The Yenisey River 2-Week Cruise

Green Forests, Beautiful Rivers, Stalin's Gulag Ruins, Million Population Cities -- Siberia Had Them All

From 23 July to 26 July 1993

Danuta & Lester Gideon
Go On A Grand Tour To Central Siberia

NOTE: First published in 1993 in copyrighted softcover book form
by Dr. Lester Gideon & Associates, Lompoc, California, USA.

We had looked forward to leaving Gdansk Saturday evening. However, we received a letter notifying us that we were to leave Friday night, instead. We had to rearrange our schedule to take care of those items we had planned to do Saturday.

There were two bad thoughts in this letter. First, it arrived Thursday, the day before the new departure date. Second, it changed the travel plans. Now, we were to take a bus from Gdansk to a border crossing point into Kaliningrad, where we were to catch a plane to Krasnoyarsk.

Okay, it was just about 22 hours more travel time, right? Wrong! So, here is the story of an expected 9-hour flight that became a 56-hour nightmare. Here is what happened by date and hour: (Note: Times are given in the 2400 hour clock.)

Friday, 23 July 1993-1900: Danuta and I left our home by tram to meet the group at the bus stop.

2000: Most of the passengers finally arrived.

2100: Three Buses with our group of 120 persons left Gdansk.

Saturday, 24 July - 0040: The bus driver was stopped for speeding in a speed trap at Bezledy, near the border.

0103 Polish time/0203 Kaliningrad time: Arrived at the first Polish border checkpoint.

0437: Finally, we arrived at the Russian checkpoint where our passports were picked up.

0515: Our passports were returned and the bus left the Russian border at Bagrationovsk (3 hours, 9 minutes must be a speed record).

0615: Arrived in Kaliningrad. The bus driver took us to a parking spot at the railroad station.

0800: We were told that plane would arrive about noon, and that we would be taken to breakfast, where more information would be given.

0900: At breakfast, we were told that the plane would arrive later, about 4 or 5 p.m. Therefore, after breakfast, we were taken on a short bus tour of the city and dropped off at the huge Kaliningrad flea market.

1100-1300: We walked around the flea market, then along the main streets of Kaliningrad, back to the restaurant.

1300: At lunch we were told that there was no news about the plane (which we were finally told had the people from the previous two weeks on it). Finally I could piece together what I figured was the problem.

(THESE WERE MY OPINIONS ONLY.) The original booking and contract required an airplane to pick up the new passengers in Gdansk and take them to Krasnoyarsk. Then pick up the returning passengers from the previous tour and take them back to Gdansk. This would have been so simple. Tours all over the world are handled this way.

But, this was Russia. So, the reality was that we are to fly, not from Gdansk, but from Kaliningrad to Krasnoyarsk. In order to only have one round trip (instead of two), the Russian TU-154M Aeroflot flight originated in Krasnoyarsk. It had to await the return of the ship Sunday morning for the returning passengers. That meant that not until Sunday afternoon would we have a flight returning with us to Krasnoyarsk. This made sense to me, and I was resigned to miss the scheduled first day bus tour of the city of Krasnoyarsk.

1500: We were told that we would be having supper in this same restaurant. They told us that the plane should be arriving soon. That means we would be leaving Kaliningrad about the same hour as we were scheduled to leave from Gdansk. I think that they were just trying to prevent a wholesale panic before supper.

1500-1800: Danuta and I just walked around the area and rested a little.

1800: We had dinner. By the way, our midday lunch was the big main meal. Supper was just like a small lunch. After dinner we were to get back on the bus and await further information from the group organizer, who was at the airport.

2030: Finally, after about one hour of fierce battles between several passengers and the group organizer, we were told that we would be taken to a hotel for the night. But, we would be awakened about 5 a.m., in order to get us to the airport before 0800 Sunday.

2031: The other two buses left for their hotels. Our bus driver decided at this point he had not been paid enough for all the driving, so he went on strike, right then and there. Yes, he decided that he would not drive us to the hotel until the tour organizer agreed to pay him more money, because of all the extra driving he had done. Well, I guess I might normally have sympathized with him, because he did one helluva lot of excess driving in the last 24 hours without (much, if any) sleep. But, I was dead tired myself. I couldn't sleep in a bus sitting up. The organizer returned, saw the bus, said something, and left. The bus driver just sat on the entrance steps.

2045: The organizer returned, started talking with the bus driver.

2105: Apparently settled, the boss left, and the bus driver started the bus, but didn't move.

2112: Finally the bus started to move. We drove back over streets we had seen before. After a while the organizer found us and led us to a Russian worker's hotel, the Guesthouse Patriot, at a Russian army munitions factory.

2200: At last we were in our room, had taken a shower, stretched out in a good, comfortable bed, and fell asleep.

Sunday, 25 July-0515: A knock on our outer door awakened us. We had been given one bedroom in a two bedroom apartment

0600: We checked out and boarded our bus. The bus driver now was happy, and he had completely cleaned and swept the inside of the bus. But, now another problem. The organizer had not yet arrived and paid for the hotel rooms; and he had to pay in cash. (the bill was about US$15. per room.) And, until the bill was paid, our bus tour leader could not get her passport back (it was used as security).

0700: The bill was paid, and the bus departed for the airport.

0750: We arrived at the airport, and carried our belongings from the bus to the lobby. As you may note, we did not have a skycap or the like to carry our bags for us.

