O'Hare Airport, U.S.A. to Frankfort, Germany
We're getting there!!! We finally received our "Letter of Invitation" from the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Departure Date May 23, 2005

Wow... This is really gonna happen. Little scary.
May 17, 2005…

Okay, we got word from our agency today that she (Vinola) received our "LOI" (letter of invitation) from the Arkalyk region… “Start making reservations but don’t pay until I see your itinerary” She has to coordinate the travel possibilities from Almaty to Astana, the train to Arkalyk and a possible escort (we requested one for the overnight train ride, we thought, we do not know how to communicate with anyone, where to get off, how to ask for things etc. We felt we needed someone with us.)

I started to call the three different travel agencies the agency recommended to get information and prices… to me, this was the most stressful part of this whole ordeal as of yet... I guess I just got a little overwhelmed with all of the options, dates of departure and fees. We had two different days picked out, May 30th and June 1. We still could not commit until we got the actual LOI from Vinola.

May 18, 2005…

We got our “LoI” (letter of invitation) emailed to us. I typed up letter of request, filled out the visa application and darted off to Fed Ex. Had to put off the travel agent as we decided at the last minute to check Lufthansa fights directly with them. The travel agencies have a $200.00 per person penalty for changing the dates (which is common in the industry). Marie wanted to see if we could leave a little earlier, so I called and they had May 23 open. May 23rd? Wow, one catch, they had to submit this to the “pricing office” for the official “humanitarian rate” and she said this could take 24-72 hours to get back. I told her we would loose the only other option to leave anytime soon if we did not hear by tonight. The sound sympathetic but we got no call tonight. I started thinking, 4 days away! I thought; way too soon, we don’t have nearly everything together yet. I have had this idea that even if we are 7,800 miles away in a foreign land, that barely has dependable electricity let alone good internet access; I could be “mister wizard” with all of the electronics I was bringing. A satellite phone, electronic voice translators, a laptop, digital cameras and not to mention all of the different attachments, converters, plug adaptors, cords etc. I don't know how I will get this all together and working...

May 19, 2005

I called Lufthansa, still no answer. Later in the morning I got a call, the fee was similar to the travel agency's but these were totally unrestricted with NO cancellation fees, penalties or date change fees, they were 100% refundable and were good for 1 year. I pays to check all of your options. I tried to finish my work commitments but, as always more things come up. I wasted most of the morning. I started to figure out how to e-mail from our laptop home, what a mess. There are some options out there but all are dependant on good internet access. I plan to use “go to my pc” (www.gotomypc.com) so I can actually be on my home computer and make web page updates as if I were sitting in front of it from home! Don’t ask, I will let you know if this actually works! Still more problems with e-mailing that have to be worked out, I feel like nothing was done today…

May 23, 2005

Here we are in the air on our way to Germany and should arrive about midnight Chicago time (6:50 am Tuesday in Germany) I had no time to update the missing days May 20-22 due to last minute packing etc. (but I will get to it later) Tip; don’t over pack, each suitcase we have (4 of them plus two huge carry ons) were about 66 lbs. each and one was over 70 (the nice people at Lufthansa let us go without an additional charge because she knew it was full of things for the orphanage. (See said this normally would cost about $150.00 for the overweight bag! (I would not count on getting away with it always, we just got lucky) I can not believe it, we boarded the plane and they announced Lufthansa is the first to offer high speed Internet access! Today, it is free but it will run about $29.00 for the entire flight. I just sent video messages to some family and we have complete un-restricted high-speed access as if I were at home but we're actually at 35,000 feet and traveling at about 500 miles per hour. Wow, modern technology. I am about to try to update the web page from here with these comments so, if you are reading this, it works! More later…
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