Archive for the ‘Kazakhstan’ Category

Some funny pictures from around Almaty

April 11, 2011

Given a choice, this is all I eat:
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Take me down to the paradise city:

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They must’ve stolen this sign from southern California:

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Very nice! (said in Borat’s accent)

April 11, 2011

I am exhausted. Almaty is significantly larger than Bishkek, and I walked around the entire city for about 6 hours.

My first impression was that Almaty was rather featureless, lacking the soviet style grandiose statues I expected. But after the first mile of walking, I realized they were just spread out over a larger area. The Kazakh diversity is very similar to the Kyrgyz. There is a nicer infrastructure that is apparent when walking down the street though. There are some phenomenal sites to see, and humongous buildings to try to fit in your camera viewfinder.

I headed in the general direction of the Kok Tobe (missing umlauts – should be pronounced “cook Toby”) cable car tram that is supposed to have great scenic views over Almaty, but it must be too early in the travel season, because it is only open on weekends currently.

It was a pretty good distance back to Zhibek Zholy (a west-east running promenade filled with buskers, vendors, artists, and an ethnic Russian rapper who was butchering Ice Ice Baby – “Yo, check out my hook while my DJ revolves this”). I walked all the way down to Pushkin St. and made my way to the Center Mosque. It is supposedly the largest mosque, able to hold 3,000 people, in Kazakhstan and is available for worship only. Non-Muslims are not allowed inside the mosque. Almaty is built on a large hill, so you are always walking down or up. It’s hard to get lost with this constant reminder of which direction you are traveling. I have to say, the neighborhood gets progressively sketchier heading downhill on Pushkin St. The bartering from the street vendors gets more aggressive, and the crowds of people with seemingly nothing to do but gather together grow larger. Got some great photos of the mosque though.

One thing that struck me today about both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, I have not seen a single tourist. Nobody. It’s really weird actually. Maybe it’s still too early in the travel season, but the weather is great here (today it was about 80 Fahrenheit). Maybe the droves of tourists will come next month, but it is a weird experience not running into a single traveler.

You’ve probably skipped reading all this anyways and went straight for the pictures anyways. It really is a beautiful country. These pictures don’t even begin to do it justice…

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Freedom of the press in Central Asia

April 10, 2011

I made the trip back from Bishkek to Almaty this afternoon. In fact, it was supposed to be this morning, but the first cab driver arranged by the hotel had a different idea of a fair price than the person who arranged the trip with the hotel. I can’t stress how important it is to verify the arranged price with the actual guy in the driver’s seat. I’ve had this misunderstanding quite a few times, and it’s better to check twice vs. getting left halfway there on the side of the road. After the “mix up” (hotel’s definition, not mine), I got the coolest driver ever. Not so much the guy, he was nice, and a good guy, but he knew this trip really well. Upon starting the car, he pulled out a sign that read “PRESS” in Russian and backed it up with a fake set of press credentials. The border would have taken four hours, but we went straight to the front of the line and were through the border in about 30 minutes. Entering Kazakhstan takes a lot longer than going the other way for sure. They had to inspect the vehicle (seriously inspect the vehicle – like pulling pieces of the interior off of it and checking the undercarriage for things) and I had to walk through the checkpoint separately and meet the car on the other side. While I was waiting, one of the border guards came over and asked me for my passport, and asked if I was from New York City. I replied, no, that I was from San Francisco. He grinned a huge smile and yelled “Schwartzenegger! Governor! Terminator!” This was really, really confusing to me. When i was in Beijing, people didn’t know where San Francisco was, but on the border of KZ and KGZ, the guy new what state it is in, and who the governor was. I wasn’t going to argue with the man with an AK-47, who was obviously happy about past California governance, or inform him that Ahnold was replaced by Moonbeam. The best thing to do when anyone with authority is excited about something is to share in their excitement. He quickly shuffled me to the front of the line I was in though. I resisted the urge to turn around and tell him that “I’d be back” but it made me laugh to think about. I’ll post the picture of the fake press pass after I’m back and can redact the name and picture of the driver to avoid any problems for him in the future. Apparently he writes for “Elite Women’s Vogue.” Seemed legit to me.

The trip itself is a mixture between boring and amazing. The Tian Shan mountain range is just to one side of the road, and the other side is endless flatness of grass. The mountains are amazing. Really amazing! I took four hours of mountain pictures while we drove. The road is better than any freeway than I’ve seen in California. The drivers all drive reasonably and carefully as well (no stupid passing around blind corners going on).

It’s nice to be heading in the general direction of home for sure. Tomorrow I’ll take the recommended walking tour of Almaty and see what there is to see…

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Stopover in Istanbul airport en route to Kazakhstan…

April 8, 2011

On my way to Almaty (and onward to Bishkek as soon as I land), and I’ve been freaking out for the last day reading a ton of horror stories about airport taxis stranding people halfway to Almaty or robbing them. So, I was very relieved when the hotel in Bishkek said that they could arrange a driver to drive to Kazakhstan to pick me up. Big relief.

There is a Kazakh man sitting next to me using his cell phone like a boom box blasting something in between Celine Dion and opera. This trip is going to be a really interesting experience…

Russia, Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

January 22, 2011

Yep. End of March…

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