We finally made it! That was the longest day we've ever had. Since we couldn't sleep the night before we left, we have been up from 3:30 AM EST on 12/21/04 to 3:00 PM EST on 12/22/04 (about 36 hours before we could finally go to bed). We have been very fortunate on the trip so far - everything has gone according to plan. For those of you that are detail-oriented in nature - and may be making this trip after us - we provide some summary info of each segment of the trip (except the Orlando to Dulles segment which is documented on the 12/21/04 journal page) -- NOTE: we flew on United/Lufthansa:
Washington DC (Dulles) to Frankfurt, Germany
- Flight time - 7 hours and 45 min
- Food/Service was good
- Showed 2 movies (we wouldn't recommend I-Robot will Will Smith... not his best but did help the time pass) and kept food and drink coming throughout the flight
- Had a 5 1/2 layover in Frankfurt
- Don't trust the gate number on your boarding pass - they post the gate numbers for flights only an hour before scheduled departure so check the departure board (we asked at the information counter and the lady guessed where she thought it would be but still recommended checking the departure board, which I'm glad we did since the gate wasn't where she told us)
- T-Mobile has wireless "hotspot" access in the airport (www.t-mobile.de/hotspot). We were in the B terminal. The access in the center of the terminal where all the shops are. To use this, select the wireless connection, then try to go to any web site. Once you do the T-Mobile site will come up (in German). The form is laid out similar to every other order form you see on the web. We took a stab at the fields and got it right - yeah! You basically supply some basic info on yourself and your credit card. The site presents back a username (looks like an email address) and a password. You go to the login page on their site, type it in and then leave that browser up and you're up and running (i.e., pull up your email client, browse web sites). The cost was 8 Euro for 1 hour. Not cheap but worth it to do our post and download some email.
- To catch the Lufthansa site, you take a bus to the plane -- it was around 20-30 degrees F outside. Luckily we had our coats with us.
Frankfurt, Germany to Almaty, Kazakhstan
- Flight time - 6 hours and 30 min
- Food/Service was good
- The plane had monitors on the back of every seat so you could click through and choose what movie to watch (the same movies played in a loop throughout the flight so you could watch one and then change the channel on your monitor and watch a 2nd one). All the movies could be viewed in German or English. Also, all announcements made were in German first and then English
- We arrived in Almaty on time at 11:40PM (Almaty is 11 hours ahead of Orlando, FL this time of year)
- After deplaning, we were routed down a dark staircase to passport control (we simply followed the pack - very easy to get where you needed to be). Surprisingly at this hour of the night, there were a lot of people on the plane (thus long lines in passport control).
- The airport is very clean and quiet.
- When it was our turn to go to the counter for passport control, only one person is allowed to go at a time (i.e., we couldn't go up there as a couple like you usually do in the States). The lady at the booth didn't speak English but all we had to do is hand her the passport. She instructs you (by pointing up) to look up at a video camera, then scans the passport, stamps the passport, flips through it a little more then gives it back to you. By the way, our smiles and thank yous seemed to go unnoticed - she just sat there expressionless. Oh well, we can't help smiling at everyone now so they'll just have to think we're weird Americans.
- After passport control, we went over to the right to baggage claim (you can clearly see this from the passport control line). The luggage carts are free.
- After we got all our bags, we went to the customs line. This was a little office that you waited outside of with your bags. They called each person in one at a time. We were given our customs forms on the plane (we had to fill out two - one to leave with them and one to hold so we can leave the country). Carla went first. They looked at the form (all we each had to declare was US dollars - and only the amount that was over the allotted $6K per person). Carla was asked how much money she had - she stated the amount that was on the customs form, the agent stamped it and gave it back to her and that was it. Jim wasn't asked anything - the agent just stamped his and sent him on his. Les was asked how much money and why he was in the country - he stated for an adoption and they stamped him and he was on his way). I was very surprised that the agents spoke English - at least enough to get us through the process quickly. This area was a big anxiety for us and it turned out to be no big deal.
- After the 3 of us cleared customs as well as our travel partners, Jason and Keely Richardson, we all proceeded out to the lobby. There were numerous taxi drivers waiting to pounce. It was a bit like being a player in a big college football game, running out onto the field via a small chute, surrounded by a bunch of people! We just said no and kept walking to our drivers. They had a sign with our name on it (there is also now a password that the drive gives you so you know you're going with the correct person). We were met by Dilnoza and Kirill
- The drive to the apartment was about 15 minutes. It is about 6 degrees F here now and there is lots of snow every where. We were surprised by how many homes and businesses we passed with Christmas lights. We asked our driver if the lights were more for the New Year holiday and he responded "No, they are for 25 December." We were not expecting there to be a large Christmas observance since the country has such a large Muslim population. It was very pretty seeing all the lights and the snow.
- The apartment was nice. Les got the pull out couch and Jim/Carla had the master bedroom (adaptors have their privileges.! ha ha). The sheets and towels were all laid out for us and Dilnoza gave us a "mini-tour" of the apartment (including pulling the sofa bed out for Les). NOTE: you don't have to pay/tip the driver anything at this time - it's all taken care of at the meeting with Gulbanu.
- We were all still wired and layered in funk from the 36 hours trip, so everyone went ahead and showered before bed. The water in the shower is either scalding hot or cold - can't seem to get a nice mix in the middle. We couldn't figure out the shower part so it was a not so elegant ad hoc bath, but felt good after a long day of traveling. There is a weird water hookup with the washing machine (which is in the bathroom) and the bath tub. By the time Carla went to take her shower, the water from the other two was draining out of the washing machine (not sure why the bathtub is hooked into the washing machine - weird). After mopping up the floor, Carla went to dry her hair (plugging into the converter) and blew the hairdryer up. We'll have to pick up another one at the store tomorrow or she'll be walking around in negative temperatures with a wet head the entire trip.
- So in summary (sorry for all the detail - probably too much for sum but for those schedule to travel after us, these details were answers to so many questions we had before traveling so I wanted to share), the trip has exceeded our expectations so far - no hiccups yet. We won't chronicle the minutia so much on each day, but thought this was important for some people to know.
- Our meeting with Gulbanu and the lawyer is at 10am tomorrow - we get picked up at 945 AM.
- Jim and Les seemed to have no trouble sleeping - Carla on the other hand has been up most of the night. Hopefully the jet lag will wear off soon and we'll all be on our new schedule.
Here are a few pics from the day:
(From left to right) Jason and Keely Richardson (our travel partners), Jim and Carla Higgins in the Almaty baggage claim area
Outside the airport in Almaty, Kazakhstan