23 February 2007

long story short--take the train

This time last week our heroine was typing up a last-minute blog before dashing out the door. Kate, call her intrepid or call her foolish, had decided to fly to Moscow to visit the blogger ap's gathered there. Having flown travelled all over Europe by herself, Kate didn't think twice about getting to the airport by herself. Ah, foolish girl! She had forgotten, as you certainly have not,that she was in RUSSIA. Certainly, she had the assurances of friends that a shuttle ran from the metro to the airport. However, none of these friends knew exactly how to get to the domestic airport in St. Petersburg.There was confusion about whether she needed Pulkovo 1, which was the second airport, or Pulkovo 2, which was the first airport. But, our heroine, trusting in her ability to read both her ticket and appropriate signage pressed on unconcerned.

The metro ride was uneventful. She was even fortunate to get a seat! This boded well for her journey...or so she thought. Upon exiting the metro, she'd been instructed to turn right. However, upon exiting the metro she was faced with a tunnel that went neither left nor right. So, she shouldered her bag and walked straight ahead. Soon, stairs appeared to her right. She, thinking this was the closest thing to the directions she'd been given, climbed up to street level. She emerged at a mashrutka (mini bus) stop. Feeling pleased, she waited for a mashrutka. After a few minutes, she asked a gentleman if the mashrutkas for the airport stopped where they were waiting. No, she was told. She needed to cross the street but the mashrutka would come from the same direction as it would arriving at her current stop.

After thanking the man she went back into the tunnel and emerged at another mashrutka stop. There were three mashrutkas waiting. She asked the first if they went to the airport. No, she was told. The first mashrutka did. She went to the first mashrutka and repeated her question. Did this mashrutka go to Pulkovo 1? The passengers all said no. The driver asked her to repeat her question and then told her to get in. Listening to the driver and not the passengers, she did. (A sense of foreboding should fill the reader here.)

After travelling for awhile (unfortunately, the only seat empty was the one directly behind the driver so she was forced into service as the fare-and-change-passer-upper) they approached Pulkovo 2. Kate told the driver she didn't want Pulkovo 2, she wanted Pulkovo 1. At this point a great deal of Russian was unleashed upon our heroine. She gathered that the mashrutka didn't go to Pulkovo 1, but not what she should do. She asked repeatedly if she should get out. There was no reply.

Eventually, a voice in English came from the back. The speaker told her what she had already surmised, that the mashrutka didn't go to Pulkovo 1. He then conversed with the driver and told her that the driver would put her on the correct mashrutka. The drove along for a while until the driver flagged down another mashrutka. The driver and the interpreter both got out and walked her to the new vehicle. After speaking to her as if she were 3, they left. Kate had been informed that the new driver would tell her where to get out. Upon disembarking, she should take mashrutka 39 to the airport.

At a busy crossroads, the driver motioned with his head. "Here?" Kate asked. He again motioned with his head, so out she got. She found herself in a BUSY intersection with no hope of flagging a mashrutka. But, undaunted, or not much daunted, she crossed the streets, walked about a half a block, and found a bus stop with bus 39. Deciding this was close enough (and it did say airport on the side) she got in. The driver assured her this bus went to Pulkovo 1.

Hurrah! The airport came into view. Kate felt triumphant. Surely the difficult part was over. Airports are airports--maneuvering in one is much the same as maneuvering in another. Au contraire, mon cher. This is RUSSIA. This airport was built in the intimidating Soviet style. There were massive metal gates everywhere preventing people from approaching the check-in gates.

Our heroine's spirits flagged. How was she to navigate this metal maze? Then, her eye landed upon a sign that said, "Flights to Moscow". Spirits raised, she set off...and found herself in a bar. Puzzled, she turned around and retraced her steps. The only options were to go to the bar or go through the metal gates. She headed back toward the gates. Her flight wasn't listed on any of the boards, but she went to the only open gate. The attendant took one look at her ticket and told her she was in the wrong place. When she asked where to go, the attendant told to "There" and gestured vaguely.

Our heroine decided that it was too early to go to the check-in gate (When flying internationally from Pulkovo 2, no one was allowed to go to the check-in gates more than an hour before their flight, so...it was a good guess.) and so sat down to wait. After waiting a bit and still not seeing her flight, and really very confused at this point, she went back to the metal gate. She told the attendant she didn't understand. Her flight number was not on the board. Just at that moment, (the reader should be noticing a trend here) a man approached who was also in the wrong place. He needed to go to Moscow. Our heroine was told to follow him. she did--to the check-in gate located behind the bar.

After checking in, being body scanned, and waiting in another bar, a woman who bore a strong resemblance to Dr. Ruth came through and talked very quickly. Everyone gathered their bags, so Kate followed suit. They got on a shuttle bus and drove around and around in circles, stopped for a bit, and then drove around some more. Everyone disembarked. Kate was puzzled. Was this another terminal? It looked remarkably like the one they'd just left. There was the bar, there was the bit of paper dropped on the floor...it was the one they'd just left!

A bit later, the shuttle ride was repeated but this time ended at a plane. Over an hour late, the plane boarded and took off. Our heroine was Moscow bound!

And this is only the story of getting to Moscow! Our Kate still had to get from the Moscow airport to her friends...and then reverse the process in two days' time. Fortunately, travelling angels continued to be close at hand and provided assistance at every turn. And, the return trip was much less intersting because she hired drivers instead of using public transportation. She even managed to have a lengthy and enjoyable conversation with her driver in Moscow in Russian on the way to the airport. This left her feeling quite chuffed. But, she still vowed she'd only make this trip by train in future. Trains are prompt and the stations are in the middle of town.


Anonymous said...


I am so so so glad Viktor came with us to the airport now!!!

You poor thing - nothing seems to be easy for you lately!

Hang in there and keep the faith my friend!

Elle said...

was this the first time you'd flown domestic? An interesting journey isn't it?

kate said...

Yep--this was my first domestic flight. Every other time I've taken the train. I love train travel! This time, thinking a one-hour plane ride would give me more time in Moscow than a six-hour train ride, I flew. Mistake! Door to door it took just as long--and was much more difficult. Never again!

Karen, thanks for the sympathy!! You're right--nothing seems to be easy lately.

Maura said...

Screwed up my comment - trying again...

Great narrative of your journey, Kate. Thankfully, you manage to keep your wits about you.

I have to second Karen's comment...thank goodness Viktor took us to the airport! And picked us up when we arrived. Some luggage didn't arrive with us, and we never would have found the room to report it on our own - BEHIND the bathrooms!

DH loves trains, and if not for the fact that we had our new baby with us, we would have opted for the train to Moscow.

Calico Sky said...

Oh my gosh! What a journey, as I read I didn't know whether to laugh or cry for you. I am so glad you got there and back safely and by all accounts had a great time!
Well Done You!

votemom said...




you are my hero!

Anonymous said...


Jeff & Maria said...

It was a heck of a journey but we are so glad you came to Moscow to visit.
Maria and Jeff

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain :). From Kiev, I think the international terminal is much easier to navigate than the domestic one.

However, I still have to choose a one hour flight (with 2-4 additional hours to get to the airport and check in) over an overnight train trip. Trains for me are romantic and fun only as an ideal - the reality is far from it!

U.N. Mama said...

Oh good ol' St. Pete :o) I am nostalgic reading this. ha ha This is certainly what when we lived there, called a "Russia day".