplane things: read a book (more Stalin), listened to some music, watched the Russian dubbed movies of which there were three; had some not bad food and plenty of drinks. The flight took us over the salt mines of Siberia, well to the north of the Trans-Siberia Railway, so we had a view which looked more like Mars than the Earth. Very different from 38,000 feet up.
The landing was well dodgy though as the plane hit a small air pocket just as we approached the runway and dropped a few feet which meant we could have been a bit short of the runway and dropped onto the highway underneath. Scary stuff and to compensate, the pilot put on some extra revs which meant we were carrying a lot of momentum as he touched down and so braking was especially hard to hit the taxiway; so much so I ended up with my head in the brace position in the seat in front. Phew! I was well relieved to reach the stand and that would be my last trip on dodgy airlines inc.
Now came the difficult bit: we had five hours to get across Moscow to the other airport. We had arrived at Moscow - Sheremetyevo (SVO) and British Airways flies from Moscow-Domodevo (DME) which is 50 miles to the south .
Our first task was to retrive our bags and find the bus service to the underground which we did in about half an hour. We found the 158 bus which took us to Rechnoy Vokzal were we picked up with the metro again. Not without incident though as the bus nearly collided with a four wheel drive just after we started off. There were quite a lot of dodgy looking taxi drivers there as well looking to pick up a fare, but we were insistent upon getting the bus and one guy eventually receeded and told us where to get it.
We changed trains at Paveletskaya having eventually found the right platform to find the airport link to Domodevo, which was a very smart train and with an hour to spare, we checked in at the British Airways desk. We used our spare time to buy some more gifts and have a look at the planes around the apron whilst enjoying a relaxing cup of coffee for once. Through the very tight security and we were aboard another 767 this time with all things British on it, such as a Times newspaper - something I hadn't seen for two weeks. And the sound of another English speaker who didn't have a heavy Russian lilt was a shear delight! Even the Americans were polite! Almost home!
Another three and a half hour flight was taken up with more newspaper reading, watching some English TV and movies not dubbed and a few more Stalin pages and finally we reached Heathrow and landed just about perfectly, despite the strong cross wind that seems aways prevalent at Heathrow. We collected our baggage, cleared Customs and found our way to the Tube to locate the Jury's Hotel and arrived there at 10:30 PM, 12 hours from setting out from Vladivoistok? Not quite, you forgot the 10 timezones! It's taken us nearly 24 hours to do this leg of the trip!
Having checked in we headed for the bar and a beer. I phoned the family and then settled down to the cricket on the TV in the bar. How great to be back!
The Last Leg
Having had a great English Breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage, tea and orange juice, we collected our bags for the last time and checked out. We returned to the Tube and headed off to Euston Station were we waited for a short while in the First Class lounge and enjoyed some coffee and muffins while our train was being prepared. Special treatment? Yes it was. You see , today was a special day as it was not only our last day of the trip, but was also my 47th birthday, so we were going First Class back to Wolverhampton, complete with waitress service all the way and on CWT - you remember! Continous Welded Track! Oh Joy! And the whole carriage to ourselves.
Wolverhampton reached without incident at 13:38. Me and Cousin Pete said our farewells and we were met my Dad who took me home to the awaiting girlfriend, the last part of a journey from the otherside of the world;
Three planes, six trains, seven metro trains and four taxis and 12,000 kilometers in 14 days. An adventure, not a holiday really, but well worth doing on reflection.
- Wolverhampton - London 130 Miles - 2 Trains
- London to Berlin - 935 Miles 1 plane
- Berin - Moscow - 1 Train - 1573 miles
- Moscow - Vladivostok - 6996 Miles - 1 train
- Total including return trip - 21965 Miles 1 taxi, two planes, one bus, one metros and one train