Been told to go home... My hatred of Embassies and authority grows

Almaty Travel Blog

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Hannes, Me and Julia eating Dinner at our apartment

People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Hannes (Sweden)

Its just turned 18.30, and i somehow find myself sat at the kitchen table, in the apartment that we have just rented in Almaty! It came about after we were dropped off at the train station by our friendly taxi driver Murat and the gostinitsa (hotel) there had no room. Almaty is a very expensive city and a bed in their 4 bed dormitory, without bathroom, would have cost us 1500 Tengge ($12) each. Luckily for us, a friendly Kazakh woman called Mira approached us and told us we could rent her flat for the same price as we would have paid for the dorm beds. I must say, it seemed too good to be true.

Hannes with a statue in front of the train station


Her husband drove us to the apartment, which wasn't too far away and i was delighted to find that it was just what I'd hoped it would be. We have a large double bed and a pull out sofa, cable TV, a balcony, fully fitted kitchen and very clean bathroom. I thought i had to document my delighted mood, whilst all the endorphins are racing through my bloodstream! But now its time to go to the supermarket, as Julia has promised to cook Dinner for us boys, hurray!

It was a quiet first night in, sat around the table eating and drinking. Julia made us sausages, mashed potatoes and tomatoes, which was a rare Western style treat for the taste buds and these were washed down with some $1 bottles of Tuborg. By 22.00 the three of us were all thoroughly shattered, so retired to bed, pretty happy with our opening encounters within Kazakhstan.
Russian sign


I was quite unsure of all the visa regulations regarding registration within the country, but i had an idea that we had to either register within 3 or 5 days and i also didn't know whether this included weekends or not. In such cases i would rather be safe than sorry, so we got up early on Saturday morning with the idea that we would get this sorted out as a priority.

Julia cooked us up a fantastic breakfast of Sausages and Eggs with some boiled potatoes and after this we headed to Almaty II Train Station, where our book said that we could register with the OVIR office. The book also said that the station was somewhere to be avoided, as the police are on the constant look out for foreigners to 'question' (read - 'bribe')

Well, at least the Lousy Planet got one thing right, guess which! Hannes had dressed up in his Uigher hat and was looking pretty Russian as far as i was concerned, Julia is Russian and i had seen enough Western faces to begin to convince myself that even i could pass for a Russian/Kazakh.
Almaty Mosque
Foolish boy. The second we came into the eye line of the lingering cops, they were all over us.

Julia's passport says that by law, she does not have to hand it over, but can show it to a police officer from her hand and this is what she tried to do. The cop was having none of it and started tugging it from her hands. When she protested he just yanked it away and asked if she thought he was going to steal it. She explained her rights to which he answered that of course that was the law, but so was the fact that he couldn't steal her passport. Whether he was going to stick to either was his decision - and he had already broken the first one!

5 minutes checking our entry cards and documents and we were left stood next to 2 other cops, neither of whom had talked to us.
Zenkov Cathedral
The other cop just disappeared, didn't say where to and never actually reappeared again, so we just skulked off when given the chance. One useful thing that he had let slip to us, was that there was no OVIR office here, so we would have to go to the one in downtown, which didn't work on weekends. This at least meant that we wouldn't have to go near the train station again any time soon.

Leaving the station we were stopped by a beggar, trying to tell a story of how he had just arrived from another city and wanted to hang out with us. He claimed to have a brother in Almaty who he was looking for, but unsurprisingly he was asking for money within seconds, an old ploy that we have in England too.

It was already 11.00 and time seemed to be flying by, but time was something we had on our side.
Zenkov Cathedral
During our stay in Almaty, i needed to obtain a new passport and Kyrgyzstan visa, which i would have to wait until Monday to do, along with the registration! It was therefore decided that we would just amble through the streets and take take in some sights at a leisurely pace.

