Turkmenistan July/August 2018: visa, money, transport, accommodation

All about Turkmenistan
@thewalshdiaries
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Turkmenistan July/August 2018: visa, money, transport, accommodation

Postby @thewalshdiaries » Fri Aug 03, 2018 5:43 pm

Visa:
I had had my five-day transit visa confirmed in an email from the Tashkent embassy just 10 days (including the weekend, so eight working days) after applying in Dushanbe (where I had no issues), but was never sent the invitation letter. This initially proved a problem when I crossed at Dashoguz, as the soldiers at the first post would not let me proceed without it. I repeatedly told them it would be in their system if they just let me go to immigration. After a half hour, they relented and I caught the mandatory bus that covers the 1km or so to immigration (I gave the driver the last 7000 Uzbek som I had but I’m sure you could pay less), where I again had the same issue with another group of soldiers before finally being let through. Inside, immigration officials were polite and asked me exactly where I would be staying during my transit, so be prepared. I said two nights at Urgench Hotel in Konye-Urgench, and two nights at Dayhan Hotel in Ashgabat (both taken discreetly from the Lonely Planet in a panic). The officer seemed satisfied with this - as he was writing it down - and told me to pay for my visa fee at the next window. I paid the $55 visa fee and $14 immigration fee, as was also told to pay a $4 “bank fee” for each of those payments, an extra $8. I argued with both the woman taking payment and the immigration official, and was eventually made to pay only one of the $4 fees. I was then given my passport with visa and stamp, and had my bag half-heartedly searches by custom officials, then was let into Turkmenistan proper. Throughout the entire process, from the soldiers to customs officials, everyone was extremely friendly, so don’t be so nervous as I was!
Money:
I entered on July 30. The official exchange rate for USD to manat is 3.5, but ask at any bus station or bazaar and you can get 15. But it fluctuates so as I write this, it could be higher. It’s not difficult to find someone to change money with - people will usually find you. I changed both in Dashoguz and Ashgabat for the same rate.
Accommodation, transport:
I caught an air-conditioned shared taxi to Konye-Urgench (12 manat) and found the Urgench Hotel to be closed for renovations. I was directed to the only other guest house in town, next to the mosque, which would not accept me as I was a foreigner. I couldn’t even leave my bags there to explore the historical sites so left them at a nearby shop. The curator at the historical sites suggested I continue to Darvaza gas crater that afternoon, and after only an hour of exploring (enough time to see the southern section of sites, such as the minaret), he drove me to where the shared taxis to Ashgabat depart. I had to pay for the full journey, as expected, and paid 100 manat (I overpaid and you could probably get it for 60 or 80 but people are getting greedier as the value of the USD increases, and I was just happy to be leaving that day).
From the turn-off to the crater, local men await on motorcycles to drive you the 7km along a sandy track to the crater. I paid 15 manat one-way. He said he would come back the following morning and then I’d give him another 15 manat, but he never came and finding a ride back to the main road was not difficult. At the crater, I approached a yurt and asked for a camp bed, and slept out under the stars for 20 manat. I was also given food as there was a tour group there but I wouldn’t expect this, so take enough food and water for 24 hours. In the morning, it took me all of two minutes to find a ride from the main road to Ashgabat, with a local family driving from Dashoguz. They did not expect any money but I insisted on giving them 35 manat.
I met others who had stayed in Ashgabat and couldn’t find a hotel for less than $130. I didn’t have this problem as I Couchsurfed. It’s illegal, so don’t tell people this or you may get your host and his entire family in a lot of trouble. I stayed three nights, exploring the city by both bike and taxi (5-7 manat will get you anywhere in the city, and 10 manat to Turkmenbashi’s mausoleum and adjacent mosque). I was a little paranoid about being asked where I was staying, as there are police everywhere, so just avoided going to close to officers. It was probably unjustified but I just wanted to be careful.
Exiting to Iran:
I caught a taxi to the initial border checkpoint on the outskirts of Ashgabat (30 manat). From here, a mandatory bus drives you the 20km or so stretch through the mountains to the border post proper (10 manat). My passport details were written down four or five times at different points throughout the process, but it wasn’t a hassle and I had no problems, nor was I asked any questions about my visit. On the Iranian side, it was so quick and effortless, I didn’t realise I had even finished and was in Iran.
Summary:
I was nervous before my visit to Turkmenistan, from how I would go at the border to changing money and taking transport, but it’s no different to anywhere else in Central Asia. Most importantly, local people are friendly if not merely curious. Although some will try to overcharge you because they know you’ve most-likely changed money at the black market rate, it’s never in a malicious manner. Enjoy your trip!
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JoMo1971
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Re: Turkmenistan July/August 2018: visa, money, transport, accommodation

