Sunday 18 July 1993 - What Hope for a Stable Russia?
Alarm call at 6 AM. Barely time to shower and pack before hotel porter arrived to collect our bags. No gruel for breakfast, only sticky buns, and they were late coming from the kitchen. Intourist rep tried hurrying us, but Glaswegian mum told her where to go in broad, not to be argued with, Glasgow accent.
Airport was a series of queues cumulating in a dash to yet another for seat allocation -- it reminded me of buying bread in Moscow. One unlucky guy in our group had to pay US$600 for a seat on the plane because he'd lost his return flight ticket!
Aeroflot from St. Petersburg
Left Russia rouble-less, having given our last roubles to an airport toilet cleaner. But I had loads of memories to write up in my travel journal -- only didn't get far with it, as I chatted with a retired aerospace engineer sitting beside me. He and his wife had taken the Jules Verne-Intourist ferry from Moscow to St. Petersburg.
They'd spent six days on the boat, and while he regretted not having more time to sightsee in the Russian capitals, he had enjoyed the cruise. It had included lectures on Russia, covering everything from its history to the present and prospects for the future. I realised he had learned more about Russia from his lectures than I did from wandering the streets -- and getting lost.
And yet, I wouldn't swap our six long foot-slogging days. The sights and sounds of Moscow and St. Petersburg will (hopefully) stay with me for a lifetime. As will the feeling of unfairness that a country so rich in resources, people and culture has fallen to holding out the begging bowl to western governments, banks and tourists.
During the flight, the retired aerospace engineer shared with me the design flaws of our Aeroflot jet. (Thanks, mate!) He said the Russians had shown British Aerospace the plans and asked for advice on technical issues during the design phase. One problem, he explained, was the wings, set too far back on the fuselage. For takeoff, the plane took on water ballast at the nose end, which the pilot jettisoned once airborne. (Really!?)
Keeping the Plane (and Country) Stable
When we landed, the air hostess requested over the tannoy that passengers at the front of the jet remain seated, while those at the back exit through the forward door. The hostess explained this was to keep the plane stable on the tarmac -- the retired engineer gave me a knowing nod and smile.
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Waiting to disembark, it occurred to me the Aeroflot jet's flaws were a metaphor for Russia. Hopefully, her people will work together, and Russia stays stable, too.
© 2019 Robert Fairhead
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert Fairhead is an editor and writer at Tall And True, and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com.
His favourite pastimes include reading and writing, walking his dog, and watching Aussie Rules Football with his son. He is also a part-time dog trainer and runs classes at his local dog training club and through Robert's Responsible Dog Training.
Robert has worked as an electrician, a computer programmer, and a sales and marketing consultant, and he is the principal copywriter at Rocher Communications.
His book reviews and writing on dogs have appeared in newspapers and online. And in 2020, he published a collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story.
Robert has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.
My father and his partner visited Moscow and St. Petersburg in May 2019, spending six days on a boat as the retired engineer and his wife had on our trip in 1993. He had also enjoyed the mix of sightseeing the cities and cruising between them. And he commented that when visiting the Kremlin, he and his partner thought they had seen Vladimir Putin in a cavalcade of extra-long black cars. But like me with Boris Yeltsin, he'd been too slow to take a photo to confirm the sighting.