Visa and beer induced headaches

Tashkent Travel Blog

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Alisher Navoi Opera and Ballet Theatre

People i met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Edu (Spain), Yvonne and Bruno (Switzerland), Stefan (Austria), Wouter (Holland), Anssi (Finland)

Feeling rather sick and woozy, i disembarked from what had been a bone rattling five hour bus journey from Samarkand. After buying a sim card for our mobile phone, the first news we received was that the train station hotel was totally full. None of the other hotels were answering their phones, so we hopped on the metro and headed to the North West of the City, in search of some cheap digs.

First stop was Gulnara guest house, which had a nice old woman and a bloody horrible man running it.

After cashing in some dollars this is what i was left with!!!
They were totally full, but they were trying to extort unjustified amounts ($30 for just a simple room) from us to stay at their neighbours, on the principle that i was English and thus it meant i should be able to afford whatever price they came up with!

Next stop was Hadra Hotel, which Lonely Planet describes as 'The darkest hole in all of Central Asia'. The rooms weren't great and just to get a hot tap, toilet that didn't flush and two planks of wood that they claimed were beds, they were attempting to squeeze 26,000 Sum ($19) from us. It was already dark, i was dead on my feet and we nearly just took it, but the receptionists were so horrible, i couldn't deal with putting the money into their hands. What was especially galling was the fact that we were quoted twice the price of everyone else, so in the end we decided they could go to hell.
Assumption Cathedral (Uspensky Sobor)


In the end we managed to get through to Sam Buh Hotel, and thankfully they reserved one of the last two rooms for us. Having walked back to the metro, we couldn't understand why the station was closed at 21.30, when it was meant to work until 00.00, so we were stuck with the option of shelling out for a taxi to take us across town. The hotel was very nice, but it did cost $35, so i kind of expected it would be.

Neither of us had eaten since breakfast and after walking the streets for nearly three hours with our backpacks, we were both in need of a good feed. There was only one place open nearby, with terrible music booming into the street, but beggars can't be choosers. As it turned out the food was excellent and i enjoyed some veal with mashed potatoes.
Assumption Cathedral (Uspensky Sobor)
The 15% service and additional 20% 'live music charge' were rather annoying, as was the fact that the waitress then tried to round up the bill! Wasn't 35% enough already? We retired to our room, at least well fed and called it a night just after midnight.

The following morning we were up at 06.45 for the 07.00 breakfast and after this it was straight to the Turkmenistan embassy, which was only a five minute walk away. The embassy didn't open until 11.00, but we had to go and write our names on a list. Even arriving three and a half hours early, we were only numbers 11 and 12. We walked back to the hotel and had a couple of hours sleep, before taking a shower and checking out.

It was 10.40 when we got back to the embassy and there were already plenty of people gathered, including Eduardo from Spain and Yvonne and Bruno from Switzerland.
German Protestant Church
They had all been the previous day and not gained entry, so had been made to come back and try their luck today! The sun was belting down and i still wasn't feeling too clever, so Julia did most of the standing around, whilst i tried to rest in some shade.

The number system didn't seem to work a lot of the time, as one number would be called and three people would walk in. On top of this, Turkmenistan citizens seemed to just be able to jump the queue at will. 12.45 arrived, signaling there was only 15 minutes left, but the woman who claimed to be number ten had just gone in, so we were keeping our fingers crossed. All of a sudden an Uzbek woman started claiming she was next and she was number eleven. This was when it dawned on us that they had all just probably been claiming to be the next number, as they hadn't been calling our names out! Julia asked the guard to read the next name out and it was hers, at which point the Uzbek woman skulked back into the crowd - sneaky bitch!

At 12.
Beer o' clock
55 we were let in and given some forms and it was a mad dash to complete them all. They let the other three foreigners in with us and as they had already filled in their forms the previous day, they handed them over, confirmed their visas were transit to Iran and that was it. I was left asking myself 'Why the f**k have these people just been made to stand in 40 degree heat outside for two and a half hours, JUST to hand a form over a desk'? Cruel, cruel staff is all i can sum up. We also got our forms handed over and we are the first people i have heard that managed to do it in one day. A poor Finnish guy took three days believe it or not!