Postby JoMo1971 » Fri Aug 10, 2018 10:16 am

Couldn't agree more... only met genuine kindness and friendliness on my 5 day transit visit.
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pedrohbbarbosa
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Re: Turkmenistan July/August 2018: visa, money, transport, accommodation

Postby pedrohbbarbosa » Sat Sep 08, 2018 9:14 am

I was in Turkmenistan in the beginning of September. Some updates:
- I paid 20 manat the share taxi from Dashoguz to Konye-Urgench
- the exchange rate at Dashaguz was 17 manat per dollar
- hotel Gurgench is open for foreigners in Konye-Urgench; I paid 130 manat one night
- I paid 140 manat the share taxi from Konye-Urgench to Darvaza. There is a bus from the Tea House to Ashgabat at 10 am everyday. I heard there are 3 per day.
Watch out when going to the teahouse. When I arrived, the owner (a Man with 60 years-old and blue eyes) told me that the crater was closed, because their president was going there soon, but he said he could drive me there for 150 manat. He offered to stay overnight at the teahouse for 50 manat; he said all yurts were closed at the crater.
I decided to check by myself the information; I got a ride with locals from the turn-off of the road to go to the crater (1.5 km from the tea house). I found out that the crater was open for tourists, as well as the yurts (20 usd for a tent; you can bargain the price). When back to the tea house, the owner said that the real price to stay at the tea house was actually 15 usd...
Pedro
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dszabo
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Re: Turkmenistan July/August 2018: visa, money, transport, accommodation

Postby dszabo » Mon Sep 10, 2018 6:29 am

Thanks for this post, it helped me a lot before I entered Turkmenistan!
I had a transit visa for 2018 Aug 25-29, Howdan to Konyeurgench.
I hope sharing my version won´t hurt anyone.

Coming from Iran
I was going to overnight in Bajgiran (border village in Iran) on the day before entering Turkmenistan. I was looking for the Tourist Complex that was supposed to give rooms for 10USD per night according to some online forums. The building was really standing there but looked abandoned. The phone number on the door didn´t work. I was really lucky to find a local grandpa who gave me a room for 400,000 rials. I don´t know any official hotel in the town, the nearest city where you have good chances is probably Quchan.
From the edge of Bajgiran to the border building (2km) there is taxi for 50,000 rials, minibus for 20,000 rials (that´s what the grandpa said, I didn´t see any) or you can walk for free (although it´s quite steep uphills). I started to walk, then two soldiers stopped next to me, brought me up, didn´t accept any money.
There is one place to exchange rials to manats once you´re up there, on the right of the border building entrance. I got 116 manats for 1,070,000 rials.

Crossing the border
The Turkmen officers checked the passport many times. If you have a proper transit visa, just let them do it if it makes them happy. I had to pay twice, first 14USD tourist tax, then 5USD registration fee to the officer who was asking about my health conditions in a separate room, measured my body temperature and wrote my details in a big book. They only accepted USD, cash. The entry process took about 1 hour. But since I came directly from Bajgiran, I was the very first one on that day and didn´t have to wait too much anywhere.
At the exit of the building a bus is waiting and brings everyone to one more checkpoint for 10 manats. After passing that last checkpoint taxi drivers are jumping on you. My driver offered to bring me to Ashgabat for 50 manats, then 40, then 30, finally we agreed at 20. It was probably still too much, the two local Turkmen guys sitting in the same car paid 20 manats together and even got some money back.

