Tag Archives: Astana

‘dem APPLES

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When you’re travelling some days turn out scrambled and others sunny-side up. Our day in Almaty was going the way of the former: scrambled. The apples, we were told, were no longer on the trees, and the co-ordinates we’d been given for the wild apple forests were more than a day’s walk away, beyond the reach of Almaty’s public buses and the elasticity of our rapidly shrinking budget.

In the Sayran Bus Station we picked up a weak wifi signal, slapped out the laptop, and stared in befuddlement at a Google Satellite image. N43.22.11’, E77.40.36’ was a nameless collection of bunched green ridges, gullies and veins of rock. With a little over 24 hours  remaining on our Kazakhstan visas, finding Malus sieversii would be like looking for a needle in a haystack with the added diversion of a ticking time bomb resounding in our ears. Admitting it hurt like a shot in the foot. “Sorry guys it’s off the cards”.

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Our timing in Kazakhstan had been off from the start. By the time we entered the country on the 14th of October half of our 30-day Kazakhstan visas had already elapsed. It was our fault really, a foolish burst of optimism that had made us think we could dance our way around Russian visa red tape in Tbilisi in under three weeks. The two unscheduled weeks in Astana waiting for our China visas was the final undoing. We’d gone about it all wrong, and as a result, we’d be entering China sans the precious Malus sieversii seeds. Continue reading

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Vodka & mutton

vereniki!

Our friendship with Andrey began over coffee and zinger burgers. He was in the same boat as us, waiting for a visa for China. He’d seen our antics in the queue at the Chinese embassy – blue lips, dancing-to-keep-warm and our utter bewilderment at being spoken to in Russian – and took pity on us.

Within three days of meeting Andrey and his wife Anna, we were sleeping on their lounge room floor, waking up to pancakes and rice pudding, playing games of chess with their sons, accompanying the family on shopping excursions to the bazaar, fishing in the river and swapping banter in broken Russian and English late into the night. Anna was keen to brush up on her ‘modal verbs’, and thankfully Sam was able to oblige – 5 years of teaching English in China pays off!

There were no limits to the lengths Anna and Andrey would go to help us: we needed to find new accommodation – no worries; visit to train station to collect tickets – too easy; finding a ride across the border from Almaty to China in five days time – piece of cake. “All you need to say,” Andrey intoned slowly and clearly, unable to hide his amusement at our English reservedness, “is ‘Andrey, please help me’.”

Together, Andrey and Anna devised a rigorous regime of cooking and eating, encompassing all their most beloved national dishes, to keep our minds and bellies distracted from the tedium of waiting for visas. Seven days later, we all agree that we’ve had a wonderful time, and that we need to go on a diet! Continue reading

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Visa advice for the hapless and hopeless romantic who insists on travelling overland from Georgia to China

VISA ADVICE FOR THE HAPLESS AND HOPELESS ROMANTIC WHO INSISTS ON TRAVELLING OVERLAND FROM GEORGIA TO CHINA

Acquiring a visa for Kazakhstan in Tbilisi 

Cost: US$45 in cash

Type of visa: 30-day tourist

Length of wait: Five days

Ease: Fairly straightforward

Note: Biggest bumma about applying for a Kazakhstan visa in Tbilisi is that the Kazakhstan consulate is at the top of a really big hill. I mean really big! You can catch bus number 66 from the main bus station on Chavchavadze street and it will drop you directly out front of the gate, which is handy. Otherwise, you could grab a taxi or stretch your legs. There were very few people applying for visas, therefore the service was fast. No unruly queue.

As well as submitting our application form we submitted a copy of a hotel booking and a cover letter – the latter was unnecessary. Note that the consular services are NO LONGER on Orbeliani Street. You need to go to 23 Shatberashvili  – the security guard will show you what to do in order to be seen. BE AWARE THAT THE VISA STARTS TICKING FROM THE DATE YOU SPECIFY ENTRY ON YOUR APPLICATION. WE DID OUR CALCULATIONS WRONG AND ENDED UP LOSING HALF OUR TIME IN KAZAKHSTAN BY STAYING OVERLY LONG IN GEORGIA. Continue reading

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Tale of two cities

View of Astana from steps of Khan Shatyry

Acquiring a Chinese visa has become a tale of two cities: Tbilisi (Georgia) and Astana (Kazakhstan).

Hapless bunglers that we are, we had hoped, indeed expected, that the wide world of borders would stay open to us even after we left Europe. As it turns out,  Georgia is the last ‘easy’ country for holders of a British or Australia passport to enter. Since crossing the land border between Turkey and Georgia at Sarpi, border-hopping has become increasingly difficult, time-consuming and costly.

A word of advice to the brave-hearted: it is possible to travel by land from Georgia toRussia, Russia to Kazakhstan and Kazakhstan into western China. The route that we took (we’re not as far as China yet) is as follows: Tbilisi to Kazbegi (mashutka), Kazbegi to Vladikavkaz (private vehicle), Vladikavkaz to Mineralnie Wodi (train), Mineralnie Wodi to Volgograd (train), Volgograd to Aksaraiskaia (train), Aksaraiskia to Atyrau (train) and Atyrau to Astana (train). HOWEVER, if you haven’t already acquired visas for these countries in your home country, then count on it taking some time and a reasonable amount of expense.

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Georgia to Kazakhstan in photos

For a full account of our adventures on the Georgian Military Road, and the rails, border towns and train compartments between Vladikavkaz (Russia) and Astana (Kazakhstan), see Richie’s blog.

Total distance travelled: 3,800 km

                    Total number of changes: 7

                                        Time taken: Four and a half days

                                                            Adventure Factor: High!

The Georgian Military Road: Tbilisi to Kazbegi

high places near the Jvari Pass, 2379m

the bumpy mashutka ride is worth it for the views

misty mountains

vintage transport in Kazbegi

rained-out hiking to the Gergeti Trinity Churth. Any m’rooms about?

ella-mental: rock, wind, ice and eagles!

Mt Kazbek (5,033m)

At the Border – Kazbegi to Vladikavkaz

praying for dear life

a loaded Lada – dropped at the Georgian/Russia border

thumbs out for a lift across the border – no pedestrians allowed

uninspired border architecture

on the Russian side of the border

Inside the Carriage – 4 nights on the rails

still life – snacks & instant noodle paraphernalia

samovar – our saviour

catching up on sleep

Russian sunset

steppe of western Kazakhstan

waiting for the train, Askaraiskaia

platform life, near to Volgograd

smoked fish, Russian speciality

The People – unexpected help arrives!

lift in a Lada from the border to Vladikavkaz

Sam and Dmitry, one of many guardian angels!

sharing food and photographs

a new Uzbek friend, inspired by a photograph of Australia

Richie meets a Kazakh geologist specialising in oil exploration

our new Uzbek friends scrutinising photos on their way home to Tashkent

‘the circle of bewilderment’: Nina and Sam encircled on the platform at Askaraiskaia

I wholeheartedly recommend this route east to China to anyone seeking an alternative to the Tran-Siberian or Silk Road-route through Iran and Pakistan – especially if you manage to pre-arrange visas in your home country (more on this in the next blog). Hello China, here we come!

ps. It’s snowing here in Astana. The coldest capital in the world!

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