Sep 282017
 

Fortunately, there was no line at all at immigration tonight, and I was through in just a few minutes. I had pre-arranged a driver with my hotel (always a great idea in Delhi given the general chaos that is the arrivals area) and soon we were on the way to the car. Hit the 1000 degrees and 1000 percent humidity outside and wilted as usual, as we fought our way through the crowds to the parked car:

Took about 15-20 minutes to get to the hotel, and went with my usual choice the ITC Maurya. I’ve stayed here probably a dozen times, and it’s always a wonderful experience. Unfortunately, upon entering the lobby the entire thing was under construction. This in itself wouldn’t be a problem, but the new check-in area was apparently two tables by the elevators where a couple of agents were struggling with a queue of over twenty people.

I asked the bellman nicely if they could do priority checkin for Platinum members, and was met with a negative, as they tended to more than a dozen members of an Air France crew all checking out and having to settle the cash advances the hotel had given them. I get why airline contracts are helpful to hotels, but given their significantly discounted rates, and knowing there was construction, you would think there was something they could have done for a platinum guest so I didn’t have to wait over 20 minutes to check in. Very bad first impression.

Once I was checked in, it was a huge rush, here’s your key, ok thanks bye, someone will show you to your room. Ugh. Got to the room, and it was super hot and stuffy. Turned on the air conditioning, and even after running for five minutes it sounded like a jet engine. While waiting to see if it would cool/quiet down, I decided to at least get a shower.

Apparently, this shower was made for much smaller people….

The maintenance condition of this room was appalling.

Called to the front desk to ask for a new room, and they told me “wait a bit longer, it takes time.” Um, it sounds like a jet engine no matter how cold it gets. I want a new room.” “We will see what we can do.” Decided not to wait, went to the front “desk,” to the front of the line and asked for the manager. Shockingly, there was no manager available, but a lady directing traffic in the lobby (not sure her actual job, seemed like a concierge or something) took note of the problem, asked me to have a seat while she sorted it.

In fairness, 10 minutes later I had a room that was much better, but combined with the long checkin and changing rooms I’d lost an hour of sleep. Not a huge deal, but considering I was already going to get around six hours best case, I was pretty upset to have lost an hour.

I feel bad leaving such a negative review of this property, because on all previous stays it really was rather lovely and I enjoyed the stay overall. However, this time, they really dropped the ball.

Anyways, I slept reasonably well, and the next morning, of course, my pre-arranged transfer to the airport wasn’t ready and it took nearly 30 minutes even after I confirmed it the night before AND with a call right when I woke up. Overall, a super disappointing experience.



Got to the airport, nobody in line at the Uzbekistan Airways checkin area, and the agents seemed genuinely annoyed that I cared what seat they put me in. They were even more annoyed when I cared what seat I was on on my connecting flight. Oh well, given both flights were full I was very glad I persisted and got the seats I wanted, since there seemed to be no way to assign them in advance, despite numerous calls and emails to all their global offices.

Since I was cutting it close, I opted to skip the lounge today (nothing to write home about in Delhi) and grab some Starbucks to wake me up. Best part of Delhi Airport is the Starbucks in the gate area…complete with heavily armed guard. Hands off my coffee!

Sitting in the gate area, just 20 minutes prior to departure, there were only like 15 people in the entire gate area. Worried I had missed the flight, I asked the gate agent, and she informed me there were only 22 people from Delhi, but the plane would be full from Amritsar. Wow.

Boarding was 10 minutes prior to scheduled departure, but no problem when there’s only 22 people to board!

Uzbekistan Airways flight 422
Delhi, India (DEL) to Amritsar, India (ATQ)
Depart 8:50, Arrive 10:00, Flight Time: 1:10
Boeing 767-300, Registration UK67006, Manufactured 2013, Seat 1C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 95,942
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,472,919

First row centre bulkhead. Flight attendant saw me take this pic, and very sternly wagged her finger at me. Apparently, Uzbekistan Airways still has an incredibly strict no photos policy. How very….quaint.

Didn’t stop me from snapping a few ones on the down low. Plane was in a 2-1-2 config.

As soon as we were 10 minutes in the air, “snack” and water or juice was offered. Normally I would have steered way clear of the cheese sandwich, but couldn’t really resist it with ketchup?!

About 30 minutes prior to landing, the pilot asked the flight attendants to be seated, because we were like to encounter some turbulence. What followed was without a doubt the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced in flight – especially in a widebody – we were thrown from side to side, several sharp drops in altitude, audible screams from the few people on board, and I was honestly making headlines in my head “22 whole passengers killed on 767 jumbo jet in monsoon.”

