Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Journey Home
The plan sounded very simple
SU 750 IKT to SVO depart 07:30 arrive 08:35 (time difference 5 hours) SU 241 SVO to LHR depart 11:05 arrive 12:10 (time difference 3 hours) and our cases would be booked through from Irkutsk to Heathrow.

This is what actually happened!
Breakfast at 05:15 was the only part of the journey that worked as planned.
On the bus at 06:00 we were told that 'bad weather' had delayed the inbound flight from Moscow and it was now expected to leave at 10:15.
Because the flight was delayed and we would miss our connection, the check in staff refused to check our bags to LHR insisting that we must collect them in Moscow. They told us that there were seats on an evening flight from Moscow but refused to re-book us on this, making all sorts of excuses. (I think we should have pushed harder for the tickets to be changed there and then but I was in a small minority - some of the group believing the stories about earlier alternatives via Prague).
Their were slightly fewer seats than people at the airport so we had two very long cups of tea to while away the time. The inbound flight arrived at 08:30. Had it been Ryanair and turned round in 25 mins we would have made the connection. Eventually the flight was called and after some confusion we found the departure gate. We then had to have our passports checked again and pass through security again.
There was the now expected delay between boarding and departure so we took off at about 10:45 and arrived Moscow shortly before 12:00.
We had been told to collect our luggage and then go to the Transfer Desk where a nice lady would offer us various alternative routes to London and complementary goodies.
I collected our bags and Kath went straight to the desk before a queue built up. They gave her a pre-printed slip of paper with a counter number to go to in another building. Kath got there as quickly as she could but there were already queues at both windows. The rest of us had to carry our luggage to this building and then have it security checked yet again. All this in 30 degrees C and 100 percent humidity.
When we caught up with her, it seemed to be the right place but the queues were moving very slowly if at all. I enquired at a couple of other Aeroflot counters and despite a manager being found I was told to go away. Most of the rest of the group were sitting on their bags - there being very few seats.
Eventually Kath, by now joined by Peter Bannister, reached the front of the queue. The alternatives were the evening flight or tomorrow and because visa problems it had to be the evening flight. The pleasant woman behind the counter then had to alter each of 18 tickets by attaching a hand written slip and also enter details of the individual change into the computer system. This took a long time. Kath was then told to return the arrival building and go to a particular room where she would be expected and welcomed and where refreshments and a bus transfer to the International Terminal would be arranged.
This involved humping all our cases through security yet again.
The room was up a flight of stairs and on arrival she was told to go away. No! Come back in 5 minutes! After 7 minutes Kath now joined by Graham Feakins went back to the room and despite being told to go away they sat down and made it obvious that were not moving until something was done. All the tickets had to be collected again. The Babuska then labouriously typed a list of all our names ensuring that she only used one finger and then printed several A4 sheets on the slowest laser printer in the world. Kath and Graham were trying to keep a straight face. They were then told to take the papers and put us all on a brown Aeroflot Transit bus at 14:30. As there was a little time to spare Graham managed to establish that one document was for a meal and the other was for accomodation.
At about 14:20 a grey bus arrived and the driver nodded we Kath showed him the documents and Gostinya (or similar). The bus quickly filled up and being an airport transfer bus in Russia there was no luggage space.
It took about 15-20 minutes to reach the hotel which is situated near the International Terminal at the opposite side of the airport. I had an interesting conversation with a young man who had just been to Samara to see his parents but now lives in Italy.
At the hotel, the receptionist frowned at us and then inisited that she had to check all our passports. We were then given room keys and had a shower but it was so hot and humid that the benefit soon wore off.
There was a nice looking restaurant but this was not for us. Go outside, down a passageway and through a steel door to what looked like a staff canteen.
We had been told to check in at 18:00 so we caught the 17:30 shuttle bus. At 18:00 the check in counter number for London appeared on the board. But when we got there. guess what! Go away and come back in one hour. We were tired and pissed off and refused to do so.
Finally the plane took off and after the usual 'why I am bothering to serve you' crap service we had now come to expect from Aeroflot we arrived at Heathrow at 22:00 just 10 hours late.
Most people had missed their last buses and trains home. I had to stay awake and drive up the M1.
I think Peter Bannister summed it up with comment 'Aeroflot have shiny new planes but underneath they are awful'.
1. The airport transfer bus with the gangway bloacked by luggage.
2. The self service canteen.
3. The meal was reasonable.
4. The entrance to the canteen.
5. By paying nearly £5 for half a litre of beer we were allowed in the posh bar for a final drink of Siberian Crown.
So now we are home. Did we enjoy the trip - Yes. Would we go again - Yes (sad isn't it).

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Baikal 6
1 & 2. It was well after 7 before we reached our the end of the line.
3. Steam engine on display.

4. This boat took us across the source of a river and back to bus for Irkutsk. We arrived back at about 22:00 - a long but enjoyable day.

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Baikal 5
1 & 2. There are very few settlements around Lake Baikal although mass tourism may change this.
3 & 4.
For some reason we were invited to walk through this tunnel. Perhaps it was simply because tunnels are very rare on Russian railways.

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Baikal 4
There were four type of accomodation on the train.
1. Backpacker.
2. Middle Class.
3. First Class.
4. Locomotive Class for which a small supplement was payable to the driver.

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Baikal 3

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Baikal 2
From time to time the train stopped and everyone got off to look at the scenery.

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Lake Baikal 1
For the last day we had a full day excursion to Lake Baikal by train. The electric multiple unit train left just after 08:00 and travelled eastwards through the moutains along the Trans Siberian. At about 10:30 a diesel engine was put on the back and this then dragged the train on a lakeside branch line that has been re-opened for tourist purposes.
1. The train departure board at Irkutusk. Our was train 7038 - don't forget that all Russian trains run on Moscow time although this was 5 hours earlier than local time.
3-4. Kath bought a smoked fish for about 60p. It was very very nice.

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Angarsk 3
1. These rear engined buses were made in Lviv in western Ukraine.
2. These petrol engined midibuses are very common.
3. Don't know anything about this one.
4. Finally my favourite type of Russian bus.

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Angarsk 2
1. Most trams are in colourful advertising liveries. It is hard to imagine that there was no commercial advertising in the USSR.
2. Town centre.
3. This timetable lists all departures from the outer end of routes 11 and 5.
4. This KTM 8 is going to the depot - did you see the little card at the bottom of the windscreen?

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Angarsk 1
The tramway opened in 1953 to link industrial and residential areas. Again the routes to the industrial areas are being cut back and the service on some of the remaining routes is very infrequent.
1. Pink KTM 5 built in 1989.
2. Route 1 no longer goes to the factory known as AGTsK.
3. Destination information simply consists of a rather small service number in the front window.
4. A KTM 8.

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