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Published: January 17th 2018
Now we were officially in Kazakhstan and had about a three more hours’ travel to the capital, Almaty. The drive was boring, through lots of fields, rolling hills and small towns reminiscent of Australian country towns. Arrived in Almaty about 330pm (actually 430pm Kazak time) and were dropped off at the bus station where again we were pursued by cab drivers who demanded exorbitant fees to drive us to our hotel. Luckily Tony had managed to change his Somme into Tenge at the Bishkek bus station, so we had cash. Got a driver to take us for T500 ($5), he drove hunched over the wheel but was only a young guy.
Dropped us off at our proposed hotel, which was in the campus of KIMEP (Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics & Strategic Research) which according to the Lonely Planet (six-year-old edition) had dorms and cheap rooms available. We wandered around the campus for about half an hour trying to find the hotel section, until we finally stumbled across it, a student out the front spoke good English, so Tony dragged him inside to reception, where we were told by the Russian Bride of Frankenstein that only students of KIMEP were
allowed to stay there, no tourists.
Disappointed, we then had to walk to our next choice, the Hotel Daulet, not far away, but with our backpacks on, any distance seems twice as far. When we arrived, we found that the hotel had undergone a major refurbishment, and was now called by another name and rooms were a staggering T12800 ($177) a night. We asked the reception girl if there were any other options available that were cheaper, but she couldn’t really help, she only knew of expensive hotels.
We then picked another hotel from the Lonely Planet, the Hotel Kazakhstan, which was about a 15-minute walk away and all uphill. We were both getting tired now and sweating like dogs we finally arrived just after 6pm. I waited outside while Tony went in to check the price, both of us were subjected to the glares of snotty doorman, who looked down their noses at us. Room price was still a whopping T10,500 ($116) per night, which is crippling, suddenly China looks very good to us, what a shock after we have been paying $12-$20 a night between us. This is more than we ever paid in Japan!
Both so tired and really with no other option, we checked in, vowing to find a cheaper hotel the next day. The room is on the 17th
floor and not even worth a third of that price, actually it’s pretty bad, decorated in drab colours (mainly brown) with 70’s style furniture and no air-con.
I was getting hungry now, so as we had both noticed an outdoor café and banner that proclaimed, “Fast Food” on our walk to the hotel, we decided to go there. We were given an English menu and selected – Tony, a lamb dish and I, a beef dish – the young waitress could only speak Russian and struggled to understand though we THOUGHT she understood that we wanted a number 10 and a number 15, however when our drinks came out, we got two Fantas and two Cokes, okay, we thought, she misunderstood. It got worse – when our meals came out, we both got a chicken dish! Obviously, she got it wrong, so we shrugged and ate it, aware that the chicken was more expensive than either of the dishes we ordered. We had just finished eating when she then reappeared with the lamb and beef dish! Shaking our heads, we explained we didn’t want them now, she looked horrified but took them away. This seemed to cause immense confusion and trouble at the restaurant, eventually an Indian guy appeared who obviously worked at a nearby restaurant as he was dressed as a Maharajah, he spoke perfect English and tried to sort out the problem, we explained that we had never even mentioned the chicken, we thought she knew what we wanted, and he said that meals weren’t allowed to be sent back, that was the problem. We said that we weren’t going to pay for four main meals when it wasn’t our fault, with which he sympathised and disappeared.
