Saturday, October 3, 2015

Central Asia: Of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan

Source: Wikipedia
Central Asia spread from Caspian Sea in the west (Caspian reminded me of Prince Caspian from Narnia..) to China in the east. It generally consist of five republics of the Soviet Union - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Sometimes Afghanistan is also included.

Of the usual 5 countries, our limited time, cost of airfare (yes, this is important) and visa - we decided on three and forgo Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Many asked, why Central Asia. Why not? The beautiful Kyrgyzstan and the Silk Road cities of Uzbekistan. Umm.. Kazakhstan is a bit of a cheat, we were only in Almaty and to be exact, two days in Almaty before taking our flight out.

I have been toying with the idea for awhile and at the end of last year before Christmas, I was browsing some books in a book shop. Lonely Planet travel books were on sale and the one which caught my eye - Central Asia. I was a little hesitant to buy it as there were no firm plans and I didn't want the book to be outdated. In addition, I was running low on both funds and annual leave. A friend told me it would still be ok, and I would probably jet off in the next five years. I didn't really need too much persuasion to bring the book to the counter.

For all who are worry about safety in travelling to Central Asia (excluding Afghanistan), the Australian smart traveller advised a DFAT1 & DFAT2 overall. There are some concerns over the borders between some countries due to landmines or security issue. For everyone (who are concerned about us), we avoided land crossing by flying and also to save time. However there are many who do land crossing.

This time I actually flew out of Melbourne on a Wednesday night to give us enough time in Kyrgyzstan. I had 2 transits - Guangzhou and Urumqi and my flights were with China Southern.

N = night, A = afternoon, M = morning, E = evening
26/08, Day 00 - On flight
27/08, Day 01 - Transit in Guangzhou and Urumqi* (Yuyuan Hotel)
28/08, Day 02 - Bishkek* (Hostel Nomad)
29/08, Day 03 - Song Kul* (Yurt stay booked with CBT Kochkor)

30/08, Day 04 - Song Kul*
31/08, Day 05 - Bishkek* (Hostel Nomad)
01/09, Day 06 - Bishkek*
02/09, Day 07 - Bishkek. Morning flight to Tashkent* (Jahongir B&B Tashkent)
03/09, Day 08 - Tashkent*
04/09, Day 09 - Tashkent. Afternoon flight to Urgench, taxi to Khiva*. (Mirza Boshi)
05/09, Day 10 - Khiva*
06/09, Day 11 - Khiva*
07/09, Day 12 - Khiva*
08/09, Day 13 - Khiva. Morning shared taxi to Bukhara* (Sarrafon B&B)
09/09, Day 14 - Bukhara*
10/09, Day 15 - Bukhara*
11/09, Day 16 - Bukhara. Travelled to Nurata, followed by Kyzyl Kum Yurt Camp*.
12/09, Day 17 - Left Kyzyl Kum, reached Asraf Village at Nuratau Mountains* by noon. (Yahshigul Home stay)
13/09, Day 18 - Left Nuratau Mountains in the morning, reached Samarkand* by noon. (Jahongir B&B Samarkand)
14/09, Day 19 - Samarkand*
15/09, Day 20 - Left Samarkand in the evening for Tashkent* (Jahongir B&B Tashkent)
16/09, Day 21 - Afternoon flight to Almaty* from Tashkent (201 Lessor Apartment)
17/09, Day 22 - Almaty*
18/09, Day 23 - Night flight from Almaty. On flight*
19/09, Day 24 - Overnight transit in Urumqi* and connecting flight in Guangzhou at night (Golden Beach Hotel)

20/09, Day 25 - Reached Melbourne in the morning. 
Note: * referring to where we overnight

Side note: My ex-boss told me that I'm only allowed to go to Kyrgyzstan when I know how to spell it correctly. LOL.. I do now ;)

Monday, September 28, 2015

How to apply for Uzbekistan visa in Malaysia

To make things clear, I hold a Malaysian passport and currently staying in Australia. There is no Uzbekistan embassy in Australia but the one in Singapore is responsible for Australia. So there was a confusion whether I would have to send my passport to Singapore or Malaysia to apply for this visa.

I rang up the Uzbekistan embassy in Singapore but the consular was away at the time and I was told to email. I have not receive a response to this date. I then rang the Uzbekistan embassy in Malaysia (please note of their working days and hours) and was told that because I hold a Malaysian passport, even if I send my passport to Singapore, it would need to be forwarded to Malaysia for processing.

Sis had an unplanned trip back to KL in July and I decided that the best way to apply for this visa was to post my passport to her (yes, I was worried about the passport). She carried my passport back to KL and apply from the Uzbekistan embassy in Malaysia.

