FlyingFinn76 From Finland, joined Jun 2009, 1705 posts, RR: 41 Posted (3 years 10 months 3 weeks 8 hours ago) and read 14141 times:
IMPORTANT NOTE: I'm having difficulties posting any embedded images (i.e. with the img tags), any such message will simply time out when posting. Thus to get this report online I replaced the images with links to Photobucket. If the site gets fixed in the near future I'll update the report with the images. Sorry for the inconvenience.
This is the first real part of the trip report from my trip to Moldova and Ukraine with some Romania and Germany thrown in for a good measure. For introduction and background, please see the report titled "Moldova, Ukraine And Around - Part I: Introduction". This part covers the following flights:
23.6.2009 HEL-RIX-KIV on Air Baltic
24.6.2009 KIV-TSR on CarpatAir
There are also some pictures and words about Chisinau and Timisoara.
Despite an 8.45 departure calling for a 6 AMish wake up alarm I stayed up way too late the previous evening, and getting up was very difficult - will I ever learn? Anyway after some last minute packing and something resembling a breakfast, consisting mainly of multiple cups of strong, fresh espresso to get some caffeine into my system I hopped on the bus and found myself in Helsinki-Vantaa around 7.40. The holiday season was just starting, and it was very busy with long lines at check in. Once again the self service check in defaulted on me with my BT flights (it happens pretty much every time with bookings made on their website), so I was doomed to the longish queue for the manual check in. Luckily it wasn't as long as it appeared to be as there were a number of elderly people in front of me confusing it for the security queue who I directed to the proper place. At the desk the girl tried to give me a hard time with my passport that's definitely showing some wear and tear (hey, it went through the washing machine once!), but I assumed her that the US immigration (who can be very tough in times) had no problems whatsoever with it back in March and she accepted that. The new SAS boarding passes that list multiple flights on the same BP are funny as well - I received a single one for both of today's flights.
Went through security at departure hall 2 instead of 3 where the check in was located as the queues were shorter here and there were more lanes open. Airside I bought my obligatory bottled water (I refuse to fly without it!) and the kind clerk at Stockmann also accepted to change my wad of 20 EUR notes to some large ones - I managed to use an ATM that only had 20 EUR notes to withdraw my travel funds... Had a drink watching the apron activity.
Here's OH-LVI, the only A319 in AY fleet still missing from my log. So near, yet so far away.
I was a bit worried when I saw an all-white (YL-BAA, presumably) BT F50 pulling in to a stand near my allocated boarding time - my flight was scheduled to be a 737-500. When the bus boarding was called I asked the gate agent about the equipment since if it was a Fokker I'd need to check my rollaboard at the aircraft but she assumed me it was still "a larger plane".
The bus was hot and stuffy - this was the beginning of a long spell of hot and sunny days in Finland - not a very usual occurrence in our summers! Waited for some strugglers, and I was admiring the beautiful sight of AY A333 OH-LTN (I nicknamed her "Luton") landing from JFK to 22L. When the missing sheep were found, the bus was still very empty with less than 30 people and we drove right past the aforementioned OH-LTN just pulling in to its jetway. The bus ride took us to the far far apron in front of the AY maintenance halls, where YL-BBN was awaiting:
The plane was apparently very recently fitted with the new Recaro fake leather seats as it still boasted that new plane smell - even if the actual plane wasn't new at all, having been originally delivered to UA in 1992. There was nobody at business class in this flight.
We departed a couple of minutes before schedule, but this was eaten up by the long taxi to the far runway 22R. Take-off run was short, and soon we turned southward towards Tallinn and further to Riga, with some good views over the capital region on the left.
It got overcast midway through Estonia, so all further views of the ground were blocked. Some 30 mins into the flight the British FO came on, welcoming us board and announced that it was only 18 degrees at Riga and that we would start our descent "soon".
We flew right over the RIX airport, but only broke the cloudbase somewhere further south, where a series of left hand turns and right hand corrections finally lined up with runway 36.
Googling for the reg (TF-JMN), it turned out that she's leased to BT - hope I get a chance to fly on her soon!
