When Taylor and I applied to Peace Corps, our number one goal was to visit a part of the world we’d likely otherwise never get a chance to see and Kyrgyzstan absolutely fits that bill. Stuck right in the middle of the ‘stans, an unlikely vacation destination for most Americans, we’re determined to visit as many of them as we can. The most convenient to visit is Kazakhstan – not only is it only an hour from Bishkek but Peace Corps supplies us with visas making it an easy trip.
I knew little of Kazakhstan before arriving. Aside from being the setting for ‘Borat’, I knew it had a space program and those two pieces of info didn’t seem to go together. After arriving here I heard tales from the previous volunteers of the wonders of Almaty. Modern, clean, it even had a Burger King, everyone who had been said we needed to visit. Our site-mate Jake picked a weekend and 6 of us made the trip to Bishkek to get ready for an early morning departure to Almaty.
In the morning we met at the bus station and found an Almaty-bound taxi driver who lured us in with promises of non-stop Shakira music videos during the ride (he delivered.) It doesn’t take long to make it to the border and we were prepared for the hectic experience we read about while researching on wikitravel.com. What we found was a smooth, friendly border crossing and we had no problems crossing. In less than 30 minutes we were in Kazakhstan and soon enough our driver came and we took off. It turned out we found the slowest taxi driver in Kazakhstan but eventually we made it to the city. Almaty was not Bishkek. Modern buildings, clean streets, trams and even a subway. Our first task was to make it to the other edge of town and meet up with the owner of an apartment we found to rent for a couple nights. After dropping off our bags we walked out to find some food. Avoiding the temptation to find a traditional Kazakh café (it’s more or less identical to Kyrgyz food) we found a Vietnamese restaurant which was great. It was hardly authentic Vietnamese but these were flavors I haven’t had for 7 months, it was perfect. In the evening we went to a Chinese restaurant (it was a mistake) and then the grocery store where we became overwhelmed by the 100s of beers to choose from (the store by our house has about 4.)
The next day we wanted to walk around and see the city. First, we took the subway to the other side of town. The subway is the newest in the world and it felt strange to be in something so modern and clean. Walking through the city it felt strange. Kind of like Vancouver, BC but still Central Asian. After a bit we realized besides the cleanliness, the absence of marshrutkas pulling over everywhere and clogging up roads made the city so much calmer and more pleasant. We stopped for a lunch at Burger King (so good) and then back to the apartment to get warmer clothes to head out of the city. Continue reading “Almaty, Kazakhstan has a Burger King”