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.
Routes for Aeroflot: http://www.airlineroutemaps.com/airlines/Aeroflot_Russian_Airlines
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.
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.
The Uzbekistan Airways flight was comfortable and reasonable.
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? http://www.qatarairways.com/global/en/route-map.page
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)
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 http://www.bankerinthesun.com/2014/02/teaching-english-abroad/.
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). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qatarhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qatar
Qatar is on a small peninsula; its only land border is with Saudi Arabia, the rest surrounded by the Persian Gulf.
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 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.
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.