It still took forever to get the bill, the young waitress was bawling her head off in the corner, it was awful. Finally, the bill came and thank goodness, only the chicken dishes appeared, it still cost T2920 ($32), the expense we could do without, especially with a 10%!s(MISSING)ervice charge. We couldn’t wait to get out of the so- called “fast food” restaurant, more like a la carte and into the Irish pub across the road, where again, the prices were exorbitant T900 ($10) for a pint. So far, we are very unimpressed with Almaty, expensive is the only word to describe it, and I was also unimpressed with the sickening posters of a so- called “Bear Circus” plastered everywhere. We could only afford one drink at that price, so back to our room we went. Sunday 1st August – Almaty
Breakfast was included in our room price, so about 10am we headed up to the 26th
floor for an impressive buffet. We filled up on cornflakes, sausages, boiled eggs, toast etc so we didn’t have to buy lunch. At noon we set off to find the Ukraine embassy, where we hope to arrange our visas tomorrow. According to the Lonely Planet, it was only about five streets away on a corner, but do you think we could find it? We walked around for about an hour before giving up and deciding to look for another cheap hotel listed in the Lonely Planet. We got the address right, but no hotel there. So far, our morning is turning out to be quite frustrating, nothing is where it should be. We would probably enjoy walking the leafy streets filled with unsmiling Russians if we had some luck finding what we wanted.
Our next attempt was the Indian embassy to arrange visas for India, we managed to find this and checked with the guard what days it was open. We then thought we would try to find the Pakistan embassy, but we couldn’t, we found a nice hotel instead. We enquired after price and room availability and although it is still over our budget at T6900 ($77) it was cheaper than where we are now, so we booked in for tomorrow.
I was feeling a bit better even though we had walked for three hours, we went back to the Hotel Kazakhstan, on the way, thanks to directions given to us by the guy in our ‘new’ hotel, we found the Ukraine embassy, further down the road than described in the Lonely Planet, the friendly guards out the front told us what days it would be open, so we aim to be there at 10am tomorrow.
Had a rest in the afternoon before trying to find an Internet Café, Tony needs to print off some information for the Ukraine embassy. Went to the first one listed in the Lonely Planet, supposedly located in the Palace of the Republic, a truly ugly building (Kazakhstan is full of drab, grey, ugly buildings, some of the worst I have ever seen), it was there, but it was shut and firmly padlocked. We then had to walk a long way down the road to another one, we had nearly given up hope when we found it, and it was reasonably priced T240 ($2.60) an hour, so we spent an hour catching up on our emails.
When we finished we walked outside into the middle of a storm, it had been raining whilst we were inside, but now there was a fierce wind and dust blowing everywhere. Thunder and lightening crashed around us and as we had a long walk uphill back to the hotel, we ran most of the way, Tony with the info for the Ukraine embassy stuffed up his shirt so it didn’t get wet. We thought we would call into the Guinness Pub and have dinner, so we managed to score some pasta there for about $10 a dish, it still ended up costing close to $30 though, we can’t afford to eat like that every night.
When we left the pub it was teeming down, so we had to run again, but even so we were soaked when we reached our hotel, more snotty stares from the doormen. Monday 2nd August – Almaty
I realised last night that we must register our visas with the OVIR office within 72 hours of arrival, and we haven’t done this yet. Both spent a restless night worrying about our visas. Had another buffet breakfast before Tony went downstairs to reception to ask about visa registration. I joined him about 20 minutes later to find him still standing at reception with smoke pouring out of his ears “No one wants to help me”, he moaned “I keep getting passed along”. Finally, he lost the plot and screamed “I have been to ten countries and this is the WORST hotel I have ever stayed in, the service is SHIT!” Blank faces all around apart from a girl at the back who smirked “Get me your manager” Tony bellowed. He was then handed a phone and spoke to someone about visa registration and then was told to come to the business centre. He then asked reception where he could find the business centre, they have a funny way of pointing in Kazakhstan, short, sharp, without looking up, so as we still didn’t really know where to go, we wandered around until we found it by going through the ballroom.
The woman there said she could register our visas for T2300 ($25) and they would be ready in an hour, why reception was unable to tell us this we will never know, it was all so simple. The only trouble was we couldn’t go to the Ukraine embassy until we got our passports back, so we had to wait in our room for an hour. We really don’t like Kazakhstan, the costs are high the people unfriendly, unhelpful and sour.
Just after 1030am we went back downstairs, and our passports were ready, so it was then a 20-minute walk to the Ukraine embassy, fingers crossed that they would accept our letters of invitation that had been emailed to us and we wouldn’t strike the same problem that we had with the Russian embassy in Seoul, who wanted original letters.
