Zhukovsky, Your Personal Airport
Moscow has a new airport. And by new, I mean it's less than a month old. And by less than a month old, I mean its website barely comes up on Google search, it takes three modes of transportation to get there, and it has only one flight a day.
This beauty is called Zhukovsky International Airport. Why international? Because that one flight a day goes to Minsk, Belarus (Belarus is sort of a separate country: it has its own dictator, its own currency (Belorussian ruble), and even its own borscht (with lard), though it doesn't seem to have much of a border because no one checks your passport if you're traveling from Russia). But I digress.
Zhukovsky is Moscow's fourth international airport, which opened in September. They made a big hoopla about it in the news: 15 million Moscovites, crowded airports need relief, we should build a new one, blah blah blah. I was in Moscow for a few days and wouldn't have cared much. After all, it's God knows where and only has one flight a day. To Minsk.
But the thing is, several hours before leaving Moscow, I discovered that I was one of the lucky people on this exact flight to Minsk.
In case you'll also end up on that flight or somehow land in Zhukovsky, let me describe the very Russian procedure you will need to go through to get there:
1. Get up at the crack of dawn and take the crazy cheap Uber through Moscow's unusually empty streets to Kazansky Train Station, an impressive old industrial station with 15 tracks of heaving locomotives, surly police men and the proletariat masses carrying plastic duffel bags to God only knows where.
2. Board the fast Sputnik train (yes, it's actually called Sputnik) to Otdyh Station ("otdyh" means rest or vacation, but don't set your expectations too high).
3. Get off the train and follow the small bilingual signs for Airport down the stairs (yes, with your luggage...), through a musty underground tunnel, back up the stairs (What did you think, this was going to be easy?), past the babushka selling apples, around the corner, and then around another corner until you come to a bus stop.
4. Take the bus - fancily called "shuttle" to Zhukovsky Airport by paying 100 rubles to a grumpy ticket lady who has never smiled in her life. The shuttle ride takes 20 minutes. On the way you will pass five-story Soviet-era apartment buildings, stray dogs, a lovely pine and birch forest, some less lovely garbage, and a few grandmas on bicycles. Good old Russia, in other words. I think for a foreigner who lands there for the first time, it's actually a pretty good introduction to the place.
Then, the shuttle will turn and you will finally come to a wide, grassy field with a few cars parked in front of a small, two-story glass building...
TA DA!! Welcome to:
5. Check in and enjoy a VIP treatment. Unless you own a personal jet, chances are this is the closest you'll ever come to having an international airport at your service. Unlike most airports, Zhukovsky workers are all young, pleasant and spotlessly dressed. They work fast. They wish you a pleasant flight. They check your luggage with the giddy enthusiasm of young pioneers on their first scouting excursion. My advice - take the time to enjoy this rare treat. Everyone here is very excited to see you because this is literally the only time in the day they get to do anything besides twiddle their thumbs inside an empty building in the middle of a field 25km from the capital where their friends probably work.
6. Don't count on Duty Free. Once you've passed security, you have only two choices of entertainment: watch the fighter jets take off from a nearby terminal (the airfield has served as a major aircraft testing site since the Cold War years) or have tea at the airport's only cafe. Your pick.
7. Once it's time to board your flight, go downstairs and take the bus that will drive you from the gate through a completely empty runway to the only plane in sight. Try not to joke about the ridiculousness of the procedure. Remember, you're helping the Motherland by creating jobs. There is a crisis going on, for Christ's sake.
8. Fly off to Minsk's main airport, which considering that it's the main airport of a 2-million-person semi-European capital, will throw you back about 30 years and will make you appreciate the beauty that was Zhukovsky Airport (where you'll probably never return).