During our time in the queue and in fact all morning, we had been constantly phoning the train station hotel begging them to reserve a room for us.
Timur Statue
Happily this policy worked, as they kept us Room 33, an air conditioned, en suite twin room come suite. When we opened the door i honestly thought they had made a mistake, as we walked into a living room, with sofa, chairs, table, TV, then into the huge bathroom which was spotless and actually had a bath and finally the good sized bedroom. This wasn't the kind of place you only pay $20 for, but i wasn't complaining, it was about time we had some good fortune like this! Don't get me wrong, I've stayed in 5 star before and know this standard is way short, but when you are backpacking, you rarely see the inside of rooms like these!

After a few minutes of walking around the rooms, grinning like idiots, we went and jumped on the metro, which was conveniently located just out of our front door.
Crying Mother Monument
We wandered around the centre for a little while before stopping at a supermarket for some lunch and then using the internet. It was too hot to do anything too strenuous, so we found ourselves back in our air conditioned room by 18.00.

In the evening we went out for a Chinese with Edu, Yvonne, Bruno and an Austrian guy called Stefan. The food was decent enough, especially as i had been craving some Chinese cuisine for some time. We chatted away in the restaurant, whilst the waitresses screamed blue murder at each other, which gave some added entertainment to the evening.

On Wednesday Julia and I had a lie in, so as to get the best value out of our room, not because we are lazy :) Finally we dragged our feet into the sapping sun and to an Armenian restaurant for lunch, before going to use the internet.
Yunus Khan Mausoleum
In the afternoon we went to see the Assumption Cathedral, German Protestant Church, Amir Timur maydoni and statue, whilst trying to find somewhere to change my Kyrgyzstan Som, but to no avail. We had some food in a nice Turkish restaurant and managed to find an internet cafe that had Java, so as i could upload some photos to Travbuddy.

Back at the hotel we relaxed, ate some food and watched some TV. At 23.00 we had an unexpected knock on the door and Anssi, a Finnish guy that Julia had loaned a book to in Samarkand had come to return it! We sat and talked for an hour and agreed to go out the following evening, as like us, he was stuck waiting for visas.

The next day we took the metro to Mustaqilik Maydoni, which translates to Independence Square.
Uzbek flags
At this stage i must mention how cool the Tashkent Metro stations are. Some are made from marble and many have murals on the wall. Particular favourites include Kosmonavtiar (dedicated to cosmonauts), Alisher Navoi and Pakhtakor. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this is my favourite subway system in the World, as not only are the stations beautiful, but it is dirt cheap (300 Sum / $0.25) and never crowded. Sadly the stations were designed to be used as bomb shelters in the event of War, so you are not allowed to take photos. You'll just have to believe me when i tell you they are cool!

The day was spent looking at nothing in particular, but we passed the Senate, Crying Mother Monument, Earthquake Memorial, Yunus Khan Mausoleum and Shaykh Hovandi Tahur.
Fountains at Mustaqilik Maydoni
At the latter i went to use the toilet and Julia translated the 'toilet code of conduct' that was written on the door. Visitors must enter with their right foot and exit with their left, not speak or greet fellow toilet users and finally there was to be no laughter! Seemed a little strict, so we decided not to try and enter the main building, if there were so many rules to adhere to for the toilet!

In the evening Wouter and Anssi came around to our room and we enjoyed a few beers and a game of yahtzee, before we headed to the local Chinese restaurant for Dinner. The evening finished back at our place polishing off a few more beers, before we finally called it a night around 01.30. It was Wouter's last night before heading home to Holland, so we said our final farewells before waving him off in a taxi.
Fountains at Mustaqilik Maydoni


On Friday i had a pretty sore head, so it was nice to wake up and take a long soak in the bathtub. We returned to Izmir Turkish restaurant for lunch, but this time they wouldn't serve us the student meals for some reason, which was a little disappointing. Neither of us were in any mood to be out in the sweltering heat, so we found refuge in an internet cafe. In the evening we were stopped by the police in the metro, who wanted to examine our bag in a private room, but Julia managed to persuade them that we weren't terrorists and they let us go. The main news today was that Georgia went to War in South Ossetia and Russia have joined in too, so this could alter our future travel plans in the region.

Saturday was important for one reason to me, it was the start of the new football season, so i dragged Julia along to an internet cafe so i could follow the game online.
Anssi, Wouter, Me and Julia enjoying some beers at our hotel
Happily for me Leeds won 2-1 at Scunthorpe, so i was in a great mood for the rest of the day. We didn't really do much else, other than eat, watch the update on the War in Georgia and some small segments on the Olympics, which seems to receive very little coverage.