While waiting to check-in for our flight, we found out that on the next day, Monday 25th July, all Russian Rubles were being converted from old money to new money. All banknotes of 50 Rubles and up dated 1992 and before had to be converted or spent before the end of that date. Only paper dated 1993 (or later) would thereafter be accepted. Wow, quick look at the money we had showed that we had about 35,000 Rubles with old dates. Today was Sunday. We were at the airport ready to leave Kaliningrad. Where would we change the money? We asked our tour guide. She asked another, who said that Monday in Krasnoyarsk, they would stop at a bank so that we all could get rid of the "bad" currency. As a trial, I asked Danuta to ask a cashier for the airline to change an old bill for a new one. The cashier did. Then I asked if she could change them all. No problem. So, we had our 35,000 Rubles changed to the 1993 version. Good thing, too, for as you will read later, we had no time to go to a bank in Krasnoyarsk.

0930: Finally called to check-in with our luggage.

1010: Doors opened for us to go through the security check. We went outside into an open area where we again waited. You may notice that we, along with all Russians, spent much time just waiting for something to happen.

1114: I had to go to the restroom. No problem, I just walked out of the security area to the lobby, to the restroom. On the way back I stopped at a food stand and bought a couple of chocolate bars. I returned through the unguarded open door to the security area. Some security! After Danuta and I ate them, I noticed the word "Imitation" barely visible under the word "Chocolate." Ugh!

1140: Two gates were opened to let the people go for the plane. Nobody had a seat reservation. So, guess what? There was a cattle stampede like you may never have seen. About half of the group of 120, started running like Hell for the airplane that was parked on the tarmac about 200 yards away. This mad dash was repeated on our return trip, too. Unbelievable sight! You would have to see it to believe it. Danuta and I decided to head for the rear of the plane, where we got a set of three seats all to ourselves. Seems the mad dash was for the seats in the front of the plane.

View of the Kaliningrad Airport from our window in the plane

1245: The engines were started.

1258: Finally, we took off. Yes, the plane did arrive about 1130. Yes, it did carry the returning cruise passengers. One of these returnees talked with one member of our group. It wasn't a happy thought expressed. The returnees reportedly had waited in the Krasnoyarsk air terminal 24 hours for their return flight. That would just about coincide with the 24 hours of extra time that we awaited the flight. However, the news of the actual cruise was enlightening. Their cruise went along as scheduled, with only minor deviations. This made our expectations more enthusiastic.

1425 Kaliningrad time/1525 Moscow time: Arrived at Vnukovo Airport (domestic flights only) southwest of Moscow. We had to stop for more fuel and to get us a meal.

1525-1741: We sat on the tarmac. We had to stay on the plane. However, after a few minutes we were allowed to get off the plane and those who wanted to could Smoke. But, we had to stay close to the plane.

I got off and just looked around a little. The landing wheels drew my close attention. The aircraft was a TU-154M, similar to the Boeing 727. It had two sets of four wheels on the main landing gear and a two-wheel nose gear. I was surprised to see that of the 10 tires, eight had been worn through to the threads. Two of the tires had been worn through the first layer of threads. I thought to myself that if they ever landed this plane at Gdansk airport, they would never get permission to leave. Could this be one of the reasons for going to Russian Kaliningrad, instead of Poland? Anyway, I was somewhat concerned that when we landed the next time, one or more of the tires would blow out sending the plane to the graveyard, and perhaps us with it. Later while the flight officer was making his walk through, I noticed that he just looked at the tires and kept on going. Some confidence. If I were the pilot, I would never take a plane up with such bad tires.

1741: Finally, the fuel truck arrived and refueled the plane. Can you believe? They told the passengers on board the plane that there was to be no smoking ON the plane during refueling. So, all the smokers went outside, less than 25 feet from the fuel truck and smoked. Oh, well. By the way, there was no smoking permitted on Aeroflot airplanes any time during flight. That didn't stop people from going to the toilets and smoking. They held up the normal use of the toilets. When they left, the toilet rooms became almost unbearable to use.

1835: Finally, they put the meal aboard.

1848: The engines were run up.

1857: After a short stop of 3 hours and 30 minutes, we took off. After we reached cruising altitude, we got our meal. The roll was hard enough to drive a nail into wood. The rest of the meal should be called a short snack. It was a good thing that we still had food with us, food that we brought from Poland. As we approached the Krasnoyarsk area I could see lots of lightning flashes. I consoled myself that the reason for the three-hour delay in Moscow, was to let a really bad thunderstorm clear the Krasnoyarsk area.

Arial view of the area around Krasnoyarsk with tall apartment buildings


2309 Moscow time/Monday, 26 July-0309 Krasnoyarsk time: We arrived finally at the airport about 60 kilometers (36 miles) from Krasnoyarsk.

We arrive at the huge Krasnoyarsk airport in stormy weather

Monday, 26 July-0320: We left the plane.

On the left, a composite view of the 2000 kilometer length of the Yenisey River on which we traveled from Krasnoyarsk to Dudinka and back, with a train trip from Dudinka to Norylsk.

The Harbor Master's building
just above our ship at the dock at Krasnoyarsk

0350: We retrieved our luggage. Since this was considered a domestic flight from Kaliningrad, there were no customs or immigration formalities. We found our bus, put our luggage in the lower storage area and boarded it. These buses were about eight seats shorter than the buses we had in Poland. Therefore, the people coming later had not only to stand, but had to load their luggage in the aisles. We were all jammed in like in a sardine can, for the 60-kilometer ride to the ship.

0409: The buses left the airport.

0453: The buses arrived at the dock.

Bridge at Krasnoyarsk with hydrafoil ship speeding along

View of the dock area from the ship

0509: We arrived at our cabin, #26 on Deck 2, which was one of the best on the ship. The ship, M/S V. Czkalov, was built at Wismar, then East Germany, in 1953.

Our ship, but shown here at a later time

0540-0740: We collapsed and slept, the best rest in the last two days.

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Continue on now to Part 2