Almaty Mosque is the largest in the country and its large minarets and colourful turquoise dome were easily spotted as we approached. I didn't find the structure overly impressive, so we only spent a few minutes to look at the exterior, before walking through the neighbouring Zelyony Bazaar, which translates as 'Green Bazaar'. I'm normally not a cautious person when it comes to crowds, but after the pickpocketing incident in Urumqi, i found myself particularly guarded today and was happy when we reached the end of the stalls.
Inside Zenkov Cathedral


One of Almaty's star attractions is Panfilov Park, which covers 3 blocks and contains some interesting sights. The park was designed in the 1870's, with its most notable building been the brightly decorated Zenkov Cathedral. Almost as catching as the Cathedral was the stage that was set up in front of it, with a Kazakh pop band performing and small children drawing cars with crayons on street, as part of an 'Astana Motors' promotion.

Entering the cathedral, we were greeted by the Father of the Church, who told Julia that we should come in, take photos and enjoy our time inside. There were actually 'no photo' signs plastered on the walls, but everyone was taking photos and videos of a baptism taking place, which would be expected i guess. He told Julia that it wasn't an issue at all for us to also document our time inside the Cathedral, especially as we had travelled so far to be there! What a great attitude!

The Cathedral is a fascinating structure, designed by AP Zenkov in 1904 and built entirely from wood.
Father of Zenkov Cathedral
The use of no nails is something that i had also witnessed in Russian Churches, but to see one this big was extremely impressive. Like most religious buildings, the Communists closed the Cathedral as a place of worship and it only re-opened in 1995, as a Russian Orthodox Church. The father was the epitome of what you would expect from a Russian priest, with a big black beard and colourful garb.

Going East into the park, we came across the War Memorial, Eternal Flame and a couple of Museums. There were monuments to the 601,011 Kazakh's who had died during the First and Second World Wars and also the War in Afghanistan. For a traditionally nomadic country, who had little interest in these Wars and with less than 17 million citizens to date, that figure seems an awful lot.
Zenkov Cathedral


What had begun as an overcast day, was now turning into a real scorcher. Thankfully Almaty is an incredibly green city, with plenty of parks and tree lined boulevards, with some interesting buildings to break up the monotony of the Soviet style town planning and building design. Some fascinating structures that we took the time to check out included The Old House of Parliament, Abay State Theatre of Opera and Ballet, The Academy of Sciences and Hotel Kazakhstan.

It was almost 14.00 and we were all getting pretty hungry, but we couldn't find anywhere cheap to eat. It was becoming apparent that Almaty was not going to be a cheap place to hang out in. Finally we settled on some pastries and drinks from a local store, which would at least see us through until Dinner.
Mum and daughter walking through Panfilov Park


To give an idea of how much the prices have gone up within Almaty, the cable car ride that we next went to, had risen from 100 Tengge ($0.80) to 800 Tengge ($6.40). 4 years ago it had been possible to get a bed in the city for $2, now it has risen to $12. To go on a fairground roller coaster ride cost 1000 Tengge ($8) and to get a beer at the park, at the top of the cable car cost 650 Tengge ($5.20). The three of us therefore opted to skip the cable car and hike up to the top, which took around an hour.

I was really surprised to see Koktyube (Green Peak) choc-a-bloc with Kazakh families, all splashing out money like it was going out of fashion. Even though you paid 50 Tengge ($0.40) just to walk up the hill, you also had to pay another 50 Tengge just to use the toilet.
War Memorial in Panfilov Park
Unsurprisingly this led to a large number of men just going where they stood. Even in England i would find some of the Kazakh prices steep, so one can only guess where these people were getting their money from (i will guess oil and organised crime).

We spent an hour basking in the late afternoon sun and enjoying the sweeping views across the city and surrounding mountains. The TV transmitter centre actually dominated the skyline and i was pretty surprised that they hadn't turned it into a sky tower and begun charging $100 to go to the top! I'm sure it would be a roaring success.