But, just like that, we were maybe 2-3 minutes from landing, and it was all smooth again. Literally terrifying. As soon as we landed, it was a bit more clear. There was a torrential downpour in Amritsar, and the monsoon was clearly in full effect.

Boarding was via stairs, and I have to admit, it was kind of entertaining watching 200+ completely soaked people stagger aboard. Well over 90% of the passengers were Sikhs, and I’ve heard Uzbekistan Airways does quite a business connecting this flight to their flight to Manchester. If today’s load was any indicator, they do quite well. Seemed to be a lot of families with small children who had gone home to visit relatives, now returning after the end of summer break.

Even with the monsoon and full plane, we were boarded on time, and ready to go. I admit I was terrified how bad the turbulence would be on climb out.

Uzbekistan Airways flight 422
Amritsar, India (ATQ) to Tashkent, Uzbekistan (TAS)
Depart 10:55, Arrive 13:00, Flight Time: 2:35
Boeing 767-300, Registration UK67006, Manufactured 2013, Seat 1C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 96,669
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,473,646

Fortunately, the turbulence, while still pretty heavy, was nowhere near as bad, and well within “ugh” limits, and we were clear of it less than 10 minutes after takeoff. That means it’s time to eat!

Dish of peanuts, “meat”, some veg, bread (on a plate), and some sort of potato or cabbage salad in heavy mayo. Wasn’t really the best meal, but I wasn’t all that hungry anyways, so picked at the parts that were interesting and that was plenty. It was a relatively short flight, so not a huge deal. Kudos to them for at least offering a hot meal on such a short flight.

After deplaning, there was an agent yelling “connections” and then repeating in Russian. She asked me (in Russian) connection? Yes? Where to? I asked her why she asked in Russian and not English, and she said “because you don’t look Indian.” Hah, I guess that’s something?



Apparently, I was the only person connecting in business class today, which seemed kind of odd. I’m not sure where all the Sikhs were going in that case, unless the plane continued straight on to Birmingham and they just went through security and then right back on. Which is entirely possible.

That meant, even with security and the time before boarding the next flight, I would have over five hours to kill in the Uzbekistan Airways lounge. At this point, my cell phone still hadn’t gotten data service, and I was worried it was going to be a very, very long five hours. This was confirmed when I found out that the wifi in the lounge was down.

There were a few power outlets around the lounge so that was good at least, and it was rather spacious and a reasonably cool temperature…especially since I found an AC unit near the wall to sit by.

Quite spacious:

Snacks. I wasn’t thrilled at first, but the small meat-stuffed pastries were kind of addicting, especially after popping them in the microwave for a bit. Yes, there was a microwave in the lounge.

Chatted with the agents a little bit, who were the same ones who had been handling transit earlier. After chatting a bit, it was clear the other reason they spoke Russian with me – they were far more comfortable in it than they were in English. She tried English once to ask about my tattoos, but got flustered quite quickly and switched back to Russian – after which point we had several nice small chats over the next five hours.

The lounge remained empty the entire time, except this fashionista who came in about an hour before I left, wearing  a dress from the 2017 Trump/Putin Prison Collection. She was also fond of the little meat pies.

With about an hour to go, I decided to ask what I might have to drink instead of Fanta. Oh, there’s wine…white or red? Both were from the “Georgian Patio” winery, and had the high endorsement of “wine for restaurants.” Hmmm, yup, tasted about as good as you’d expect. I had a second glass to make sure, however. Science.

Boarding was pretty much on time, and our plane was at a remote stand. The minute I took my phone out of my pocket to try and get a picture of it, I was met with a chorus of NYET! from the several armed police “guarding” the plane. Ugh, ok. I have to say the 787 looked supremely sexy in the green, yellow, and blue of Uzbekistan Airways at sunset, however. You’ll have to take my word for it.

Uzbekistan Airways flight 601
Tashkent, Uzbekistan (TAS) to Moscow, Domodedevo, Russia (DME)
Depart 19:00, Arrive 21:15, Flight Time: 4:15
Boeing 787-8, Registration UK78701, Manufactured 2016, Seat 1C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 98,391
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,475,368

I did, during pre departure beverages, manage to snap a shot of the seats on the 787. Not bad. Not sure I would want these all the way to New York from Tashkent, but they were pretty comfortable, and the nice divider in the middle prevented them from being footsie seats.

