Jun 082013

Wrapped up our session at around 4pm, and our driver picked us up at the office at 5pm to head to the airport, promising there would be lots of traffic…and you “must” get there early. Since it’s the largest city in Kazakhstan, I figured the airport would be pretty good-sized, so maybe there was reason. Plus, things move slowly with bureaucracy in central asia sometimes, so we’d see.

Got to the airport in about 25 minute, and it was still nearly three hours until flight time. Oops! The entry way was a long hallway left to right, but there were no check-in desks anywhere in sight. Oh, wait, they’re through the security checkpoint. That’s odd…but ok. Checkin took a couple of minutes, asked for a window seat in row two after being shown the wide-open seatmap…and ened up with 1B. Um, ok? I asked for row two aisle. She switched from Russian back to English, saying “yes, you take.” Sigh, ok. This was a non-winnable battle.

There were two lines for passport control, for business class and everyone else. It didn’t matter in the end, as both seemed to take about 20 minutes to get through. Right on the other side was security again, which had no line. So, in about 30 minutes, two hours before the flight, we were in the terminal. Let’s find a lounge!

There was a lounge it turns out, but it’s only open to passengers of Air Astana. Business class on Uzbekistan? Nyet, go wait in the terminal. Priority Pass? Nyet! Sigh. The terminal? It was one large room with a few hundred seats, shared by all flights. There were a couple small outrageously priced cafes around the edge of the room, and a good-sized duty free shop that was pretty well-stocked. That was it…we were just going to have to wait it out. Time went pretty fast due to free WiFi which was nice, and soon it was time to board!

Uzbekistan Airways flight 764
Almaty, Kazakhstan (ALA) to Tashkent, Uzbekistan (TAS)
Depart 20:15, Arrive 21:05, Flight Time 1:50
Airbus A320, Registration UK32014, Manufactured 2010, Seat 2F

There was no such thing as priority boarding, so I did what lots of developing country travel has taught me to do well and stood up for myself….using all 6’3 210 lbs of me to make sure I stayed at the front of the scrum. Fortunately, once on board, someone was already in my seat. I took that as a cue to take the seat I wanted…2F…and in the end, I don’t think anyone ended up in their assigned seats. That works!

The sun was setting, and the view out the window onto the tarmac over the bright green engine was pretty cool:



…and what’s this in the seatback pocket?  An “amenity kit” for a two hour flight?  Neat!

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Flight was completely full in the end, and we pushed back pretty much right on time.  Oh, and there were pre-departure beverages.  Not sure how I missed getting a picture of it.  Sparkling wine, juice, or water.  It’s just like the old United!  The sparkling wine was…hideous.  Tasted remotely like pear actually, but I still took one for the team and drank it.  Even asked for a second glass just to be sure…NYET!  Alrighty then!  I did, it appears, remember to take a pic of the coaster for the sparkling wine and the refreshing towel that was offered.

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Takeoff was quick, and it was a pretty fantastic view with the mountains, the setting sun, etc.  Unfortunately, the sun was down just a little too far and my pictures didn’t turn out too well.  There was, however, fascinating inflight reading until electronic devices were formally allowed:



Maybe 10-15 minutes after takeoff, the crew sprung into action, taking drink orders and delivering the meal.  I decided to opt for some more of the sparkling wine just to make sure….and to make sure it didn’t go to waste!  I did manage to get a couple of refills, but they did look at me strangely each time.  As I said, I got very used to finally using the call button on this trip.



I think I ate the apple, the giant tomato, the pickle, and the peanuts.  The hot dog roll and the croissant just scared me…and I didn’t really need the carbfest muffin either.  It was certainly not a bad offering considering the length of the flight, however.  Other than that, it was a pretty average flight….except…

Maybe 10 minutes from landing, a guy ran up the aisle from coach towards the first class lav, and succeeded to throw up all over the lav door….and then walked in and barricaded himself in.  Strangely enough, the crew didn’t seem at all phased by this.  Airsickness it seems?  Well, maybe, except he forgot to close the door all the way….and when it swung open maybe 30 seconds later he was facing the wrong direction and urinating out into the cabin.  Again, the crew acted like this happened all the time.  It’s the most surreal thing I’ve seen in 30+ years of flying.  But, hey, we landed alright and he did make it back to his seat before landing, escorted by a friend.

Deplaned via a roll-up staircase, and there was a separate bus for business class.  I soon found out why…there was also a separate immigration and customs area for business class.  Immigration was painless, but luggage delivery took forever….nearly 30 minutes for the few bags there were.  During this time, the bored bureaucrats made a point of checking our declaration forms, x-raying our carry on luggage, and basically looking bored.  There was a small “duty free” shop, but the products all looked a decade or more old, and were definitely not interesting.

Once my bags finally came, headed outside where hundreds and hundreds of people were waiting.  Seems a Korean Air flight had landed at the same time, and the place was teeming.  Also, the business class terminal wasn’t open to them…only passengers of Uzbekistan Airways.  Strange!

My driver was waiting for me, and we headed straight to the hotel.  There was no ATM at the airport, but as my local office had instructed me my driver was prepared with some local currency for me.  The rate varies between 2000-2800 to the dollar depending on where you exchange, and the biggest bill is 1000 som, so you very quickly acquire large stacks of money.  I was shown how to fold and sort it to make it easier to carry:

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Each rubber band is 100,000 som.  take 9 bills, fold another bill around them to make 10, and take 10 of those bundles together to make 100,000 som, or somewhere around $35.

Got to the Radisson around 10pm and quickly ordered room service, since the food on the plane hadn’t done the trick.  What delights did room service have in store tonight?2013-05-21 18.32.08

Went with a chicken ceasar since I was hungry but not too hungry, and it was meh at best, slathered in dressing.


So, I guess this is a good time as well to do a quick review of the hotel as well, the Radisson Blu Tashkent.

The few staff I encountered were friendly, although seemed a bit puzzled by nearly every request I made.  Where’s a grocery store?  Where’s the metro?  Etc.  All met with puzzled looks, but usually helpful answers.

The room was comfortable, and cool enough, except the AC would go from cool, to just blowing warm air from time to time with what seemed like no explanation.  However, it was cool enough to sleep most of the time, and combined with the mildly comfy king bed it did the trick.  Bathroom was basic, and the showerhead kept flopping around making for interesting times,  but again, it was adequate.  Not nice,  but adequate.

I’ll review room service again later, but the breakfasts were decent.  A small to medium sized selection, heavily focused on hot foods and breads.  It was ok and I found enough to eat, but was probably the worst hotel breakfast I had on this trip.  I didn’t check out the hotel bars, but that was mainly because they looked empty and kinda lonely.

Next up:  daytrip to Samarkand

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