There and Back Again – Airports in Russia, Uzbekistan, and Qatar

We may be abnormal: Barry and I like airports.   We love to travel – and visit family as well as meet new people and see new places.  On our six-month trip last year, we flew the long way (and cheaper way) and had layovers in Russia, Uzbekistan, and Qatar – places we were not visiting but got a glimpse of anyway.  The next time you make reservations, consider getting a taste of a new place by visiting its airport on a layover.

In Moscow,  I got to say  “privet”  and “da svidaniya” (hello and goodbye) – with my high school Russian.   We landed in Moscow at night.  Hardy, rugged people with lined faces waited to catch onward flights.  Many looked to be workmen – flying elsewhere in the world to make money for their families.  Wearing clothes that would keep them warm, a few women had fur coats; some men and women had fur hats.  Where were they going?  What were their lives?  As flakes of snow drifted down, we were bused from our gate to our plane out on the tarmac.  It was COLD, and this was the end of September!  Our Aeroflot flight attendants, however, were very stylish in their bright red, form-fitting uniforms, and we got to choose our meals, have individual entertainment sets, and were offered wine — all as part of economy class.

Aeroflot Flight Attendants

Aeroflot Flight Attendants

Routes for Aeroflot:

After teaching at Shanghai Normal University and then traveling a few weeks in SW China, Barry and I went on to Hong Kong, and from there, we flew to Israel.  After our fabulous five weeks there during the Hanukkah and Christmas seasons, we headed for Bali on Uzbekistan Airlines.  For a layover, we  landed in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan, I learned, declared its independence in 1991 after the breakup of the Soviet Union.  Uzbekistan is a double landlocked country sharing borders with five other countries that are also landlocked, including Afghanistan on the south.

View from the Ubekistan Airport at dawn. Hundreds of migrating birds were flying south xx

View from the Uzbekistan Airport in Tashkent at dawn in January 2015.

From the Uzbekistan airport waiting room in Tashkent, a city of almost two million people, we saw flocks of migrating birds high in the sky at dawn.  Some women wore embroidered ethnic dress that I couldn’t identify.

Ubekistan airplane

Uzbekistan Airways, the national airline of Uzbekistan

The Uzbekistan Airways flight was comfortable and reasonable.

Above Ubekiztan xx

Departing Tashkent,  Uzbekistan at the beginning of January 2015

Then we flew low for hours and hours over mountainous mainly desolate brown land - Afghanistan perhaps xx ?

Then we flew low for hours and hours over mountainous mainly desolate brown land – Afghanistan perhaps

We also saw snow-covered mountain tops

We also saw snow-covered mountain tops of the Himalayas  (Jan. 6, 2015)

More facts I’ve learned about Uzbekistan: about 34% of its population is under 14 years old; it has the 4th largest gold deposits in the world; because of the free and universal education system of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan has a 99.3% literacy rate among adults older than 15; about 90% of the people are Muslim, 5% Russian Orthodox; Uzbekistan has an area of 447,400 square kilometers (172,700 sq mi); it is the 56th largest country in the world by area and the 42nd by population; the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan used to be the fourth-largest inland sea on Earth; however, since the 1960s, the decade when the misuse of the Aral Sea water began (mainly in cotton production), the sea has shrunk to less than 50% of its former area and decreased in volume threefold; the country is along the Silk Route – linking China with the Mediterranean.  Officially, Uzbekistan is a democratic, secular, constitutional republic.

From the air, we could see that the land was harsh and desolate.  Afghanistan, I think, maybe Pakistan: mountain ranges some capped with snow, everything else – brown.  I could see no evidence of populations at all – for hours.

Then we landed on Bali – green and wonderful.  After two months, we headed to the U.S.  We flew on a Qatar (pronounced “cut tar”) Airways flight- landing first in Doha and then Philadelphia before St. Louis — everything was colorful and comfortable.

I’m grateful now if a airline offers a snack, but on these flights, we got fed and entertained well.  I (who almost never watch T.V.) saw three episodes of  Downton Abbey, a couple of Game of Thrones (Does the little boy survive?  The one who gets pushed out of the window by the evil brother of the lecherous brother/sister pair?  No, don’t tell me.  I hope to be on one of these flights again where I have time to watch).   Where, you might ask, does Qatar fly?

Qatar flight attendants

Qatar flight attendants

From: <;

To go with our meals, we were offered wine and after-dinner drinks — all for free (on this airline from a country where people are flogged if caught drinking alcohol)

Qatar Airways cabin - comfortable

Qatar Airways cabin – comfortable; flight attendants – friendly

We landed at the Doha Airport, in the capital city of Qatar, for a layover.