Sneak peak across the aisle:

…and the other side.

Laminated menus!

Wow, now that’s what I call a meal. Just kidding…this is just the appetizers. Seriously! The red wine on board was marginally better. We had multiple kinds of bread on a plate. Upgrade from peanuts to cashews this flight. A nice little cucumber/tomato/cheese salad. Cheese plate. Meat plate. Fish plate. Whew.

I went with the beet stroganoff for a main, which was pretty tasty….I mean, it wasn’t gourmet cuisine, but overall I liked the regional flair to the meal, and nobody is going to go hungry on this flight. I fear how much they must serve all the way to New York!

I was pretty full, but kept the plates that could reasonably be considered desert to munch on with a bit more wine while I watched some movies:

Overall, I have to say Uzbekistan Airways exceeded my expectations. I had set them really low, but they exceeded them by leaps and bounds. I mean, the next cheapest option was $700 more…AND a redeye, but it was nonstop and avoided the six hours in Tashkent.

I chose Uzbekistan to save money, to save sleep, and for the novelty factor, and they definitely hit a home run with these flights. They have a way to go to be a serious international competitor, but for the price they were a fantastic option and I definitely wouldn’t hesitate to fly them again.

Now, it’s time to take a break for a few days from flying, and take some trains!

Jun 132013
 

Got to the airport at 9pm for my 11:50pm flight, since I’d been warned by several colleagues that immigration to get out of Tashkent could be nasty.  I tried to check in at the VIP terminal again,  but turns out that’s only for those flying on Uzbekistan Airways.  No priority anything for other airlines.  There was no wait to check in, however, but there was probably a 30 minute queue for passport control.

The real nightmare began on the other side.  The person manning the baggage scanner decided I was a good target for harassment, and pulled me and my bags aside for a hand search and grope.  And when I say grope, it made the TSA look like naïve innocents.  Seriously, I’m pretty sure there are people hire “professional escorts” who get less of a grope.  Then, it continued on to a very very detailed baggage inspection, going through every little container I had, squirting a little bit of toothpaste out, looking in prescription jars, etc.  Eventually, I’d had enough and refused to answer any further questions until he called a supervisor over.  The supervisor continued the harassment, but when I told him where I’d been working when there, he finally gave up and sent me on my way.

Not that it was much better – the entire airport is one large waiting area, and again there was a lounge, but the doors were locked.  No access for Air Astana.  Rather bizarre.  I ended up just sitting around for nearly 90 minutes trying to kill time until it was time to board.

Air Astana flight 124
Tashkent, Uzbekistan (TAS) to Astana, Kazakhstan (TSE)
Depart 23:50, Arrive 2:55 next day, Flight Time 3:05
Embraer ERJ-190, Registration P4-KCH, Manufactured 2012, Seat 2A

Water, juice, and sparkling wine were offered during boarding, and the flight appeared to be completely full today. We pushed back pretty much on time, and were airborne shortly.  Despite the late hour and being a regional jet, Air Astana pulled out all the stops and served a full hot meal.  Actually quite impressive…starting with warm nuts and wine!

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This was followed with a full hot meal (and wine refills upon pressing the flight attendant call button):

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Shortly before landing, immigration cards were distributed.  I didn’t see any way to to an airside transfer in Astana, but it could be possible.  I didn’t require a visa with my passport, so I decided to just clear immigration and check in with Lufthansa.  I found the immigration forms mildly amusing, because watermarked across them in large text was the fact that they were free!

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Immigration took less than five minutes, but checked bagged took over 30 minutes to show up!  Not a big issue though, and went upstairs and checked in with Lufthansa quite easily.  Exit immigration and security were a complete non-event, and once again there was no lounge on the other side.  I’ve never been to a Lufthansa international destination that didn’t have a lounge for business class passengers, so this was rather surprising.  The airport had free, and fast-enough-to-Skype internet, so that was good at least, and helped to pass a bit of time.

Lufthansa flight 649
Astana, Kazakhstan (TSE) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 4:40, Arrive 6:45, Flight Time 6:05
Airbus A330-300, Registration D-AIKE, Manufactured 2004, Seat 3D

There’s not going to be much detail on this flight, other than to say it was about 2/3 full in business class, and I was lucky enough to have the seat next to me remain empty.  The downside is, at 4:40am in May this far north, the sun was already rising as we took off, and we flew into the sun the entire flight.  The crew was great about putting the shades down very quickly after takeoff so those who wanted to sleep could.  When the food/drink service came around I wasn’t hungry, but asked for and got two glasses of red wine, the proceeded to pass out and sleep for five straight hours.  Excellent!