Ashgabat
As I read on this forum, the Kuwwat Hotel was supposed to be the best choice for budget travelers. It seemed to be a popular destination, I only gave the address to the taxi driver and he already knew what´s there. The location of the hotel is also good, about 2km from the train station. It´s not where google maps says, the real position is about halfway between the train station and the google version. It´s right next to the northern edge of the "Inspiration" Park ("Ylham" seýilgähi).
The prices are clearly stated at the reception: 10USD for simple room, 15USD for "luxury". It was a great relief that they still had rooms left. I chose the simple one, it had air conditioner and even a tv. The bathroom was quite disgusting but there was hot water. Many locals were staying there from other Turkmen cities, I barely saw any foreigners. If you want to be sure to have a place, you can reserve a room via phone. I didn´t do it but somebody did while I was checking in so it does work. I had to pay 10 manats "service fee" for the receptionist woman, not sure if it´s always like that.
I spent two nights in Ashgabat and it was enough. I was walking around and took photos (if the police allowed me to - many times they did not). I wish I managed to do couchsurfing there but it´s not easy.

Changing money
A few blocks to the east from the main bazaar (Teke), next to a larger building called Asgabat Söwda Merkezi there is a shopping center. An old woman came to me there saying "dollar? dollar? dollar?". I did need to recharge indeed so I gave her 10USD. My latest news about the official exchange rate was 3,5 manats for 1 USD. She handed me 160! Suddenly I felt so rich that I bought a fridge magnet as souvenir and took a private taxi for 10 manats to the Wedding Palace (bus no.55 takes you there as well for 50 tenne, starting from the train station).

Train tickets
The train schedule must be changing all the time since I found various infos about it before I came to the country. When I was there, there were two trains per day from Ashgabat to Dashoguz, departing at 15:30 and at 19:30. The first one reaches Ishoguz (Darwaza) at 21:00, the second one at 01:10. Originally I was going to spend the night next to the gas crater but after I saw the time table, I thought that I could go there with the earlier train and keep going to Dashoguz with the later one (arrives at 9am) and save some money on accommodation. I will have about two hours to stare at the fire. Train from Ashgabat to Ishoguz was 19 manats, from Ishoguz to Dashoguz was 26. Buying a ticket from Ashgabat to Ishoguz was no problem but instead of Ishoguz-Dashoguz they only sold Ashgabat-Dashoguz ones. The queue in front of the ticket office is very chaotic, you better go in the morning when less people are there.

Ishoguz and Darwaza
The earlier train arrived to Ishoguz at 9pm. It´s impossible to miss, that´s the only stop on the route and the train stops there for about 20 minutes. I was the only single person who got off the whole train, the station seemed to be empty. I was just standing there. Walking 8km in the dark desert was not an option. Later a guy came out of the building, I explained him that I want to see the crater then catch the next train. He called a motorcyclist who arrived soon. As for the price I proposed 10USD for there and back, he accepted it without bargaining. Maybe it was too much. His restriction was that we can spend by the crater only 30 minutes. It´s probably bargainable but I was ok with that. Gas crater, check. Back to Ishoguz station, I was the only one again who got on the train. I was drinking tea and coffee with the two station workers there until 1am.

Dashoguz and Konye Urgench
By the time I arrived to Dashoguz I was sure that I want to exit one day earlier than the exit date in my visa. So I didn´t do anything in Dashoguz, just tried to get a lift to Konyeurgench immediately. There was an auction for me among the taxi drivers, the first one offered a lift for 70 manats, then the second one for 50, then many others came around me and shouted in Russian/Turkmen/Uzbek/Turk. Finally a guy who was going to depart anyway and already had four passengers in his car showed me 15 and I went with him. In Konyeurgench he stopped by the ruins and told me that he will wait for 30 minutes, if I come back, he brings me all the way to the border. I came back later, he was gone. In Konyeurgench the bazaar is the city center. Stop a car anywhere, say bazaar, they bring you there for 1 manat. At the bazaar the first man I asked was ready to bring me to the Konyeurgench border, I paid 4 manats.

