The Yenisey River 2-Week Cruise

From 9 August to 10 August 1993

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

Monday, 9 August-0500: Wow, this was really an early wake up call. Were we in for the same treatment on our return as we had on coming? We were soon to find out.

0555: No breakfast today. The buses arrived to take us to the airport.

0625: The buses loaded to the "gills" left the dock area. These were smaller buses, so a few passengers had their luggage in the aisles and they sat on them. I thought to myself, I hope this bus driver drives well. If there had been an accident, no way would anyone ever get out.

0700: The buses arrived at the airport. We all had to carry our own luggage into the terminal. We left the luggage with one person who was watching many pieces. We went to the "bar" and we had something we called breakfast. Can't really complain at the price, 1000 Rubles.

0952: We then had our first call to stand in line to check our luggage. Everyone got into a line at a counter for our flight. Then the sign was changed to another flight, and we had to move aside to make room.

1041: We were told to move to another window where they took our luggage.

1106: We lined up for X-ray and security check. Since this was a domestic flight, we did not have to go through emigration.

1117: The doors were opened to the bus that we boarded for the ride to the airplane. The plane this time was a TU154B-1. Danuta and I were on the first bus to leave for the plane. Getting on the bus was very difficult. It was completely empty in the middle. However, many persons were standing in the doorway. No one could get in without squeezing through them. And, they would not move to the interior of the bus. I was pushed to the opposite side of the bus by others trying to get in. Finally with few people in the middle, but a jam up of people at the two large exit doors, the bus left the terminal.

1125: This was the first bus to arrive at the tarmac, where the plane was parked. I could hear the swoosh of the doors trying to open. There were so many persons jammed into the doors that they did not open at first. Then a second try and both opened (one in the rear, and one in the front).

Wow, I was glad to have been on the other side of the bus. It was like a dam burst, with water just pouring out uncontrolled. Those first 2 dozen of persons ran, pushed and shoved out the door, across the few feet to the stairway leading up to the plane's door. The stewardess at the bottom of the steps had her problems in trying to get the tickets from those pushing past her up the steps. There were so many persons on the stairs that in fear of it collapsing, another man had everyone back off. The only way to compare this scene was to recall the start of the New York City Marathon as the runners got onto the Washington Memorial Bridge.

By the time Danuta and I got aboard, all the seats in the front half of the plane were taken. We went to our spot, again the two of us in a 3-seat row in the back of the plane.

1154: The engines were started.

1200: The plane took off. This flight took us to NowoSibirsk for refueling, to St. Petersburg (Leningrad) for refueling, and to Kaliningrad. We were told that there would be no food or drink on this flight.

1258: We arrived at NowoSibirsk. As we waited on the tarmac, we watched a Russian swept wing MIG perform some aerobatics over the airfield before it came in for a landing. Quite an airshow. This was a joint airfield. We were on the commercial side. Not far away was the military area. There were many large jumbo front loading cargo aircraft. One that was parked nearby us, was loading soldiers with full backpacks. It took off while we waited for our fuel. In another area the F15 type fighters, with a canopy and nose looking somewhat like the B1, were parked behind protective embankments. There were helicopters hovering, landing, and taking off in what was probably a maintenance area.

Again, we were allowed off the plane for those who wanted to smoke. I noted that several tires were running thin. Only one had any threads showing on this plane.

1444: We were finally refueled and left NowoSibirsk.

1848-2003 Krasnoyarsk time: We arrived at St. Petersburg's Domestic Airport. What a difference in reception from the other airports. The pilot no sooner shut down the engines than the fuel tanker arrived. The plane's toilets and cabins were cleaned by a crew that came aboard just after landing. The toilets were drained and refilled with new water, from outside the plane of course. The 1 hour 15 minute wait included the time needed for a change in pilots. All in all, the efficiency at this airport was far superior to any other.

2115 Krasnoyarsk time/1615 Kaliningrad time: We arrived at Kaliningrad Airport. Most of us expressed relief to think that only the short bus trip remained between here and home in Gdansk.

1615: The usual mob ran from the plane to the buses to reserve their favorite seats. This stampede was not as bad as trying to get aboard the plane in Krasnoyarsk. We had to pick up our own luggage at the carousal. The carousal was not working and the luggage was dropped from an open hole above the beltway that normally would carry it. Men were standing in awkward positions trying to catch the luggage and pass it forward to the waiting passengers. What a mess. Finally, I was able to pick up our luggage.