However, I did keep the menu, and appears there was no food service.  The flight comes from Almaty where they serve a small dinner (listed aso Chicken Breast stuffed with dried Tomato, marinated Prawn and Mango Sauce with fresh fruit for desert) but this flight featured a breakfast which I didn’t bother waking up for:

Fresh Fruit

Muesli

Marinated Prawn, moked Beef (not my typo, theirs), smoked Chicken Breast and Chili Cause, Bavaria blu and Goda Cheese

or

Cheese Omelette with Chicken Brochette, Potato Cake, Asparagus and Tomato Sauce

After clearing security in Frankfurt, I went straight to the Senator lounge and asked about upgrading my next flight with a United Global Upgrade.  I was worried because Expertflyer showed 4 seats left in first, and I know Lufthansa usually loads meals in sets of 4, and sometimes where there are exactly 4 seats left they will use it as an excuse not to upgrade you.  The agent said she would call the agent handing the flight and get back to me shortly.  Meanwhile, I decided it was time for a shower and an espresso while I waited.

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After the espresso, the agent came over to tell me that normally it would not be possible to upgrade on this flight, but due to my “corporate account booking” they would be making an exception.  Score!  I opted to wait out the next two hours in the Lufthansa First lounge, even though it meant having to clear immigration to the Schengen side.  I have no idea where there’s no First class lounge for the Z gates since they’re almost all longhaul international flights, but that’s how it is.  Once there, I had time to wait, so had a proper morning snack.  Pain au chocolate, kiwi juice, smoked salmon, and a bit of Veuve rosé bubbly:

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Back through immigration after catching up on some work, and soon it was time to board.

Lufthansa flight 416
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 9:40, Arrive 12:30, Flight Time 8:50
Airbus A340-300, Registration D-AIGZ, Manufactured 2000, Seat 2D

I’m going to mainly focus on the food service here, as the crew was flawless as usual.  I think I’ve taken around a dozen flights in Lufthansa first now, and every single crew has been absolutely perfect.  As a bonus, this flight had wifi so I was able to get quite a bit of work done.  I still think it’s ridiculous they charge for WiFi in first class, but it is what it is.  Unfortunately, all four window seats were taken when I upgraded, but I ended up with all four middle seats in the middle to myself.  Hooray!  Somehow I forgot to take a picture of the pre-departure champagne and macadamia nuts, however.

To start the meal service, the customary Lufthansa rose:

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This was followed by an amuse bouche:

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The table was set, and today’s bubbles were Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame….YUM!

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I asked the flight attendant to slow down service since it would be a long flight,  and I opted to start with the caviar before appetizers.  Ok, I’m going to confess to it here too….this was one of three servings I had.  They were all delicious.  I was the only passenger eating early in the flight (I noticed 3 of the other 4 never at at all) so I hoped I wasn’t eating it all, but hey…she offered…

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Today’s appetizer choices were:

  1. North Sea Crabs with Mustard Dill Sour Cream, Pumpernickel Cream and Cucumber Relish
  2. Prime boiled Veal with Frankfurt Green Sauce, Egg Salad
  3. Mozzarella with Giant Oxheart Tomatoes and Pine Nut Dressing
  4. Salad of meadow Herbs with Oyster Mushrooms accompanied by your Choice of Yogurt Dill or Tomato Tarragon Dressing

I decided to try everything but the crabs, and it was all quite tasty.  Yes, more bubbles please….

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I’ve seen Lufthansa serve some really unusual stuff in First Class before.  One of the more memorable oddities was the milk-wine they served, even though it was delicious.  Today definitely took the cake though, there was a palate cleanser which was described as “melon sorbet with cucumber tapioca and basil oil.”  I took one bite, and the combination of texture, taste, and smell was just not the least bit appealing…and this coming from someone who will eat just about anything.

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Palate cleansed (or revolted) it was time for a main meal.  Choices today were:

  1. Asparagus Spears with Sauce Hollandaise, Black Forest Ham, boiled Ham and Parsley Potatoes
  2. American Rump Steak on White Bean Mash with Feta Cheese
  3. Filet of Char and its Caviar with Grape Seed Oil and mashed Green Peas
  4. Oriental flavored Saddle of Lamb with Citrus Yogurt, Pomegranate and Couscous

I went with the lamb, and it was absolutely delicious.  Only complaint is there needed to be more lamb!