On Sunday we decided to go for a walk in two of Tashkent's city parks and the weather was lovely for it. First stop was Babur Park, which had the miniature Seattle Peace Park located within. All that was there of interest were some small mosaic tiles, designed in the 1980's by children from Seattle and Tashkent, pleading for peace and not War.

Having walked through Babur Park for 20 minutes, we went North West in the City, to Navoi Park. This Park was much bigger and grander and contained some slightly more interesting sights.
Seattle Peace Park
There was a large lake with people on pedalo boats and also a small man made beach, which seemed to have attracted a decent crowd to sun bathe and swim in the murky water. Also situated within the park was the impressive Oliy Majlis, which serves as the Parliament building. In front of this was a nice fountain, where plenty of youths were jumping into what had presumably originated as a decorative pond, but now served as a makeshift aqua playground! Exiting the park we paid a quick visit to an ugly Soviet building, which is the Peoples Friendship Palace.

In the evening i updated my blog and watched BBC News, growing ever more concerned at the escalating problems within Georgia. It was interesting to watch what i believe is relatively impartial news and then see what the Russians are broadcasting on their government owned and state run news channels.
Navoi Park
I assure you that propaganda on a large scale is still alive and kicking within Ivan's domain. It actually frightens me to see the Russian populations aggression towards the West, as the people have been brainwashed into believing that the whole World is against them and that their government are complete angels. WAKE UP!!!

On Monday we were meant to be visiting the Iranian embassy to apply for our visas, as we had received our 'codes' the previous day, which act as letters of invitation. Unfortunately both of us had restless nights, as my stomach was playing up again and Julia's face was all swollen from an infection in her wisdom teeth. After sleeping in, we then spent the early afternoon in a dentists, which clearly dated back to Soviet occupation.
Oliy Majlis


Finally we made it to the Iranian Embassy on Tuesday morning and i was left rather pissed off with the whole experience. After filling out the relevant forms, we were made to wait two hours, whilst the consul twiddled his thumbs. There were only two other people there and they had been waiting half an hour longer than us. When we were eventually seen, i received some rather startling facts that i hadn't bargained for. Firstly as i am English, i was made to give a full set of my fingerprints, although Julia didn't have to. Next we were told that we both needed to go for a full medical examination at a clinic of their choice, which was a $5 taxi ride across town and we were charged $20 each. Lastly they only excepted Euro's, but would change Dollars at a very poor rate.
Peoples Friendship Palace
They know you have no choice, so the twat behind the counter probably makes a tidy amount changing it on the black market afterwards.

In total the visa process has cost us $400, plus $100 for the Turkmen transit visas, the biggest rip off ever in my honest opinion. Having spent $500 on just getting into the country, I'm now questioning whether this will turn out to be money well spent or money down the drain? Time will tell. To round things off, they said that even with the code it would take them 7 days to process the visa and we had to return in 6 days to leave our passport and on the 7th day return to collect it. What a shambles.

Returning to the Embassy this afternoon with our test results, the clerk told us that i actually didn't need the test, at which point my anger began to boil over.
Assumption Cathedral
They had taken $25 off us in the exchange rate and now they had made me waste another $20 on a test i didn't need. Julia relayed this information to him, at which point he said he would ring the clinic and try to arrange for us to get our money back. Incredibly they agreed to refund me, which was very kind of them and unexpected, but at this point the desk attendant decided to cause more headaches. Now he said he felt insulted that we had brought up the exchange rate and he would no longer accept the dollars and said we would have to find someone to change it into Euro's.

Having caught a taxi back across town to the clinic and received my money back, our next task was to find a bank or money changer who would be willing to swap Dollars or Sum for Euro.
Me with my Uzbek bank account and Euro's!
We looked around in vain and found that it was impossible to make this conversion at any of the banks we tried, or even on the black market. Our last hope would be to try the National Bank of Uzbekistan, but this had already closed for the day. We returned to the train station and the receptionists were all very sympathetic to our plight and luckily still had our room available.

On Wednesday we checked out once again, with the hope that we would be able to leave Tashkent today. Our first port of call was the Bank, but we were told that they also could not change the money and i wasn't able to withdraw Euro on my Visa cards. The lady said she would speak to her manager and see if there were any possibilities, but i feared the worst.

