The Allure of Almaty

Today’s blog comes from my book Short Journeys: Kazakhstan, now available on Kindle. I talk about Almaty, the biggest city in Kazakhstan, and one of my favourite cities on the globe. Please enjoy 🙂

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Beautiful Almaty with mountains in the background.

 

The city of Almaty at times feels pretty rough and ready, yet at other times is really very pleasant. If you’ve visited Eastern Europe you’ll feel a certain familiarity in Almaty. After all, there are a lot of people of Russian and European descent there. It certainly is the most European of all the cities in Kazakhstan, and probably Central Asia. It has a thriving cultural scene, with various opera houses and theatres. It is also, for the most part, quite pretty sitting in a cul-de-sac surrounded by mountains.

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Zenkov Cathedral in Panfilov Park.

 

I was there in June, a couple of days after they had had quite a decent earthquake. Apparently early in the twentieth century there was a devastating earthquake which had demolished a lot of the city. The one in June 2011 was smaller, but still around 5.5-6. Almaty was the old capital, but it moved to Astana in 1997 because of the central location and apparently to avoid earthquakes. There are a lot of tall Soviet style apartment blocks in Almaty – I stayed in one on the 12th floor – giving a great view of the city.

The view from the 12th floor was superb. It really allowed me to appreciate the city of Almaty, surrounded by mountains, full of culture, in a part of the world that doesn’t see a lot of tourists, especially western tourists. Why not? Well, people just don’t know a lot about Central Asia in the West. It’s time that changed!

 

 

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At the opera in Almaty.

 

 

Almaty is a city of contrasts. In some areas the roads are sweeping and wide, and then there are leafy parks, with statues. Wander through the right park and you’ll find flowers blooming and artists with easels set up as they paint what they see. I visited a couple of museums; one was the Museum of Kazakh Musical Instruments where my friend and I basically had a woman play various Kazakh instruments just for us in a small auditorium. There are malls too, shopping strips and not a single McDonald’s to be found, only a place called ‘McBurger’, definitely not a registered American fast food chain.

There are buses all around the city, as well as trams and trolley-buses – buses which run off electricity coming from wires above the roads, something between a tram and a bus. I had never seen such a bus before I went to Russia, but they are still very popular across Eastern Europe today. Then we have the metro, which was not open when I was in Almaty. The metro however is open today, two years later, in good news for all living in and visiting Almaty.

 

 

Having said all that, I didn’t use a lot of public transport in Almaty. I used a combination of buses to get to Stan 

 

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With the Beatles on Kok Tobe, which overlooks Almaty.

 

Tours and the Kyrgyz embassy, but where I could I walked around Almaty. I was there in June and it was pretty warm but not overly hot, and the flowers were blooming and with all the parks and trees it was a great city to walk around. 

In Almaty, don’t miss: Kok Tobe, the Opera, walking around the leafy streets, seeing the new buildings and statues, and the amazing Zenkov Cathedral. The National Museum is interesting too!

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Almaty – a surprising European city in Central Asia. A fantastic leafy and character-filled place, worth more than a couple of days.

 

[mirrored from the blogger site]

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