At the foot of the hill, we caught a bus back to the centre and stopped off at an internet cafe, where i found out Leeds had won by 2 goals away from home, in the play offs.
Eternal Flame and War Memorial in Panfilov Park
This meant that we would go to Wembley and i am now devastated that i won't be at home to witness this. It doesn't happen very often!

We had Dinner in a small eatery, as our stomachs couldn't hold out any longer and then did some grocery shopping, which mainly consisted of beer, before heading home. Julia was really in a domesticated mood and volunteered to hand wash some laundry, whilst Hannes and I watched TV in Russian and i tried to listen and pick up on words. I'm actually becoming quite determined that i want to really improve my language skills whilst we are here, whether that will actually happen, only time will tell!

The following day we spent the morning in the apartment, just hanging out. I wrote my blog  and we all ate some monster egg and tomato baguettes.
War Memorial in Panfilov Park
Around 14.00 the joint decision was to go for a walk to the south of the City, which was about 5km away. On the way we wandered through some nice pedestrian areas and i was definitely getting a more European feel about the place, the longer that we were here.

It was funny that every time we saw a policeman on the horizon, we would do our best to change our direction and avoid any contact with them! Our journey took us to Respublika Alangy, where the Monument to Independence is situated. The massive column is topped by a statue of the 'Golden Man', whose Gold armour was discovered in Kazakhstan and is believed to date back to 5th Century BC.

Julia was itching for some cultural enlightenment, so i suggested a trip to the nearby Central State Museum, which as luck would have it, had a free admission day.
War Memorial in Panfilov Park
The place was nice enough, with the exception of a power hungry little attendant. After taking a photo, i was grilled by the man, even though there were no signs saying that i couldn't and i genuinely didn't know this was the case. Seconds later he was rollicking a poor old lady for sitting down near an exhibit. Even though the poor old dear was telling him she was unwell and felt dizzy, he made her stand up and leave the room! To finish off his power trip he turned his attention back to me and began shouting 'no touching, no touching', even though i was pointing at an object through a glass case and wasn't even near to the case, let alone the object protected by a layer of glass!

We spent 15 minutes watching a promotional video on the sites of Kazakhstan and also perused displays on fossils, dinosaurs, the 'Golden Man', and general Kazakh History, religion and Independence.
Old Parliament Building
After an hour, we were all starting to feel a touch peckish, so made a move for the exit. On the way back to the flat, we stopped to look at the Presidential Residence and City Government Building and also bought some provisions from the supermarket and a guy on the street selling roasted chickens.

Julia really excelled herself tonight, cooking up a fantastic mushroom soup that contained some noodles and vegetables, which i ate with some baguette. The main course of spaghetti with chicken, onions, tomato and sauce was equally delicious and we were all left thoroughly stuffed. In an attempt to walk it off, we went out to try and use the internet for half an hour, but the two places we went were both full, so we headed back to the apartment and just chilled out for the remainder of the evening.
View of Almaty from Koktyube Park


Monday was scheduled as the day to sort out our registration and also to inquire about my new passport. I phoned the UK Embassy first, to clarify what documents were required and how long it would take. I was therefore gob smacked when i got told that they couldn't issue a new permanent passport in Kazakhstan, but only a 1 year, 10 page passport. Just as i was getting my head around this, thinking i could work something out, i was then hit with the sucker punch. As my passport was full and not lost or stolen, they wouldn't actually issue me with any form of passport! What the F##K! I told the woman on the phone that i would come in for an appointment the following day, as there was surely something they could do.

As we walked to the OVIR office for the registration, my head was spinning, would i have to go home, could i fly to Turkey and get the embassy there to issue me a passport, or maybe back to Estonia? I didn't want to go home and spend weeks there before getting one.
View of Almaty from Koktyube Park
The next 24 hours were a nightmare, there were no answers until i visited the Embassy the next day.