There were three red wine choices to accompany the lamb:

  1. 2007 Château Conon-La-Gaffelière Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé
  2. 2007 Guade al Tasso, Bolgheri Superiore DOC
  3. 2007 Neuquén Patagonia Malbec

Being a huge fan of Argentine malbecs that’s what I chose, and it went perfectly with the lamb.

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Next up was the cheese course:

Brillat Savarin, Gruyère, Reblochon, Goat Cheese and Gorgonzola with Orange Chutney, Grapes and Celerey.

I took a little taster of each along with some more malbec.

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Then, it was dessert time.  There were two choices:

  1. Toasted white Chocolate, pickled Pineapple and Curry Crumble
  2. Cream Cheese Mousse and Ice Cream on Rhubarb Ragout with Strawberries

Now, I have a little confession.  I’m pretty sure I chose the second option, especially because it contained rhubarb which I love, but there’s no photographic evidence nor do I really remember it.  There is, however, evidence on my camera of at least two glasses of Johnny Walker Blue, one ice cube.  Hey, priorities!

2013-05-22 07.13.57

 

At this point I went to the washroom, changed into my Lufthansa pyjamas, came back to a made up bed, and proceeded to pass out for around four hours.  I did manage to snap a selfie in the pyjamas before passing out though and post it to facebook…a great use of in-flight internet if I ever saw one!

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Woke up about 90 minutes out of DC and  sampled the “snack time” service just to report on it of course.  Our options today were:

  1. Frisée, Radicchio, Arugula and Romaine Lettuce with Carrots, Bell Pepper, Cucumber, Cherry Tomatoes, Red Radish and Chives presented with your Choice of Champagne or Yogurt Herb Dressing
  2. Salad of Chilean Shrimps
  3. Marinated Cocktail Tomatoes with Mozzarella Balls
  4. Orecchiette Pasta with Green Peas, sun-dried Tomatoes, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Spinach and Italian Herbs
  5. Toasted Pine Nuts
  6. Fried Button Mushrooms
  7. Serrano Ham and Poulard Breast with Thyme
  8. Fried Swordfish with Herbs

I got a little sampler of things, since I was being indecisive:

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I was completely stuffed, but hey, there’s always room for desert.  It was a “chili flavored chocolate tart with whipped cream.”  Oh, wait, that’s where things went!  I actually stopped the first meal after the cheese… I did have the rhubarb from the main course…just later!

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…and to finish things off, a nice double espresso.

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At this point we were getting close to landing, so it was time to change out of pyjamas.  I briefly considered being obnoxious and going through immigration in pyjamas, but really didn’t need to risk running into anyone I knew, or having more fun dealings with CBP.

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Soon, it was time to stow away monitors and get ready to land.

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That wraps up this trip report!  Nothing on the horizon, but I’m sure that won’t last long!

Jun 122013
 

I had one final day to explore the city before getting back to work, so decided to use it to see Tashkent. I’d read that there wasn’t a whole lot to see, but I picked some of the higher rated attractions on TripAdvisor, made a loose plan, and set out on foot to explore. I decided to use the Metro to get around, since my hotel seemed to be halfway between two stations, approximately a 10 minute walk from each.

First, the view of the telecom tower outside my hotel window. This was actually highly rated as something to see, but I ran out of time.

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Walking to the metro, I passed a bit of Gagnam…I mean Optical Style.  Even in Uzbekistan…

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First stop was Amir Timur square.  Remember him from yesterday?  I saw his mausoleum in Samarkand.  He’s kinda a big deal in Uzbekistan.  On the square sits the fabulously Soviet Hotel Uzbekistan, a monument to “bigger and plainer is better.”

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Right next door was the Congress:

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Continuing around the square, the next two sites were the old clock tower and the new clock tower.  Very similar, I honestly don’t remember which one this is.  I remember one had really poor lighting and I couldn’t get a good pic.  Not that this one was a whole lot better, but…

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Continue reading »

Jun 112013
 

This post is going to be very heavy on the pictures, since you can read the history online.  Reflecting back on it now as I put this together, I’m absolutely amazed at how much I managed to see in just over six hours!

After a filling lunch, it was off to the next sight, the Gur-Amir or Tamerlane Mausoleum. This was built in the early 1400s and contains the tombs of not only Tamerlane/Timur, but also his sons and grandsons, including Ulug Begh whose observator I’d seen that morning.

