So as I mentioned, in around June I had an offer letter and contract signed to teach English in Volgograd, Russia.
I knew nothing about this city in its current form. What I did know however was that the city was previously known as Stalingrad. The site of one of the bloodiest battles the world has ever seen, with over 1 million soldiers and civilians killed over a long and drawn out battle in world war 2.
I had gotten a job at an English Language school, possibly the easiest way for anyone to get a job in Russia. It required a TOEFL or CELTA certificate proving a base knowledge of how to teach English, and a willingness to live in Russia. For most people, the latter of those two requirements is probably the more difficult to obtain or possess.
I received some information from the school a month or so before I was due to leave. It was about 4 years old, and contained some general info about living in Volgograd. From warnings about not drinking tap water, recommendations such as “bring a torch” due to the frequent power outages and cultural tips such as “you have entered a world where smiling is a criminal offence”, this promised to be an interesting experience.
Of course, having been to Russia twice previous to this (which I will write about later on), I was expecting the unexpected, and of course the worst.
And so, with my life packed into my suitcase and backpack, taking one month’s salary in advance (equivalent of $600AUD) I departed Sydney for Dubai, onwards to Moscow.
Previous to departing, I had sent my flight itinerary from Moscow to Volgograd to the school, who advised that someone would be there ready to pick me up and take me to my apartment. I was to arrive around 8pm on a Thursday night, around a 30 hour trip from Sydney.
I had bought one winter coat (correction, ski jacket) while I was in New York the previous week. Other than that, the clothes I had packed were probably more suitable to an Australian winter than a Russian one. Of course, everyone knows the idea of a “Russian winter” and that it must entail some ridiculous combination of low temperatures, misery, wind, snow and vodka. Based on my previous trips to Russia, I knew that it would be cold, but I was encouraged by Volgograd’s relatively southern location that it may be a bit warmer than the rest of Russia…
The flight from Sydney to Dubai was uneventful, other than an upgrade to Business Class (courtesy of frequent flyer points), which made for a good trip. I had 9 hours in Dubai as a layover, which due to the length meant I was entitled to a free hotel room in a really strange hotel.
The hotel seemed to be run by Emirates, purely for the purpose of housing customers with awkward layovers. The room itself was comfortable enough, with a shower and toilet. Staff insisted on telling you when they would wake you up (so you wouldn’t miss your connection), and the hotel was very soviet like in that it was just a long winding network of bare corridors and very plain decor. Reminded me a lot of North Korea and Transnistria (both of which I will write about later), but with hot water and no bed bugs!. No free wifi here. Still, can’t complain, it was free..
After a decent nights sleep, I was on to Moscow with Emirates. Arriving in Moscow, I had around 5 hours until my domestic flight to Volgograd. From previous experience, I know that entering Russia is a time consuming process – particularly passport control and baggage claim. However I was served up a treat on this occasion. Shortly after we landed, and had arrived at the gate, the cabin crew came on the PA to ask everyone to return to their seats. With the majority of passengers being Russian, they didn’t understand this and continued to unload bags and stand waiting to get off. Another Russian announcement solved this, and we ended up waiting 30 minutes for one old Russian health official to wander up and down the cabin scanning people with an ancient looking radiation detector or something of the sort. Presumably for flu or influenze, but of course in Russia you don’t need to know what is happening, only that it is happening.
Eventually, the old lady who worked for the Ministry of Health was satisfied with whatever she was checking, and so we were allowed off. Through passport control, and baggage collection, to where I had to re check in for my onward flight to Volgograd.
Russian airports are generally quite average, however Domodedovo airport, given that it is the biggest in the country (by passenger numbers) is particularly bleak. I had 3 hours to enjoy the two overpriced cafes and duty free shops until my flight departed to Volgograd. I found myself a wall charger and a bottle of water and waited.
Finally my flight was called. I had previously flown S7 Airlines within Russia a few times, and again on this flight don’t quite understand the international view of unsafe air travel in Russia. The majority of airlines are quite okay, with S7 and Aeroflot being quite good. Safety wise, they also are quite good.
The flight to Volgograd was 90 minutes (a flight I would end up taking about 60 times over the next 10 months), and I arrived to Volgograd ‘International’ Airport. More of a tin shed than an airport, but with a new one being built (which was partially completed by August 2016). I collected my bags, and went out into the carpark area fully confident that someone would be waiting for me.
But of course, this was Russia. So instead, I ended up waiting for 70 minutes after everyone else had left for my school contact to arrive.
It might sound like I complain a fair bit in this post and also future ones about Russia. But that isn’t correct. In fact, for the record, these frustrations of life in Russia which I will be writing about are some of the things I loved the most, and the experiences which I will remember the best.
To put this 70 minute wait into perspective – I had flown 30 hours, come from 25 degree temperatures to 5 degree cold, spoke basically no Russian, had no working mobile phone or internet connection, and was just simply confused and concerned. Maybe the school didn’t even exist?
Of course though, I took it with a smile. Even the lone taxi driver who was asking for my fare to the city for most of that 70 minutes saw the funny side. Some Australian guy was standing by himself at the airport, with no other passengers, at 9pm, in 5 degree cold, consistently refusing to get a taxi away from there. He probably thought I was crazy but then so was he – waiting there at 9pm when the next flight wasn’t due till 6am!
Anyways, eventually I met with the school director, who had come to collect me, and who took me to my new apartment.
That’s going to be another post for another day though.
(That day has come! Post #2. My (first) apartment in Russia. And apartments in Russia (from my experience) 🙂