Astana and Almaty – Kazakhstan
The WordPress frustrations continue. I may have just posted two blogs, then again I may not have. The WordPress app is not working and my site won’t load for me here. So it’s all guess work.
We have now spent a few city days in Kazakhstan. The cosmopolitan cities of Astana and Almaty have offered up a wonderful variety of meals so we are recovering from the mutton overloading.
We flew from Ulaanbaatar to Astana, from heat to cool.
At the Astana airport we discovered we could take a bus to the train station where we needed to go to get onward tickets for a night train. The trip cost us about $0.40. At the train station the money changer was immediately beside the ticket kiosk so our ticket buying was quick and easy. We then walked about 3.5 kms to our accommodation. We found the address with no problem but finding the correct entrance in the enormous apartment complex was a different matter. Finally a couple of people helped and we found ourselves through an unmarked door into the tiny vestibule of a spotless little apartment. The location and facilities could not have been better.
Astana has an old half and an ultramodern half. Fascinated by the fabulous architecture of the new half we explored that part of the city. Hopefully I’ll be able to send a few more pictures.
We visited a huge, quite new mosque. We entered through the women’s entry but were able to wander at will except in the main prayer hall. A man made a point of coming over to welcome us. That is the first time since I was in Egypt in 1978 that I’ve actually been welcomed to a mosque. It was a very good feeling.
Our night train coupe was pretty small. We were just the three of us in a four berth space – thank goodness. Four would have been really squishy. To say we all slept well would be an exaggeration but we did all sleep. In the morning Pat and I found ourselves nearly the only passengers among the crew to be in the dinning car. Breakfast was sparse. We couldn’t have most of the items unless we had the full continental breakfast which we did not want. No butter, jam or honey for the small stale bun. The single bun was annotated on the menu as a “bread basket.” “This is a bun in a basket,” translated Pat for the bemused server/cook.
Our accommodation in Almaty was really close to the station so it was an easy walk after we ran the insistent gauntlet of taxi touts. It was also easy to find. But the Golden Dragon Hotel had none of the charm of our door in the wall place in Astana. The room was big and filthy. The furnishings were in deplorable condition. Tattered curtains, screws sticking out of this and that. The bathroom – alive – cockroaches scuttled in the dark. We made the best of it. Pat only needed to kill one cockroach in her bed. She took to sleeping with a sharp knife at the ready.
We borrowed chairs from other rooms so we had three and hung a “bear bag” with our snacks secured inside.
That was the worst of our visit to Almaty. The best was the public baths. A fairly new facility they offered hammam, Russian and Finnish bathing/steaming rooms and a lovely pool. Men and women segregated. No clothing allowed past the changing room except bathing caps.
We spent a glorious two hours sweating, showering, swimming, sweating etc.
Almaty’s Green Market was another highlight. Wonderful variety and arrangements of and fruit and veggies. Also the usual eclectic stalls selling everything from skimpy bras to plumping and back to school supplies.
We took a local bus – umber 12 – out to the mountains where we had read there were some wonderful hiking trails. Hmm. The Central Asian idea of wonderful hiking trails and ours differs considerably. The bus dropped us and many other passengers at a huge skating rink complex. Along with hundreds of other people, we walked a long a paved road and up a huge number of steps to the top of a dam. We expected to see water on the far side. There was none. Turns out the dam is to protect the city from potential flooding. We found a bit of a gravel trail that went nowhere and had our picnic lunch sitting in the middle of it. On our return to the city we chatted with a lovely young couple – it made the day’s outing worthwhile.
Our departure from Almaty consisted of a walk to the modern Metro, riding it to the last station then walking to a bus station. Here it was a swift and easy matter to purchase bus tickets for the trip to Bishkek Kyrgyzstan.
This is where we are now.
More tales to follow, but not for about 10 days or so as we are off on a mountain adventure tomorrow. Hiking and riding is on the menu. Helen has confirmed the itinerary in considerable detail. We shall see if they deliver what they advertise and promise.