It took around 45 minutes at the OVIR office to collect all the relevant forms and documents and fill them in. If Julia wasn't with us, it would have been impossible, as everything was in Kazakh and Russian only. After filing the papers, we were told to return between 16.00-18.00.

After a short stop at St Nicholas Cathedral, we caught the bus to Gorky Park, located in the East of the City. We had come prepared with a rug and picnic, so found a cool, shaded spot of grass and settled down for the afternoon. The Park was actually a little grotty, so we tried to have a walk around, but it didn't particularly improve wherever we went. Finally we settled on a bench next to some rusting soviet theme park rides and couldn't believe that people were taking their children on the outdated death traps.
Julia and Hannes blowing dandelions
Still, it was funny to watch.

At 15.30, we caught the bus back to the OVIR office, but our papers were not ready. I took this as a bad sign, as we didn't have a hotel address, or the name of our landlady, filled in on our form. I was therefore delighted when we did get the relevant documents back at 17.00 and they were all signed and in order. Now only my passport to worry about!

Back at home Julia cooked up a really good soup for starters and sausage and chips for the main course. It was great to be eating Western food again and i found my appetite had grown somewhat since leaving South East and North East Asia. The three of us played Ludo over a couple of bottles of beer, before turning in for the night.

Tuesday was the day that could technically end my trip, with a visit to the British Embassy top of the agenda.
Monument to Independence
Julia and Hannes came with me for moral support, and i had butterfly's in my stomach on the bus ride to the South of the centre. It took a little time to find the correct building, and then it was the moment of truth.

The receptionist remembered our phone conversation from the previous day and reiterated that nothing had changed from their point of view. I once again explained my predicament and showed my passport to her. She said she would take it to the consular and see what he had to say. 10 minutes later she came back and said that they were going through all their legal documents to see if there was anyway they could help me out.

20 minutes or so passed and i was feeling a little bit sick to tell the truth, i really wasn't ready to be heading home, all of a sudden it felt like i had only left yesterday! Finally a guy came out to talk to me and started to ask me questions such as 'Where was i going next', 'Did i travel by air or land', etc etc.
Central State Museum
He then explained that he still couldn't issue me any form of passport, as i didn't meet the necessary criteria.

On his piece of paper that he had printed off, it did however state that any citizen with a full passport was entitled to a new one. My problem was that i had one blank page! He suggested that i should go along to the Kyrgyzstan Embassy, acquire my visa and return to submit my claim for a new passport once this was done. He still said that a proper passport wasn't really feasible as it took too long, but i could get a 1 year passport, which would at least give me 6 more months to travel, and then i could worry about what to do from there!

I left the building happy to know i still had time left to see some more of this incredible World that we live in, but still rather aggrieved that i couldn't get the issue settled properly.
Presidential Residence
Not only does it cause me quite a bit of hassle, but its also pretty expensive. The temporary passport costs $150 and when i hopefully get a new one in 6 months, that will cost another $300! I just can't believe that they can justify charging so much, i don't believe any other country in the World does!

Our Lousy Planet is already 4 years old, but as i can't find the new edition, we are trying our best to make do. This doesn't always work out though and this proved to be the case with our next adventure to the Kyrgyzstan Embassy. Well, actually it turned out as a trip to where it was 3 years ago! I had been lucky with the British Embassy that i had called in advance, as it had also moved, but i didn't realise that i would be trying to make the visa today, so hadn't managed to research the location.
City Government Building
Half an hour on the internet was enough to find out the relevant facts, but it was already 14.00, so we figured the Embassy would be closed, and left it for the following day.

Hannes was having all kinds of hassles with organising his trip back to Sweden, as he found out that to fly via Moscow would mean that he needed a Russian transit visa, which he wasn't too keen to obtain. It felt like we were just going through problem after problem, which was tying us to the city, when the mountains were looming on the horizon, just waiting to be climbed! Today was also the clearest day we have had so far, and this really gave some perspective as to how impressive the surrounding topography really is.