Inside the terminal I found myself to be a bit peckish, no doubt helped by the breakfast consisting chiefly of caffeine. Grabbed a couple of pizza slices at the recently opened Pizza Lulu over at the A gates bunker - not bad for airport food, and in the Riga airport scale this was near gourmet food!
Despite the whole country of Latvia being virtually bankrupt things over at RIX looked surprisingly business as usual. There were tons of happy holidaymakers jetting off to sunnier destinations, dressed in the trademark beach look with smiles on their faces in anticipation of some R&R.
The flight to KIV was assigned to the new non-Schengen area at the end of the B-pier, now called the "D gates" and while making my way there I already heard the boarding announcement for my flight. Happily the passport control was quite fast and I wasn't even the last one to board the bus. Next to us FR was departing for EMA, and the downstairs bus lodge was crammed with people awaiting the TK flight to IST, which will be boarding from the next gate. Our bus wasn't that crowded, I counted around 20 people in total. The bus took us to the north apron, while passing this interesting recent addition to the aviation museum:
Left my rollaboard to the ground agent and boarded. All of the BT Fokkers have a weird, musty smell - I don't know whether it comes with the age (most of these are around 20 years old) or if the cloth seats are just moldy inside (now here's a thought I'd hate to stick in my mind for the flight) and this one's no exception. In addition there's a distinct smell of urine - makes you look at those stains on the seats in a whole different light!
Boarding is shambles - my assigned seat, 10A has the flight attendand's bag strapped in. She directs me to 9A, which I do, only to be ushered out by some lady who has that seat. Then the FA offers me any seat in row 11 - I decline as this row does not have a direct window, instead you have two half windows. I settle for the last row of 12D, which the FA is not happy with but eventually agrees. Another bus pulls in and five more passengers roll in, another set of seat shuffling takes place. Finally, when everybody has sat down the lead FA comes to me and tells me that I cannot sit on 12D - she doesn't explain why, but I'm pretty sure they want this seat as their own gossiping area - row 12 has only CD and not AB at all, being replaced by parts of the galley on the other side, so it is somewhat secluded and isolated from the main cabin. She offers me 1D, and I agree as the bulkhead row has great legroom:
Flight time was announced as 3 hours (722 miles is a long way for the slowish Fokker - this is the longest, timewise that is, turboprop flight I've ever taken, but not the farthest one, that would be BHX-ARN on an SK Dash 8, but those are far speedier planes), we depart around 15 minutes before schedule, make a long taxi to the end of runway 36 and take off. We fly in a straight line over the Daugava river mouth and then make a lazy right hand turn to point us southwards, while disappearing into to clouds soon enough.
I try to gouge a free beer out of the crew ("Row 1 - this is business class, right?") but that doesn't really work (but had the intended effect of making the cute young things smile), so I have to pay for it. For the next 2 hours or so the ground remains mostly covered by clouds, although there are a few openings - at one point I catch a glimpse of something I assume is Minsk, judging from the sheer size of the city and the abundance of the trademark Soviet-style concrete high rises on the outskirts. 2 hours into the flight the clouds give way and reveal a scenery that must be western Ukraine - vast areas of farmland, with the occasional small villages, roads and small patches of forest.
What on earth is this? Somewhere over southern Belarus or western Ukraine:
2h30mins into the flight the captain comes in, explaining that we are flying in the altitude of 7 kilometers with a ground speed of 440 km/h. He calls the Chisinau weather "real summer" at 29 degrees Centigrade, expecting another 40 minutes of flight time remaining. Maybe 20 minutes after this we start descending and the seat belt sign is switched off. The landscape at final approach south of Chisinau looks interesting - there are gentle rolling hills that remind me very much of Tuscany - this is wine country after all and I spot a good number of vineyards. Descent takes a loooong time, no holding at altitudes here, just a long continuous descent approach.
Deboarding is quick and the 30 degree heat feels like a welcome blast of hot air on my face. I get my rollaboard from the ground grew and board the surprisingly modern bus. I don't dare to take any photos as the security guys look a little stern. Fast ride to the modern looking terminal, quick passport control and I emerge into the arrivals hall. First task is to get some of the local currency, Moldovan Lei. Then it's an interesting bargaining process with a couple of taxi artists that do not really speak any other language than the local dialect of Romanian (maybe Russian as well?), but in the end I sit in the advertised "Mercedes, Mercedes" which turns out to be maybe 20 years old without air conditioning, seat belts nor any other redeeming features for the quick 15 minute drive into town. The engine stalls a few times at red lights, but in the end we make it in one piece to the Soviet-style Hotel Cosmos.
