Travels in Kazakhstan
I arrived at Almaty airport at 05.45am having missed a night’s sleep but caught up on a couple of films. Turkish Airlines are mediocre at best, not the friendliest and the cabin crew were conspicuous by their absence. I’d arranged an airport transfer and it went without a hitch. The staff at customs were very friendly, I had a laugh with the woman in passport control. She thought I was a teacher and was a little bemused when I told her I’d come for a holiday. I even made the stern man in uniform smile. The roads were wide and smooth, non potholes. Check in time at the hotel was 2pm but the lovely girl on reception let me check in 8 hours early, much appreciated. As I’d presumed that I wouldn’t be able to check in until 2pm I’d arranged a city tour with a local guide. So after an hour’s rest, I was showered, changed and ready to explore. I really wanted to see the enormous bazaar and try some of the local delicacies but it was closed on Mondays. I’d read that it was possible to go wine tasting. Apparently Kazakhstan make award winning wines and after sampling 8 of them I had to agree. ￼It was a good way to spend a morning at at £5.50 in total a bit of a bargain. The high valleys are perfect for growing grapes. The mountains are covered in snow but the valleys are warm. On the snow capped mountains it can be -40 in winter. I was looking forward to some of the spectacular scenery, canyons, gorges and mountains. ￼￼I was trying to get used to the local currency – 440 tenge equalled £1. My first impressions were of a very friendly city. I found it strange that I could walk around and not look like a tourist. In fact my local guide, a lovely, young Kazakh women said I didn’t look like a tourist – I was too trendy! There are a whole range of nationalities and skin tones here. Kazakhstan is the richest of the stans, so many come here to work from neighbouring countries. Many Russians still live here too remains from the days of Russian occupation.There are 130 nationalities living in Almaty. My guide informed me that there has never been a war in Kazakhstan and there are no disputes between the different religions. ￼￼￼In the afternoon I wandered around for a while. I felt very safe and very at home, no-one batted an eyelid. The language was a bit of an issue. They speak Russian and Kazakh, I speak neither and of course everything is in Cyrillic, so no clues as to what it is. In the end I settled for burger and fries, that could be understood. The accompaniments were more of a challenge, I had all the staff trying to describe and explain. I was looking forward to the market the following days and trying some the local delicacies and maybe my first vodka. I’ve never liked vodka. Had a very drunken experience on a train from Talkin to Warsaw with lots of Scandinavians and lots of bottles of vodka. ￼￼￼I really loved Almaty with it’s open spaces, trees, fountains, it’s laid back feel and it’s population of all skin tones. The following day the sky was blue and the weather warm which also meant you could see the snow capped￼￼￼mountains, the backdrop to this lovely city. ￼￼￼Today the guide was taking me to the bazaar, as it wasn’t open yesterday she gave me a short tour for free yesterday . We also saw mosques, cathedrals and parks with amazing war memorials. I expected old Soviet tower blocks and drag, grey architecture. But Almaty is a modern city with lots of open spaces and greenery. ￼￼￼￼There are lots of lovely little outdoor cafes and restaurants.My highlight though was the bazaar which was bizarre. I loved it. The colours were so vivid, piles of fresh fruit stacked up in neat piles, spices galore but the most incredible meat section. Huge slabs of meat, pig’s heads, horse meat sausages and whole carcasses. I had fermented mare’s milk and fermented camel milk. I enjoyed both and it was a bargain at 25p a cup. I walked for miles today. My only issue was trying to order a beer. I thought beer was a ubiquitous word, not in Kazakhstan. In the end I gave up and a Sangria, that’s the same word. ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼l love the diversity of Almaty. As a city it, has a great feel, so many trees, fountains, art and artists. There are downsides, the education system needs improvement as does the provision for the physically and mentally disabled. Everyone hitches here, it’s a great system. You stick out your, hand, a car stops if it’s going your way you agree a small fee. Cheap travel and a little extra money for the locals. Kazakhstan was never invaded, they asked Russia for protection as China and Mongolia were trying to claim huge tracts of their land. Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for. Now despite democracy, it is like a dictatorship with so much corruption. I am now embarking on a G adventures tour on 4 of the stans. My companions are a mixture of ages and nationalities, Australian, Canadian, American, Swiss, German and a fellow Brit. We have a lovely guide Nika who is from Kyrgyzstan. This evening we all went to a beautiful local restaurant, again there were lots of fountains inside. We tried lots of local delicacies, many of which involved horse meat. It was a great way to round off a perfect day. ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼The next day there were more parks, fountains and statues and a wish to be made. ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼A few of us then caught the cable car up to the top of the mountain. So much greenery next to snow capped mountains and on the other side a view into the whole of the city. There was no beer to be had at the top of the mountain so we headed back down and found a lovely outdoor cafe. We quenched our thirst and ate some very colourful food. An ice-cream walking back to the hotel topped off the day. ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼I was sad to leave Almaty but looking forward to more adventures. There was fantastic scenery on the drive today. Green fields and trees surrounded by snow capped mountains. As we drove away from the side and into the countryside the roads deteriorated as did the toilets. A metal hole with a hole in the floor and 2,000 flies. ￼￼￼We were going to hike Charyn Canyon and it was spectacular. We hiked the length of the Canyon. The scenery was dramatic with incredible rock formations.It was incredibly hot. I was first to the end of the canyon, well there was an incentive – beer at the end! 🍺 The hike back up was challenging especially in 90°heat.There wasn’t much humidity though so I don’t drop with sweat so much. It was a beautiful hike and it was great to get the muscles working. ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼It was then off to the border and into Kyrgyzstan. The border crossing was painless. Some bags were checked and medications gone through. With me the guards were more interested in what football team I supported. Read my blog on Kyrgyzstan.