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Published: December 12th 2013
Welcome to Almaty!
I wish i could take credit for this picture... but I was looking for a pic of the mountains around Almaty on the web and found this one on Wikipedia. Beautiful!
Let me know if you agree... Beautiful architecture, nice cafes and fancy restaurants, lots of parks, elegant women, the opera and people who love French literature... Almaty is a great city!
I left my bike in Bishkek and crossed the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border to spend 4 days in Almaty. I hadn’t planned on visiting Kazakhstan on this trip. It’s such a huge country, I thought I would eventually make it there someday and spend a month traveling from Astana to Almaty in the future. But in October, I needed to get the transit visa for Turkmenistan, and there is no Turkmen Consulate in Bishkek. My only option was to go to Almaty or wait until Tashkent to get it. I chose Almaty because I didn’t want to be stuck for a week or more in Tashkent and lose time on my limited time in Uzbekistan.
I left Bishkek very early and it was cold and foggy. Minivans from Bishkek to Almaty travel back and forth several times a day and the price is very cheap. We crossed the border on foot and had to wait for the minivan on the other side. I had to put on an extra sweater,
one of the few surviving tsarist-era buildings.
my hat and gloves while waiting. I didn’t get to see any of the scenery on the way there because of the heavy fog.
Luckily enough, I reached the city and the weather cleared up. I changed money at the bus station, and here I was smiling at the idea I had reached a new country! I didn’t know how to get to the city center. I looked at my map and realized I was about 5km away from downtown. I asked for direction and started walking. If you don’t have a bike, then walking is the best way to visit a city. I went through different bazaars that sell tools, vegetables and fruit, and also bike parts… The suburbs of Almaty seemed very busy but everything was very organized. Traffic was dense but not messy like in China or in Bishkek.
I stopped in a shop to get ID pictures and then to get a Kazakh sim-card to call Becky at a cheaper price. The funny thing is that in the phone shop, the workers were nervous because they couldn’t speak English, and I know enough Russian to make them understand I want to call China
most buildings in Almaty are massive
but that’s about it… When I asked the shop assistant whether he was a Kazakh, he said his background was actually Chinese Hui, the Chinese Muslim minority. So we ended up speaking Mandarin and everyone in the store found this quite amusing because they couldn’t understand anything we were saying, and the fact that a white guy and a Kazakh could communicate in Chinese and not in either French, Kazakh, English or Russian was amusing. This did put a big smile on my face and I kept walking until I reached the city hall.
As a tourist I really enjoyed Almaty’s city center. Buildings were massive and I thought the architecture was an interesting mix of Russian and European styles, with high ceilings, big columns, fancy facades, and colorfully painted houses. I took many pictures of windows, balconies and other eye-catching buildings. The weather was chilly so there weren’t many people walking around or having coffee or tea out, but I did see fancy restaurants and cafes and it’s not hard to imagine how pleasant it must be in the spring or summer. There are parks and benches everywhere. The city is very green and it’s easy to get
around on foot.
I enjoyed the numerous cafes that serve fresh pastries and good coffee and tea. I got to indulge on Russian cheese and chocolate for 4 days! I even got to go to the opera where women were very well-dressed (by the way, I strongly believe that women in Almaty have the best sense of fashion in Central Asia), and I got to sit next to an 11-year-old kid who spoke good English and loved talking about Cyrano de Bergerac, Arsene Lupin and Victor Hugo. He was wearing a little suit, his hair was nicely combed, and he said he also played the piano. He was adorable! Whenever I tell people I am French, people in Central Asia often mention famous French writers and classics. It seems like they have all read The Three Musketeers, Les Miserables, Madame Bovary, and they praise Maupassant, Balzac, Baudelaire, Dumas… I really need to read my classics again… French and Russian!
People in Almaty were very polite and helpful. A lot of people speak English (which is not the case in Kyrgyzstan). The city was quiet but not in a boring way (in a good way!). Even the staff at
the Turkmen Embassy were charming and gave me all the info I needed. They even organized for me to pick up the visa in Tashkent in 2 week’s time so that I wouldn’t have to wait for 10 days in Almaty. Perfect!
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