Trip Start Aug 30, 2009
244Trip End Dec 25, 2009
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My flight east went from Bucharest, Romania to Istanbul, Turkey and finally to Tashkent, Uzbekistan for this change of countries. I had a very long layover in Istanbul, 9 hours. My husband had suggested I get a day room at the hotel there. Sounds good to me. However, I didn't really trust Turkish Airlines to keep track of my suitcase and send it one to Uzbekistan if I checked it all the way without picking it up in Istanbul. (Two separate tickets so not sure they could work it out). Therefore I had to actually get a Turkish visa at the airport and check into the country as a tourist and go pick up my suitcase.
As luck would have it, I am now in the departure counter area and not a Turkish Airlines counter to be found that would take my bag that early (and then I run into the same problem of them keeping track of it for 8 or 9 hours and putting it on the right plane). I asked at the hotel desk if there was a day room available at the airport hotel. He immediately replied no and started trying to talk me into going to another location for a day room for only 120 Euros – probably plus transit plus a tip. I declined.
I had some souvenirs to mail to some friends and it was prohibitively expensive in Romania and ridiculously complicated in Venice so I found the airport post office tucked far back in one corner of the departure counter hall. He had a box but no packing supplies. I thought I’d see how much room the stuff took and it filled the box so I sent it. I will be lucky indeed if it makes it there safely without breakage but I am going to hope for the best.
Found a seat where I could tuck up my luggage close by my side and tried to go to sleep. I was doing well until a very nervous man sat next to me. As 4 seats are connected, every time he hoped up and down – which was frequent – the bench moved. So it was not a very comfortable 4 hours as I tried to get some sleep until he finally left.
After another couple of hours, I was actually able to go check in and unload my suitcase. I mistakenly put all my coats into the suitcase, not remembering that the night time temperature in Tashkent has been reading 4 or 5 Celsius. The lady checking me in for the flight spoke minimal English. She had me all checked into the flight and sent my bag down to the holds. Then as I was leaving, she calls me back and runs over to another lady who speaks a tiny bit more English. A chattering in Turkish and then the second clerk says, "the flight is not going." After a bit more English and an offer of $250, I figured out she meant the flight was full and they were offering me money to take the flight tomorrow. Hmmm. Quite tempting but not sure if they would be able to get my bag back from the hold and I am supposed to have people meeting me and have already paid for my extra night, etc, etc, and I didn’t want to have to spend another day at the airport waiting for a flight. So she says, have a nice flight and I go through security.
The flight was very full and the flight attendants were very overworked and incredibly inefficient. I did manage to get a little sleep on that flight as well but only because I was so tired as it never got quiet, they never turned down the lights, and people were wandering the aisles all the time.
The airport in Tashkent is very reminiscent of airports I have visited in Moscow and in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Kind of a very minimally ordered chaos with guards everywhere watching your every move. At least they were not carrying Uzis. I had thought that having a visa before arriving was paramount to getting into the country but there was a visa counter in the airport and many people in line to get their visas. Luckily I had gotten mine ahead of time and while they were nervous in Istanbul that it was effective yet, it started at midnight on the 10th and it is now 4 a.m. on the 10th.
I have no problems going through immigration and then go into the baggage hall which is – at best – unordered chaos. There are bags all over the floor as energetic baggage handlers have pulled them from the two carousels. People are crowded around several stands filling in paperwork so I figure there are customs forms now to do. I find a blank form but it’s in Uzbek. There is an English form glued to the counter and I manage to fill in the form but I did it quite badly. Having had experience with Koreans wanting every space filled in correctly, I found another form in English and filled it out correctly. It did want to know what items of value I had and it also wanted to know how much currency I have and what countries this currency has come from. That one makes me nervous as I don’t want anyone to know how much cash I am carrying.
As I am waiting for my suitcase, I hear someone say that we must have two of these forms so I get another one in Uzbek and fill it in. Suitcases finally start coming out from Istanbul and mine arrives. What a relief. I will at least have warm clothes and clean clothes.
All suitcases must now pass through a scanner before you leave the baggage area and the guy looks over your customs forms and circles things and stamps things. All very communist era kind of dealings.
Finally I am out and in the waiting area where there is a crowd of people pushed up against the railing waiting for their loved ones. I do not see anyone with my name on a sign although I have paid for a pickup. It is now about 5 a.m. I go outside and there are touts waiting for anyone who looks foreign. Right away they approach me
"Taxi lady?" I am trying to move out of the flow of traffic and get a coat out of my suitcase because it’s freaking’ cold! Well, maybe 5 C.
The touts are good-natured and friendly and we banter. It goes something like this.
“No thank you, I have a car coming”
“Where is your driver?”
“I don’t see him yet”
“Maybe he has forgotten you”
“I’ll look for him”
“Do you know your hotel”
“I can find your hotel; your driver is lost and not coming”
“No thank you.”
It’s all in good fun and they knew they weren’t getting a fare out of me but they have to try and I knew they had to try so I wasn’t upset. Some airports are way too pushy and then it’s not fun as you try and fight them off.
I have my coat now and start walking through the crowd looking for my name on a sign. I look at every sign and one says “British Council”. He speaks English so he asks if I have any phone numbers. I pull out my itinerary with all the emergency phone numbers on it and he says “these are not Tashkent numbers” great. He tries every number he can and some say No longer a good number and only one rings but no one answers.
A man is standing next to him and I think it’s a friend of his but it’s just another tout. He offers, through the British Council guy, to take me to my hotel for $10 which B.C. guy says is too much but “it is the middle of the night”. They discuss which hotel as B.C. guy says he’s never heard of it but the taxi tout says he knows it. I say let me walk through the crowd one more time and see if I find my driver and I did this time. So I go back and thank British Council guy. Taxi tout had already disappeared into the crowd.
So I managed to get to Tashkent and am now in Uzbekistan.