I’ve learned that clinical nurses can earn 50,000 pounds (about 79,000 US dollars) a year there.  For ESL teachers, a blogger recommends the Middle East; he says you can save $300,000 in three years by teaching there, but I would research that – and being a woman there is likely to be difficult

Also, I’ve read that much of the development in Qatar is on the backs of migrant workers from Asia and Africa, earning very low wages and many living in squalid conditions.  😦  .  According to Wikipedia, in 2013, Qatar’s total population was 1.8 million: 278,000 Qatari citizens and 1.5 million expatriates (brought in to work).

Qatar is on a small peninsula; its only land border is with Saudi Arabia, the rest surrounded by the Persian Gulf.

The futuristic city of Doha, Qatar

The futuristic city of Doha, Qatar

Image from:

According to the 2013 World Bank figures,  the oil-rich Qatar residents (a bit over 2 million people) have a the GDP of $93,714.06 U.S. dollars per person!  (The 2014 World Bank figures list the GDP of  $56,421 per person in the U.S.).

Qatar - an oil-rich country in the Middle East

Qatar – an oil-rich country in the Middle East

Qatar is an influential player in the Arab world, supporting several rebel  groups during the Arab Spring.  Becoming the first Arab country to do so, Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Also Qatar is the home of  Al Jazeera News – the Doha-based state-funded broadcaster partly funded by the Qatar ruling family.  Some say the news is objective in presenting unbiased reports.  Initially at least, Al Jazeera aired dissenting views.

However, this is not a country of equal rights for men and women.  Now a woman may drive if she has permission from her family and passes a rigorous set of requirements (not required of men, of course).  Flogging and stoning to death are legal punishments.  Okay, I won’t be looking for work there.  The airline was great, however, and a quick tour of Doha could be very interesting.

In contrast to Qatar Airways, other airlines have not been so luxurious.  Because we are often careful about how we spend our money – and because Barry is such a good researcher, we often fly for less – and have few amenities.  For instance although we are offered drinks on most airlines, we didn’t even get water without paying for it on one AirAsia flight.  However, the planes are in good condition and we’ve gotten a taste of places that were new to us.

January 7, 2015 - in Denpasar xxx. Air Asia - a no frills plane - clean, but no food or other amenities

January 7, 2015 – in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia.   Air Asia – a no frills plane 

The airports are modern. Often it's just a hat that shows we must be somewhere outside the U.S. - and, yes, sometimes the signs too.

The airports are modern wherever we go. Often it’s just a hat that shows we must be somewhere outside the U.S. – and, yes, sometimes the signs too.

Because of a layover in Kuala Lumpur several years ago, Barry and I did go back for a visit because we were intrigued by the multi-cultured Malaysia:  colorful sari clad Indian women, fully cloaked Muslim women, and white women in shorts all mingling.

On our next trip, we may intentionally head to one of these formerly “new” to us countries.

The next time you book a cheap, non-direct flight, don’t bemoan your layover.  You may be discovering a new place and a new future destination.  Happy flying – and landing.  Wishing you multiple landings in interesting places.

Aloha, Renée


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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

One response to “There and Back Again – Airports in Russia, Uzbekistan, and Qatar”

  1. Rosita says :

    Wow! ✈️ That’s great! 😉 I have a holistic, natural way of living: I don’t eat bovine meat neither pork, because I don’t like how it tastes neither animal cruelty, because these animals suffer a lot at the hour of die. I believe that a person who kills intentionally an animal have a bad karma. I would never eat dog or feline meat, but I know that some countries practice it, as Thailand, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, but I believe that can be much more. How sad! 😦 weh, as I said, I don’t eat bovine meat neither pork, only chicken, fishes, rice and fruits (I love a fruit called mangosteen) 😋😋😋😋 so, with a very natural way of living, I’m a healthy person. I don’t walk my dogs, they don’t use collars, because local dogs need to be free, and Bali moved now to a local kampung, so, she have more liberty than in an apartment, and I visit she at the weekends 🙂 she’s being more and more beautiful, with a thick white coat, and she know the meaning of freedom, always running and playing with children in the kampung. I sometimes walk she, without collars, and I trained Bali to sit and stay. Obviously, she’s a very smart dog. I think that those walks with Bali are a way of improve healthy – for me and for she. I also make slight exercises all weeks. And you? What you’re doing by your healthy?

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