Thursday 3 October

Leaving Russia is much harder than arriving – especially if you are going to Malta. Only Air Malta has a direct flight from St Petersburg and being well down in the pecking order it gets the most inconvenient departure times, like ten to four in the morning. Rather than stay one more bit-night at the glorious Belmond we booked into a Radisson right next to the airport to increase our chance of being on time for the flight. This hotel was designed by a kid with a Lego set where there were too many bright, lime green bricks. The bedhead had a band of light running around its perimeter and, of course, it continually changed colour. To turn it off, and save ourselves having seizures, we had to manhandle the heavy bed out the way. Having said all that, it was a fit for purpose building, within bag-rolling distance of Air Malta check-in.

Inside St Petersburg airport is another interesting way to create a transit hotel. Called a Capsule Hotel, it comprises rows of wooden boxes (like Great Dane kennels) with mattresses for floors, a pillow and a towel. You crawl in (accompanied if lucky) and slide the door shut. I guess you use bathroom facilities in the airport. Cost was 500 roubles an hour (about A$13).

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Fit for a King (George Spaniel)

Checking in at St Petersburg is so unnecessarily complex it becomes farcical – but not quite so much at 3 am. First is a security check of you and your luggage just to get into the airport. Air Malta check-in then takes ages because the girl behind the counter appears never to have done the job before. From there you go to another haphazard queue (with rampant queue jumpers) to check your passport. Once through that you line up, again with no supervision, outside what looks like a line of little bathing boxes, to again have your passport checked. Then joy! you are in the welcoming duty-free shops. St Petersburg loves you after all – because you might spend some money.  But when you are called to board your Air Malta zippy, cramped little A320, matters become vexing again because you are sent down a long stone staircase carrying, in our case, cunningly heavy cabin bags.

The flight took four and a half hours. We’d paid for business class, imagining flat beds, but no. We got skinny, fixed economy seats with an empty one in the middle to denote business class. 

Malta eventually materialised from a dawn sea, such a contrast to Russia, with small, square shouldered Mediterranean buildings. We’re only here for one night. Tomorrow we begin a motor tour of Sicily after yet another struggle to get there with Air Malta.