Jan 23 2013

Getting To Australia

Category: Friends,Personal,PicturesChrisM @ 8:44 pm

Today is three months since I set out from Astana to see friends in Almaty and Australia. Given that four pages of this blog are currently taken up with random and short tweets, I’ve decided to finally get this site back in order.

So, hoping that my memory from October is still vaguely functioning, this is what happened…

I left Astana, which felt very strange, as this would be the longest I had ever been away from Anna and Tim since they were born. Although just under three weeks in Australia meeting friends (some I’d not seen in more than five years!) definitely put a smile on my face, being apart from Ira and the kids for so long was not something I relished. Arriving in Almaty, I met up with DaveG first, discovered that the hotels there over-charge for beers just as much as Astana’s do, then moved on into Almaty’s centre (? I think… my geographical knowledge of Kazakhstan’s old capital is transcribable onto a stamp) where we met with Paulo. After bidding farewell to Paulo, Dave and I eventually headed to the airport. He happened to flying elsewhere around the same time, so it gave us a chance to catch up a bit more.
I should probably point out that I had (as far as I was concerned) planned this whole journey (I left myself in our friends’ hands once in Australia) down to a tee. Memories of my first ever solo trip abroad in 2001 (to get married), which resulted in missed flights, nowhere to sleep and nervous breakdown-nearing goof-ups meant that I ensured that every stage of the long journey to Sydney was double checked, with spare batteries, phones, SIM cards, books and procedures (Australian visa etc) followed. Or so I thought…
Anyway, to skip back a little first, my route from Kazakhstan to Australia involved two stops in China. Although I have not been there before, a search online allayed my initial fears that the two airports would be totally orientated to internal flights and Chinese citizens, and it even appeared that both (Guangzhou and Urumqi) had signs in English. My budget was really quite limited, and given that this route cost a good £150 – £200 less than other alternatives, I had jumped at it. Although I wouldn’t be able to save up the airfare and spending money in time to congratulate Seb and Jordie immediately following their wedding, it was at least feasible for me to get there in 2012! I had checked from forum posts and anything else Google threw my way that transit visas were a mere formality that were applied for and granted when you actually landed in China. So, returning to my trip, I rolled up to passport control (having checked in online, printed my boarding pass & no luggage to check (all clothing, leads and gadgets were crammed into hand luggage, a safari/photogapher style body warmer and the multitude of pockets in my “travelling” jeans)) with what turned out to be far too much confidence and general chilled-ness. After 5 minutes the army style uniformed officer enquired as to where my Chinese visa was. I attempted to explain to him that I didn’t require one before travel, and that the Chinese system processed travellers like me once we’d arrived. Another agonizing 10 minutes passed. I was sent to the check-in desk, but despite a little bit of WTF is going on, I felt sure that once I was dealing with a Southern China Airlines representative, this whole misunderstanding would be sorted out and I’d be on my way once more…
No. Not at all. It turns out that if you are British or American (though other “Westerners” apparently wouldn’t have this issue, some sort of tit for tat type politics?), and travelling through two airports in China, one of which is NOT Beijing, that you should indeed apply to a Chinese consulate beforehand to be allowed to travel! My plans were falling apart in front of me, and after the troubles I had with Fly24 and their appalling communication processes, I knew there would be 0% chance of a refund (on a non-refundable ticket), after what was after all, a fault on my part entirely. With two hours before my flight, and a Chinese consulate that was understandably shut at that time in the evening, I was left with one last ditch attempt to get to Australia that day… attempt to smooth over any potential regulation issues in a local manner. Much to my surprise, one of the few times where I really hoped a donation to the airport workers’ tea and biscuit fund was turned down!
So, I’m now just about ready to smack myself in the face for not checking what was required in my exact circumstances, fall to the floor and start wailing or, TBH, deck the next person who gave me any trouble. After demolishing a third of a pack of Parliament, I phoned Paulo and asked if I might be able to crash at his over night, while I try and sort replacement tickets and contact various people expecting me to leave/arrive from their country soon. Very kindly he and Mika said it would be no problem, so I walked out to the taxi rank. Having already checked (I was planning to stop overnight with Paulo on the way back from Australia to split the journey a little) what a fair price was, and not being in the mood for any crap, I spurned the first dozen or so offers of a taxi ride that were quoted at six times the normal price. One driver was particularly persistent, so when he asked what I was actually prepared to pay, I told him. He only asked for another £1.50 on top of that, so I jumped in his car, and I was very grateful that he didn’t object to nicotine addicts sparking up in his car.
Made it to Paulo’s place (I’d not visited his home since he moved from Astana), and was met with surprise that $100 fee didn’t manage to get me to China and then my internet searching began in earnest. I was constrained by my original travel dates, as once returned from Australia, I only had a couple of days before our whole family moved to Britain for six weeks, with the flights long since booked. The cheapest option I could find was via Abu Dhabi, an airport I had vague memories of, from a Dubai trip about ten years ago. Having checked with Irina that I could use her credit card and pay back this second air fare to her in 2013, I booked everything, and told AlexC when I would actually make it to Sydney.

2012 Kazakhstan to Australia Route(s)

2012 Kazakhstan to Australia Route(s)

Taking a quick photo the next morning (see just below), I spent some time walking around Almaty with Paulo as he didn’t have any work until the afternoon. Strangely enough, I hadn’t slept brilliantly, so had already finished one of the books purchased for consumption during the journey (see below again).

Almaty. Not Australia. Not even China!

Almaty. Not Australia. Not even China!

Airport/Plane Reading

Airport/Plane Reading

I’ll leave this post now, as it seems quite text heavy, so let’s just jump to me getting to Abu Dhabi, and I’ll try and write some more soon!