Central Asia

Country #99 - Armenia

The Sprint Through Yerevan

Today I overslept. It was kind of on purpose but also not really. I was planning on sleeping for four hours, which would have been until 10:30am given my late arrival last night. But I slept about an hour more, which left me with only an hour to see the city when all was said and done. It was unfortunate, because I really wanted to see more of Yerevan, but also necessary because I had no sleep and hadn’t showered in two days. I can’t thank Tufenkian Heritage Hotels for providing such a great room for getting caught up on some much-needed sleep! It was, apparently, a very comfortable bed that was quite the struggle to get up from.

Once I did finally get up there was lots of music that I could hear right outside of my window. It turns out that Tufenkian Heritage Hotels was located right next door to Vernissage, a big open-air market set up. It was a nice first stop on what would be a whirlwind tour of the city. I stopped by the front desk to drop off my luggage where I enjoyed talking with the staff for a bit. They were great! One of the best parts about Tufenkian Heritage Hotels was that I was in a really great location in the Yerevan that would allow me to see as much as possible in about an hour.

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From Vernissage I walked to Republic Square. It’s one of the main areas of the city and when it isn’t freezing outside is home to a really cool fountain show! From what I read it sounded like a smaller version of the fountains in Dubai, so I’m sad to have missed it. I took lots of pictures in Republic Square before heading to my next destination: Charles Aznavour Square. It was another nice square though not as large but was also very busy.

From there I headed to Freedom Square, which is in front of the Opera House and has large statues out front. At this point, I was almost up on time and had to head back to the hotel. I walked back along Northern Avenue which was filled with people and seemed to be the main shopping street. I also stopped to read a bit about the Armenian Genocide. My biggest regret in Yerevan was not having enough time to visit the Armenian Genocide Museum and memorial area. It was interesting to learn a little just by what I was able to read in town, and I definitely recommend that you read more about it on your own as I did. I had heard of it before but had no idea just how large in size or scope that it was.

When I arrived back at the hotel I had a few minutes to spare and walked back through the Vernissage market before calling a taxi and heading back to the airport. I encountered a lot of people who spoke English well but my taxi driver didn’t even understand airport so I think that was a first for me. I had to show him on my phone after my failed attempts to act out an airplane taking off.

I do wish that I had had more time in Armenia, but once again it all came down do flight scheduling and timing. I would love to spend more time exploring the country in the future as well as a few others in the region that I had to rush through, so hopefully, at some point, I can make it back!

The airport had a really nice lounge where I ate lunch and was able to look out and see my gate so I knew exactly when to board. My flight was to Kiev, Ukraine, and from there I would have a two-hour layover before flying to Stockholm, Sweden. I slept on the first flight, ate chicken in a lounge in Kiev for dinner, and then worked on blog posts on the second flight. The second flight thankfully didn’t feel too long, and before I knew it I was landing in Stockholm. I took the Arlanda Express train from the airport to the city, and then took the metro (called the T) from Stockholm Central Station to my hotel, Rival Hotel.

Rival Hotel is in a great area called Mariatorget. I was there in about five minutes by metro, and then a two-minute walk from the metro station. My room was absolutely fantastic! It had a great balcony (though it was a bit too cold to enjoy given that it was snowing) and was all around just so unique while being luxurious as well. I really liked the cool light fixture that gave the room a lot of character. There was also a DVD and CD collection in the room to enjoy, a sound system that worked throughout the room and the bathroom, and an amazing shower and tub. Thank you so much to Rival Hotel for sponsoring this night of my trip. I look forward to getting a great night sleep before having a few hours to explore Stockholm tomorrow!

99 countries down, 96 to go.

For more information on Armenia click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Tufenkian Heritage Hotels click here.

To learn more about Rival Hotel click here.

Country #98 - Azerbaijan

The Airport

When I arrived in Baku, Azerbaijan I was amazed by the very modern and new airport. It was so cool! It only made me sadder that due to my missed connection that I would no longer be able to see the city as it is known for its modern architecture similar to the airport. I definitely enjoyed my time at the airport, though! I spent a while taking pictures and enjoying it before heading to my gate.

Security and immigration were both more interesting than usual. In the security line there was this device that scanned your feet. You would put one foot on it, it would beep, and then you would put the other. I’m not quite sure what it was for but having been through security all around the world I thought I had seen everything - but apparently not! Then, going through immigration, I had to explain that I was traveling to Yerevan, Armenia, through Moscow. The immigration officer asked if I knew that Azerbaijan and Armenia are engaged in a conflict. I was expecting some questions of course, but it was still just an interesting situation to be in. Of course I knew that they were in conflict, why else would I be flying five hours out of the way, with a five-hour layover in between, for what should be a simple hour-long flight. Because of the conflict, though, there are no flights or other methods of transportation between the countries.

