Russia part 4: Krasnoyarsk in the smoke
On August 9th, our 9th day in Russia, we left Novosibirsk and its private Severnyy airport (UNNG) for Krasnoyarsk Severniy (UNKK). We thought it was quite a coincidence that the airport names were so similar, but we later found out that “Severny” simply means Northern, so there are likely many of those😊 This reminds me of a story my parents like to tell about a vacation in Italy when they were young adults. They had been walking for a long time and kept seeing signs saying Pedoni. Since they were getting tired, they decided that they would stop for some ice-cream in Pedoni. We are soooo lucky today we have Google Translate and Google Maps!
This was a short flight (2.5 hours), without time difference -for once we did not have to get up early in the morning- so we left in the afternoon, after a nice discovery walk through the “Concrete city”. The only pressure we had is that we needed to take off before 5 pm because the airport would be closed exceptionally after that time due to military activity in the area. This reminded us of the relatively strong military presence in the Russian airspace about which our handler Evgeny had informed us: there are many bases, some airports are controlled by the military and at most airports we had seen military aircraft. In any case, since UNNG is a private airport -so private that there is a driving school in the middle of the runway (description in my “Russia part 3” post)-, getting to the airplane and taking off took us only about 15 minutes.
We had put Krasnoyarsk on our itinerary because Evgeny had recommended this “nice city, gourmet capital of Siberia with French chefs etc….”. What was there not to like? And going directly to Ulan Ude, by Lake Baikal, was too far. But of course, we did not know that the Siberian taiga fires would wrap the city and its surroundings in smoke.
The weather forecast for that afternoon predicted lots of cumulus clouds which we could navigate around and low (but acceptable) visibility upon arrival. The reality became that the clouds were almost not an issue but the smoke was everywhere and we couldn’t see a thing until about 100 meters above the runway.
Getting closer to the city:
We were welcomed by the staff of AeroGeo, an aerial transport company, who refueled us and let us park in front of their offices where They offered me tea but Alex preferred to relax in his own way, after the almost blind landing.
En route to the modern Neo Dom hotel which I had chosen on Booking.com because of the pictures of their bathrooms, we also had trouble distinguishing the city.
Fortunately Alex from AeroGeo (a lot of men in Russia are called Alex!) had taken upon himself not only to drive us, but to recommend a few sights so at least we knew what to look for.
Picture of NeoDom's deal-closing bathroom (the shower was green inside also) - finally something bright!
NeoDom was right in the center, and it was getting late so we headed to one of the restaurants Evgeny had recommended, which was indeed very good! I think we started with Svinya i Biser, in a park which looked quite magical in the smoke.
The next evening we went to Cheshuya and both were delicious (we didn’t ask if the chefs were French though😊). Here are a few pictures of how delicious looks in Krasnoyarsk:
Crab salad with fish eggs
Salmon roe butter for on the home made bread
Caramelized fish on mashed potatoes
Chicken heart salad and more importantly: cheese puffs, just like in Paraguay!
Vodka gelatin with strawberries for dessert!
During the day, we walked along the famous Prospekt Mira, the Champs Elysées of Krasnoyarsk, towards the bridge leading to Tatischev island. This avenue is between Lenina and Karla Marxa streets, and from our hotel we took Diktaturi Proletariata street to get there, so despite Prospect Mira being very trendy with lots of cool cafes, there was really no opportunity to forget we were in Russia.
Cool coffee truck (kofe mashina)
Cool glass at Benedict Breakfast & Lounge
Cool coffee lids at Cremeria Roma on Prospekt Mira
Karl Marx street
and Dictatorship of the Proletariat street
It was very smokey all along but we could just about see the buildings in front of us. We rented bikes to ride on the island and along the Enisey river, the weather was great and we enjoyed it very much, until we found out the next morning that Krasnoyarsk was the city with the worst air quality in the world that day, and that being outside and especially exercising outdoor was highly discouraged. Ooooops….
There was some fun artwork along the embankment
Of course not everything was in good condition...
and the air quality was certainly not either!
