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If you’re old enough to remember flower power and Woodstock, then you’ll probably recall the Keflavík stopover. Budget-conscious air travelers in the sixties used Loftleiðir (now part of Icelandair) to hop between the USA and Europe. Loftleiðir undercut the high fares of IATA airlines and pulled a young crowd of first time travelers. It also really put Iceland on the map. The Keflavík stopover gave a day or two of awesome geysers, cool waterfalls, and fiery brennivín. Nowadays, the Keflavík hub still gives Iceland an international visibility denied to most territories of similar size.
This year has seen the launch of a similar hub-and-spoke operation at Kaliningrad, Russia’s exclave on the Baltic. For years, Kaliningrad was a pain to reach. Now, thanks to KD Avia, it is suddenly one of Russia’s best connected cities and a great gateway to Russia from the west. No more tiresome changes of airports at Moscow. You can fly into Kaliningrad with KD Avia, quickly clear immigration, and within an hour or two be on a connecting flight to cities across Russia. Take your pick from the Volga cities of Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan or Samara; Ufa, Perm or Chelyabinsk (in the Urals region), Omsk in Siberia, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and many more.
KD Avia is an airline with big plans. Last week they placed an order for a new Airbus fleet at the Berlin air show. KD Avia’s initiative at Kaliningrad is the most exciting development in European aviation this year. And it means that Kaliningrad now finds itself in the tourist limelight.
Those who take the trouble to stop off will find a fabulously interesting city. Until 1946 known as Königsberg, and once part of the German province of East Prussia, Kaliningrad is a great city surrounded by a lovely hinterland. There’s the Curonian Spit, elegant beach resorts like Svetlogorsk, and, for visitors in search of souvenirs, some of the finest amber on the planet.
KD Avia flies to Kaliningrad from a clutch of cities in the EU, with flight times of two to three hours. Paris, London, Barcelona, Milan, Munich, Berlin, Hanover, Prague, and Vienna are among the routes served. The new network allows same-day connections from many regional cities in Russia to western Europe.
But canny Russians know that the Kaliningrad region warrants a stopover. Surely many travelers from the west will now follow suit and help make Kaliningrad the new Iceland. The water temperature, it has to be said, was pretty much like that around Iceland’s coasts, when we tentatively dipped our toes in the Baltic on the Curonian Spit last week.