In the Russian terminals there were guards that pick up your copy of the check ticket before you left. That was one good way of making sure nothing got stolen. I have only seen one other airport do this, the terminals at Los Angeles.

1655: The buses left the airport. These buses were Russian, from Kaliningrad. They would take us to Gdansk.

1720: We arrived for supper at the same restaurant where we ate 3 meals two weeks earlier. Not much of a meal, but we only had snacks to eat during the last 24 hours.

1810: We left the restaurant for our drive to the same border crossing point that we crossed coming from Poland. I remembered that there were only a few cars and no buses waiting to go to Poland, as we crossed 2 weeks earlier. I thought, great, only about 2 or 3 hours at the border, and then home by midnight. Boy, was I a dreamer!

1906 Kaliningrad time (Poland 1806): The bus arrived at the border's first check point, and turned away to a parking area with 4 other buses. Before we arrived here, there was a lineup of cars about 3 kilometers parked along the highway. Wow, again! There goes the thought of getting home by midnight. We all got out of the bus, walked around the various shops set up for food and supplies. The Russian beer was very cheap, but not plentiful. Most people bought the fruit juices for about 100 Rubles per bottle. I watched a group of 4 play bridge. It was strange to hear them call their bids in Polish.

Slowly, very slowly, the other buses ahead of us moved out. The soldiers would periodically let 15 cars pass the barrier. What happened to that priority for a Kaliningrad bus? There was none. Then, I learned that the buses did not have to move with the line. They all came to the bus parking area. The bus driver was supposed to remember where he would have been in line as the cars move forward. Then at that point, he would tell the border guard, who would allow him to travel on.

2220/2120: Finally our turn came and we moved out. Earlier one of the tour leaders was going around to all the passenger asking for a "donation" that the bus driver could give to the guard. This was supposed to be a means of getting across earlier. She had very little success. These people had been conned into giving more money than contracted for, and they were not ready to give any more.

2236: We reached the Russian check point.

2240: Our passports were collected. While we waited, we could see some cars being completely emptied and searched by the Russian Customs and emigration personnel. We were fortunate in not having any such searches on our bus. Probably lucky for the bus driver also. For, he had several boxes and suitcases filled with supplies that he was taking to Poland to sell in the flea markets, before his return to Kaliningrad. Or, maybe he was just the runner, supplying other flea marketeers with goods. This bus would have had room for all our luggage in the baggage areas under the bus. As it was, some items of passengers' luggage along with some his were in the exit wells of the bus.

2302/2202: We had our passports back, and the bus moved slowly toward the border crossing gate. As we waited to cross, we could see people from cars in line going into the very well lit, nicely laid out Russian liquor store, tax free, standing just 15 feet from the gate crossing to Poland.

2340 Kaliningrad/2240 Poland time: We crossed the border into Poland. We stopped at the first Polish check point, where our passports were checked, this time on the bus. The Polish immigration officer came through the bus, looked very carefully at the passport photos and the person. Danuta told him something in Polish about me. He smiled, shrugged his shoulders and stamped my passport. He did not stamp the Polish passports.

2330 Poland time: We moved a few feet to the customs area. The customs officer had the driver open the lower compartments. Of the six, he had two of them emptied of luggage. Then he selected two pieces from each for opening and search. No problem, nobody had anything illegal. But, on the bus, two members of our group were worried that he would come aboard. He did not. Each had brought back from somewhere on the Yenisey River a Siberian Husky puppy. These dogs were really cute. Their fur was very soft. They never did any barking on the plane or on the bus. They wanted to take them home for pets.

Tuesday, 10 August - 0000 Midnight: The Customs search was complete. What a sigh of relief we gave, when the bus door finally closed and we moved to the final Polish check point.

0003: The bus left the final Polish check point and we were on our way home. We spent 3 minutes short of six hours, from start to finish, at the crossing.

0040: Just like our bus driver two weeks earlier, this driver was stopped in a police speed trap in the same city of Bezledy. After we left, I did some snoozing.

0252: After driving over dirt and gravel back roads and many nicer super roads, the bus arrived at Elblg, where some passengers departed. I did some more snoozing.

0400: We arrived in Gdansk. There were no trams or buses running at this time of morning. So we took a taxi.

0425: We arrived home. Needless to say, both Danuta and I were dead tired. If you add back the five hours to the clock for Krasnoyarsk time, it was now 0925. Since we got up at 0500 the day before, we had been on the go without sleep for about 29 hours. We never unpacked, we just collapsed on the bed and slept.

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