Exiting the country
I read some horror stories about the rude officers who take your money and delete your photos. I didn´t experience that. I arrived when they had lunch break (1-2pm), there was one older officer there, he wanted me to increase his English so I gave him English lessons for almost an hour. Meanwhile some other officers came to check what´s going on with us, they started to chat with me as well, at the end they all knew me and the whole checkout process went extremely smooth.
Oh and if you´re heading to Khiva from Turkmenistan, you better take the exit near Dashoguz because reaching Khiva from the Konyeurgench border crossing is far from obvious.

Budget
I list here all my costs except for the food. If you´re good at bargaining / can find a couchsufring host / bring your own tent, less than this is also possible.

Fees at the border: 14USD + 5USD
Transport to the hotel from the border: 10M (bus) + 20M (taxi)
Kuwwat Hotel for 2 nights: 20USD + 10M
Fridge magnet :) 7M
Taxi to the Wedding Palace: 10M
Bus rides in the city: 1M
***
Ashgabat-Ishoguz train ticket: 19M
Motorcycle to the gas crater and back: 10USD
Ishoguz-Dashoguz train ticket: 26M
Dashoguz-Konyeurgench taxi: 15M
Konyeurgench-border taxi: 5M
***
Summary: 49USD + 123M for the whole 4 days (plus food)

Source with pics: https://danielsweekly.wordpress.com/201 ... -a-budget/
Vid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=un4K8kWn8oQ
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Adrian
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Re: Turkmenistan July/August 2018: visa, money, transport, accommodation

Postby Adrian » Sun Oct 07, 2018 12:28 pm

Here is a an overview of my dash through Turkmenistan focussing on logistics. There were two of us travelling together and as you can see we sacrificed hotels for sleeper trains, but the itinerary is certainly doable. I know it won’t suit everyone, but wanted to share some ideas for those planning to go. Everything was planned/booked/arranged on the fly in Turkmenistan.

Two admin points to mention re: visa. I didn’t specify Mary (Merv) on my visa application but went anyway. No issues, in fact at no point on the trip did anyone ask for my passport or trip details asides from hotel in Ashgabat (gave my passport only). Second, my visa was picked up at the border (Dashoguz) which was fine and not a problem but was marked as 4 days on the actual visa in the passport, albeit entry marked as 24th and exit on 28th (ie 5 days). This seemed like an admin error (it being marked as “4 days”). I ignored it and exited on 28th on day 5 and received nothing but smiles from Turkmen border guards.

Any questions, please let me know.

Summary
Day 1: Khiva-(Border)-Dashoguz-Konye Urgench-Darwaza-Ishoguz (night train @ 1am)
Day 2: arrive Ashgabat (630am)-sightseeing-Kuwwat Hotel
Day 3: Ashgabat-Old Nissa-night train to Bayramaly (Merv) (~700pm)
Day 4: arrive Bayramaly (4am)-Merv-night train to Ashgabat (1030pm)
Day 5: arrive Ashgabat (7:30am)-(Border)-Bajgiran (Iran)