A couple photos outside the mausoleum, with and without me and random tourists:

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…and a couple of artsy shots inside the complex.  I don’t know why, but for some reason Samarkand seemed to really lend itself to getting artsy shots with the iPhone.

IMG_6541 IMG_6545 Continue reading »

Jun 102013
 

When I got into this part of the trip, I realized there are a ton of pics and details from this day, so I’ll be splitting my daytrip to Samarkand into two parts.  This is part one, covering the train to Samarkand, a morning of touring, and lunch.  I was lucky to have a day off from work this weekend, and wanted to make the most of it!

Had to get up super early this morning, because I’d been booked on the 7am train from Tashkent to Samarkand.  I had hoped to be on the 8am so I could at least get a little sleep, but unfortunately there was confusion, and my driver picked me up at 6am to go to the train station, leaving me operating only about 5 hours of sleep.  And no breakfast.  And no caffeine.  Well, actually a little caffeine…I’d found a bottle of water the night before, but it was sparkling so I used the gross in-room water kettle to boil some up and make a little instant coffee that was in the room.  Better than nothing!

The drive to the train station was only about 10 minutes, and security was tight.  There were at least three security checkpoints to get into the station checking tickets and passport, but by the time I got it they were already letting people onto the train.  I’d booked the new-ish highspeed train, which made the trip in just a little over two hours, traveling in excess of 200 kph!  There were three classes on the train – regular economy, first class, and “VIP class.”  The price difference really wasn’t that much, so I booked the VIP!  I was too curious not too!

A few shots of the seats:

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One thing that became clear quickly.  There were carriage numbers printed on the tickets, but no seat numbers.  It was first come, first served, with the attendants trying to sit groups somewhat together.  It all worked out on the trip down, but the trip back was a hot mess!

I won’t talk too much about the train trip, since I got many more details on the return when I was more awake.  There was a food and drink cart, and it had Red Bull, so that helped to wake me up a little bit.  I really should have had a second one…and just like that, a little after 9am we pulled into Samarkand station.

I’d debated if I wanted to hire a guide/car before arriving, and in the end, I’m glad I did . The sights were a bit spread out, and I got a good amount of history.  Plus, a car and guide for an 8 hour day for $80 (or so I thought) was pretty reasonable.  He was waiting for me at the station with a sign with my name on it, and we were off.  He asked what I wanted to see….and I said all the historic sights.  Isn’t that what people come here for?  “No club?  No sexy lady?” Uh no, and yes, I had to spend several hours getting grilled about girlfriends…him cracking jokes about “only 3 kids, that I know of, I have girlfriends in many countries.”  It was irritating, but I tuned it out more or less.

After convincing him I really wanted to see all the typical boring historic sights, we were off.    The first stop was the Ulugh Beg Observatory.   It was built in the 1420s in order to determine the midday point.  The most annoying part of this site were the two giant tourbusses full of Korean tourists.  No idea why they seem to come to Uzbekistan in such large numbers, but they apparently do.

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Anyways, back to the Observatory.  A picture of the outside:

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Continue reading »

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:

IMG_6439

 

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

IMG_0116 Continue reading »

May 192013
 

Big milestone this week – in Uzbekistan right now, and that makes 136 countries visited, and by by list 60 to go!  Lots of work ahead of me as you can see by the country map (especially Africa) but still confident I’ll get there in the next several years!

Anyone with strategies for my remaining countries…I’d love your advice!

 

Apr 262013
 

No sooner had I gotten back from Johannesburg than I found out that the new job I took starting the day I returned had a trip planned for me.  I expected it would maybe be one new country, but as planning has evolved it’s now planned for nearly three weeks and four new countries!  Score!  The downside is not getting to really play tourist too much, but you can’t complain about getting to go to four relatively out of the way countries  without it costing any vacation time or out of pocket expense!  Things are pretty much lined up now, and the the route looks like:

map

 

Plan is to visit four new countries:  Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.  Assuming the visas show up in time, all systems should be go for this trip!  Lots of long segments on Lufthansa…perhaps in First if upgrades clear, along with a couple long segments on dreaded Turkish 737s from Sarajevo to Istanbul to Bishkek.  Also, two new airlines:  Uzbekistan Airlines and Air Astana, one on an A320 and the other on an ERJ-190.  This assumes, again, that everything happens as planned…

Not sure how many sights I’ll get a chance to see, but I’ll definitely make an attempt to review the flights, check out the local restaurants, and use my evenings wisely to at least try and see some sights around town!  Plus, I should have a full weekend day in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, so that should be a chance to see a fair bit!

More to come soon!