Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The 5 Stans hurdles

Posted by Hippo Bean at 9:42 PM
I dont remember exactly when I've decided to do the 5 Stans. And the hurdles were many. First the 3 visas I've found out after booking the tour that I needed to get on my own. The 3 countries no longer accepted tour agencies to get the visas, I was told, and I was pissed. Luckily L's friend suggested a visa agency that had a nice website. I've downloaded the online forms, created all the entry fields in Acrobat, and filled them out on my Mac. And so began the month long wait and worry. Both Uzbek and Kyrgys took extra days but Kazak only took 2 days. And the visa was the cheapest. The next hurdle was the Aeroflot flight with 10 hrs layover in Moscow. Stay at the soviet style airport or venture alone out to see Moscow? I didnt think I could manage seeing the city on my own since my Cyrillic was so non-existing. Massive online research didnt yield a better or cheaper flight schedule. It proved to be difficult to travel to the Stans on a smooth painless timetable. First C said she could travel with me to Moscow. Then they wanted her to be in St Petersburg instead. Finally she said she could overnight train to Moscow and meet me at SVO. Then there were the logistics of how to get to town from the airport. Online reviews didnt recommend driving since the Moscow traffic was legendary. But with C's fluent Russian, we could take the train and then metro to the center of town. Next hurdle was to get the Russian transit visa. It cost the same as the regular one, but a transit visa didnt need a letter of invitation (what's with these soviet places that needed a letter of invitation to their country?), only a short letter specifying the purpose of the visit. To my amazement, their SF embassy website had detailed and clear instructions on how to fill out the visa application. I did a dummy one and then printed it out for a test. what the heck is a patronymic name? Next I drove to their beautiful embassy up on Russian Hill on Green st. There was no clear line for the counter. One needed to find out who's last and wait for that person to finish. I've learned this thanks to the visa agent who was there to get visas for his clients. Asian looking but spoke Russian. Most likely from one of the Stans! My turn came and the Russian agent took some time to read my letter, and then made a phone call. I've heard him said 'niet, niet' and I began to worry. Then he told me to wait as he needed to wait for a return call. Then finally he took my papers and gave me a receipt for my money order. On my way back, my car overheated and broke down. But exactly 7 days later, I've returned and got my transit visa. No need to wait in line if you've come for pickup. This I've also learned at the Russian embassy. I was impressed with their procedure. Painless, smooth and easy. With visa hurdles overcome, the next ones were regarding luggage. 1 transatlantic with 10 hrs layover and 4 internal flights, will my luggage get lost? Will Moscow let me in with the transit visa? Will C be there to meet me? Will my airport-hotel transfer at Tashkent be there at 3AM to pick me up?

And so, I was ready for the adventure ...

At JFK, Sep 25 - tavelling solo could be lonesome. I used to excel in solo travel, darting from 1 place to the next, figuring out all the paths and navigating through obstacles. Flashes of loneliness sneaked in as I sat at JFK terminal 1 eating my overpriced airport prosciutto sandwich. But then again there were always moments of contentment like reading a good book on the plane. the afternoon was cloudy, forecast 60% rain but no rain fell today. just dark clouds. 78 degrees F. at sfo, we had to change planes and gate due to a malfunction on the delta plane. and I worried my luggage would not make it to the new plane. a big bunch of hasidic jews on the flight. interesting fellows. they spoke with pure american accents and speech but their curly hair, beards and clothing were totally alien. they were travelling onwards to Kiev. all wailing at the gate. so like at the wailing wall. they were rude, most traveling for the first time, unfamiliar with aircraft boarding procedures. rowdy. and so the adventure begins.



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