The Bank Manager was an incredibly nice man who spoke good English and even new Leeds United, which made me instantly like him! He explained that they couldn't openly change my money, but if we had enough time, he would create me an Uzbek bank account and i could make the exchange through this.
Building near Chorsu Bazaar
The next 2 hours were spent filling out forms and been passed between countless clerks, all of whom were very helpful. In the end i managed to deposit $243 and withdraw 169 Euros, task achieved!

A taxi took us to the Iranian Embassy where a different man was on duty, but he seemed no more competent. At first he couldn't find all of our paperwork from the previous day, and i had a nasty feeling the guy from yesterday could have binned it, but after searching a little harder, he dug it out. We handed over the money, which was actually 167 Euro and at this point he said he didn't think they could accept Euro coins. How else was it possible to pay the correct amount without using coins? Was there a 7 Euro note that i wasn't aware of? After consulting with the consul they begrudgingly took the money.
After cashing in some dollars this is what i was left with!!!


A taxi took us back to the centre, where we ate in our favourite Armenian restaurant, before going to the station to collect our bags. It took 45 minutes to get across town on the metro and we had to wait an hour for the bus that would finally take us back to Samarkand. Having already spent 13 days in Uzbekistan, it felt like we had achieved very little, but i hoped that maybe our fortunes had now taken a positive turn.

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Alisher Navoi Opera and Ballet The…
Alisher Navoi Opera and Ballet Th…
After cashing in some dollars this…
After cashing in some dollars thi…
Assumption Cathedral (Uspensky Sob…
Assumption Cathedral (Uspensky So…
Assumption Cathedral (Uspensky Sob…
Assumption Cathedral (Uspensky So…
German Protestant Church
German Protestant Church
Beer o clock
Beer o' clock
Timur Statue
Timur Statue
Crying Mother Monument
Crying Mother Monument
Yunus Khan Mausoleum
Yunus Khan Mausoleum
Uzbek flags
Uzbek flags
Fountains at Mustaqilik Maydoni
Fountains at Mustaqilik Maydoni
Fountains at Mustaqilik Maydoni
Fountains at Mustaqilik Maydoni
Anssi, Wouter, Me and Julia enjoyi…
Anssi, Wouter, Me and Julia enjoy…
Seattle Peace Park
Seattle Peace Park
Navoi Park
Navoi Park
Oliy Majlis
Oliy Majlis
Peoples Friendship Palace
Peoples Friendship Palace
Assumption Cathedral
Assumption Cathedral
Me with my Uzbek bank account and …
Me with my Uzbek bank account and…
Building near Chorsu Bazaar
Building near Chorsu Bazaar
After cashing in some dollars this…
After cashing in some dollars thi…
Assumption Cathedral (Uspensky Sob…
Assumption Cathedral (Uspensky So…
Assumption Cathedral (Uspensky Sob…
Assumption Cathedral (Uspensky So…
Julia shows off her green tongue a…
Julia shows off her green tongue …
German Protestant Church
German Protestant Church
Timur Statue
Timur Statue
Clock Tower
Clock Tower
Julia getting ready for a night out
Julia getting ready for a night out
Building near Mustaqilik Maydoni
Building near Mustaqilik Maydoni
Gateway leading to the Crying Moth…
Gateway leading to the Crying Mot…
Fountains at Mustaqilik Maydoni
Fountains at Mustaqilik Maydoni
Senate
Senate
Building near the Mustaqilik Maydo…
Building near the Mustaqilik Mayd…
Football stadium
Football stadium
Tashkent State Conservatory
Tashkent State Conservatory
Shaykh Hovandi Tahur Mausoleum
Shaykh Hovandi Tahur Mausoleum
Yunus Khan Mausoleum
Yunus Khan Mausoleum
Earthquake Memorial
Earthquake Memorial
Fountains at Mustaqilik Maydoni
Fountains at Mustaqilik Maydoni
Fountains at Mustaqilik Maydoni
Fountains at Mustaqilik Maydoni
Fountains at Mustaqilik Maydoni
Fountains at Mustaqilik Maydoni
Wouter, Anssi and Julia drinking s…
Wouter, Anssi and Julia drinking …
Seattle Peace Park
Seattle Peace Park
Navoi Park
Navoi Park
Beach at Navoi Park
Beach at Navoi Park
Navoi Park
Navoi Park
Oliy Majlis
Oliy Majlis
Oliy Majlis
Oliy Majlis
Oliy Majlis
Oliy Majlis
Assumption Cathedral
Assumption Cathedral
Assumption Cathedral
Assumption Cathedral
Tashkent
photo by: Deats