For whatever reason I'm actually given a suite for my single room booking - it consists of a huge meeting/dining room complete with a table and seating for 6 people with a full set of dinnerware and glasses in the cupboards and a separate bed room and a bathroom. Several of the apartments I've lived have been far smaller than this suite! For the 49 EUR I paid I don't complain (but I do complain about the fact that the rack rate posted at the reception is the equivalent of 40 EUR - why oh why do they punish people who book in advance?). Minibar prices are also dirt cheap - 4 EUR for a 0.2 litre bottle of vodka etc.
Unfortunately I only had one afternoon and night to spend here. Luckily the city centre is quite compact, and the Hotel Cosmos sits right at the edge of it. Moldavia is officially the European's poorest country, but you couldn't really tell. People were just too busy having fun to notice small details like this. The city is very green, with big, leafy boulevards and some nice parks in the centre. Lots of beer gardens and outdoor restaurants tempt customers with their low prices and great food. People here were super nice and friendly, something which came as a surprise since I had somehow assumed Chisinau to be somewhat similar to Bucharest, a city which is not very high on my favorite cities list.
The local ruling party still signs the communist hymns, at least officially - but you couldn't really tell. Everything appears to be as commercialized as in similar Eastern European countries as well, McDonald's is here and you don't need any rationing coupons to buy stuff from the supermarkets and shops.
At first booking a 6.55 departure seemed to be like a good idea as it would give me enough time to explore Timisoara. When my mobile woke me at 4.45 it didn't seem to be such a good idea after all - I admit the beer gardens of last night had just been too cheap and fun to resist and I was feeling rather rotten. Still I managed a quick shower, woke up the receptionist and the security guard who were both happily sleeping in the lobby and hopped on a taxi to the airport. Interestingly the taxi fare of last night had deflated by 50% and this was a far superior Dacia as well. I'm still sure I paid a little too much, but cheap it still was. The streets were deserted at this ungodly hour, so I was in the airport already at 5.30.
Three counters were open, and soon enough I received my boarding passes along with a "Delivery at Aircraft" tag for my rollaboard - which I ripped off and threw away at the first opportunity - my bag will have no problems with the scheduled Fokker 100. Grabbed a coffee and a sandwich for breakfast at the upstairs coffee shop - I was delighted to find that they charged almost city prices instead of the inflated airport prices that is so often the case. I then head off to departures, walk through the first set of metal detector and x-ray setting it off in the process but nobody's concerned. The girl is only interested in "How much money do you have?" - I panic mildly thinking whether they could possibly know about my retirement funds in Liechtenstein and the rainy day fund in the Caymans, but luckily she adds "cash" and is satisfied that my answer of "Few hundred euros and less than hundred lei" means that I'm probably not trying to smuggle a sufficient amount of their state treasury out of the country. Next stop is passport control - I joke with the British chap in front of me about the weird security control - only to be conforted by another metal detector and x-ray directly around the corner from the passport booth. This apparently is the real security check - the previous one was for customs. What do they need the metal detector for - is somebody really trying to smuggle money out of the country as coins in their pocket? This one still beeps but again they don't really care. Oh, and no stupid liquid bag rule here.
Airside it reminds me a lot of a Palanga and Ljublana airports - there is a single, modern glass-walled hall with 4 bus gates, a bar at one end and a couple of totally uninteresting looking duty free stores. I try to buy a bottle of water at the bar, but they are out of almost everything apart from alcohol and some cartons of juice, one of which I purchase instead. It's getting crowded as there's an Air Moldova A320 leaving for LED soon after us, followed by OS/VO to VIE. Amazingly there's free wireless Internet here, so I spend some time reading my email with my mobile phone and soon a boarding call for CarpatAir is made at 6.30. All the ground agents wear the Moldavian Airlines outfit.