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After immigration, I was in the departures area. There was this really interesting part of what were called “cocoons”. They each had something inside like a restaurant, spa, or even a library! It was one of the most unique airport setups that I have seen. They also had a sleeping pod area which was cool to see! It would have definitely come in handy to have had those last night.

While the airport and my interactions in Baku had been really great, it was quite weird to be approached by a guy while walking through the terminal and asked where I was from, with the follow-up question being if I was married. I shook him off pretty easily but it will never not be weird to be asked that question even though it happens quite often in some of the regions that I have been to.

I was able to find the airport lounge which was, of course, in another cool part of the airport. I had about an hour to spare (which definitely would not have been enough time to go into the city) that I used to catch up on emails before heading off on a long flight to Moscow. My flight was 2.5 hours and I landed to a ton of snow in Moscow. Because would it really be Russia without the snow? I had almost five hours to wait but I found a nice lounge to wait in that had good internet and was comfortable as well. It was a long five hours but I was at least able to get a lot done!

The flight boarded only a little late which was amazing given how much it was snowing. But I guess Moscow is used to the snow! It was a full flight but I fell asleep almost immediately and slept all the way until the plane landed. That doesn’t happen too often; only when I am beyond tired.

When I landed in Yerevan I was once again questioned about traveling to both Azerbaijan and Armenia. They asked why I had traveled to Azerbaijan (tourism) and why I was traveling to Armenia (again, tourism). So it wasn’t a big deal either time, but just really interesting to see how that conflict is quite prevalent in everyday life. I used a taxi app similar to Uber (called GG Taxi) to go to my hotel, and it was almost four times cheaper than the price airport taxis try to scam tourists by charging. I arrived around 6am and fell asleep immediately. Special thanks to Tufenkian Heritage Hotels for sponsoring this night of my trip! I was exhausted and it was so nice to have a very nice room to crash for a few hours. It’s been a long day of travel, but I’m really looking forward to seeing Armenia tomorrow!

98 countries down, 97 to go.

For more information on Azerbaijan click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Tufenkian Heritage Hotels click here.

Country #47 - Kazakhstan

The Loft

My flight to Kazakhstan was uneventful and I arrived unfortunately too late to actually see any of Almaty.  It was a bummer but honestly I’m just going to keep blaming the flight schedule for Central Asia - it is so poorly set up it is almost comical. I took a taxi from the airport to Saraichik Hotel. It was a weird taxi ride as the driver stopped and picked up another rider along the way to make an extra fare, but I was not a fan of this because whenever you hear of a taxi robbery happening this is how it starts. However, the passenger was a young guy (probably fifteen) and he was dropped off about ten minutes later so it was never uncomfortable.

Thankfully there were no additional passengers the rest of the drive and my taxi driver was very nice even though he was unable to speak English. When I arrived at the hotel I checked into my room which I was very surprised to find had a loft in it. It was a different layout for sure and definitely not what I was expecting in Kazakhstan! I spent the rest of the day (it was about 7:00pm at this point) working on emails and blogs and just resting which was very nice. Amazingly enough I had really great wifi which I definitely wasn’t expecting. It was also pretty entertaining to flip through the TV channels - the only things in English were a few music video channels!

Of all of the Stans I think I am most disappointed to not be able to see more of Kazakhstan. But the good news is that, of all of them, it is the easiest to get to and the one I would be most likely to visit again in the future. I am very glad to be done with Central Asia for now and to be headed to a city that has been at the top of my bucket list for a long time tomorrow: Dubai!

47 countries down, 150 to go.

Country #46 - Uzbekistan

The Immigration Line

When I landed back in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan I had another layover, this time of three hours. Thankfully it was not as painfully long as my first layover here. It was pretty uneventful other than finding some snacks. I had to make one more connection before being done with travel for the night and I was getting painfully tired. Going on just a few hours of airplane sleep this was going to be my fourth flight of the day.

The flight was to Almaty, Kazakhstan which I will be headed back through tomorrow for longer than a layover. I fell asleep instantly and only woke up when the plane landed (which is a pretty startling feeling). I had two hours for this connection. The bus to take us to the airport took quite some time but then immigration was a breeze. I easily checked in my bag but then the real waiting began. The wait to go through immigration on my outbound flight was painfully slow. Like, over an hour of standing.

