My first trip to Novosibirsk was not a
welcome break in my itinerary. After an 11-hour flight from Atlanta
to Moscow, with the knowledge that I was facing another 10-hour
flight from Moscow to Magadan, I was not pleased to learn that I had
a two-hour layover in the middle of nowhere.
We flew into Novosibirsk in the dead of
night, I couldn’t see anything. About half the plane from Moscow
got off there though, so there must have been something of a town.
The airport terminal was clean, well-supplied with a cafe, a
store, two bars, and a few souvenir stands. It was certainly cleaner
and better-managed than the domestic terminal in Moscow. We got back
on the plane a couple hours later; I didn’t give the place another
On the return trip a few days later, we
flew back into Novosibirsk during the day. I was pretty surprised to
see what I would describe as a fairly large city in the middle of
Siberia. I would later learn that Novosibirsk is the technology and
research capital of most of Russia.
I noticed two things immediately. First, the people were much
friendlier than in Moscow. That is not to say they are generally
friendly, just that they are not universally surly. Second, no one
speaks English (at least no one we spoke to). I found this to be the
case throughout Russia. The further away from Moscow, the nicer the
people are and the less English they speak. (I’m not being uncharitable toward the folks who call
Moscow home. Most would agree that almost every capital city
is this way. New Yorkers are famous the world over for their brusque
nature. The condescension
of Parisian waiters is the stuff of legends. I think it goes with
the territory of living in a huge, busy city. One naturally has less
time for the distraction of foreigners.)
I found myself in
Novosibirsk again a couple months later, again at night, again on my
way to Magadan. Unfortunately, Magadan was completely fogged in.
Allow me to put this in perspective. Magadan can be
graciously described as an outpost. It is famous only for the
concentration camp Stalin instituted there. It is snowbound most of
the year and its “airport” is basically a landing strip with an
outbuilding for a terminal.
For all its faults
(aircraft quality, comfort, etc.), Aeroflot actually runs quite a tight ship. They were always on time and seemed to take pride in
that fact. So for them to delay a flight because of the weather, I
knew it had to be bad.
A few hours later,
when it was apparent that the fog wasn’t clearing, Aeroflot did
something U.S. Airlines stopped doing 20 years ago. They informed
us that they’d be buying us a meal and paying for a hotel room for us
until the next morning. The thought of a meal, a shower, and a good
night’s sleep sounded fantastic at that point.
left the Novosibirsk airport terminal on foot. It was mid-April; snow was beginning to melt. The hotel and restaurant were right
across the parking lot. The hotel looked pretty dingy from the
outside, but it was large and by then I’d learned to reserve judgment
on all things Russian until I knew what I was talking about.
restaurant was clean and the food was decent enough. I had fried
fish and my wife had soup. As promised, the meal was covered by
Aeroflot. Registering for the room was a little more difficult as
they spoke no English and I speak the Russian of a five-year old. We
muddled through it though, then went to our room.
wife, unaccustomed to budget accommodations,
was horrified. I was a little less apoplectic, having lived in a
tent in the Middle-Eastern desert for seven months earlier in my
life. The room was basically a step up from an Eastern-European
youth hostel, albeit a small step up. There was no bathroom, of
course, instead of a double bed, there were two twins on opposite
sides of the room.
As luck would have
it, the communal shower was directly across the hall from our room.
This guaranteed a steady flow of foot traffic all night
long. Things could have been worse, though. We could have been
across from the communal toilet, where the aroma could be appreciated all
the way down the hall where we were located.
As with most things
in life, you get what you pay for. It still beat sleeping hungry in
an airport terminal. When I returned home, just out of curiosity, I
looked up the hotel on the web. The hotel doesn’t have a name, it’s
just referred to as “Hotel in Tolmachevo Airport”. No photos
were posted (not hard to believe, actually). When I converted rubles
to dollars, I discovered that the princely sum of $19.00 is the going
rate for a room there.
ever find yourself in Novosibirsk, there are options for
accommodation: several hotels, a unique cabin rental outfit, even a
boutique lodge (though I don’t know how “boutique” it really is).
If push comes to shove, there is always the Novosibirsk Airport Hotel where 20 bucks will get you through the night!