Visa and beer induced headaches
Tashkent Travel Blog› entry 376 of 658 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.