After months of planning, we’ve finally come to the day when we head to the wilds of Kamchatka in eastern Russia. Getting there is a big chunk of the battle. Our only reasonable alternative to get there was going the “long” way around the world; this means flying Denver-New York-Moscow-Petropavlovsk. It also means flying on the Russian airline Aeroflot, which we have never flown internationally. With several connections and some VERY long legs, this will be a long flight taking us 3/4 of the way around the world.
From Denver to Moscow everything went surprisingly well and the Aeroflot flight portion was quite comfortable. One thing that really stood out with Aeroflot’s in-flight service is that they are by far the fastest food and drink servers of any airline I’ve ever flown. Is it because the flight wasn’t completely full, or are they just much more efficient in this service than other airlines? Future flights with Aeroflot will tell.
Anyway, upon arriving in Moscow we hit our first snag: Valerie’s bag did not arrive. We checked with the customer service desk and for some reason it never got on the plane in New York; very weird considering everyone else in the group got their bags. So, we filed a claim and they promised to get it to Petropavlovsk on the next flight. The claim process was a long ordeal that required her to list all items in the bag, in triplicate, so that it can pass through customs on its own. We went on to Kamchatka hoping to see the bag again in the very near future.
The next leg of the flight was again on Aeroflot, this time in a Russian-built Ilyushin Il-96. A very large jumbo jet, it has an enormous interior with almost cathedral-like ceilings. The plane was fairly comfortable with seats that almost recline flat. This is great until the guy in front of you decides to take advantage of the full recline, then he’s almost in your lap. The other design problem with the seats is that if the person in front of you is reclined, even a little, you can’t lower your tray table. So, you have to go through a process of asking the person to raise their seat whenever the food/beverage service starts; this can be challenging as he/she will more than likely not speak English and you’re limited to making hand signals to get your message across. Food and beverage service was every bit as speedy as our international flight, even though this time we were on a full plane. The worst problems we had were not so much with the plane as it was the fact that it was packed with vacationing families and the plane got quite hot before takeoff. The plane had kind of a cattle-car feeling with hoards of kids running up and down the aisles for almost the entire nine-hour flight. I found it amusing that one small group of children decided to pass on the aisle-sprinting for a pretty spirited card game in the mid-section of the airplane.
We arrived in Petropavlovsk after nearly two days of flying. It was long, but everything went well with the exception of Valerie losing her bag. We were met by Olga who would be our interpreter for the duration of the trip. I was surprised at how young she was (nineteen years old), but so far she seemed to be handling the job OK. It was a sunny day and the air in Petropavlovsk felt great after being cooped up in a plane for hours, or more accurately, days. From the airport, we could see volcanoes soaring above town, giving us our first glimpse of what was to come in the days ahead!
The rest of the day was spent getting checked into our hotel and doing some shopping in the city. Two of our travelers were coming in on different flights that got delayed due to storms in the US but by late afternoon, they joined the rest of us in Russia, with one problem – Roy was now the second person in our group missing his luggage. Part of our shopping duties were to get some basic items for Valerie and Roy in case their bags don’t make it. Another member of our group (whose identity shall remain secret) had his own shopping needs: upon arrival in Petropavlovsk, he discovered that he had forgotten to pack any underwear. So it looks like we need to find a good underwear store in Petropavlovsk!