We spent the evening in the apartment once again, with Julia cooking up some excellent food.
Kazakh flags line the middle of Zheltoqsan Street
The ludo board was once more providing our source of entertainment, whilst the 90 Tengge ($0.75) Alma-Ata beer really hit the spot and rounded the day off.

On Wednesday we decided to try and phone the Kyrgyzstan Embassy before setting off and were relieved that we did, as the information on the internet was completely bogus. The phone number belonged to a furniture shop and the address was also wrong. 30 minutes of phoning travel agencies didn't work, as no-one had a clue where it was. Eventually Hannes came up with the idea of phoning directory inquiries and this route proved successful. They gave us a number, which Julia called and the Embassy gave us the directions of how to find them.

It took nearly an hour to reach the South of the city via bus and foot.
Theatre
One thing was becoming blatantly obvious and that was that without a Russian speaker, you have little chance of accomplishing anything here! The Kyrgyzstan Embassy was in a small yellow building and we had even walked past it on Saturday, but if you weren't specifically looking for it, you would never notice it.

I had previously been told that the visa process only took 4 hours and that i should receive my passport back at the cost of $40. It therefore came as somewhat of a shock to be informed that the visa now took 8 days and cost $45. There was another option of paying $90 and having it done in 3 days, but either way we weren't staying in Almaty for another 3 days, so opted for the slower option. The plan was that we could then go on a journey to the West, return and collect my passport and then hand it in to the UK Embassy and apply for a new passport.
St Nicholas Cathedral


We were told to go and pay the fee at a bank, located 15 minutes walk away. After getting there, filling in the forms and queuing, then walking back, an hour had passed and we arrived back at the Embassy just after 12.30. For some reason the security gate was now locked, so we rang the buzzer and waited for the guard. When he arrived he told us the consul had gone on lunch, even though they were scheduled to work until 13.00. He said we must return after lunch at 16.00, even though the board said lunch was 13.00 - 15.00!

We weren't sure how to kill the time, so wandered to the British Council, where we could use their library and internet facilities. Not for the first time in recent days i was left questioning my countries policies, as we were told they no longer had either available - where does my tax money go? I think British citizens need to start asking some serious questions.
St Nicholas Cathedral
There was a cafe near by with Wi-fi, so we headed there instead, only to find that their connection didn't work, now i was getting annoyed.

At 15.00 we headed back to the Embassy, to find a queue already forming outside. At 15.30 the doors were opened and we found ourselves arguing with the security guard, who for some reason wanted us, and only us to wait until 16.00! Once inside the Embassy, things didn't really improve. The moody receptionist started to tell us that applications were between 10.00 - 13.00, so Julia told them that we tried to do this, but they closed early.

Eventually she agreed to accept our forms, but then refused to give me a receipt. Without this, there was no proof that my passport was at the Embassy and therefore the Police could fine and arrest me for not carrying my documents! She really didn't care and told us to come back the following day, as the consul had already gone home! Wow, nice life, working 2 hour days.
Julia and I at at Gorky Park


We left the passport anyway, not wanting it to take any longer to get processed and caught a bus back home. We met up with Hannes, who had spent the day less stressfully and went to the train station to buy some onward tickets. I dare not go too near the station, for fear of the Police, so sat on a nearby bench and waited, whilst they went in and bought them. Thankfully we got 3 tickets to Turkistan, without any hassles.

In the evening we went to use the internet and Hannes booked his flight ticket home. After this we bought some beers and went home to watch the Champions League Final between Chelsea and Manchester United. As a Leeds fan i hate both teams, but Chelsea were the lesser of two evils, so the 3 of us cheered them on.
The new fashion to hit the street
Disappointingly Manchester United won on penalties, so we went to bed at 04.00, dejected at how the day had turned out!

