So, following on from the previous Amsterdam post, onto the trip itself…
I left for Astana airport around 6am on the 21st September, feeling happy that I would be meeting up with two friends very soon, going back to a city I enjoy for many reasons, but also sad as I would be apart from Irina for the longest amount of time since we first met! The first section of the journey went well, with no problems from Kazakhstan’s sometimes over-eager airport officials. One small hitch was my inability to make outgoing voice calls once I had got to the departure gate – this had happened before though, so I didn’t worry too much, and just texted Ira asking her to call me, so I could confirm all was OK thus far. Having only had 2.5 hours sleep, I was a little tired, but there was no chance I would drop off before I got on the plane.
Once I arrived in Kaliningrad, (where Alex flew through on her recent trip to see us), the whole plane had to go in reverse through the normal procedures for leaving the airport. We left the plane and entered the terminal through a departure exit. There appeared to be three cleaners operating an x-ray machine, which looked a little odd, and some of the people in the queue ahead of me were already loudly grumbling (in Russian and Kazakh) about something or other. It turns out the
cleaners security staff were not allowing any bottles of liquid larger than 100ml INTO the building. Had this been on the way out, with us ALL heading to a European country, I could understand the confiscation of large bottles of liquids. However, this was to get into the building, and the staff appeared to be concentrating on alcohol, much of which had been purchased by my fellow passengers in Astana’s duty free shop. Suffice to say separating a Russian or Kazakh from their spirits is never the easiest of tasks, however the x-rayers ploughed on, dumping all the bottles into a washing up bowl or three on the floor.
When it came to my turn, a stout lady loudly informed me there were several problems with my hand luggage, at least their x-ray machine told them. I decided to play it even dumber than in reality, and pronounced very slowly (& even more incorrectly than normal), that I could not speak Russian. She attempted to say the same thing again louder, to which I smiled, and started pulling random things from my bag. She gave up and put the bag through the x-ray machine again, and started squawking about a problem again. I decided that as I had no liquids in there, other than a nearly empty spray deodorant that I did not pose too great a security risk. After several more ‘helpful’ suggestions from myself (pulling out my books one by one, followed by the spare set of clothing, each time offering them to her), she eyed the queue behind me, and pointed me away from the security station. I gladly obliged, and took the opportunity to grab a cigarette by a bin that several other people had congregated around. There was a no smoking sign, but as everyone else was taking the opportunity for a nicotine fix where there were no cameras, and the staff were too busy to give a damn, I joined in. During the course of what I thought might be my last cigarette until I had cleared passport control in Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, I observed the passengers who had had their booze nicked (various conspiracy rumours had already been started, mainly revolving around the possibility that the cleaners/security staff were having a party that evening and wanted to save their budget for other items) wait until the staff were busy arguing with the next incensed passenger, and then calmly walk up to the confiscated goods, and retrieve their own bottles. Most managed to get away in time, a few were stopped, shouted at, and a few just stood and argued until the staff gave up.
Anyway we proceeded up the stairs, into a departure lounge where we showed our tickets (for the flight we had just been on!) and passports, and waited for the plane full of passengers (minus those who actually finished their journey in Kaliningrad and so left the airport immediately) to get past the initial security checks downstairs. At this point we could see the main airport area, with its large screen with flight info on, a smoking area (ooops, I now know for the future), and a few shops. Those who wanted to buy a coffee (or even a duty free bottle of alcohol!) were allowed out of the departure (masquerading as an arrival) lounge, as long as they left their passport with the security staff present in this room. Around 30 minutes later we were all together again, and I had noted a few foreigners speaking German (it is good to know who to turn to if you really need some assistance with officials whose language you are not completely au fait with). We then presented tickets for our next flights to someone sat at a computer terminal. As this was a departure lounge, and we were arriving, the room layout meant we all had to file past her whilst looking at the screen ourselves, with the lady needing to swivel round her chair away from her computer to face us each time she needed some info. Having got past this stage, there was a three person posse waiting at the exit/entrance to the departure terminal (we were almost at the point of syncing our direction with the rest of the inhabitants of this airport by this point.) These new people each took a turn to check each person’s passports, old and new plane tickets and then allowed us in….
More to follow soon 🙂