Having gotten my Tajik visa (all I had to do was show up at the embassy and give my name, and my passport was waiting for me behind the desk along with several others – who knew there were that many Tajik visa seekers?) I returned to Edinburgh. Luckily there are some Tajik-English dictionaries online, or otherwise I wouldn’t have known that “БИСЁРКАРАТА” meant I had indeed gotten a multiple-entry visa. I don’t necessarily expect to need that, but it’s extra insurance and it doesn’t cost anything. (It does require providing an itinerary that implies you’ll use it…) The visa is handwritten.
On the way to the train station I stopped at 221b Baker Street, London, known the world over as the residence of Sherlock Holmes.
Thursday (or that particular day) seemed to be the day for food stalls in public squares in London, which weren’t around on Wednesday. They appeared in Lyric Square in Hammersmith as well as on Euston Street.
In the UK, trains run on time (compare with a recent experience I had with Amtrak being two hours late, and I’ve heard of worse). They run so much like clockwork that there was a sign in Euston Station warning that the doors close 30 seconds before departure. It’s hard to imagine planning your arrival to the platform down to the second.
I took a different (longer) train route back, for variety. The views change a lot when you get to the north of England and into Scotland.
Although the ride was less comfortable than the East Coast going down, it’s still a reminder of what high-speed rail can be like and how lacking it is in the US. This train car blocked GPS, but on the way down we were going over 130 miles per hour. It does make photography difficult, though!
Travel requires lots of work on (sometimes annoying) logistics and other types of downtime. The past two days have exemplified that. After getting to Edinburgh yesterday, the only thing I wanted to do was sleep and buy, cook, and eat food.
Today’s logistical endeavor was more interesting.
My first Central Asian destination will be Tajikistan, which requires a visa for entry. But because putting it first – before Kyrgyzstan - was a late change in plans (I’m coordinating with other people, who I’ll be travelling with to each of those countries), I didn’t get the visa before I left, thinking I would do so in Kyrgyzstan. This left the embassy of Tajikistan in London as the only viable alternative source of that visa. So I went to London, where I could pay double (£40) the normal fee (which is still low compared to my others) for the privilege of submitting my paperwork at a time other than Monday or Thursday from 10 to 12 and it taking less than 5-7 business days. Specifically, I should be able to get it by tomorrow.
If you are unfamiliar with visas, they are magical stickers that go onto a page of your passport and let you into a specific country. Sometimes the country in question does at least some investigation into you before granting the visa, but in the case of Stanland, I have to believe they require them just to be difficult and get some of your money. In any case, visas require paperwork: for this one, an application listing an address in Tajikistan (i.e., any hotel), my employer’s name and address (I used Yale), and so on; a passport photo cut to a particular (nonstandard) size; a photocopy of the passport’s personal data page; and, of course, the passport itself, for the embassy staff to stick the special sticker into. In my case, I was told to email the embassy with my itinerary, since I didn’t have flight tickets or hotel bookings (I’ll be staying in various private homes, and I don’t want to spend $500 on a ticket when I may not get a visa!), so I “improvised” one for them. All this required lots of running around in the surrounding Hammersmith neighborhood in London to accomplish: a photo store for the photos, an internet cafe to print the application and photocopy, a bank to deposit the fee, and a cafe to sit and craft an itinerary supporting the dates I had listed on my application.
All this is to say that I got an excuse to go to London, even if I’m turning right around and going back. The East Coast train route from Edinburgh to London goes by the sea in the northern part of the route, with beautiful views, even in the rain. It’s about the same price as flying, as well as taking the same amount of time all told, and is much more comfortable.
I finally met the person who I’ll be accompanying to Tajikistan.
Proving that it’s a small world, she (my Tajikistan companion, another recent Yale graduate) took me to a Sacred Harp singing in London (Sacred Harp exists in London?!) where I re-met another Yalie, who had just been at a Sacred Harp convention in Germany with one of my close friends.
This GPS track mainly shows the East Coast Line train route from Edinburgh to London, and if you zoom in, where I went in London, with straight lines when I was in the Tube. It also has a curious blip at the end, where my supposed location jumps and the altitude data (not shown) says I went up to 20,000 meters. From an engineering perspective, this kind of incorrect data probably can cause all kinds of problems if not accounted for in serious applications.