This of course is for a tourist visa. 

Before approaching the Consular Section with your application please make sure you have all documents required:

1.   Copy of the letter of invitation from inviting partners in Uzbekistan.
--> not required after calling and speaking to the rep in Uzbekistan Consular Section and in written here.

2.   Two copies of the visa application form duly completed and signed by the applicant, which can be obtained by visiting link on the left or at the Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan in Malaysia.
 --> in the app form asked for address where to stay, needs to include booking confirmation sheet

3.   Two photographs. Attach recent passport-sized photographs to your application forms.
--> as we applied our visa in Malaysia, we did Malaysia passport size photos

4.   Passport must have at least one blank page to affix the visa and be valid for the entire period of your stay in the country.

5.   Fees. To be paid on collection only.
--> they will request that you give them a phone call to check how much to pay. When sis called, they asked how many days you want (even though dates given in the app) and told sis to go to the embassy to discuss. We paid USD 75 for 23 days (RM 288), to be banked in at Standard Chartered in Raja Chulan and bring the slip to the embassy.

6.   Applying by mail: Before sending your documents please contact the consular section to assure that visa issuance confirmation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in place. Please provide self-addressed pre-paid envelope to return your passport.

7.   Incomplete visa applications are not accepted. A personal interview with an applicant may be required. In case any person is declined to obtain entry visa to Uzbekistan, the Consular Section of the Embassy reserves the right to provide no explanation.

8. Also asked for flight itinerary even though did not mentioned in the website.

9. At one point, there were some debates about actual flight itinerary to Uzbekistan (we fly in to Kyrgyzstan and out of Kazakhstan) but they have allowed as many done land border crossing as well.

Side note: The good news was we didn't need a visa for both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan as we stayed shorter than the visa free period ;)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Ph(f)oto Friday: Street Art

I took this after my visit to the Russell Place Substation. It was just next door ;)

Side note: This is a scheduled post. Will be back with more stories and posts, hopefully ;)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

2015 Open House Melbourne - Russell Place Substation

Open House Melbourne is an annual event in Melbourne. This year it was over the 25th-26th July weekend. As with all free events, the queue is long. I started the day with a brunch with a friend and she dropped me in the city. My first pick was this Russell Place Substation. The admission to this specific venue comes with a 30 minutes guided tour and we had to don a safety hat and overall.

My session of tour was guided by a power station engineer and a power station supervisor. Russell Place Substation is located at this very unassuming laneway between Little Collins Street and Bourke Street. In fact it was only a door from the laneway. I did not expect that it was so much spacious inside.

This substation houses a few transformers and supplies about 25% of power to Melbourne CBD. There was display of old electrical related things though I am not sure if they were just placed there because of this open house or there all the time.

Side note: Arrgh.. so embarrassing. I so want to dig a hole and hide there :|

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Sherbrooke: Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens

Autumn in Melbourne feels a little short, not temperature wise but tree changing colour wise. Almost like if you missed it one weekend, there will be gone the week after. Sherbrooke is about 50 minutes drive away east from Melbourne CBD. I don't have a car, so the alternative was public transport. I took a train then a bus to get to Sherbrooke, specifically this garden - Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens. It took me about 2 hours to get to this garden, on a weekend where trains stop every station.

I first about this garden from a photography based meet up group. Someone suggested to take some photos in this garden during autumn. I initially had signed up to attend but then realised that buses don't run on this route on Sundays (the meet up session was on a Sunday). By sheer stubbornness that I drag myself out on a cold autumn morning the Saturday after to see this garden.

Alfred Nicholas and his brother George developed the 'Aspro' painkiller. It was originally a German discovery but the supply was halted during the first world war. George who was a chemist re-discovered the formula, the Australian Government awarded the patent and the Nicholas fortune grew. Alfred purchased this land in 1929 and build his home. The estate was name 'Burnham Beeches'. Mr Nicholas passed away before the garden was completed but Mrs Nicholas stayed on the property until second world war. The garden was donated to the people of Victoria in 1965 and was under the care of the local shire council. The garden was handed to the Victorian State Government in 19772.

I was a little early and the weather was cloudy hence the dark looking photos. However at least it wasn't raining though still cold. I had my beanie on my head the whole time. But really, what autumn view? All were in shades of green!

Then I saw a couple of lonely trees with yellow leaves. I was ecstatic and snap happy.

As I was doing my round around the pond I overheard a few people talking about the yellow leaves. One of them said, "Stand here and I'll take a photo of you. People will think you were in Japan."

Soon after that I was in need of another coffee fix and found a cafe next door to the garden. It was the Burnham Beeches of course. I didn't want to reach the city too late so I just did a takeaway of coffee and an almond croissant from the Piggery Cafe.

That was autumn... Melbourne is well into winter now, it's amazing how just at the turn of 1st June, the temperature just dropped many notches down.

Side note: Ice-cream.. yummm. ^^

Saturday, May 30, 2015

VIC: A day in Yarra Valley

The last out of Melbourne trip I had with sis and family was Yarra Valley. The plan was to have lunch there. Having heard some reviews on Yering Station, we thought of having our lunch there. However it was quite spontaneous so we didn't make any reservation and of course, at such a beautiful Saturday it was fully booked. On hindsight, it was probably a good thing because Yering Station restaurant feels a little too sterile and posh to my liking for a comfortable day out.

We finally settled for lunch at Medhurst Cellar Door and Cafe. This definitely feels more like home and easier on the pocket. I shared a Fisherman's Paddle - 3 fish with salad, crostini and herb mayo ($30) with sis. BIL has issue with seafood so he opted for a Chicken Sambo ($18) and little niece got her own Kid's Cheese Toasty ($7).

Fisherman's paddle

Kid's cheese toasties
No photo of Chicken Sambo because BIL had already started on his meal before we took any photo. Grin. Little niece had bits from the fisherman paddle as she absolutely loved the smokes salmon pate.

Medhurst is after all a cellar so we head over to the tasting counter to kick off our tasting session. I shared with sis as she would need to take over the driving after BIL had a couple of drinks. We decided to open a bottle to have it with our dessert (corkage fee applied though). Of course we had dessert as all good meal finished with a dessert or two. The spread of sweet treats were display on the counter and we have already totally check out the desserts while waiting for our food. ;)

Our pick was vanilla slice after read somewhere that they made very good vanilla slice... and it was! Grin - and the wine as a dessert wine. LOL

Happy tummy makes a happy us. After lunch, we make our way to Domaine Chandon. There seem to be a consensus that Domaine Chandon has the best view among the vineyards, so that's our next stop!

Domaine Chandon's view does live up to it's reputation and the wide open space makes little niece ran happy. This place is definitely more popular comparatively as the crowd is bigger but this is a bigger place too.

Sis and I sat out on this one, only BIL did some wine tasting. Wine tasting is not free at Chandon though. BIL walked away with a bottle to bring to his friend's house for dinner at night.

We decided to return to Yering Station again after Domaine Chandon as we were there for a very short while earlier. In my very humble opinion, of the three wineries we visited Yering Station's view is placed at the third position. I have no comment on the food though as we didn't eat there but as a tourist, the place itself did not carry a friendly vibe.

Wineries done, next up - chocolate!

No - this not edible..

It is not the mannequin, it's the metre long chocolate!

Book or chocolate or both? ;)

And - of course we had to have a takeaway ice-cream for the road trip back ;)

Side note: I think the secret to a good night's sleep is warm feet!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Frankston: Sand Sculpture Australia - “Friends, Foes & Super Heroes”

Ok. First things first - because I am in some slow-motion-timing this sand sculpture event has ended for the year 2015. But fear not, I heard this thing is an annual event so there will always be next year.

My initial perception before seeing it was it would be a much bigger event but it was actually quite smallish. Entrance fee was $13.50 per person. I took a train to Frankston and walked to the event site, meeting sis, BIL and little niece there. They met with a friend for brunch and I was being anti-social.

Coming out from Frankston station
It wasn't a long walk from the Frankston train station and the weather was perfect with white clouds dotting the ever blue sky.

It wasn't a long walk but I have no idea how to get there without google maps. I have not been to this suburb before but I noticed a family who looked like they were heading to the beach so I ended up following them. Hehe :)

The sand sculptures were not on the beach though but at a closed off area nearby. I reached before sis and co, so I lingered a little at the front waiting for them. Plus I was starving and texted sis to grab me some food :P

It was a Monday past Easter Sunday on our day of visit and there was an egg hunt activity too. Basically the sand sculptors had sculpted some eggs and we are to count them. Even if you got the count wrong, you still get a chocolate egg, or two. Lol. Anyway, here goes...

Winnie the Pooh and friends

Master Yoda

Darth Vader and co

Jabba the Hut

The adorable R2-D2 and C3PO

The Avengers



Peter Pan

The Incredibles

You know them...
Little niece was actually more interested in playing with the sand than looking at any of the sculptures. And yes, this is a lazy post - more pictures than words.

Side note: Time to roll on the bed again!