Idle Time in Bishkek

Bishkek Travel Blog

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The stairwell of Alexandra's apartment building
Sunday lived up to its reputation as a laid-back day of rest for me. After sleeping rather late and lounging around reading most of the morning, I jumped at the chance to get out of the flat when Alexandra invited me to go check emails with her. After that we went back to the flat and she made a delicious lunch of rice and cabbage with a Chinese spice resembling coriander seeds. In the afternoon I decided to take a walk and ended up at the expat pub called The Metro. It was fairly empty except for a few chain-smoking Brits so I had an expensive Hoegaarden and read more, followed by an expensive dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant where the portions were huge. I was able to request two take-out containers for the leftover peanut salad and breaded fish dishes.
Alexandra's kittens, Zhinzhi and Bobo playing
I was so full that I had to refuse all the food Alexandra and Sasha offered me, and spent the evening relaxing and preparing for the next day.

I set an alarm for 7:45 this morning so I could get up, shower, pack my dirty laundry and take it to a cleaning service that Alexandra had shown me on Sunday. I didn't know how much it would cost or how long it would take, but I was willing to take the chance, especially on the heavy sweater that I knew wouldn't have been dry if I had washed it the day I arrived. The principal motivator for using a laundry service was the drying, even though I'm hopeful they will do a better job washing than I could do by hand. I was running a little later than I'd planned, but it didn't matter because I found out the laundry wouldn't be ready until Tuesday evening.
Soviet perfection: statue, ugly marble building, willow tree
At first the woman said Wednesday, but I pleaded and must have gained an extra day. Not wanting to carry the laundry to the Kazakh embassy outweighed my desire to leave Bishkek so I dropped off the bag of dirty clothes and tried to find some breakfast. There were a half-dozen cafes in the area, but most were closed or only offered high-price lunch dishes, so I continued walking until I found a shop that sold me a juice box and a raisin roll, wolfed it down and stood on lookout for marshrutka number 298, which I was told would take me to the embassy.

I waited for about 15 minutes only to see the packed minibus pass me by. I decided I would wait as patiently as I could until the next one came, but if it passed me by I would just take a taxi.
Random mosque & street scene, northeast Bishkek
Another 20 minutes must have passed and finally it stopped for me. I crowded in the front, bent my head so I could stand and tried my best to hold on to the bar with one hand as I reached in my pocket for some change to pay for the ride. Eventually it cleared out enough for me to squat on the floor and look out the windshield to determine where the heck we were. There were only about 8-10 seats but the rest of the marshrutka was for standing room. The driver stopped in front of the Kazakhstan embassy and I proceeded to wait in the crowded vestibule while a group of Turkish men tried to fill out their transit visa forms. When my turn came to go into the next room, I obliged by filling out the register, glueing my passport photo to my application and handing the information to the clerk at the window.
Osh Bazaar as the sun is going down
He handed me a piece of paper and instructed me, in English, to write a letter to the consular office explaining what I want to do. I returned to the desk next to the register and like an elementary school pupil, began writing a letter in blue ink stating the names of the cities I planned to visit and that I was an independent traveler. I presumed they wanted to be assured I was not a reporter and wanted to know if I had a travel agent. When I handed the man the papers, he asked me if I was traveling alone and then asked if I was scared. I laughed and asked him if I should be. He didn't respond, but I think the scariest thing is the visa process. Then he told me to pick up my visa at 6:30pm on Friday, although I requested to pick it up the following week because I wasn't going to stay in Bishkek another week! He didn't seem pleased with it but after he hesitated and responded to his personal text messages, he seemed to be OK with it but warned me that the Kazakh embassy was responsible for my passport.
Sign across from the American University of Bishkek
"Well, I can pick it up tomorrow if it will be ready," I said, hopeful, but he repeated the Friday time and I left in bewilderment as one of the Turkish guys nearly knocked over a message board that was standing across the room.

I quickly got a seat on the inbound 298 and rode it all the way to Ala-Too Square. I decided to see the art museum after all, but when I got there a sign announced that Monday was their off day, so I continued up the street in search of a restaurant I'd read about. The entrance for Cafe Mazai was adjacent to an apartment building, and steps led down into a dimly-lit cellar-like restaurant. The theme and featured entree was rabbit meat, so I suppose it was only fitting. The menu was slightly pricy, but not bad considering the delicacy being served. I sat down. I used two menus to order, one in English with outdated prices and another more up-to-date Russian menu. It wasn't really clear what the dishes would really contain other than rabbit, so I picked one that looked like it might be representative and ordered the coffee I'd missed in the morning. The food was served in only 10 minutes and although the dish didn't look at all like what the menu had described, it was pretty good. The rabbit was breaded and fried then coated with a decorative display of ketchup and mayonnaise. I had specifically chosen the dish without these two condiments, but they ended up being fine. The coffee was served in an earthenware espresso cup and was very tasty as far as Central Asian coffees go. The total damage was about 220 som, or $5.50 US. Considering that it was a unique meal and still cheap by western standards, I didn't feel as bad.

After purchasing some kishmish (brown raisins) at a nice fruit market near Alexandra's flat, I stopped in for a little break. Sasha was in her room listening to Linkin Park when I got in, but shortly after Alexandra came in and handed me an apple she just bought. I remembered I was going to go to the post office and try to track down the Peace Corps office, both of which Alexandra helped me to find via the Kyrgyz information hotline. So, I headed out again, stopping at a small post office nearby where all the clientele but me were women over 70. It was about a 45-minute walk to the Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan headquarters on a quiet side street next to a school. I got the grand tour by the Admin Officer named Mark and met a volunteer who just started her service and was stationed in a nearby village. The office was newly remodeled and still smelled of fresh paint. The map in the AO's office showed volunteers clustered around major cities and roads, but not in some areas where certain hazards prevented their placement. It turns out Mark knew some people who volunteered with me in Uzbekistan and who were now living in Bishkek, so I passed along my contact info. About 20 minutes after leaving the office, I got a call from Dustin and made plans for Tuesday night. Small world!

I wandered through the Osh Bazaar again, sampling a couple somsa (chicken-potato and pumpkin-beef varieties) before having a Siberian Crown beer at a month-old pub called Grizzly Bar. And Skynet, this Internet cafe, wins the award for fastest connection in Central Asia. Soon I will head for another Begemot burger, possibly another beer, and then back to the flat that has become my Bishkek home. Tomorrow I hope to squeeze in a trip to the Burana Tower in the morning.
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The stairwell of Alexandras apart…
The stairwell of Alexandra's apar…
Alexandras kittens, Zhinzhi and B…
Alexandra's kittens, Zhinzhi and …
Soviet perfection: statue, ugly ma…
Soviet perfection: statue, ugly m…
Random mosque & street scene, nort…
Random mosque & street scene, nor…
Osh Bazaar as the sun is going down
Osh Bazaar as the sun is going down
Sign across from the American Univ…
Sign across from the American Uni…
photo by: londonstudent