Solving a puzzle in Irkutsk

With nothing on television but porn advertisements again, I had gone to bed immediately after getting to my room and first flicking a huge bug from my pillow. I didn’t have much to do in Novosibirsk anymore and spent the most part of the next day just reading a bit, lounging on some of the terraces, in the shade.

I went to the airport way too early but I also had the last bus service going there. The airport was quite a distance from the city center and consisted of two buildings. One fairly old one, almost coming apart at the seams, with some rotting concrete, check-in counters falling apart and one door at the back of this hangar being either closed or open, meaning it was either possible ( or not) to board some plane.

The second building was much newer and well kept. Completely prefab, it was also reasonably clean and had (gasp!) digital displays to show which planes where going where and when. When asking the bus driver and several other people where I had to go, they all pointed me to the second, newer terminal. There, they told me I had to go back to the first terminal, since I wasn’t flying international.

When I waited longer than expected, for some undisclosed reason, it started to rain. The dark sky started to give me visions of my plane, with me in it, exploding in mid-air or crashing at landing. Just then the check-in announcement came. I gave up hope, gave up my bag (but kept my cameras and valuables) at check-in and left for the plane. Close to 10pm local time when I left, I would arrive in Vladivostok around 9am the next day.

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A puzzle

Only after sitting down in the ‘Sibir airlines’ plane did I notice that everyone had an assigned seat. Shortly after I had seated myself next to a window on the left side of the plane to be able to spot Baikal as we would fly over it, did I finally see that everyone walking into the plane was looking for the right place to go and sit. I figured understanding the writing on my ticket would actually be a good idea and, with some help from a young guy in the row behind me, I found out I had to move two seats to the right, to a place next to the isle.

What struck me was, that although the plane seemed big enough to house fairly more than the number of people that where boarding the plane, after only minutes all seats where already taken.

Having an isle seat, I asked to be re-seated to a window seat. I wanted to see Baikal! Feeling rather helpless, specifically when the stewardess who I asked to be reseated didn’t show any signs of understanding what I said, I finally was ushered to a seat in the back half of the plane. The back half was completely empty, save for significant amounts of bags, lying on the seats and in the train-like storage compartment above the seats. Apparently (I hadn’t realized it yet) you board a Tupolev (at least the ‘154’ kind) in the middle and you can then go in two directions; to the front and the back. Probably, these two sections where originally designed to hold first and second class, but now they where the same, with the minor difference that the front part was completely full (minus one seat, mine) and the back part was completely empty (minus the seat I was now sitting in). Anyway, I had a great view on the outside world. Baikal was going to be a treat.

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After a ‘light’ supper (with 8 peas!) and some beverages, served on cheap plastic trays in cheap plastic cups with cheap plastic cutlery, I soon dozed off, but was awoken some time later when the plane was going down, head first and heavily shaking. I figured that that was it, I would die in a crashing Tupolev, somewhere over the middle of Siberia. The shaking continued for minutes but no panic seemed to come from the other half of the plane where everyone was sitting. It seemed to be dead normal for the plane to act like this. And it was, as several minutes later, we landed in Irkutsk.

A friendly voice told us, in Russian and in English, that we had landed safely, in Irkutsk, and that we all had to leave the plane. People continuing their journey to Vladivostok, like myself, would have to wait in the waiting room.

Slowly, we where all ushered out of the airplane. Over the tarmac, we had to walk to a door in a fence that said ‘Exit to the city’. I wondered what would be behind those doors and was more than surprised when it turned out to be the outside(!) of the airport. This city was a stopover for me, and now I was outside of the airport! Immediately, people where approaching me to change money, offering a hotel or a cab and a multitude of other services I had absolutely no need for.

I went into the airport, looking for an information stand and found it. To discover that the two happily chatting girls behind the counter did nothing but just that. Chatter, in Russian. They pointed me back to where I came from and I first thought that I had to pick up my luggage before continuing. However, the luggage claim area was closed. And it staid closed. Going back several times, I was finally appointed an escort; some soldier who walked me to another building, a couple of blocks away, with a large collection of (misspelled) signs in English. This apparently was the place for me to wait.

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The waiting room was filled with Chinese who all left, minutes after me entering. I was alone. For some three hours. The plane had quite a delay and only after asking several people repeatedly was I told that weather in Vladivostok was too bad to try and land there. I decided to take a nap on the black leather, wooden frame, broken chairs lying around in the waiting room.

When they woke me, to go to the plane, a soldier and two girls escorted me to a bus, after which all four of us (and the bus driver) drove up to the plane. We had to wait several minutes before we drove back again. Since no one said anything to anyone I asked the soldier (who happened to speak good English) what was going on. “The plane does not go yet”, he said. I asked him why. “It is not allowed”, he replied, after which I decided to shut my trap.