Details
Day 1. Make an early start from Khiva. We paid $15 for a taxi from the hostel in Khiva to the border but arrived after a big tour group which slowed the process considerably. Uzbek border guard asked to see my registration slips but had only a quick look at them. Both border crossings were easy, no issues at all entering Turkmenistan. They asked about medicines and I showed them some paracetamol and they waved me on without any other questions. You have to pay $1 for a very short drive between border posts. Once through Turkmen crossing, haggle with the taxi drivers at the border - we paid 5 manat into Dashoguz. Dropped at train station, immediately bought tickets for 525pm train to Ashgabat although we would only pick this train up from Ishoguz (Darwaza) at 1am the following morning. There are no issues doing this - the train will leave Ashgabat without you, but with tickets in hand you’ll jump on some 7.5 hrs after it leaves in Ishoguz (the stop for Darwaza). Kupe tickets were 46 manat per person, Dashoguz-Ashgabat (I had some manat already hence buying tickets first thing). Once tickets bought, walked three blocks to Dashoguz Farmers Market and changed USD at rate of 18.5 (see my other post in exchange rate thread for attempted scam). Once had manat, walked out front of Farmers Market to waiting taxis and negotiated a car to drive us to Konye Urgench and then on to Derwaza, including waiting while we visited the museum in K-U (not really worth it to be honest if you are pressed for time) and the other sites of Old Urgench (enough time for photos and a quick walk to the minaret and closer mausoleums). Time was ticking on, so I didn’t haggle hard and paid 400 manat for the whole (new) car, ie 200 each or a bit more than $10 each. The drive from Dashoguz to Konye Urgench is fast, good road (we had a new Toyota sedan). Taxi driver brought along his brother to share the driving, the reason for this would later become clear! Taxi driver(s) hurried us up around the sites in Konye Urgench, this was anticipated. The drive south from Konye Urgench is completely different - hugely pot-holed road and pretty slow going. This is particularly so on the ~ 2 hr stretch of road south to where the southbound road connects with the Dashoguz-Ashgabat Highway. Road improves after this but still with a fair few bumps for the next 2 hr stretch to Ishoguz. If you are doing this drive from Konye Urgench factor at least 4 hours and once darkness comes your speed will drop further. Of course, there is no real rush given you’re waiting for darkness for the gas crater anyway. To be honest, the car took a bit of a battering along this drive and the brother who owned it spent most of the time yelling at his brother who was driving it. Drove straight to Ishoguz train station and was dropped there in the dark around 9pm. There are no buildings other than railway related buildings and certainly no shops nor evidence of a place to buy tickets (hence buying tickets earlier in Dashoguz). Taxi left immediately with the other brother taking over for their drive back to Dashoguz. We chatted (using broken English, poor Russian, pointing) to some of the railway workers who emerged out of the darkness and arranged 2 of their railway colleagues to take us to the gas craters on motorbikes. We agreed a price of 50 manat each to be given a ride out there (maybe 7km?) and back; later I ended up paying 75 each as they were good guys and we stayed a bit less than an hour. They took us via a tea house on the highway for a late dinner on the return trip to the station (this was probably around 11pm). Waited at the station for the 1am train passing the time showing the railway workers my photos. Train arrived on time, we were the only people getting on-board. We had to wake up our carriage attendant to open the door to the carriage to let us in/onto the train. No dramas, the workers we had made friends with were looking after us. Oh, I gave 1 of the railway guys, an older fella, 20 manat to keep an eye on the bags whilst we visited the crater. No issues. The railway controller who sits in the office in front of the soviet era control board showed no interest in us the whole time. It’s the workers who sorted everything for us

Day 2
Train arrived at Ashgabat around 630am. Immediately bought tickets for Ashgabat-Bayramaly and the return journey for the next two nights. If you are going to Merv, Bayramaly is absolutely the closest station, not Mary. Depends if you want to stay the night - probably Mary is a better option for a hotel. For us night-trainers, Mary held no interest. We paid (from memory) 19 manat each way per person, kupe.

After buying tickets, walked to the Kuwwat Hotel: from the station, use the underpass to cross the major street and walk one block south then turn right and walk 7 blocks. Entrance to the hotel is maybe 10m into a courtyard and is on your left and has a sign you pass underneath as you enter. Waited for about 30 mins and were rewarded with an early check in (we paid $10 per person for one night). If you’ve picked up a good exchange rate for the manat and want a good breakfast/coffee, we made a few visits to Sha Coffee only thee blocks from the hotel in the strip of park/garden that covers several blocks that you can’t miss on the map. Great coffee. Rest of day was spent wandering around Ashgabat. The bus is cheap, 1 manat for 1 ride for 2 people. Pay driver on exiting. We had a few cheap beers and shashlik in the garden of Cafe Berk (Iceberg) - it’s mentioned in LP and is about 7 blocks from the hotel on the same street.

Day 3
Late breakfast back at Sha Coffee then walked to the bus stop on Gorogly Kocesi sort of in front of the Russian bazaar. Took bus # 10 which goes as pretty much as close as you can get to Old Nissa. Take the bus until it terminates and then it’s about a 20 minute walk to the site. Again, bus was 1manat for two people. If you like ancient sites and want to get out of Ashgabat, it was a nice little (almost) half day. Site was deserted except for a tour group that arrived as we left. Bus back to town, more coffee (re-charging after months of tea) and then an early dinner and night train leaving around 7pm (from memory) for Bayramaly.

