Kazakhstan tourist day one,

Kazakhstan tourist day one,

So day one of this short adventure and guess what, a full “English Breakfast” is waiting for me. I’m getting a little fat on all of these, note to self need to stop travelling for a week or two. After eating far more than I need or should have I wander outside to wait for the guide. Not exactly sure what I will get as it was arranged by Judi’s firm. What turns up is a huge Toyota 4*4 with two people in it.

Kati (I assume Ekaterina) and Natasha. The first looks about 18 and the second about 60. The first is the driver and translator the second is the Kazakh speaking official guide. This should be “Interiesna” for some reason I have to sit in the back so the guide can jabber to the driver and first tell her where to go and then read aloud from her notes the details of where we are.

First stop the biggest of the two train stations although given it is not a particularly impressive station I am not sure why they think it is worth stopping for. There is a statue of Abylai Khan who was some sort of founder or protector of the city anyway Kati described him as a “great pitriot and munager” which says a lot about her English. I think it will be a long day.

We crisscross the streets of Almaty for a while stopping only long enough for me to poke my camera out of the window to take a couple of quick snaps before we are off again. Blue Mosque, New Ice stadium for the Asian winter Olympic games next year (it is actually just winter games and participants are members of the Olympic council of Asia and a very big deal around here). Circus, Basketball stadium, and a lot of road works in preparation for the aforementioned games. This work however does have a bonus for me it means we will not be able to go up and see the world’s highest open air skating ring as the road is closed between 10 am and 10 pm for repair. They do offer to take me up at midnight but I decline the offer as it is not a world heritage site or great historical monument it’s just a skating ring.

We stop briefly at a park in the middle of town where there is a WWII monument to the fallen hero’s which is very impressive and a Cathedral which purports to be the second tallest wooden building in the world and built without the use of nails. It is an impressive sight with lots of copulas and some very impressive icons inside. I manage to get the attendant to sell me a couple of candles to light whilst my driver explains she is an Evangelist and does not believe in this sort of thing, I comment that I am hedging my bets just in case.

The park has plenty of people in it and lots of small children. Kati explains that the President says they need to build up the population which had fallen by 2 million over the previous decade so they are doing their best. Given Almaty was noted as the 30th most expensive city in the world (higher than Los Angeles and Toronto) you have to wonder if this was a contributing factor to the population decline as kids are expensive.

One place on my list is the “Green Bazaar” which is really an indoor market. It gets a big write up in the guide books but I find it slightly disappointing. Now if you have never seen an indoor food hall where they cut up animal carcasses and hang the bits from the stalls then it would be exciting but I have seen many and this one is just ok. There were some interesting items though as the food here has that exotic theme. I will find out later as I plan to have the local delicacy “beshparmak”.

We stop for coffee and sit outside on what turns out to be a warm day. I still cannot see the nearby mountains as they are covered in clouds. I know behind these there are snowcapped jagged peaks just waiting to be pointed at my by Nikon but not right now. We have some form of bread which is stuffed with meats and things, it tastes fine but I am unable to distinguish exactly what it is so I use my “they will not try and poison me” theory and continue.

We release the guide at this point as she is actually slowing things down. There is so much history around here that it seems to take forever to read and translate. One thing I am finding out is that there is a huge wealth of Stone Age artifacts which I plan to see in a couple of days. I also find out that this was an area where people in the past were exiled in their millions (see Stalin, forced migrations and famine and this commentary on one case in millions azer.com/aiweb/categories/magazine/73_folder/73_articles/73_exile.html).

The population is only 65% Kazakhs 23% Russian and a fair number of Germans and Eastern Europeans. A point which strikes me is how much of an ethnic mix there is it’s to my shame and ignorance that I assumed that they would all have straight black hair and slightly Asian features. There is a large mix of people and many are fair or brown haired tall people who would not be noticed in and European city the country is bigger than Western Europe but it seems full of European people.