Not many people at the Ukraine embassy, we had a five-minute wait before we went in and were “interviewed” by a Ukrainian. He was quite easy going and accepted our applications no problem, our plan was to fly out on Friday, but apparently planes to Kiev only fly Tues/Wed so we adjusted our plans and decided to leave Wednesday. We had to pay a huge fee of T12880 ($143) for our visas to be done in half an hour, Tony went back to the Hotel Kazakhstan as it was 1130am and checkout was noon, knowing how friendly and helpful they have been, they would probably charge us an extra night if we were one minute late. I waited outside the embassy for our visas, which only took the guy about 10 minutes to do. He came out and got me when they were ready and showed me that he had dated them valid from tomorrow (03/08).
I then walked back to the hotel and was reunited with Tony, who was waiting in the lobby with our bags. We then scored a ride to our new hotel (Hotel Yiot) for T500 ($6). We arrived at the hotel at 1230pm and checked into our room, we only wish we had found this place two days earlier, not only is it cheaper, but the room is excellent, with country décor and our own wrought iron balcony.
Feeling a bit better now that things have gone smoothly, our Kazakh visas are registered, we have our Ukrainian visas and we are in a lovely hotel. We decided to relax before heading out to buy our plane tickets for Kiev.
Later in the day we walked down the street (or rather, main road!) to find a travel agent who could assist us. We went into one office called “Magic Travel” which consisted of a young woman and not much else. She said she could help us buy our plane tickets to Kiev and then made lots of phone calls to arrange tickets for Wednesday. She then told us we would have to go to the “other” office to get the actual tickets and she would take us there (must’ve known I wanted to do a runner as soon as we walked out the door) She hailed a ‘cab’ by sticking her hand out in the street, just anyone can stop and take you where you want to go, seems dangerous but the people here are obviously used to it. A guy stopped and picked us up, although he already had a paying passenger. It didn’t take long to get to where we needed to go, I was already offside because the girl made us (paying clients) pay for the cab! It was only T100 ($1), she should take that out of the commission she’s going to make. It seemed to take forever to get our tickets, we waited and waited in the travel office, all the time our impatience and hatred for Kazakhstan growing.
Finally, our tickets were ready, but I had an argument with the girl as she showed me one price but debited another to my Visa card, the difference was only T100 ($1) but I wasn’t happy and let my feelings known. She kept saying “It’s not much, only one hundred Tenge” to which I felt like replying: “If it’s not much why didn’t you pay for the fucking taxi”. Anyway, we got our tickets, not for the day we wanted though, we must fly out tomorrow at 1030am on Ukraine Airlines, the tickets cost T40550 ($450) each.
We are a bit disappointed as we wanted to spend the next day sightseeing, but we are not disappointed to leave Kazakhstan, if we didn’t take this flight we would have to wait a whole week for another flight and we hate the country too much for that.
We left the travel agents just before 4pm (left the girl to pay for her own taxi back – bitch) and decided to grab something to eat and then go to see Zenkov Cathedral, which is supposed to be made entirely of wood and without nails. We stopped and had an early dinner at an outside cafeteria, where you selected your food buffet style. Wasn’t too bad even though we didn’t really know what we had selected, we both ended up with fish when we thought it was another kind of meat. The best thing was it was dirt cheap, for both of us (including drinks) T326 ($3.60)!
We then had a long walk to the cathedral, on the way we changed most of our Tenge to USD with a moneychanger, and then we found Panfilov Park. Like most of Kazakhstan’s public parks, it was pretty but why don’t they employ a gardener to mow the lawns and pull up the weeds?? Everything is so overgrown and neglected. Even the cathedral was a disappointment as it didn’t look wooden at all, it was bright yellow with plaster facades and didn’t strike me as all that impressive, although the interior wasn’t too bad, seen much better churches in Germany.
We then walked back to our hotel, we are disappointed we can’t stay another day in our lovely room! Also, disappointed as breakfast is included but we shall miss out as our taxi to the airport is booked for 8am, when breakfast commences!!!
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