In Maphead (page 92) Ken Jennings writes about Russia, “…until the dawn of glasnost in 1988, the KGB was charged with making sure that essentially every detail of every publicly available map of the Soviet Union was wrong.” He goes on to describe the era’s typical tourist map of Moscow on which “only the contours of the capital are accurate”. Visitors relied on the CIA’s map because it “actually got the streets right”.
I don’t believe this is still true, but I did have a great deal of trouble following local maps of St. Petersburg when Ruth & I were there last spring. Usually pretty good at map deciphering, I never did achieve mastery or feel really comfortable wandering about.
I thought about this morning when I read a New York Times article by Rod Nordland. The headline: “Warned tourists still visit Afghanistan”. Nordland notes that a Russian couple stayed in the $365-a-night Kabul Serena Hotel and traveled to the Panjshir Valley without incident. The hotel name grabbed my attention because of my blog from March 7, 2012.
Back then, I wrote:
This all got me to wondering if it’s possible to book a trip to Kabul as if I was going to Chicago. It is. I pulled up Travelocity and learned that I could fly from New York to Kabul on 3 airlines: Turkish, Air India, and Gulf Air. This would cost me from $1,163 to $3,569, round trip.
From closer-to-home, Seattle, I have two choices: Emirates for a whopping $5,087 or American, $5,411. American Airlines flies to Kabul!
Then I got on hotels.com and found the Kabul Serena Hotel available for $356 per night. The information about this hotel is full of pride and optimism. It opens with this statement, “…the Kabul Serena Hotel is the first five-star hotel to open in Afghanistan in over 35 years a symbol of confidence in the reconstruction and redevelopment of Afghanistan….”
I checked hotels.com again to see if I could still book the Serena. The answer is no. It has been removed. Neither Travelocity nor Expedia make it available either.
I suspect this is because, as Nordland reports, the Taliban now threatens to target foreign citizens from any of the 50 countries that are part of the NATO nations supporting the current Afghanistan government. The U.S. Department of State, my go-to source of current information, has issued a travel advisory noting increased risk of kidnapping and assassination.
So, I checked Travelocity again and had 2 shocks. The # of airlines offering flights from New York to Kabul has increased! For now. Air France, Delta, Air India, and Turkish Airlines offer 9 separate flights to Kabul. Turkish Airline’s range from $1523.70 for a round-tripper with one stop in Istanbul to $13,313.69 for a 2-stop co-op with Air India requiring connections in Istanbul and New Delhi. The shock? ….only one seat left at this price.