Tuesday 16th September 2014
As Ewen reported we arrived here in the afternoon and were collected by just one interpreter and a mini van driver. Our hotel is reasonably flash, with Bruce and I scoring a very nice room. Dinner was at a nearby venue which was closing at 9 and we arrived about 8:20. It was a cafe style with all the food on display and a group of microwaves to heat things in. We pointed our way to a pretty good meal and Ewen spied several counters full of nice sweet things that finished the meal off well. Breakfast was buffet style in the hotel dining area and had lots of fascinating stuff, one needs to be careful!!
Wednesday 17th September 2014
The guide and van picked us up at 10:00 and we started our tour of the city sights. Usually this is undertaken on foot but as we were retired (most of us anyway). They decided to take us in the van. This meant that we spent a lot of time driving and jumping in & out. Almaty facts: population about 2 million; started as a small village that was sacked by Genghis Khan, then the Russians built a fort here and that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1887. Russian power was established in 1918 and the city has been growing since then. It became the capital of the Kazakh Republic in 1927 and was the first capital of the independent Kazakhstan in 1991. Thus it is the business and financial capital of the country despite the political capital being moved to Astana in 1997.
Almaty seems more real than Astana, which seems to be built for wow factor. The streets are wide and there are lots of parks around. There are many grand Soviet era buildings and a large number of newer ones. There are still many Soviet era apartment buildings and from what I understand these are government owned, thus little maintenance seems to done. We have seen numerous new apartment buildings with many more being built.
Now to the photos and a look around! First was a park with an Orthodox Church (Ascension Cathedral) completed entirely of wood and no nails, bolts or screws in the structural section of the building. This was completed in 1907 and has withstood several earthquakes.
On the others side of he park the bath house was located we were informed that you get a Russian bath here where a guy with a beech broom sweeps you clean, there were no takers from our group!! After some more strolling in the park we came upon a monument dedicated to 28 soldiers from Almaty who volunteered to go to protect Moscow in WW2, none of them returned, there is also another’s WW2 monument showing unity amongst the USSR people.
Others buildings which caught our attention was a musical instrument museum we did not have time to look at but have it on the agenda for next week when we have a spare day back here.
We then had a look at the Green Market the array of food was Spectacular and very well presented, although there did not appear to be any refrigeration for the meat.
After looking around town we headed south east into the nearby hills on the way we passed a ski jump facility constructed for the Asian winter Games in 2011. Our destination was near the location of the ice skating arena built for the games. Above it is a special dam designed to stop mud slides ,which evidently are a common occurrence. The views in these mountains are fantastic as there are always snow capped peaks in the background. There is a flight of stairs from the arena to the dam wall. There was mention of a challenge to ascend this in less than 60 secs. Bruce did the last section in 45 secs so we claim he met the challenge!
Our next stop was at the top of a hill closer to town, more to the east. This has a huge television mast and restaurants. When we got there we found a small zoo a bit like Collingwood children’s farm and a carnival. The boys resisted the temptation of dodgem cars and the like and after examining a Beatles statue we retired to a yurt shaped building for lunch. Ewen did get a chance to look at the latest in Soviet cars and he could be considering it as a Magna replacement!
Lunch was horse meat, cha grilled veggies, soup and a sweet made from deep fried pasta and honey with berries. All washed down with tea.
We returned to the hotel for a rest, some taking a nap while others just listened to those napping! Then it was off on a excursion to locate a dining experience. On the plane Jenelle and Greg had read about wine making in the Assa Valley in Kazakhstan well, what do you know? We find ourselves standing out the front of their centre, so in we go for a tasting. The wine was pretty good and we think some will find its way home on the plane.
Diner was found at a sports bar and was a simple affair as we has a great lunch, then it was back to the hotel via the chemist where we restocked on “Kyrgzstan belly” medication.
Thursday 18th September 2014
Free time this morning so we were off exploring around the city. Yesterday we had noticed that there were water trucks washing the streets, mainly the gutters, and they would blow their hors to warn pedestrians of their approach, today we experienced this from the pedestrians viewpoint, jump back! Before you get covered in water and leaves, it’s autumn here. Reception had directed us to the post office and with some help we managed to locate it and sent off post cards to those that had requested them. The idea of looking for a red P did not help! We wandered through a couple of the parks and past the library or Tech College, or Tech College Library. And then back to the hotel to begin our afternoon trip to the mountains to the South of town.
We drove into the Great Almaty George on the way there were numerous restaurants and private homes in this very select area. Evidently it had been a famous apple growing area (Almaty is named after the apple) but has now been sold off. We climbed to 2600 metres there were snow capped mountains in the background, that you may be able to see in some of the pics. At the top of the climb is a national park, requires special permission to drive in, and a lake known as Great Almaty Lake, this provides water for the city and as Bruce found you are not allows too close to the water, an armed guard appeared to signal him back! The lake is 1.5 km across is nearly circular and 40 m deep in the centre.
Lunch was a feast at a restaurant on the way down and the proprietor plied us with his own home made “Cognac” which included nuts from local trees. It was very smooth and he claimed you could drink a ton of it and not be drunk the next day, something I was skeptical about. Further down the mount we stopped of at a hunting bird and dog farm. They had eagles, falcons and others birds plus hunting dogs. Evidently there is usually a display but due to a movie shoot on the mountain it was off.
So it was back to the hotel then a quick bite at the same restaurant we found Tuesday night. We have an early start tomorrow so off to bed for us it’s 10:15 pm.