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Full Circle

Day 19: Magadan to Vladivostok

Michael Palin - Full CircleLater, at the airport, when I say goodbye to Anastasia with her jet black eyes and her turned-up nose I experience momentarily that tug of the emotions that characterizes every Russian farewell. Politely she puts me right about bath plugs. The Russians regard sitting in your own dirty water as something quite distasteful. I want to ask her why they bother having a word for 'bath plug', but it's too late. The plane's leaving to take us, as Roger is fond of saying, 'decisively south'.

Over the mouth of the Amur River, where the stream is a mile wide, snow flashes by the window and, as we descend into Nikolayevsk-na-Amure for refuelling, over the mighty marshy slough of the delta, visibility is so bad I fear we shall never get up again.

The small airstrip is lined with mothballed aircraft. In the swirling snow I count ten Antonov bi-planes and a further twenty small jets and helicopters in Aeroflot livery - some of which are for sale at less than 10,000 dollars each. Most Russian planes are out of date now, our pilot tells us. The one we're flying in today, a Yak 40, uses a lot of fuel and has no on-board computers.

'This is our computer,' he says and holds up a slide rule.

Five hours' flying time from Magadan and we are over Vladivostok, at the southernmost tip of western Russia. It's a perfect sunset. The mountains are less sinister than those of Kolyma and less spectacular than the peaks of Kamchatka. We are 3000 miles south of Little Diomede and only 35 miles from the Chinese border.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 19
  • Country/sea: Eastern Russia
  • Place: Magadan
  • Book page no: 41

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