Euro Adventure – Possible Destinations: Aktobe, Kazakhstan
With St.Johnstone almost certain to be unseeded in the Europa League 2nd round qualifiers, the list of destinations we may get is becoming to be clearer. Most the destinations, in Eastern Europe/Mediterranean are fairly easy to reach thanks to RyanAir/EasyJet/Randombudgetairline, but there is a few more unusual places on the list which are off the budget airline route map…
One of them, can barely be classed as part of Europe – Aktobe in Kazakhstan. Way over on the Asian side of the Aral Sea, on the banks of the great Russian Ural river, Kazakhstan is about as far from ‘Europe’ as you can get. It is so far east it shares a border with China. It is the home of Aktobe FC, that ‘giant’ of Kazakhstan football! As far as I can see, getting there would be quicker from Philippines than it would be from Perth. Hopefully the draw will be drawn on a regional basis (UPDATE: Thanks to @Stjohnstone1884 for clarifying the draw is not regional… we could get drawn against this lot!), and Saints will avoid this ‘nightmare’ but lets just assume worst case scenario here… how the hell do you get to Aktobe?
My first port of call was to check if Aktobe actually has an airport… the good news? It does. Phew. The bad news? Well, er, there is a handful of airlines that actually fly there. Infact, out of the 5 airlines listed, 2 are seasonal domestic airlines, while out of the remaining 3, one website didn’t work, another was in Russian, leaving only Astana Airlines as a reasonable option for us humble English speakers.
Thankfully, Astana are an internationally recognised airline, flying modernish Airbus’ and can offer ticketing all the way through to Edinburgh airport, with a codeshare agreement with KLM. The flights will take you from Edinburgh to Amsterdam to Almaty in Eastern Kazahkstan and then back west to Aktobe (listed as Aktyubinsk on their website). The whole thing takes you around 22 hours of traveling, including two layovers in Amsterdam and Almaty. The damage? A cool 1100GBP return. And I’m not even sure that includes the taxes… Ouch!
Other routes to get there seem a little thin on the ground. You can fly into Moscow and then take the train south to Almaty, getting off on the way in Aktobe. Alternatively Middle Eastern airlines such as Emirates and Etihad have daily flights into Almaty from where you could switch to Astana Airlines, or jump on another train cross country to Aktobe…
…however, be warned, both train journeys mentioned above take approximately TWO DAYS. You can check out timetables for the Moscow – Aktobe route here and the Almaty – Aktobe route here… Pricing seems pretty cheap (at around 65Euro’s if booked in advance (check out www.seat61.com) or cheaper if tickets are bought on the ground in Moscow or Almaty.
Finally. Visas. Us westerners get an easy ride when we travel usually, with visa free entry to most countries. Sad to say Kazakhstan is not one of those countries! Visas can be applied for at the Kazah embassy in London, although, thankfully, they accept postal applications. The simplest one looks like the ‘Business visa‘ at 50GBP, plus postage costs. They claim a processing time of 5 working days, plus postage time. Remember, if you take the route via Russia you also need a double entry Russian visa – making the flights with Astana Airlines much more appealing! It would need a whole new article to explain the Russian visa process! You also have to factor in border delays on the train between Moscow and Kazakhstan.
Hotels doesn’t seem to be any issue – Tripadvisor has reviews on four hotels in the city, with a further 3 listed with no reviews. Prices seem standard at $50usd and up a night, with one hotel advertising at $330usd a night!
One thing to note however… our last European adventure to Vaasa and Monaco saw the club put on a charter flight with a hundred or so seats for the fans. Don’t be surprised for them to organise something similar this time around! I think Kelvin Travel were the organisers back in 1999/2000.
Of course… with any luck this article will be completely pointless as of the 25th of June when the draw is made… Other teams in the pot may include St.Patricks in Ireland, Sparta Praha in the Czech Republic and FC Twente of Holland. All a little easier on the traveling, and on the wallet!
Either way, it will be one hell of a party!