Sunday, August 26, 2007

From Murmansk to Arkhangelsk

I was in Murmansk for only a few days; as I'd feared, it was tough to have to say goodbye every few days; only a few days before our group had dispersed, and now I had to say another goodbye, probably for at least another year or so assuming I come back to Russia again next year (which I hope to do). And every few days would be the same thing, and then I'd just be on my own, as I would be for the day in Arkhangelsk. I took a plane to Arkhangelsk; the airport was far outside the city center so I took a taxi. The driver and I chatted along the way, about little things like what cars people drive (I said mainly family sedans and SUVS), but also about the quality of healthcare in the US/Russia, which happened to be what I wrote about for my final essay in our classes, though I kept jumbling the words for insurance (страхование / strakhovanie) and healthcare (здравоохранение / zdravookhranenie). And typing the transliterations, by the way, is extremely difficult, as my fingers keep trying to use the Russian keyboard layout since they're Russian words, though I'm trying to type them with the Latin alphabet, with a completely different keyboard layout. Similarly, I'm hopelessly unable to write in script in English now, as I keep mixing up the Russian letters that look like English but have different sounds, but I'll get to that.

Anyway, he also asked what I thought about the Russian people, and I've heard this question fairly often when meeting Russians; it seems almost as insecurity. I've given the same response I've already written, that there are differences but not especially big ones, that government conflicts have little bearing to ordinary people, and that in general we all just want to live normal lives and so forth, as I've mentioned already. I do sometimes point out the irony that if our countries' relations were less cool right now, the program that brought me here would probably not have existed and I might not be doing all this other traveling.

At the airport, I couldn't really understand the announcements, which for boarding were repeated in English (and still hard to understand). It was all a simple affair; I checked in, which involved them writing my name on a list and handing me a laminated card which was my boarding pass, put my luggage through (including liquids! Though I understand that will change soon), and waited, and then the plane was sitting on the tarmac. It was a small turboprop (an Antonov 24), and we just walked to it and took any available seat. I stupidly sat next to the engine at first in a seat with a broken tray, and by the time it occurred to me to relocate I couldn't get a seat with any kind of a good view. The flight was fine, but the turboprops vibrated the plane thoughtout the flight, and the food skittered along the tray table. The overhead luggage was a short rack. It was an interesting experience. We landed, and walked out, and left the tarmac not even into an airport but into a parking lot, basically. I looked for a taxi, and the one I asked was fortunately already taken as I might have otherwise left without my suitcase - the luggage pickup was another building consisting of just the luggage carousel. One thing I did appreciate was that they actually match up the ticket to ensure it's your baggage and not another's, which was always crossing my mind during other trips. Arkhangelsk is flat, and the airport was fairly far from the center, and during the ride there was a great view of the sunset across the distance, which I regretted I probably wouldn't see again, since I'd be leaving in a day and buildings began occluding it as we approached the center. There were thunderstorms in the distance, and I could clearly see the lightning strikes, which if not a first is certainly something I've rarely seen, as it was in the distance across flat land, whereas prior to that the storms were either too far away to see or right on top of me. As we approached the center it became clear that the thunderstorms were indeed there. When we reached the hotel it began to pour heavily at the instant we arrived, and the driver and I exchanged "of course"s. After a minute or so it settled down a bit and I disembarked and went into the hotel. The hotel had little English and a дежурная/dezhurnaya who keeps the keys, which contrasted with Murmansk. The hot and cold water were mislabeled, which was quite fun to figure out (at first I thought there was no hot water when I showered the next day).

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