<<continued in next post>>
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Adrian
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Re: Turkmenistan July/August 2018: visa, money, transport, accommodation

Postby Adrian » Sun Oct 07, 2018 12:29 pm

Day 4
Arrived around 4am at Bayramaly. Waited several hours for ticket(attendant) office to open; there were a few locals also lingering. Around 7am, made one aborted attempt for ticket lady to store our bags for us which didn’t work. At 8am day shift lady started her shift and asked again and she begrudgingly accepted (I bribed her with sweets which got a half smile). Bayramaly station has a ticket window, the ticket sellers office (where we left our bags), a police booth and a toilet further along the platform. It’s very small but does get busy when trains arrive/leave in the evenings. Walked over to Merv and spent the day wandering around the sites / receiving the kind generosity of locals who gave us lifts between sites a few times. Even in late Sept it was a hot day. I’ve done/do a lot of hiking, but the distances between sites at Merv mean you should spend some time planning your attack and take lots of water if you are going to embark without a driver. It’s doable, but it’s a big day. We got a share taxi the 5km or so back into Bayramaly at the end of the day. I wandered around town in the late afternoon/early evening, but really there is nothing doing within a 20-min walk of the station. Found a shashlik place to charge my phone (no power outlets at the station) maybe 5-7 mins walk from the station on Engels Kocesi opposite the sanatorium, not too far from the Russian church ‘as the crow files’. Won’t lie, it was a long wait on the train platform for the 1030pm night train back to Bayramaly. We had wanted to take the 9pm train but for a mixup in communication when buying the tickets and I was unable to change them. Although the 9pm train to Ashgabat is ideal for getting to bed / off the platform earlier, the 1030pm train arrives perfectly for Day 5. We were pretty tired by the time we boarded but slept soundly

Day 5
Arrive Ashgabat at 730am, buy some breakfast near the station and then taxi (we paid 40 manat) to the border. Arrived when the lower border was open, waited maybe 20 mins for the bus (10 manat each) which does the 20-25km drive through the no-mans land and up to the upper Turkmen/Iranian Border where all the proceeding happens. This is the only option. This bus drops off locals at a frontier market shortly before dropping you at the border crossing itself. Exiting Turkmenistan was super easy, albeit happens in three stages (entering details in the book at the lower border, the actual exit at the upper border and then one final book needs your details once you’ve been stamped out of Turkmen and are 1 meter from the Iranian side): entering Iran was similar but took a little longer. Money changers / taxi drivers outside Iranian Border will underpay on the exchange rate and start by asking $50 to Mashhad which is an extraordinary price although wild currency fluctuations in Oct 2018 are making any comparison of prices in Iran against other periods difficult. Consider changing minimal amount of usd and making formal exchange in exchange office in a big city. We ignored all the taxi drivers and walked down hill to the nearest village of Bajgiran. Along the way, a local stopped (probably one of the taxi guys from earlier, but in his own car) and we negotiated $7 to Quchan from where we took a savari (share taxi) to Mashhad. Our original plan had been to take a savari from the village of Bajgiran but driving through it was very sleepy on a Friday morning that we were there (a few hours before prayers). I’m not sure how often a savari would leave from here, I got the sense you would need to hire the whole car to get moving. Would still be cheaper than the guys at the border. Don’t be afraid to walk away and down hill towards the village, someone will come along
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FRT15
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Re: Turkmenistan July/August 2018: visa, money, transport, accommodation

Postby FRT15 » Thu Jun 20, 2019 5:09 pm

This is a great thread, thanks for taking the time to post. Did you ever have trouble buying train tickets the same day you wanted to use the train? Did you use any agencies for ticket or hotel assistance or just show up and handle?

I like the idea of timing the trip to Darvaza so you see it at night but dont stay overnight. Sounds like this works best for taking a bus/taxi in and a train out. Does that sound right? Thanks again for the informative post.
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