It was incredibly inefficient. Lines would open and close randomly and I always ended up stuck in the slow line no matter what. By this point, I was delusionally tired (I forgot what country I was in for a solid five minutes). The airport experience got no better when I paid for the most expensive airport food of my life. I literally just bought two bottles of water and a packaged Belgian waffle and it was the equivalent of $14. I feel like there is no need to explain how insane that is. I had no other option though as I forgot to take a protein bar out of my checked bag and I hadn’t eaten a meal all day. Funnily enough (but not so funny after I had just spent $14) they served a small meal on the flight which was much appreciated as I didn’t expect it on such a short flight.

I fell asleep for the remainder of the flight and awoke to the most depressing immigration experience of my entire life. I hope I never again encounter anything like immigration at Tashkent airport - it was madness. There are no lines so you are basically in a giant mess of people trying to work your way up to an immigration booth. There are only a few booths and it seems to take forever, especially when you’re exhausted. It was the absolute last thing that I needed. It took about an hour of being crowded around people to finally have my turn which was very quick. I can’t understand how they don’t have a better system - like literally just a line would save everyone a major headache. And it’s not like this was just a thing for my flight - I had read the horror stories beforehand and they definitely proved to be true.

Luckily I had booked a cab through my hotel so I didn’t have to worry about being scammed and the driver was waiting when I finally made it out. It was a long walk to the car but at that point I didn’t care - I just needed to get to the hotel. I stayed at Hotel Grand Art which was a safe inexpensive place for an overnight stay. I fell asleep almost instantly and am so glad I don’t have a red eye in the morning.

The Guards

I was so glad to be able to sleep last night it’s not even funny. After a whirlwind day and a half of traveling to five countries on very limited sleep, last night was much needed. After a good nights sleep I had a much better day filled with only one flight (thank goodness!). It started by meeting the sweet staff at Hotel Grand Art who wanted to take a picture with me. They called me a taxi and wished me good luck before I headed back to the airport. The thing that I noticed most about Uzbekistan, both last night and today, is the guards positioned outside of every building. It was very strange to see and I’m not quite sure what it’s about even after a Google search. But they were at every building all the way to and from the airport.

Immigration was annoying if only for the fact that my visa was so expensive for no reason. $160 and I had to use it on this exact set of dates (if you’re wondering why I’m suddenly in the Middle East, this is why). Actual immigration at the airport was fine, but I didn’t want to tell the nice lady that no, I wouldn’t be back until $160 gets me more than a one day visa to a country that could probably use any tourism it could get.

The most exciting part of my day (sadly) was finally eating a real meal for the first time in almost forty-eight hours. I had been eating but nothing substantial. I found a grilled chicken sandwich and was so excited for it. The girl at the restaurant was very sweet and helpful! After my meal I boarded my flight to Almaty, Kazakhstan where I would be spending the night.

46 countries down, 151 to go.

Country #45 - Tajikistan

The Running

This might actually be my shortest country visit by air ever (at least I hope so). I landed in Tajikistan with approximately an hour to clear immigration, get my bag, re-check my bag, go through security, and reboard the plane. It was not an easy feat, but somehow I did it! Upon arrival immigration was simple and did not take long. However, waiting for my luggage took a bit longer than I would have liked. Thankfully I was able to use the time to find my witnesses and have my picture taken.

I met a really cool woman from Germany who has traveled to so many countries. It was really cool to talk with her while waiting! Her bag arrived before mine and as she wished me luck I was really starting to worry. If I missed this flight it would cause loads of problems! About five minutes after most of the bags arrived mine finally showed up. I ran through customs, ran (thankfully just) around the corner to recheck my bag. I was obviously very late and the non English speaking gate agent just pointed to his watch. I left my luggage and hoped and prayed that it would make it through.

I had read horror stories about having to pay bribes when going through immigration and security at the Dushanbe airport but, thankfully, they don’t care for a bribe when you are about to miss your plane. So I had no problems whatsoever! As I was the only person going through security it was very quick and I made it to my gate about three minutes before boarding - so in plenty of time! I was amazed that I had made it. It was literally the exact same plane that I had just gotten off of (going to the exact same place I had just come from) so I’m sure that the flight attendants were a bit confused.

The flight back to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan was quick and painless and, the best news of all, my bag somehow made it! It truly was a miracle. It is silly how few flights there are in and out of these countries that make it to where I had to do such a quick turn around. I definitely didn’t enjoy it and only did it as it was my only option. I’m looking forward to not having to run through my next country in under an hour!

45 countries down, 152 to go.