Mira came round at 09.20 to collect the house keys, so dreary eyed we gathered our belongings and took them to the train station baggage storage. Once we had done this, it was another trip to the Kyrgyzstan Embassy to try and get my passport receipt. Incredibly the receptionist told us to come back at 16.00 and if it wasn't Julia speaking to her, i think i would have gone crazy! 15 minutes later the lazy bitch pulled out a printed sheet, wrote my name and passport number on it and it was that easy. People like this deserve to be locked up and have the key thrown away, complete arseholes.

Now there was 7 hours until our train left and we had nowhere to go and nothing to do.
Abay State Opera and Ballet Theatre
To occupy ourselves, we went and sat in Panfilov Park and ate a baguette, then used the internet and finally sat in a small eatery, had some snacks and played ludo. At 18.34 we caught our sleeper train and i was so relieved to be getting out of the city. Don't get me wrong, its a nice place, its just a shame that we never really got to enjoy it most of the time!

almond72 says:
Poor you !
Posted on: Aug 05, 2009
James1985 says:
you can blame the price hikes on Borat.I think you felt how i did in Sarajevo in the end!
Posted on: Nov 01, 2008
Deats says:
Haha, thanks mate. Are you sure it wasnt a headache from boredom, all that text and no photos hahaha
Posted on: Jun 01, 2008
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Hannes, Me and Julia eating Dinner…
Hannes, Me and Julia eating Dinne…
Hannes with a statue in front of t…
Hannes with a statue in front of …
Russian sign
Russian sign
Almaty Mosque
Almaty Mosque
Zenkov Cathedral
Zenkov Cathedral
Zenkov Cathedral
Zenkov Cathedral
Inside Zenkov Cathedral
Inside Zenkov Cathedral
Father of Zenkov Cathedral
Father of Zenkov Cathedral
Zenkov Cathedral
Zenkov Cathedral
Mum and daughter walking through P…
Mum and daughter walking through …
War Memorial in Panfilov Park
War Memorial in Panfilov Park
Eternal Flame and War Memorial in …
Eternal Flame and War Memorial in…
War Memorial in Panfilov Park
War Memorial in Panfilov Park
War Memorial in Panfilov Park
War Memorial in Panfilov Park
Old Parliament Building
Old Parliament Building
View of Almaty from Koktyube Park
View of Almaty from Koktyube Park
View of Almaty from Koktyube Park
View of Almaty from Koktyube Park
Julia and Hannes blowing dandelions
Julia and Hannes blowing dandelions
Monument to Independence
Monument to Independence
Central State Museum
Central State Museum
Presidential Residence
Presidential Residence
City Government Building
City Government Building
Kazakh flags line the middle of Zh…
Kazakh flags line the middle of Z…
Theatre
Theatre
St Nicholas Cathedral
St Nicholas Cathedral
St Nicholas Cathedral
St Nicholas Cathedral
Julia and I at at Gorky Park
Julia and I at at Gorky Park
The new fashion to hit the street
The new fashion to hit the street
Abay State Opera and Ballet Theatre
Abay State Opera and Ballet Theatre
Julia in our vibrantly decorated…
Julia in our 'vibrantly' decorate…
Zenkov Cathedral
Zenkov Cathedral
Inside Zenkov Cathedral
Inside Zenkov Cathedral
Zenkov Cathedral
Zenkov Cathedral
View of Almaty, with the rollercoa…
View of Almaty, with the rollerco…
View of Almaty from Koktyube Park
View of Almaty from Koktyube Park
Monument to Independence
Monument to Independence
Bird display in the Central State …
Bird display in the Central State…
Me cutting up the chicken for Dinn…
Me cutting up the chicken for Din…
Hannes the master chef
Hannes the master chef
St Nicholas Cathedral
St Nicholas Cathedral
Me and Hannes at at Gorky Park
Me and Hannes at at Gorky Park
Sun shining through the trees at G…
Sun shining through the trees at …
Almaty
photo by: Alfiya