I have learned a lot during the last two weeks while visiting six countries. One of the most interesting days began with a flight from Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg to Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow. The Russian airports could use some upgrading of services, shopping facilities, and direction signs in English, but they are said to be quite safe. Boarding the Ilyushin-86 aircraft was an experience. Like many European airports, the first step is to ride on a bus across the tarmac to the plane. What was different was the entry — it started by going up steps into the belly of the plane where luggage is stored. From the storage area a stairway led to the main cabin where there were approximately 350 seats arranged in three sets of three per row.
The Il-86 development was announced at the 1971 Paris Airshow and the wide-body entered service in late 1980. This particular IL-86 was showing it’s age and may easily have been twenty-five years old. The interior of the plane and the uniforms of the flight attendants were outdated but the service was efficient and friendly. The four Kuznetsov NK86 turbofan jet engines lifted the plane to cruising altitude very quickly for the one hour trip. The flight to Moscow and the return to St. Petersburg both left on time and arrived at the destination on time.
The afternoon at the Kremlin far exceeded my expectations. Kremlin means "fortress” in Russian and generally refers to any major fortified central complex in Russian cities. The one we visited is the best known one, the Moscow Kremlin, where the Russian government is based and where the President of Russia lives.
Standing in the center of Red Square was a real treat with spectacular sights in every direction. Saint Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin towers are majestic and incredibly colorful. The Red square separates the Kremlin from an historic merchant quarter and the major streets of Moscow radiate from the square in all directions. The square is steeped in centuries of history. I don’t recall the famous events that took place there in 1941 and 1945 nor the establishment of Lenin’s Mausoleum, but I do remember when a German pilot named Mathias Rust landed a rented Cessna 172 on Vasilevski Spusk next to the Red Square in 1987. On the eastern side of the square is the spectacular GUM department store which in addition to shops offering all the top retailing brands of the world had dedicated the first floor of huge open ceiling building to the inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci. It would have been easy to spend a whole day there.
Following a one-hour tour of the Kremlin art galleries — which rival the Vatican Library in Rome — we had a traditional Russian dinner, complete with vodka, and then a return flight to St. Petersburg. We got back to the ship after midnight. It was a day I will never forget. More on the rest of the trip to follow.