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!

2013-05-22 01.14.14

 

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

2013-05-22 01.20.30

 

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!

2013-05-22 01.47.20

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.

2013-05-22 06.53.33 2013-05-22 07.08.13

 

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:

2013-05-22 07.27.50

 

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:

2013-05-22 12.13.27

This was followed by an amuse bouche:

2013-05-22 04.22.30

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

2013-05-22 04.52.16

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…

2013-05-22 05.06.07

 

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….

2013-05-22 05.35.00

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.

2013-05-22 05.47.52

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.

2013-05-22 06.00.56

 

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.

2013-05-22 06.16.57

 

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!

2013-05-22 06.45.57

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:

2013-05-22 11.02.41

 

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!

2013-05-22 11.18.21

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

2013-05-22 11.58.24

 

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.

2013-05-22 12.16.55

 

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

2013-05-22 11.30.41

 

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.

IMG_6623

 

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

IMG_6625

 

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.”

IMG_6627

 

Right next door was the Congress:

IMG_6628

 

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…

IMG_6629

 

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:

IMG_6538 IMG_6539

…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:

IMG_6452 IMG_6453

 

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.

IMG_6469

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

IMG_6459

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!