It is true Alex had a dry cough because of the smoke and I was a little short of breath on my bike but we hadn’t realized the situation was so severe! It had only sunk in when we arrived at AeroGeo’s offices with the intention of leaving to Ulan Ude and found even less visibility than upon arrival. Despite the forecast of smoke and low visibility, we had decided to go to the airport to check for ourselves because we had landed in similar conditions and thought we could surely get out, but the only reasonable thing to do was to stay on the ground and book a new hotel room. This time, we booked a small apartment with a washing machine: if we were going to stay one more day and inside most of the time, we might as well do laundry. Indeed, we usually travel with only one carry-on suitcase each (the rest stays on board) and our autonomy is about 7 to 10 days.
The Dom apartment hotel was ideally located on Prospect Mira, our place was very nice inside, so we decided to go shopping and have dinner “at home” while the thinnest washing machine I have ever seen was running. The front of the washer looked like any other but the drum inside was very narrow, not more than 20 centimeters deep, making it feel like a miniature or a toy. Very cute, smart for space-saving and it worked just fine.
The next morning we got up at 6 am to check the weather. As usual, we reviewed Windy, Foreflight and the METARs and the visibility was still not looking very good. After about 30 minutes of app-observation, Alex got up and looked out of the window: the sky was full of clear blue patches!! No comparison with the days before or with the forecast…. We had already wasted too much time by looking at virtual information instead of simply looking outside, so we packed and left immediately. When we arrived at the airport, the conditions had improved and we rushed to take off.
Patches of blue sky before take-off on August 12th (just one day later than planned)
The only delay was due to the UNKK controller not understanding Alex’ request for a clearance. He kept saying that we were clear to take-off but he had not delivered a formal clearance. Armed with my 100 words of Russian (thanks to the Duo-lingo app which I had been taking lessons on since we had decided to travel through Russia), I formulated the question in Russian as best I could and it worked: he explained he had our flight plan and that it was active. Those same 100 words have often helped me understand the gist of what people are talking about, making things a little easier and more fun. For example, when people said “Bla-bla-bla-bla Krasnoyarsk”, it would mean either “what on earth are you foreigners doing here?” or “how do you like it here?” The tone of the blablabla helped me choose my answer: either “my piloty iz argentiny, my yedem na Alyasku” or “ochen krasivyy gorod”. And “Bla-bla-bla dim” would typically mean “too bad you are visiting with all this smoke”, which was absolutely true and could be answered with a simple upward movement of both hands, universally indicating “nothing we can do about it”…
Once airborne, in a relatively smokeless sky, we started following the waypoints that would lead us to Ulan Ude (UIUU) in about 4 hours, and could even catch a glimpse of the city from above:
Relieved the Siberian fires were behind us, we started to relax but about 1.5 hours from our destination, close to the waypoint called GARON (which my Argentine readers will appreciate the irony of), we were suddenly surrounded by smoke, at our flight level of 10,000 feet! We were in the haze again and had no idea what conditions we would find upon arrival. The forecast for our time of arrival at Ulan Ude indicated adequate visibility but by now we had learned that smoke forecasts were not as accurate as weather predictions. Fortunately, UIUU was the city’s main airport and had appropriate approach and arrival procedures. As long as we could see the runway at the “minimums”, i.e. 273 feet (83m) above ground, we would be good. We also planned to ask the controller for actual conditions on the field as we approached and were reassured by the fact that there were English-speaking aircraft around us, mostly Chinese or Korean, which seemed only natural since we were getting closer and closer to their respective countries.
Not long before landing, we could see on our screens that we were overflying Lake Baikal, one of the highlights of our trip, but we saw none of it out of the window ☹
In line with what the controller had indicated, the ground appeared around 500 feet (phew!) and we landed in Ulan Ude.
We followed the “follow me” car to our parking spot where a young man brought a full drum of Avgas on a wheelbarrow, while another car approached with a pump.
Following a very artisanal, but effective, refueling, we noticed there were no tie-downs so we asked if there was another place or some other solution, and after about 20 minutes of confusion, we were taken to a platform in the middle of a field which apparently belonged to Evgeny -not Evgeny from MAKgas, we have found this name is quite popular in Russia- who helped us secure the plane with iron cables and a large tire under the tail, and even drove us to the city where Darima, a local guide was waiting for us, ready to take us to Lake Baikal. The smoke on the ground was not as bad as aloft, so we were optimistic we would get to see some of it.
Our private platform in Ulan Ude
In Evgeny's car (do you notice something strange?)
Thank you Evgeny!
To stay in Krasnoyarsk mood, you might want to watch Alex’ video-summary of our experience there: