I know I’ve skipped ahead a bit in the story, and maybe I will go back and fill in the rest of the summer eventually, but for now let’s get on with heading to Kazakhstan.
To The Airport
The day had arrived to travel to Kazakhstan. My sister and I popped into town to buy some more suitable shoes, maybe an extra backpack for luggage and some food to take on the trains and planes. This was accomplished with relative ease before I finished off packing and got dropped at the train station again by my ever so helpful sister. I was to take the 12:20 train to London Euston, then the Underground to Heathrow.
The train was cancelled.
No replacement train or bus was offered, just wait for the next one.
I didn’t have time for that. I re-routed myself and caught a different train to Birmingham New Street.
So did the rest of the world apparently.
I stood in a sweltering carriage for 30 minutes with my large suitcase, a backpack a handbag and my face in some stranger’s armpit.
We eventually arrived and I managed to catch a train 5 minutes later to Euston. This one was also standing room only. I sat on the floor by the doors. If I can offer you one travel tip it is this: the floor is the coolest and arguably most spacious seat on a train. I sat there quite happily reading my book and eating my sandwich, leaning on my luggage legs stretched out. Eventually there was space on a seat so I moved to a table to eat some of a large pot of yoghurt I had packed for the occasion and to continue with my book.
Getting to Heathrow from Euston wasn’t as terrible as I had imagined. Sure I had to lug my suitcase and bags through hordes of people in a cramped, hot, airless space, but besides that I simply looked at the map, hopped in a lift (after waiting in a queue), walked down a tunnel and climbed on the next train listing Heathrow terminal 4. It was an hour long journey and I even managed to get a seat for some of it.
For those wondering you can get from Birmingham New Street to London Heathrow using public transport for about £35 in 3 – 4 hours as follows:
- New Street –> Euston by train (approx £30 – 2 hours)
- Head to the underground and pay cash or swipe a oyster, contactless credit or debit card for the rest of the journey (£5 – 1.5 hours)
- Choose either:
- Northern line going South – Euston–> Leicester Square
- Victoria line going West – Euston –> Green Park
- Switch to the Piccadilly line going West –> Heathrow (check your particular train goes to the terminal you need – they alternate between terminal 4 and 5)
- Make sure you swipe your ticket or card when exiting the train line.
I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to check my bags in. My flight included 2 checked bags of up to 23kg each. I did not want to drag 2 suitcases around so I overpacked my suitcase and included an extra backpack to transfer some stuff into at check in. It worked like a charm.
I took a few moments to enjoy my remaining liquids before going through security. I queued up, and like the practiced professional I am I had laptop, tablet, kobo, phone out and in a tray, bag in another, coat and handbag in another and was through the scanner in moments. Whoop.
My bag got stopped.
Why! I had been so careful.
I had not been careful. I had left a half pot of yoghurt in my bag which over the remainder of the train journey had managed to spill inside its plastic bag and had made a bit of a mess. The security lady was very pleasant about it and in the bin it went. My pre-packed sandwich survived the ordeal and continued on with me to Kazakhstan
The plane was delayed.
I only had 1.5 hours transfer time in Nur- Sultan to begin with. This was a little concerning. Oh Well, nothing I could do about it.
I was flying with Air Astana and when we finally boarded I had a full row of 3 seats to myself. I considered myself particularly lucky as I when I had checked in online only middle seats were available and I wasn’t looking forward to 6.5 hours sat between 2 strangers.
The service was impeccable. The air hostess was very attentive offering sweets, drinks and headphones early on. I had a pillow and a blanket package already on my seat, and not one of those thin fleecy blue ones I’ve had before. Once we were safely in the air the air hostess returned to ask if I would like to eat first then sleep or sleep then eat. Food and then sleep I thought. The food was served on proper crockery with real metal cutlery. I had thought this was a budget airline, I was very impressed.
After a short time reading my book I looked across to see the man in the aisle opposite me calling the air hostess over and standing up. I looked on in interest as she made his 3 seats into a bed for him. Out of the blanket package she unrolled a mattress topper that she fixed across his seats before ushering him onto it and placing the blanket on top. She caught my eye and indicated did I want my bed made?
Heck yes I did!
I stood up to provide access to the seats and properly looked around for the first time. It was at this point I realised I and a few others were in a separate section to the majority of the flight. Where we all had 3 seats to ourselves they were sat shoulder to shoulder. I glanced back at the rows near mine, all were very business looking men, all with 3 seats to themselves. Had I booked some sort of business class ticket without realising? I wanted to check my ticket but had to wait until my bed was made, naturally.
I settled across my 3 seats and routed through my bad until I found my ticket. It said sleeper class, was that different to economy? I checked my other booking information, it definitely said economy so I could argue my point. What a happy little accident. Part of me didn’t want to sleep, I had the privilege of these 3 seats it seemed a waste to sleep through it. That being said I did need to sleep so I lay down and made myself as comfortable as possible.
I wasn’t comfortable, I tried very possible sleeping position and failed to sleep in all of them. In the end I settled for sitting up and reading my book. Regardless of the lack of sleep it was one of the best flying experiences I have ever had. Plus as a bonus I got a card that allowed me access to the business class fast pass queues in the airport. I’ve saved that for another journey.
The moral of the story: If your flight offers sleeper class tickets and they don’t cost significantly more, get one!
I had the perfect amount of time to pass through passport control, get my visa stamped and reach my next gate (after nearly entering a part of the airport I wasn’t supposed to). As I was boarded onto the plane the boarding agent (is that what they’re called?) told me my seat number had been changed. O.K. I wasn’t really bothered, it was only a short 2.5 hour flight. As it happened I had been changed to an emergency exit seat, extra leg room and a window; bonus!
Again I was highly interested in the goings on in the aisle across from me. A woman was wanting to sit next to her friend but her ticket was for a different seat (bare in mind I am inferring as it was all in Russian of Kazakh or some such) the air hostess would not allow her to just take a different passengers seat so she waited in the aisle seat on my side of the plane. Eventually the passenger whose seat she wanted arrived. After a moments discussion he nodded and she took his seat and he sat in the aisle seat on my side.
That was when the drama really began.
The woman’s official seat was not this one, it was much further down the plane. The guy did not want this but the woman had now taken his seat and was refusing to budge. Queues were forming, the person who had the aisle seat ticket on my side arrived and wanted his seat. The woman still refused to move, the displaced guy was waving his ticket around, the air hostess attempted to reason with both, the new guy had no idea what was going on and simply took his seat ignoring all else. An extra air host arrived and nothing changed (is it air host for male and air hostess for female? I’ve never thought about before. Maybe its air steward and air stewardess. Oh well I’m not going back and changing it now). Eventually the displaced guy got a seat the row behind mine which was still an emergency exit seat so he had the extra leg room.
After the low key drama boarding the plane the flight was completely uneventful. I finished a very entertaining book about inter-railing around Europe in the 90s, and completed a few puzzles in my puzzle book. I did of course attempt to sleep but not very successfully.
Finally we landed in what appeared to be a barren piece of land with a rickety old shed in it, apparently it was the airport.
First impressions of Kazakhstan coming soon.