From the bus I see a lone Fokker 100 over at the apron with some private planes. The plane is, however, in full Moldavian Airlines livery - which of course is a sister company of CarpatAir so it kinda makes sense. Sure enough, we stop in front of ER-FZA. My bold attempt at a photo was quickly turned down by a security guy so I gave up. The ground agent tried to make me leave my bag in the cart, but after I argued and showed that it indeed is not very large he agreed and I was allowed to board.
The cabin felt rather old fashioned with thick blue leather seats:
The three female cabin attendants appeared to be from Moldavian Airlines as well, so I'll log this flight as being operated by Moldavian Airlines. Load was less than half full (or half empty, depending on your view of the world), but unfortunately a lady had 5B and didn't really understand when I tried to direct her to one of the many completely empty rows ahead to give both of us more comfort. I just don't get why people stick to their assigned seats so tight.
Flight time is announced as 1 hour, and we depart 10 mins early. Taxi to the end of runway 24 is quite slow, and the pilot flying apparently wants to use the full length of 3500 meters as we even backtrack on the runway to the very end before making a 180 degree turn. With a low load, presumably not too much fuel onboard for the short hop and such a long stretch of TORA ahead of us the take off power is quite modest and we roll for quite some time before rotating lazily into the morning skies. The weather is already looking very nice indeed, and you can tell it's going to be another hot and sunny day around Moldavia. The valleys still have some wisps of the morning mist remaining and it is actually quite a beautiful sight.
Soon we enter Romaniam airspace and the landscape starts to change as we approach the Carpathian mountains. Once again it gets cloudy and soon all visibility of the ground is lost, apart from some snow-capped mountain peaks. Service commerces soon, and we are being handed out a sandwich together with a Moldavian Airlines -branded bar of chocolate. Juice, water, coffee and tea are offered soon aftewards. The sandwich is quite a horrible affair - it's actually more of a pastry made from thin leaves of pastry dough, with some slices of what I presume to be turkey, processed cheese and lettuce inside. One bite is enough and I can't really bring myself to have a second one. Coffee and OJ is much appreciated. The chocolate isn't bad either - but then again chocolate is hard to get wrong!
I try to snooze for a while, but the seat isn't very comfortable and am unable to do so. I read through the surprisingly good CarpatAir inflight magazine instead, they have a 10-year anniversary right now in June and there's a special feature about the airline and its history. It's not such a long flight and around 40 minutes into the flight we start our descent towards Timisoara. This descent is another long, continuous one - the advantages of airports with light traffic. The airport appears to be in the middle of farmland, but sure enough we touch down on a runway instead, using the full length of runway 29 before exiting to the left and stopping in the apron. In the way we pass some hardened concrete shelters that seem to host a good number of MiG-23/27 aircraft - is this still an active Romanian Air Force base or are these just some old leftovers? Our arrival is a few minutes ahead of schedule.
With another F100 arriving right after us all the three Fokkers in the CarpatAir/Moldavian Airlines fleet are also present. We are bussed the short distance to the terminal. Most of our passengers exit towards transfer - there are only 6-7 people together with me in the immigration queue. This doesn't take many minutes and soon I enter the EU again - if only for 7 hours or so.
The airport's website didn't have much useful information like if they have any kind of luggage storage - which would be important to me. Turns out that they don't - I first ask from the cashier at the bank desk where I exchange some Romanian Lei (interestingly enough the girl asks for my passport, first enters all the information painstakingly slowly into the computer and then takes a photocopy of the picture page - as if a guy exchanging 20 EUR would be conducting a big scale money laundering operation in tiny steps), she directs me to the information desk which remains unmanned. I ask from the V3 check in agents, and they comfirm that no such facility exists here. They also refuse my to accept my bag as checked in luggage since it's more than 2 hours before departure. I accept defeat, purchase a bus ticket for 2.5 RON (60 cents) at the newsagent and head to the bus stop - only to realize that the bus runs once per hour and it's about 40 minutes to the next one. Luckily this airport has another free Wifi connection, so that and a drink at the bar keep me occupied until the bus arrives.
A 30-minute bus ride ends at some random square at the edge of the old town. First impressions are not so good - the weather is cloudy, the first streets I see are in dire need of refurbishment and dragging my rollaboard along the cobblestones of the old city is not a fun experience. The Piata Unirii square is quite pretty, and has a distinct Austrian feel to it - this is of course explained by the city's history as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Unfortunately there are the Romanian trademark stray dogs here - and they try to to interfere with my coffee break at a terrace in the square. I have an unrational fear towards dogs, especially of the stray kind owing to some childhood experiences with the business end of a dog - and I'm not really at ease here. Luckily some local guys are far more streetwise and usher the dogs away.
I find my way towards the pedestrian streets south of the square and the city sort of grows on me - soon I realize this is a very beautiful, European-feeling city. People here are very friendly and happy, and not at all so rude and busy as in the capital Bucharest. The beautiful buildings and parks of the historical centre lack most of the concrete abominations you find at the capital. The aforementioned stray dogs are also not a very big problem here - unlike in Bucharest! I stroll around for some time, even with my rollaboard, take a welcome break at a park, grab some lunch and beer at an outdoor terrace. The weather has improved as well and the clouds give way to some welcome sunshine.
Finally I get tired of lugging the bag around and hail down a taxi to return to the airport. The Romanian authorities seem to have done some good things with the taxi industry as the driver switches on the meter automatically and doesn't try to rip me off at all. The guy actually turns out to speak better English than most people from Birmingham (no offense to anybody, I just have a huge problem understanding a Brummie accent!) so we chat about Timisoara, bash Bucharest (we seem to share the same opinion on that city), chat some more about Romanian politics and travel - he's very intrigued by me coming from Moldova and continuing to Ukraine ("I would be scared to do that.") and so on. His friendliness and honesty earn the guy a big tip once we reach the airport.
This concludes part 2. Stay tuned for more parts, there's still lots of ground (or air!) to cover.
FlyingFinn76 From Finland, joined Jun 2009, 1705 posts, RR: 41 Reply 4, posted (3 years 10 months 2 weeks 6 days 5 hours ago) and read 13313 times:
Thanks for the replies and kind words.
Quoting Vasu (Reply 3): Makes me want to venture back to Eastern Europe at some point (seen RIX and TLL so far)!
It's a bit sad that RIX, TLL, VNO, most of Poland etc. are not really that Eastern European any more. Sure, they're different (and cheaper!) than most of West or Southern Europe, but these countries are developing in amazing speed. Add to the equation the proliferation of tourists (and unfortunately the bachelor party/cheap booze/sex tourism folks as well) that we can mostly thank the LCCs for and you don't feel that exotic any more. It helps if you try some more rural places off the beaten path than the capitals.
From my point of view Moldova and Ukraine still retained some of the old eastern charm, but I got the feeling that this is disappearing with the rapid changes. I'd like to go to Belarus one day, I just don't like the ridiculous visa requirements.
FlyingFinn76 From Finland, joined Jun 2009, 1705 posts, RR: 41 Reply 8, posted (3 years 10 months 6 days 5 hours ago) and read 12490 times:
Quoting DALCE (Reply 7): You should change the names of the pictures and do not use the _ sign in the name.
Didn't really help, but thanks anyway. I've been trying the post the next installment since yesterday but am still experiencing problems with the images. It seems to be some sort of timeout issue, as a post with a few images (with underscores in the URL as well) works fine, even though it takes a very long time to reach the preview screen. Has anybody else experienced anything similar?
I'll try to see if I can post from a faster connection at the office tomorrow, but if not then the next part will contain links to the images as well - bummer.
PlymSpotter From Spain, joined Jun 2004, 11118 posts, RR: 63 Reply 11, posted (3 years 9 months 2 weeks 1 day 19 hours ago) and read 11558 times:
Shame the pictures didn't link for you, but a great second installment nevertheless. That's a long flying time in the Fokker 50 - they serve a lot of destinations using this aircraft which stretch it's legs quite well. Also you were lucky to get the Moldovan Airlines branded Fokker 100, when I flew the route it was a Carpatair branded example which was a shame.
Timisoara is a beautiful city, as is Chisinau - one of the nicest I have been to in Eastern Europe.