November 28th, 2008 – by: sayohat
My brush with fame in Almaty
It was a bit of an awkward goodbye to Tahir, but I think he understood and probably felt bad for not being able to hang out more. The old lady appreciated the 1000 tenge and I left knowing I would have a better time in town. The Hotel Saulet was in an unmarked building not far from Independence Square and next to a building with a replica of the Eiffel Tower standing in front. It was also two blocks from my favorite lunch spot, the Kulinariya Kuanysh. After settling into my new room, which was fancy by current standards and had a TV, refrigerator and a toilet in the room. Showers were down the hall and cost an extra 100 tenge, but this was not a problem. I was happy!
Another traveler had contacted me through CouchSurfing and we agreed to meet at the Square to hang out.
Zhibek Zholi street in Almaty
It would be the first time I actually met another traveler to hang out with, other than random encounters in Tajikistan. Pernille, a 21-year-old Danish girl traveling for about 6 months so far, and I walked around leisurely, stopping in bookstores and various places including a ticket office. We walked through Panfilov Park, home of the famous Zenkov Cathedral. People were standing outside crossing themselves, so we had to be careful not to walk in front of them so as not to offend. We also walked through the Zelyony Bazaar, a maze of not just food and clothing stalls, but connecting department stores. I was even successful booking my train ticket to Shymkent
, after booking my airline ticket to Istanbul online.
Wouldn't want to live here if an earthquake hit
Things were turning around and it was a great day.
Later I was supposed to meet up with Masha, a friend of a friend of mine, but she couldn't make it so Pernille and I decided to meet up and go to a place Masha had recommended, the Mad Murphy Pub. First we went to the Ramstor mall and had a slice of pizza and salad in the food court. We had a great time chatting about politics, environmental issues, Central Asia and customs of Denmark. We were going to go to the Guns 'N Roses Pub first, but we looked inside and noticed mostly businessmen in suits and "businesswomen" in their flashy clothes, surrounded by circles of cigarette smoke and decided to just head to Mad Murphy's. We walked downtown and although it was only about 9pm, it was pretty busy and there weren't many places to sit.
Zenkov's cathedral in Panfilov Park
A tall black man scrounged up a table for us and we each had a tall draft beer and enjoyed people-watching. An amateur cover band played songs from the 60s and 70s and the occasional 80s hit while groups of young girls hit the dance floor. Next to us there were two girls with tight clothing and make-up that would be appropriate in Amsterdam's Red Light District. Soon the girls' boyfriends came in, and they looked even younger. At first it looked like they were going to steal the girls' purses, but when one of the girls saw them she didn't do anything, so I assumed they knew each other. It was an interesting scene, but we decided to check out another bar to see what else Almaty's nightlife could show us.
We kept with the Irish theme and went to the Guinness Pub & Sushi Bar.
Finally, a decent microbrew. John is happy.
The place was a large complex, with the two oddly-paired themes properly separated. The sushi section was completely dead, but was the first thing to see through the window, so we almost didn't go in, thinking the whole place was dead, but a doorman motioned us in and we discovered another live cover band in the "pub" section, which was also a restaurant with more of a bar feel. We found a table in the back away from the noise and most of the smoke, and where we could talk. A large group of people next to us had just gotten up and left a lot of food and wine on the table. We both really wanted to just go over and raid the table. It was such a waste! Pernille actually did grab some bread and cheese, but we didn't want to get kicked out before we even placed an order, so we sadly watched them take away the food. I'm sure the waiters probably took it for themselves. The beer we ordered was a local brew and quite tasty, much better than the Tien Shan beer at the other bar. The cover songs were much better and a bit more selective than what I've traditionally heard. Pernille nearly choked on her beer when she heard one song, which happened to be an obscure band from Denmark whose lead singer dated a friend of hers. It was after midnight by the time we looked at the time, and Pernille had told the family she was staying at she'd be back by then. We made plans to meet up the next day and try to check out the mountains. I walked her to where she was staying and then went back, which was only two blocks away. Almaty wasn't so bad after all.